Bringing Pallas’s Cat Conservation Into Focus

The Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul) shares remote, mountainous habitat in Central Asia with its bigger “cousin,” the snow leopard. Like the snow leopard, very little is known about this small wild cat. Scientists from across the range have come together in an international effort to study the Pallas’s cat conservation status. In Mongolia’s South Gobi we have also worked to increase awareness of the species among local people.

The Pallas’s cat (also known as the manul) is a small and secretive cat that lives on the steppes and mountain grasslands in Central Asia from the Himalayas to the southern rim of the boreal forest in Russia. Despite its vast distribution, for the majority of its range very little is known about Pallas’s cat ecology and conservation status. Lack of knowledge hinders targeted and effective conservation efforts.

A Pallas’s cats in the Nemegt Mountains in southern Mongolia. Research camera photo by Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation/Snow Leopard Trust.

To address this challenge, the Snow Leopard Trust, Nordens Ark (Sweden), and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland started the Pallas’s Cat International Conservation Alliance (PICA) which aims to improve awareness and knowledge about the Pallas’s cat and to enhance global conservation efforts. Last fall PICA joined forces with the IUCN Cat Specialist Group and experts from the Pallas’s cat range countries to develop a Status Review for the species. The review summarizes the available knowledge about the Pallas’s cat and identifies important knowledge gaps, the main threats to the species, research and conservation needs, and outlines the first Conservation Strategy for the species. This Status Review was published as a special issue in Cat News this spring. View or download the Status Review.

The Status Review is a great tool for conservationists and policy makers across the range as it highlights the latest knowledge and the conservation status and conservation needs for the Pallas’s cat. “This is a milestone document for the conservation of Pallas’s cats and it was great to see the collaborative effort from experts throughout the range when developing the Status Review,” says the Trust’s Assistant Director of Science, Gustaf Samelius.

A Pallas’s cats in the Zoolon Mountains in southern Mongolia. Research camera photo by Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation/Snow Leopard Trust.

The project also aims to build awareness about the Pallas’s cat at the local level. PICA and Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (Mongolia) are working on a research project with National University of Mongolia Masters student Otgontamir Chimed. Otgontamir used educational materials to strengthen local understanding of the small cat in the South Gobi. Her research took place in the mountainous region of the Gobi-Gurvansaikhan National Park which also is home to a population of snow leopards. Otgontamir interviewed herders who live in the National Park to understand their knowledge about the Pallas’s cat and what they considered were threats to the cats. She then provided each household with educational materials about the cat’s ecology and threats.

Otgontamir discussing the educational material with herders in the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. Photo by Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation/Snow Leopard Trust.

A year later, Otgontamir returned and interviewed the same herders. She found that the herders’ ability to recognize the Pallas’s cat, together with their knowledge about threats to its existence, increased significantly one year after delivering the educational materials. During her second visit, Otgontamir also mapped the distribution of Pallas’s cats in the area using local knowledge and some of the latest distribution modelling approaches.

“In 2017, I started my fieldwork which was to interview local herders about the Pallas’s cat. When I was conducting interviews, most herders were shy and would say ‘Oh, I don’t know much about the Pallas’s cat,’ and seemed nervous to talk to me. But when I repeated my work in 2018, it was surprisingly easy to do. The local people would talk eagerly! The herders started to call me ‘the manul lady,’” shares Otgontamir.

The next step for PICA and their colleagues is to work with policy makers to continue to increase awareness and conservation actions across the range. For more information on the Pallas’s cat, please see the Pallas’s Cat International Conservation Alliance website.

Pallas cat distribution. Source: IUCN

Acknowledgments:
We are very grateful to the numerous people and organizations who have supported our work on Pallas’s cats and helped us produce the Status Review for Pallas’s cats. We are especially grateful to Fondation Segré for their generous support.

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