A Pallas’s cat, or manul, at Zoo Zürich, Switzerland.
Photo by Winkelbohrer
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Our subject today is a distant wild cat cousin, the manul or Pallas’s cat. The manul, whose scientific name is Otocolobus manul, is a fascinating feline, with a broad head and small, rounded ears. One of the most interesting things about this cat is its eyes: look closely, and you’ll see that the pupils are perfectly round rather than crescent-shaped like your pet cat’s.
A coveted coat
Look at those eyes!
A Pallas’s cat, or manul,
ventures to peer out of a hole at
Wildlife Heritage Foundation's Marley
Farm Animal Sanctuary (Ashford,
Photo by Nick Jewell
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The manul is about the same size as a domestic cat, though it looks bigger because its build is stocky and it has a long, dense coat. That fur coat is necessary for keeping warm in the areas of central Asia—especially Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and the Tibetan Plateau—where this cat lives. The fur is almost twice as long on the underparts and tail as on other parts of the body, and it changes color with the season: turning gray in the winter (and also growing longer and heavier), and reddish-gray in the spring. The pattern of the coat helps manuls stay hidden against the rocky outcrops of the alpine deserts and steppe grasslands where they live.
A declining population
That dense coat has also made the manul a victim of hunting for its fur. Hunting could be one reason the population is thought to be declining (it is listed as Near Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List). Another problem is that sometimes people poison the small rodents that the cats prey on. (How would you like it if we poisoned your food?) If you’re inviting a manul to dinner, you should plan on serving pika, vole, or ground squirrel.
The IUCN says there may be about 15,000 manuls in the wild, though it’s hard to know for sure because the animals are solitary and secretive.
The inspiration for this post came from a line in John Bradshaw’s book Cat Sense, which says that manuls may once have been tamed for rodent control. This would have happened in ancient China and central Asia, according to Bradshaw, but so far, She of Little Talent hasn’t been able to confirm that it is true. She will keep looking.
To learn more about the manul, see
And for a real up-close look at a manul, here’s a nice video for you: