The Pallas Cat or Manul - Facts, Conservation and Toxoplasmosis

A Pallas cat at the Edinburgh Zoo
A Pallas cat at the Edinburgh Zoo | Source

The Pallas cat is about the size of a domestic cat. Unlike a housecat, however, it's a wild animal and has a very distinctive appearance. It has long, dense hair on its body and cheeks, a flattened face, a low forehead and small ears that are far apart. The cat lives in cold areas of Central Asia, where its thick coat helps to keep it warm. It's also known as the Pallas’s cat, the Pallas’ cat and the manul. Its scientific name is Otocolobus manul.

The Pallas cat population is classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In the past it was hunted for its beautiful coat. Although this activity is less common today, it still occurs. Another problem for the cat is that the rodents that it eats are often regarded as pests by the local people and are poisoned.

When an animal population is under pressure, zoos that are trying to act as conservation organizations often try to breed the animal while it's in their care. One big problem faced by Pallas cat kittens in captivity is their high susceptibility to toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite that also infects domestic cats and humans. Toxoplasmosis is often fatal for the kittens.

A Pallas cat at a zoo in Rotterdam
A Pallas cat at a zoo in Rotterdam | Source

The Pallas cat is named after the German scientist Peter Simon Pallas, who lived from 1741 to 1811. He studied, described and categorized large numbers of plants and animals, many of them unknown to science before his research.

The Coat and Appearance of the Pallas Cat

The Pallas cat has a stocky build and a thick coat, making it look as though it's overweight. The coat is grey in winter and develops a yellow or red tinge in summer. The hairs are often tipped with white, giving the animal a frosted appearance. The hair is much longer on the undersurface of the body than on the upper surface. The coat is longer and thicker in winter than in summer.

A Pallas cat has a variety of black markings. There are black stripes on its cheeks, black spots on its forehead, black rings on its thick tail and sometimes faint black marks on other areas of its body. The chin and throat are white, however, and there is a white line under each eye.

The color of the coat helps the cat to blend in with its environment. Its small, low ears help to make it less visible to its prey. These features are useful, since the cat often stalks its prey rather than running to catch it. Pallas cats have relatively short legs in proportion to their bodies.

Pallas Cats at Prospect Park Zoo

The Lives of Pallas Cats

Pallas cats are most abundant at higher elevations in cold, dry grassland areas of Mongolia, China and the Tibetan Plateau, although they aren't numerous anywhere. They prefer grasslands that contain some rocky outcrops for protection. The rocks are also a home for rodents and make it easier for the cats to ambush their prey. Pallas cats are good climbers.

In the wild the cats may be active at any time of the day or night, but they are primarily nocturnal. They spend their days protected in a rock crevice, in a cave or in a burrow dug by another animal. In the late afternoon or early evening the animals begin to hunt. The cats stalk and ambush their prey, pouncing on the unfortunate animal at the last moment or trapping an animal as it emerges from its burrow. The largest component of their diet is made up of rodents, especially pikas and voles. Other small mammals may also be eaten, as well as birds, reptiles and insects.

Pallas cats are solitary, reclusive and territorial animals. Both the male and the female mark their territories with secretions from their scent glands. When they are tense or upset, the cats produce a mumbling or chittering sound as they vibrate their upper lips in a threat display. The kittens in the video below have already started to develop this technique. Pallas cats can be aggressive. Even in captivity they are not cuddly creatures!

Kittens Responding To Being Filmed at 12 Weeks Old

Unlike the case in many other small members of the cat family, the pupils of a Pallus cat constrict into a circle instead of a slit as light intensity increases.

Reproduction

When the female Pallas cat is in her fertile phase, the male follows her around until mating occurs. This stage doesn't last for long. The female is no longer receptive to the male after forty two hours.

The female gives birth to her kittens in a den. The kittens are born in April and May (at least in the areas that have been studied) after a gestation period of about 65 to 75 days. The litter generally consists of three to four kittens but may range in size from one to six kittens.

The youngsters leave home when they are about six months old and are ready to breed at ten to eleven months of age. In captivity, the Pallas cat has lived for eleven years.

Pallas Cat Kittens at Four Months Old

Toxoplasmosis in Humans

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a one-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This organism has a complex life cycle that involves multiple hosts. It infects birds and mammals, including humans, but its main host is the cat. Both domestic and wild cats can be infected.

The parasite is widespread in the human population but may not cause any symptoms. If symptoms do result from the infection they are usually mild and short-lived and resemble the flu. A person with a healthy immune system will probably never develop a serious health problem from the infection, but if the immune system isn't working properly or at some point isn't able to deal with the infection the parasite can cause serious effects. There are medications available to treat toxoplasmosis, however. It's important that pregnant women who are infected by Toxoplasma gondii receive treatment, because the parasite can be passed to the unborn baby and injure it.

A Pallus cat or manul in a tree at the Edinburgh zoo
A Pallus cat or manul in a tree at the Edinburgh zoo | Source

Toxoplasmosis in Domestic and Pallas Cats

As in humans, a toxoplasmosis infection in domestic cats may not cause any symptoms or ill effects. Indoor cats are much less likely to develop toxoplasmosis than outdoor cats, since the infection is transmitted through infected prey animals and raw meat. In addition, it's more likely that humans will become infected by toxoplasmosis when they eat undercooked meat than from cat feces. There are some precautions that should be taken when cleaning a cat's litter box, however, since during certain stages of the infection the parasite can be passed out of the cat's digestive tract into its feces. In addition, pregnant women should be cautious while gardening, since plants and the soil may be contaminated by cat feces.

