Otocolobus manul 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Otocolobus manul
Species Authority: (Pallas, 1776)
Common Name(s):
English Pallas's Cat, Manul
French Chat manul
Spanish Gato de Pallas, Gato Manul
Felis manul Pallas, 1776
Taxonomic Notes:

The Pallas’s Cat has retained the monotypic genus Otocolobus and has been placed within the Leopard Cat lineage (Johnson et al. 2006). O'Brien and Johnson (2007) estimated that Otocolobus manul diverged from a Leopard Cat ancestor approximately 5.9 million years ago.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2014-04-22
Assessor(s): Ross, S., Barashkova, A., Farhadinia, M.S., Appel, A., Riordan, P., Sanderson, J. & Munkhtsog, B.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Hunter, L., Mallon, D., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C., Lanz, T. & Breitenmoser, U.
Contributor(s): Zhumabai uulu, K., Khorozyan, I. & Murdoch, J.D.

Pallas’s Cat has a wide but fragmented distribution in the grasslands and montane steppe of Central Asia. Even in optimal steppe habitat in Mongolia Pallas’s Cats occur at a very low density of two to six Pallas’s Cats/100 km2 (Ross in prep.). Their low density is believed to be a result of interspecific predation which restricts their use of habitats to those with good cover from predators, whilst maintaining access to prey. A consequence of habitat specialization is that a low percentage of the landscape is suitable for their needs, and their low density means that relatively large areas are required for conservation of viable populations (Ross et al. 2012). Pallas’s Cats are dependent on marmot burrows or other available cavities to provide dens for daily use and rearing young, which further restricts habitat availability (Ross et al. 2010a). Using the Pallas’s Cat studbook data (Barclay 2013) generation length has been estimated at 3.61 years. However, most populations now experience disturbances resulting in reduced lifespan and lower reproductive output (e.g. Ross 2009). Predation by sympatric carnivores, domestic dogs and human offtake are the main causes of mortality (Ross 2009). While recent records have resulted in small expansions of the species known range, increases in the number and extent of livestock, herders and herding dogs is resulting in increased habitat degradation, displacement and mortalities (Damdinsuren et al. 2008, Barashkova and Smelansky 2011, Ross et al. 2012). Mineral exploitation and infrastructure developments have also increased substantially in Central Asia increasing fragmentation throughout its core range (Selles 2013). Pallas’s Cat continues to be at serious risk from a declining prey base due to pika and rodent control programmes and secondary poisoning. A lack of range-wide data means there is little empirical bases on which to estimate population size and status of Pallas’s Cat. However, based on low detection rates, increases in habitat degradation and the species biological susceptibility to disturbance, populations are suspected to be fragmented and to have declined by 10–15% over the past 11 years (three generations). The species is listed as Near Threatened as it may qualify as Vulnerable under criterion C1 in the future when the population size drops below 10,000 mature individuals (it is currently about 15,000).

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Pallas’s Cat primarily occurs within regions of montane grassland and shrubland steppe of Central Asia, but is found as far west as Western Iran and previously extended into Armenia and Azerbaijan. The core populations of Pallas’s Cat occur in Mongolia and China, where it occurs up to an elevation of 5,050 m on the Tibetan Plateau (Fox and Dorji 2007). In Russia, the Pallas’s Cat occurs along the border with Mongolia and China in the Altai, Tyva, Buryatia Republics, and Zabaikalsky Krai (former Chita province) (Koshkarev 1998, Barashkova et al. 2007). They are found in mountain steppe and semi desert foothills in Kazakhstan but at a much lower density than Russia, Mongolia and China (Barashkova Unpublished report). It is distributed within Eastern Kyrgyzstan but its status in the west of the country is currently unknown (Snow Leopard Trust 2014, K. Zhumabai pers. comm. 2014). Populations in the southwest of its range (the Caspian Sea region, Afghanistan and Pakistan) are diminishing, isolated and sparse (Belousova 1993, Nowell and Jackson 1996, Habibi 2003, Hameed et al. 2014). Recent records from Bhutan and Nepal also suggest its presence in the Himalayas but at a very low density (WWF 2012, Thinley 2013, Shrestha et al. 2014).

