Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Pallas's Cat

Pallas's Cat UPSC

Pallas's cat, also known as the manul, is a small wild cat native to the steppes and grasslands of Central Asia, including parts of Caucasus, Iranian Plateau, Hindu Kush, parts of the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Altai-Sayan region and South Siberian Mountains. It's named after the German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas who first described it in 1776.

Pallas's cat has a distinctive and somewhat comical appearance. It has a stocky build, short legs, a flat face, and a dense, long fur coat. Its fur is gray or buff in color with dark spots forming a patterned coat, providing excellent camouflage in its rocky and grassy habitat.

Pallas's cat is classified as "Least Concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Threats include habitat degradation due to human activities, such as livestock grazing, mining, and infrastructure development. Additionally, they are sometimes hunted for their fur.

Table of Contents

  • Pallas's Cat Characteristics
    • Classification
    • Scientific Name
    • Habitat
    • Physical Appearance
    • Diet
    • Behavior
    • Reproduction
    • Lifespan
  • Pallas's Cat in India
  • Pallas's Cat Conservation Status
  • Threat
  • Pallas's Cat Facts
  • Pallas's Cat UPSC Questions

Pallas's Cat Characteristics

Pallas's cat, or manul, has several distinctive characteristics that contribute to its unique appearance and behavior. Here are some key features of Pallas's cat:

1. Classification:

Pallas's cat belongs to the following classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Subfamily: Felinae
  • Genus: Otocolobus
  • Species: Otocolobus manul

The Pallas's cat is a member of the Felidae family, which includes other well-known cats such as lions, tigers, and domestic cats. Within the Felinae subfamily, it is classified under the Otocolobus genus, which is specific to the manul species. The species name "manul" is derived from the Mongolian word for this wild cat.

2. Scientific Name:

The scientific name of Pallas's cat is Otocolobus manul. Each part of the scientific name has a specific meaning:

Otocolobus: This is the genus name, which refers to the cat's taxonomic grouping that includes species with similar characteristics. In this case, it is unique to Pallas's cat.

manul: This is the species name, which is often a word that describes a characteristic of the organism or honors a person or place associated with its discovery. In this case, "manul" is derived from the Mongolian word for this wild cat.

Together, the combination of genus and species names forms the scientific name, and it is used universally by scientists and researchers to uniquely identify and classify this particular species of wild cat. In the case of Pallas's cat, it is referred to as Otocolobus manul.

3. Habitat:

Pallas's cat, or manul, is adapted to the cold, arid steppes and grasslands of Central Asia. Its habitat includes a range of environments such as:

(i) Rocky Outcrops: Pallas's cats are often found in rocky terrains, where they can take advantage of the cover and use the rocks for shelter and hunting.

(ii) Grassy Slopes: They inhabit grassy slopes and areas with sparse vegetation, where their natural camouflage, consisting of a coat with a pattern of dark spots, helps them blend in with their surroundings.

(iii) Montane Habitats: Pallas's cats are known to inhabit mountainous regions, including the Tibetan Plateau. They can be found at elevations ranging from sea level up to around 16,400 feet (5,000 meters).

(iv) Steppe Ecosystems: These cats are well-adapted to the vast steppe ecosystems of Central Asia. The open grasslands provide them with suitable hunting grounds for the small mammals and birds that make up their diet.

Their habitat choice is often associated with areas where they can find rocky crevices or other suitable hiding spots. Pallas's cats are known for their elusive nature and their ability to conceal themselves in their environment. 

4. Physical Appearance:

Pallas's cat, or manul, has a distinct and unique physical appearance, characterized by several features that set it apart from other wild cat species:

(i) Fur:

  • Light grey with pale yellowish-ochre or pale yellowish-reddish hues.
  • Fur is greyer and denser in winter, with fewer markings visible.
  • Forehead and top of the head are light grey with small black spots.
  • Two black zigzag lines on the cheeks running from the corner of the eyes to the jaw joints.
  • Chin, whiskers, lower and upper lips are white.
  • Narrow black stripes on the back, consisting of five to seven dark transversal lines.
  • Grey tail with seven narrow black rings and a black tip.
  • Underfur is 40 mm long and 19 μm thick, while guard hairs can be up to 69 mm long and 93 μm thick.
  • Soft and dense fur with up to 9,000 hairs/cm2.

(ii) Ears:

  • Grey with a yellowish tinge on the back and a darker rim.
  • Whitish hair in front and in the ear pinnae.
  • Rounded ears set low on the side, giving the appearance of ferocity and unrest.

(iii) Eyes:

  • Encircled by white.
  • Iris is yellowish, with pupils that contract to small circular disks in sunlight.
  • Shares the trait of round pupils with certain other Felinae species.