It's thought that Pallas cats are so susceptible to the toxoplasmosis parasite because they've never encountered it in their cold, relatively germ-free native environment and their bodies haven't developed any immunity to the parasite. The captive adults often survive toxoplasmosis and may become carriers of the parasite, but the kittens, who have immature immune systems, may die.

Pallas Cats Wei Shand (Male) and Tula (Female)

Threats to the Pallus Cat Population

Killing Pallas cats for their pelts is prohibited in many parts of their range, but the protection laws are not always enforced and illegal hunting still occurs. There are nature reserves which contain Pallas cats, but they don't always provide effective protection for the cats. Pallas cats are also killed to obtain body parts for use in traditional medicine. Rodents that the cats eat are frequently poisoned because people believe that the rodents carry plague or destroy crops. The IUCN states that habitat degradation caused by agriculture and grazing livestock is another threat.

Toxoplasmosis is a major threat to Pallas cat kittens in captivity. The Pallas cat breeds well in zoos, but not all of the infants have survived and there has been a high kitten mortality rate. The good news is the survival rate is increasing as zoos learn how to lower the risk of infection in their cats.

A Pallas cat at the Zurich Zoo
A Pallas cat at the Zurich Zoo | Source

Pallas Cat Conservation

Like many animals classified as "near threatened" by the IUCN, the Pallas cat population is in danger of entering the more serious "vulnerable" category. Education of the public and enforcement of wildlife protection laws are important strategies to help the cat population. The Pallas cat does have the advantage of preferring to live in remote areas, but unfortunately humans are gradually encroaching on these areas. Captive-bred animals can't be released into the wild unless they are free of toxoplasmosis, so dealing effectively with this disease is another very important strategy for Pallas cat conservation.

Although Pallas cats are quite common in captivity, there is much that is unknown about their lives in the wild. Camera trapping (filming wild animals with an unattended camera) has begun. Hopefully this and other techniques will enable us to learn more about wild Pallas cats and also help us to protect them.

© 2012 Linda Crampton

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Comments 22 comments

Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

Oh My these cats are so beautiful.. I would love to have one.. I love your hub

voted way up

Debbie


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for visiting the hub and for the comment and the vote, Debbie! Yes, Pallas cats are beautiful. They're interesting animals too. They're very different from domestic cats, even though they're about the same size.


JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

Wonderful hub Alicia, about another fascinating wild cat. Its disheartening to hear that they are being decimated across their range. I just hope they can hang on. Also loved the info. on Toxoplasmosis, I'd never heard of it before. Definitely voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, JKenny. I appreciate the comment and the vote. There is hope for the Pallas cat, but the protection laws that exist have to be enforced and habitat has to be maintained for them.


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Alicia, A great informational and interesting hub about these very beautiful Pallas cats. I have never heard of Pallas cats before but enjoyed learning about them reading your hub, thanks!

Vote up and more !!!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Tom. Thanks for the comment and for voting! There are a number of wild cats that aren't very well known by the public. I think they're all very interesting! It's fascinating to compare their behavior and characteristics with my three cats, too.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Thanks, Alicia, for this fascinating introduction to the little known Pallas cat. They are beautiful creatures that we need to protect so they will survive.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, drbj. I agree - the Pallas cat is a beautiful creature and we do need to ensure that it survives. Thank you for the visit and comment.


TENKAY profile image

TENKAY 4 years ago from Philippines

This is the first time I've heard about this type of cat. Definitely beautiful cat in a wild way... I hope they will survive despite the encroached habitat problem.

Thank you for sharing information on Pallas cat.

Definitely voted up and informative.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, TENKAY. I appreciate your visit. I hope that the Pallas cat survives, too.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

What a great hub;I never knew there were so many different breeds of cats. Another to vote up up and away plus bookmark.

Take care and enjoy your day.

Eddy.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

I had never know about this cat before. It was beautiful cat as well. Thanks for always share about animal kingdom. You are the king here. Good job, Alicia. My vote always for you. Cheers.....

Prasetio


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Eddy. Yes, many types of wild cats exist. They're an interesting group of animals to study. Thanks for the vote!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Prasetio. Thank you for the comment and the vote. I love to write about animals. I'm fascinated by the animal kingdom!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Interesting looking cat Alicia, even though they look quite cross! It's a shame that so many cat species are under pressure in the wild, and in a world of man-made fibres it's time that people stopped using rare wild species fur for coats.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I know what you mean about the expression of the Pallas cat, CMHypno! I agree, we certainly should be using artificial fibres instead of the fur from rare animals. Thanks for commenting.


Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 4 years ago from California

Alicia- these are such beautiful cats, I am embarrassed to say that as much as I love cats, (and all animals) I have never heard of the Pallas Cat! So glad that you have shared with us.

It is hard to believe that some people still opt to wear the furs of these gorgeous creatures knowing that doing so will eventually banish their existence completely. I am hoping that getting the word out will help to educate society about the problem. Wearing innocent animal pelts is not fashionable! Will Tweet, Like & Pin. Rated up!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much for the vote and all the sharing, Chatkath! I appreciate the support very much. It is important to protect fur-bearers as much as possible.


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Awe these cats are so cute, the YouTube video has me smiling too! I had never heard of the cats so thanks for the information.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit, ChristyWrites. I agree with you - Pallas cats are cute, especially the kittens. The second video in particular made me smile, although I don't think that the kittens were very happy!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

What an exotic-looking animal. Sorry to hear that they are near threatened. Let's hope people recognize that they are more valuable alive than dead. Voting this Up and Interesting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, alocsin. Pallas cats do look exotic! They are interesting animals.

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