Pallas’s Cat (Otocolobus manul or Felis manul), also known as the Manul, is a small wild cat of Central Asia.
It is about the size of a house cat, at 60 cm (24 in) long, not including its 25 cm (10 in) tail, and an average weight of 3.6 kg (8 lbs). Its fur is ochre in colour with vertical bars, which are sometimes not visible due to the thick fur. It is named after the naturalist Peter Simon Pallas, who first described the species in 1776.
Pallas’s Cat is the oldest living species of a clade of felids that includes the modern genus Felis. This feline, along with the extinct Martelli’s Cat, were the first two modern cats to evolve from Pseudaelurus approximately 12 million years ago.
This cat has several features which distinguish it from other felines. Most strikingly, it has round pupils. Its legs are short, its rump is rather bulky, and its fur long and thick. The combination of its stocky posture and thick fur makes it appear especially stout and plushy. Its coat changes with the seasons: the winter coat is greyer and less patterned than the summer coat. The ears are set low and give the cat a somewhat owl-like appearance. Because of its relatively flat face, it was once thought that Pallas’s Cat was the ancestor of the Persian cat breed.
Pallas’s Cat inhabits the Asian steppes up to heights of 4000 m (13,000 ft). They are thought to be crepuscular hunters and feed on small rodents, pikas and birds.
Like other species of exotic felines, Pallas’s Cat has been hunted for its fur. Before it became a legally protected species, tens of thousands of skins were harvested yearly from countries in the habitat range, including China, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Russia. Today, the cat is regarded as beneficial to its environment as the cat feeds on agricultural pests. However, poisoning of pest rodents and pikas may also affect the cat’s survival.
Successful captive-breeding of Pallas’s Cat is difficult. Although it breeds well, survival rates are low owing to infection. This has been attributed to an under-developed immune system, as its natural habitat is isolated and it wouldn’t normally be exposed to infection.
Pallas’s Cat has a complicated taxonomical history. It used to be placed in the genus Felis (along with most other cats). This bloated genus has later been split into many smaller genera, resulting in Pallas’s Cat to be reclassified as the only member of the genus Otocolobus. However, during the late 20th century Pallas’s Cat was considered to be closely related to the remaining species of the genus Felis and was classified accordingly. Finally, recent research has shown Pallas’s Cat to be closely related to both Felis and Prionailurus. As a result, the genus Otocolobus has been resurrected and Pallas’s Cat has been reclassified (again).