Countries occurrence:
Afghanistan; Azerbaijan; Bhutan; China (Beijing - Possibly Extinct, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Tibet [or Xizang], Xinjiang); India (Jammu-Kashmir); Iran, Islamic Republic of; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Mongolia; Nepal; Pakistan; Russian Federation (Altay, Buryatiya, Chita, Tuva)
Possibly extinct:
Armenia (Armenia)
Additional data:
Lower elevation limit (metres):450
Upper elevation limit (metres):5050
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Pallas’s Cat has a wide distribution across Central Asia and west into Iran. However it is rarely sighted. Due to recent habitat degradation and habitat specialisation shown by the species the population is likely to be fragmented and much of the supposed distribution is likely to be unoccupied by the species. Undocumented populations of Pallas’s Cat are still being found resulting in small extensions of its range into Nepal and Bhutan. At the same time a lack of recent records from range countries indicates possible expatriation from its historic range.

Mongolia is probably the stronghold of Pallas's Cat. In the steppe grasslands of Central Mongolia, Ross (2009) radio-collared 29 cats and estimated density at 4-8 cats/100 km². High densities of Pallas’s Cat have also been recorded in Russia indirectly estimated using snow tracking (Barashkova and Kiriliuk 2011). The largest Russian populations occur in Tyva Republic and Zabaikalsky Krai, with important populations in Altai and Buryatia republics (Barashkova et al. 2007).

Across the Tibetan plateau, Pallas's Cat is considered widespread but nowhere very common (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The species is considered rare and uncommon in Afghanistan (Habibi 2003) and India (Ladakh, Kashmir and Sikkim; Chanchani 2008). Few records exist from Pakistan, but the Pallas’s Cat is confirmed to occur in Baluchistan province, the northwest district of Chitral and in Gilgit-Baltistan province (Hameed et al. 2014). Pallas’s Cat is broadly distributed across Iran with most records coming from the northern mountains, but also being found in arid areas of the south and central regions (Aghili et al. 2008, Farhadinia et al. 2012, Joolaee et al. 2014). In Turkmenistan Pallas’s Cat is extremely rare and largely unknown. Records have only come from the mountains of the south and west, and in the highlands of the north-west (Lukarevsky 2001). Since 1983 Pallas’s Cat has only been recorded in the Syunt-Khasardag Reserve (S.I. Zabelin, pers. comm., cited in Lukarevsky 2001). Pallas’s Cat is found in eastern Kyrgyzstan, with the majority of records coming from mountainous regions in Issyk Kul Province and southern Naryn Province (K. Zhumabai pers. comm. 2014). Its occurrence in western Kyrgyzstan remains unconfirmed. No information is available on the status of the Pallas’s Cat in Tajikistan (Saidov 2007) and Uzbekistan (Azimov 2009), and as a result populations are assumed to be small or locally extinct. It has disappeared from much of its former range around the Caspian Sea (Belousova 1993). Its status in Azerbaijan is uncertain, and the last observation of the Pallas’s Cat in Armenia was made in the 1920s (Ognev 1935, Khorozyan 2010).

The area of occupancy (AOO) of Pallas’s Cat is estimated as 2,269,000 km². This estimate however is based on very few records (<500) from the past 15 years. Large areas between these sightings, where the status of the Pallas’s Cat is assumed but uncertain, are also included in the AOO. For the purpose of red listing and due to our uncertainty we have taken a precautionary approach to estimating the population size of mature individuals. Our estimate is based upon only 30% of the estimated AOO actually supporting Pallas’s Cat populations. Within this area we have used a density of three Pallas’s Cats/100 km². Using these approximations and assuming 25% of the population is immature, the population size is estimated as 15,315 mature individuals. As the population size is close to that classified as Least Concern (LC), it is possible that with more information Pallas’s Cat could be listed under the LC category.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:15000Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:Yes
Continuing decline in subpopulations:No
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Pallas's Cats are distributed in landscapes with extreme continental climates - little rainfall, low humidity, and a wide range of temperatures. They are rarely found in areas where the mean ten-day snow cover depth exceeds 10 cm, and a continuous snow cover of 15-20 cm is thought to mark the ecological limit for this species (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). They are generally associated with montane grassland steppe and shrub steppe, but show habitat specificity, selecting habitats providing hiding cover such as ravines and rocky areas that allow them to move through the landscape without being detected (Ross 2009, Ross et al. 2012). Their optimal habitat is believed to consist of a mix of grassland and shrub steppe with rocky cover, ravines and hill-slopes. They are largely absent from lowland desert basins or flat plains although may penetrate these areas along seasonal river courses or other disruptive cover (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Ross 2009).

Many aspects of Pallas’s Cat ecology are influenced by predation pressure from larger sympatric carnivores. Pallas’s Cat is predated by large raptors, the Wolf and Red Foxes. Domestic dogs are also known to be an important introduced predator (Ross et al. 2012). Due to predation pressure Pallas’s Cat strongly selects habitats providing hiding cover and avoids open habitats. Selection results in a low percentage (20 – 30%) of the landscape being utilised by the species (Ross 2009). Analyses has shown that the home range size of Pallas’s Cat is determined by the distribution and availability of preferred cover habitats (Ross et al. 2012).