(iv) Size and Body Structure:

  • About the size of a domestic cat, with a stocky posture and long, dense fur.
  • Head-to-body length: 46 to 65 cm.
  • Tail length: 21 to 31 cm.
  • Weight: 2.5 to 4.5 kg.
  • Stout body, rounded skull with a short nasal bone, enlarged cranial part, and rounded zygomatic arches.
  • Short legs with short and sharp retractile claws.

(v) Skull Characteristics:

  • Males: Skull length 87.2–95.1 mm, width 66–74 mm at the base.
  • Females: Skull length 84.1–96.3 mm, width 64.7–68.1 mm at the base.
  • Powerful lower carnassial teeth, short and massive upper carnassials.
  • First pair of upper premolars is absent.
  • Dental formula: × 2 = 28.

(vii) Genetic Information:

  • Mitochondrial genome consists of 16,672 base pairs.
  • Contains 13 protein-coding, 22 transfer RNA, and two ribosomal RNA genes, and one non-coding RNA control region.

5. Diet:

Pallas's cats have a carnivorous diet, primarily preying on small mammals, birds, and insects. Their diet consists mainly of:

(i) Small Mammals: Pallas's cats are adept hunters of small mammals, including rodents such as pikas, voles, and gerbils. They use their keen senses and stalking abilities to capture these elusive prey.

(ii) Birds: Birds, especially ground-dwelling species, are also a part of the Pallas's cat's diet. The cat's stalking and ambushing behavior is well-suited for capturing birds.

(iii) Insects: Insects may make up a portion of their diet, providing a readily available and energy-rich food source.

Pallas's cats are adapted to life in the arid steppes and grasslands of Central Asia, where their prey is abundant. Their hunting strategy often involves patiently waiting for prey to come within striking distance, and their camouflage, aided by their unique fur patterns, helps them blend into the rocky and grassy environments.

Given their relatively small size compared to some other wild cats, Pallas's cats are not adapted for taking down large prey. Instead, they rely on their agility, sharp retractile claws, and sharp teeth to capture and consume smaller animals. Their diet may vary seasonally, and they may face challenges in finding food during harsh weather conditions or changes in prey availability.

6. Behavior:

The behavior of Pallas's cat is shaped by its unique physiology and the harsh environment of the Central Asian steppes. Here are some key aspects of Pallas's cat behavior:

(i) Solitary Nature:

Pallas's cats are primarily solitary animals. They are generally not social, and individuals are often encountered alone. Males and females typically come together only during the mating season.

(ii) Nocturnal and Crepuscular Activity:

Pallas's cats are known to be crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. They may also exhibit nocturnal behavior, especially in areas where human disturbance is more prevalent.

(iii) Hunting Techniques:

Pallas's cats are highly specialized predators of small mammals. They use stalking and ambushing techniques, patiently waiting near exits of burrows to catch prey. They are skilled at capturing small mammals like pikas, voles, and ground squirrels.

(iv) Burrow Use:

Pallas's cats are known to use burrows as shelter and for hunting. They may wait near the entrances of burrows to ambush prey, and they are capable of pulling rodents out from shallow burrows.

(v) Facial Covering Behavior:

Pallas's cats have a unique behavior of covering their face with their forepaws when resting. This behavior may serve to protect their face from the cold or reduce the visibility of their facial features.

(vi) Territorial Behavior:

Pallas's cats are territorial animals, and individuals may have home ranges that they defend against intruders. The size of the home range can vary based on factors such as food availability and habitat quality.

(vii) Vocalizations:

Pallas's cats are not known for being highly vocal, but they can produce a range of sounds, including growls, hisses, and meows. Vocalizations are often used during the mating season or in interactions with other individuals.

(viii) Adaptations to Cold Environments:

Their thick and dense fur, along with their stocky build, helps them cope with the cold temperatures of their native habitat. They are well-adapted to the harsh conditions of the steppes and grasslands.

7. Reproduction:

The reproductive behavior of Pallas's cat involves specific patterns related to mating, gestation, and the rearing of offspring. Here are key aspects of their reproductive biology:

(i) Sexual Maturity and Estrus:

  • Female Pallas's cats become sexually mature at approximately one year of age.
  • The estrus (receptive to mating) period for females lasts for 26 to 42 hours.

(ii) Breeding Season:

  • The breeding season typically occurs from September to December.

(iii) Gestation and Birth:

  • Gestation in female Pallas's cats lasts 66 to 75 days.
  • In the wild, females give birth to litters consisting of two to six kittens.
  • Births usually occur between the end of April and late May.
  • Newborn kittens have fuzzy fur, and their eyes remain closed until about two weeks of age.

(iv) Maternal Care:

The female provides care for her kittens, nursing them and ensuring their protection. The mother is highly protective of her offspring and may relocate them to different dens to avoid potential threats.

(v) Kitten Development:

  • At two months of age, kittens weigh 500–600 g (17.6–21.2 oz).
  • Their fur gradually grows longer during this period.
  • Kittens begin hunting at around five months of age.
  • They reach adult size by the age of six to seven months.

8. Lifespan:

The exact lifespan of Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul) in the wild is not well-documented, but in captivity, they can live up to 11–12 years. In the wild, various factors can influence their lifespan, including environmental conditions, predation, availability of food, and potential threats from humans.

Pallas's Cat in India

Are there Pallas cats in India?

Pallas's cat is not native to India. Its natural range is primarily in the cold, arid steppes and grasslands of Central Asia, including parts of Mongolia, China, Russia, and the Tibetan Plateau. In these regions, it inhabits high-altitude areas with rocky outcrops and sparse vegetation.

However, there have been some reports and sightings of Pallas's cat in the Himalayan region of northern India. These reports suggest that the cat might be found at elevations of around 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) in the Himalayan region.

Here's a summary of the sightings of Pallas's cat in northern India:

1. Ladakh: 

Pallas's cat was first reported in Ladakh's Indus valley in 1991. Sightings in Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary at elevations of 4,202 and 4,160 meters in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

2. Gangotri National Park, Uttarakhand: 

A Pallas's cat was photographed in rocky alpine scrub at 4,800 meters in 2019.

3. Sikkim: 

An individual was observed on a rocky slope at an elevation of 5,073 meters near Tso Lhamo Lake in 2007.

4. Neighbouring States of India:

(i) Nepal:

Annapurna Conservation Area: In December 2012, Pallas's cat was recorded for the first time in the Nepal Himalayas. Photographed in the upper Marshyangdi river valley in alpine pastures at elevations of 4,200 meters and 4,650 meters in Annapurna Conservation Area.

Shey-Phoksundo National Park: Pallas's cat scat was detected at 5,593 meters in Shey-Phoksundo National Park in 2016, marking the globally highest record to date.

Sagarmatha National Park: In 2019, scat samples of two individuals were found in Sagarmatha National Park, providing the first genetic evidence of Pallas's cat presence in the eastern Himalayas. This marks the first time the elusive cat has been formally recorded in Nepal’s eastern Himalayan region.

(ii) Bhutan:

Wangchuck Centennial National Park: Recorded for the first time in Bhutan in January 2012. Sighted in rolling hills dominated by glacial outwash and alpine steppe vegetation in Wangchuck Centennial National Park.

These findings highlight the importance of ongoing research efforts and the use of DNA testing to confirm the presence of Pallas's cat in various regions of the Himalayas. 

Research on the distribution and status of Pallas's cat in India is limited, and more comprehensive studies are needed to confirm its presence, understand its ecology in the region, and assess any potential threats it may face.

Pallas's Cat Conservation Status

1. IUCN Status:

Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul) is classified as "Least Concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. 


Pallas's cat is also listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily currently threatened with extinction but may become so without trade regulation. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted, but it is subject to certain controls to ensure that it is not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.

3. International Conservation:

Efforts to protect Pallas's cat involve a combination of conservation strategies, research initiatives, habitat preservation, and community engagement. Organizations such as the Pallas's Cat Working Group (PCWG) and the Pallas's Cat International Conservation Alliance (PICA) play important roles in coordinating conservation activities and advocating for the protection of this species.


Pallas's cat faces several threats in its natural habitat. The primary threats include:

1. Habitat Loss and Fragmentation:

Human activities such as agriculture, mining, and infrastructure development lead to habitat loss and fragmentation. Loss of suitable habitat reduces the availability of prey species and disrupts the cat's natural behavior.

2. Poaching and Illegal Trade:

Pallas's cats are sometimes targeted for their fur or captured for the exotic pet trade. The illegal trade in wildlife poses a significant threat to the species.

3. Climate Change:

Climate change can impact the availability of prey species, affecting the Pallas's cat's food sources. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can also alter the cat's natural habitat.

4. Disease:

Diseases transmitted by domestic animals, such as domestic cats and dogs, can pose a threat to Pallas's cats. They may be vulnerable to diseases for which they have little immunity.

5. Unsustainable Grazing Practices:

Livestock grazing can degrade the natural habitat and compete with Pallas's cat for resources. Overgrazing can lead to changes in vegetation composition and structure.

6. Herding Dogs:

Cases of herding dogs killing Pallas's cats have been reported in Iran, Kazakhstan, and the Altai Republic.

7. Rodenticide Use:

In Mongolia, the use of the rodenticide bromadiolone in rodent control measures has inadvertently poisoned the prey base of carnivores, including Pallas's cat.

