What is a Pallas' Cat?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Pallas' Cat or Otocolobus manul is a wild cat which is native to the steppes of Asia. These cats are variously classified as threatened or endangered, depending on which criteria are used. In either case, biologists generally agree that action should be taken to preserve the Pallas' Cat, and a number of zoos around the world have established breeding programs, exchanging the cats they breed to keep them diverse and healthy.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

This wildcat is named for Peter Pallas, who observed them around the 18th century. Pallas initially thought that these cats were the forerunners of the modern Persian breed, as they look rather like Persians. Research has proved that the Pallas' cat is actually an entirely different species, however, and unlike a Persian, a Pallas's Cat is not something a person wants on his or her lap!

Pallas' Cats are about the size of ordinary housecats, with very stocky, muscular bodies. They also have extremely long fur and short legs, which make them look a little boxy. Pallas' Cats have distinctively flattened faces, and most notably, their pupils are round, rather than vertical. Their bodies are adapted for life at high altitude, with broad feet which allow them to walk on snow, and thick, luxurious coats to keep them warm.

The Pallas' Cat is gray to taupe in color, with vertical stripes which are sometimes hard to identify in the cat's thick fur. The long fur is often tipped with white, making the Pallas' Cat look slightly frosty, and the cats have long, thick tails which they use to balance. They have lifespans of around 12 years, maturing at around a year of age. Female Pallas' Cats have litters of six to eight kittens every spring.

Habitat pressure is one reason why stocks of the Pallas' Cat are in decline. The other reason is the poisoning of the primary food source for the Pallas' Cat, a rabbit relative called a pika. Pikas are viewed as pests in central Asia, and the cats are sometimes poisoned by eating poisoned pikas. Like many members of the feline family, the Pallas' Cat can be a bit irascible, and while it may seem tempting to pet one, this is not advised.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


As a 'Cat Fancier' I had never heard of this Felid before. They look somewhat like a smaller version of the Himalayan Snow Leopard. Probably distantly related evolutionarily?


Persian cats are so particular in the way they're bred by professionals, it surprises me that there might be a similar-looking species in the wild. This is because Persian cats, like pug dogs and some other breeds of cats and dogs, are not really very well put together in terms of survival. Their thick fur, their small faces, and their small builds all make them sort of vulnerable compared to most varieties.


I actually thought they were called this because of some connection to the Greek goddess Pallas Athene. I suppose I forgot that it was not the Greeks who revered cats, but the Egyptians.

Either way, though, these cats probably are very closely related to the most ancient forms of house cats.

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