Pallas’s Cat also has a strong dependency on marmot burrows and/or rock cavities as refuges. Refuges are a critical resource used on a daily basis for shelter and extremely important for raising young (Ross et al. 2010a).

The annual home ranges of Pallas’s Cat are unusually large for a small felid. Researchers in Mongolia have measured mean annual home ranges as follows (Ross et al. 2012):

Female = 95% kernals 23.1 ± 8.9 km²; 100% MCP = 64.1+/-18.6; n = 13

Male = 95% kernals 98.8 ± 17.2 km², 100% MCP = 159.0 +/- 59.3 n = 9

Radio-tracking studies of Pallas’s Cat in the Daursky State Nature Reserve (Zabaikalsky Krai, Russia) calculated the following ranges (Barashkova and Kiriliuk 2011):

Female = 95% kernels 6.0 ± 3.4 km²; 100% MCP = 10.0 ± 6.5 km²                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Males = 95% kernels 22.9 ± 12.9 km²; 100% MCPs = 16.5 ± 9.4 km²

In Mongolia Pallas’s Cat eats a broad range of small mammals (Ochotona, Alticola, Meriones, Lasiopodomys, Cricetulus), insects, birds, reptiles, and carrion. Pallas’s Cat specializes on pikas, which are selected disproportionately to their availability while other more numerous prey items used less than expected. Pikas optimize energy intake per unit foraging by Pallas’s Cat because pikas are 2–4 times larger than other available small mammal prey (Ross et al. 2010b). Pallas’s Cat also feeds on jerboas (Dipus sagitta and Allactaga spp) and lambs of the Argali Sheep (Ovis ammon) in Mongolia (Murdoch et al. 2006). Similar feeding preferences have been observed in China, where Pallas’s Cats feed predominately on pikas, small rodents, birds (partridge Pyrrhocorax), hares (Lepus) and marmots (Marmota), and appear to be most numerous where pikas and voles are abundant (Wozencraft 2008).

Like its prey, Pallas’s Cat is predominantly active in the early morning and evening (crepuscular), but can be active at any time of day (Ross 2009). Although unproven it is likely that Pallas’s Cat populations fluctuate widely with their small mammal prey base (Purevsuren 2004). In addition there is a strong overlap of Pallas’s Cat distribution with the distribution of pika, their preferred prey (Ross 2009).

Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):3.61
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: For information on Use and Trade see under Threats and also under Conservation Actions.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): New information regarding Pallas’s Cat’s biological susceptibility to threats has recently been made available. Pallas’s Cat has several known and tested causes of vulnerability, including feeding and habitat specialization, large range sizes, dependency on shelters made by other threatened species (marmots), and vulnerability to pastoralist activities which are ubiquitous throughout its range (high associated mortality and displacement by herding activities).

The most serious threat to Pallas’s Cat is habitat degradation and fragmentation. Degradation is occurring through increased human population size and expansion of animal husbandry across the species range (Barashkova et al. 2007, Damdinsuren et. al. 2008, Huanguang and van Veen 2014). In Mongolia livestock numbers have increased from 33 million in 1999 to 45 million in 2013, with a forecast annual increase of 10.2% (National Statistical Office of Mongolia 2013). As well as habitat degradation, with livestock come domestic herding dogs which are known to be an important predator of Pallas’s Cat (Barashkova and Smelansky 2011, Farhadinia et al. 2012, Ross et al. 2012, Joolaee et al. 2014). Across the region other sources of habitat fragmentation include infrastructural developments, development of the mining industry (Awehali 2011, Paltsyn et al. 2012, Selles 2013), and the petrochemical industry in China (Abdukadir 1997). Due to habitat loss it is very likely that Pallas’s Cat populations are becoming increasingly fragmented and isolated. In Russia, there is believed to be a risk of loss of isolated subpopulations, particularly in Buryatia Republic (A. Barashkova pers. comm. 2014).

Another serious threat is depletion of their prey base through poisoning and over-hunting. Pikas and rodents have been targeted as pests by poisoning campaigns in China and Mongolia because they are believed to compete for forage that could otherwise be utilised by livestock, contribute to grassland degradation, and can serve as vectors for the plague (Clark et al. 2006, Smith and Xie 2008, Delibes-Mateos et al. 2011; Harris et al. 2014). Pika make up the majority of Pallas’s Cat diet and are extremely important for the species persistence (Ross et al. 2010b). Poisoning continues in China where pika populations have been reduced to less than 5% of pre-control densities (Lai and Smith 2003). In Mongolia poison bait campaigns to control small mammal numbers have occurred in all provinces (Clark et al. 2006, Winters 2006) and are continuing. Control of rodents in Russia is also on-going but only at small localized scales which are currently not expected to threaten the species (Shilova and Tchabovsky 2009, A. Barashkova pers. comm. 2014).

Due to sympatric predation the Pallas’s Cat has a dependency on marmot burrows and rock cavities, particularly for raising young (Ross et al. 2010a). Most marmot species remain non-threatened but the Siberian Marmot which overlaps Pallas’s Cat’s range in Russia and Mongolia has declined due to overharvesting and is now classified as Endangered (Batbold et al. 2008). The decline of this species may result in the loss of keystone resources for the Pallas’s Cat and other steppe species (Ross et al. 2010a).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Pallas’s Cat is listed under CITES Appendix II (as Felis manul). Hunting of this species is prohibited in all range countries except Mongolia (Nowell and Jackson 1996), where it has no legal protection despite being classified as Near Threatened in the country (Wingard and Zahler 2006). Trophy hunters can purchase hunting licenses to export trophies, from which US$70 is allocated to the government (Clark et al. 2006).

Approximately 12% of the species range in Mongolia occurs within protected areas (Clark et al. 2006), although Murdoch et al. (2007) found that the Pallas’s Cat's preferred shrub-steppe habitat was under-represented in an important protected area in Central Mongolia (the Ikh Nartiin Chuluun Nature Reserve), and that illegal hunting inside the protected area was frequent.

Due to new initiatives within Russia, protection of Pallas’s Cat within reserves has increased since 2008. Approximately 13% of Pallas’s Cat's range in Russia is now situated within protected areas. Pallas’s Cat habitats are included in Zabaikalsky Krai: federal refuge "Dzeren's Valley", regional wildlife refuges "Aginskaya Steppe", "Gornaya Steppe" and "Semenovsky", protective zone of Sokhondo Nature Reserve near Mongolian border. Pallas’s cat is also found in Sailughemsky National Park (Altai Republic) and in Shuisky Nature Park (Tyva Republic). Tyvan and Daurian State Nature Reserves remain the most important protected areas for Pallas’s Cat conservation. The newly created federal refuge Dzeren's Valley (subordinated to Daursky reserve) is fully situated within Pallas’s Cat's range (Barashkova, pers. comm. 2014, UNDP/GEF 2014).

In China Pallas’s Cat is reported in the following nature reserves: Xuelingyunshan, Tuomuerfeng, Luoshan, Baijitan, Qinghaihuniaodao, Wanglang, Wolong, Zhumulangmafeng, Kalamailishan, Qitaihuangmobanhuangmo, Aerjinshan, Ganjiahu (Xinjiang), Luobupoyeluotuo (China Species Information Service 2008). It is reportedly present in 29 Chinese Nature Reserves (Jutzeler et al. 2010).

The cryptic behaviour and rarity of Pallas’s Cat has resulted in extremely low detection rates of the species across its range. However, fundamental to conserving Pallas’s Cat and recognizing it within conservation action plans is understanding its occurrence. Dedicated surveys to understand the species occupancy, habitats and resources associated with its presence are needed across its range. Following this, more specific conservation action should be implemented to protect resources important for the cat's conservation.

Pallas’s Cat has long been hunted for its fur in relatively large numbers in Mongolia, Russia and China, but international trade in Pallas’s Cat pelts has largely ceased since the late 1980s (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Mongolia is the only range state which permits hunting of Pallas’s Cat for "household purposes". The permitting system is said to be ineffective, and Pallas’s Cat furs are illegally exported to China (Murdoch et al. 2006). Wingard and Zahler (2006) estimated that there are approximately 1,000 hunters of Pallas's Cats in Mongolia, with a mean estimated harvest of two cats per year. Pallas’s Cats are also shot due to them being mistaken for marmots, which are commonly hunted. They are also trapped incidentally in leghold traps set for wolves and foxes, and in snares set for marmot and hares (Ross 2009). Their fat and organs are used as medicine in Mongolia and Russia (IUCN Cats Red List workshop 2007 and A. Barashkova, pers. comm. 2014).

Citation: Ross, S., Barashkova, A., Farhadinia, M.S., Appel, A., Riordan, P., Sanderson, J. & Munkhtsog, B. 2016. Otocolobus manul. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T15640A87840229. . Downloaded on 19 January 2017.
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