Pallas's Cat Facts

Here are some interesting facts about Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul):

1. Unique Appearance: Pallas's cat has a distinctive appearance with a stocky build, short legs, and a flat face. Its fur is long and dense, adapted to its cold, high-altitude habitat.

2. Range and Habitat: Pallas's cat is found in the grasslands and steppes of Central Asia, including Mongolia, China, Russia, and parts of Iran and Central Asia. It inhabits rocky areas and open landscapes at high altitudes.

3. Altitude Record: Pallas's cat is known to inhabit high-altitude regions and holds the record for being observed at the highest altitude among all cat species.

4. Nocturnal and Crepuscular: Pallas's cat is primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, being most active during dawn and dusk. Its hunting strategy involves stalking and ambushing small mammals.

5. Facial Features: Pallas's cat has a flat face with round pupils, which is unique among small wild cats. The cat's facial expression can give it a look of ferocity and unrest.

6. Ear Adaptations: Pallas's cat has low-set, rounded ears that can be flattened against the head. This adaptation allows it to hide behind rocks and other objects, minimizing its visibility to potential threats.

7. Conservation Status: Pallas's cat is classified as "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss, poaching, and other threats. Conservation efforts aim to protect its habitat and mitigate human-wildlife conflicts.

8. Reproduction: Female Pallas's cats become sexually mature at around one year of age. Gestation lasts 66 to 75 days, and they give birth to litters of two to six kittens. Kittens are born with closed eyes, and their fur gradually grows longer as they develop.

9. Nomadic Lifestyle: Pallas's cats are known for their nomadic lifestyle, moving across their large home ranges in search of prey.

10. Communication: Pallas's cats communicate using vocalizations such as growls, mews, and hisses. Scent marking and visual cues, including facial expressions, play a role in their communication.

11. International Trade Regulation: Pallas's cat is listed in Appendix II of CITES, regulating international trade to ensure it doesn't threaten the species' survival in the wild.

Pallas's Cat UPSC Questions

Q. Why is it called Pallas Cat?

A. The Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul) is named after the German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas, who first described the species in 1776. Peter Pallas was a prominent 18th-century naturalist and explorer of German origin. He conducted extensive scientific expeditions in Russia, studying the flora and fauna of the region.

During his travels, Pallas encountered the small wild cat with distinctive features in the steppes and grasslands of Central Asia. In recognition of his contributions to the field of natural history and the documentation of this unique cat species, the scientific name "Felis manul" was given to it, with the specific epithet "manul" derived from the Mongolian name for the cat.

Over time, taxonomic revisions led to the reclassification of the Pallas's cat within the genus Otocolobus, resulting in its current scientific name, Otocolobus manul.

So, the name "Pallas's cat" pays homage to Peter Simon Pallas, the naturalist who played a significant role in the early exploration and documentation of the wildlife in the regions where this cat species is found.

Q. What is the status of Pallas cat in IUCN?

A. The Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul) is classified as "Least Concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. 

Q. What is the Pallas cat known for?

A.  The Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul) is known for several distinctive features and characteristics:

1. Unique Appearance: Pallas's cat has a unique and distinctive appearance with a stocky build, short legs, and a flat face. Its appearance is often described as stout and plush.

2. Fur and Coloration: The cat's fur is long, dense, and soft, adapted to its cold, high-altitude habitat. It has a light gray background color with pale yellowish-ochre or pale yellowish-reddish hues. The fur is grayer and denser in winter, with fewer markings visible.

3. Facial Features: Pallas's cat has a flat face with a broad forehead. The top of the head is light gray with small black spots, and it has two black zigzag lines on the cheeks running from the corner of the eyes to the jaw joints. The chin, whiskers, and lips are white.

4. Ears and Eyes: The cat's ears are rounded, set low on the sides, and have a distinctive appearance. They are gray with a yellowish tinge on the back and a darker rim. The eyes are encircled by white, and the iris is yellowish with round pupils.

5. Habitat and Altitude: Pallas's cat is known for inhabiting high-altitude regions, including the steppes and grasslands of Central Asia. It holds the record for being observed at the highest altitude among all cat species.

6. Nocturnal Behavior: Pallas's cat is primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning it is most active during dawn and dusk. This behavior is adapted to its hunting strategy of stalking and ambushing small mammals.

7. Nomadic Lifestyle: Pallas's cats are known for their nomadic lifestyle, covering large home ranges as they move across their habitats in search of prey.

8. Elusiveness: Pallas's cats are elusive and shy, making them challenging to observe in the wild. Their secretive nature contributes to the limited understanding of their behavior and ecology.

Pallas's Cat

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