The manul, scientifically known as the Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul), is a charming small wild feline boasting long and dense light grey fur, with endearing rounded ears positioned low on the sides of its head. Measuring between 46 to 65 cm (18 to 26 in) in head-and-body length, it sports a bushy tail spanning 21 to 31 cm (8.3 to 12.2 in). This extraordinary creature has mastered the art of camouflage and successfully thrives in the harsh continental climate of its natural habitat, where rainfall is scarce, and temperatures fluctuate significantly.
The manul’s range in Turkmenistan extends from Badkyz Nature Reserve in the north-east along the Kopetdag mountain range to the Balkan province. According to Wikipedia, the Pallas’s cat possible residents along the entire coast of Kara-Bogaz-Gol Gulf. However, this type of wild cat is considered rare in Turkmenistan. However, the manul leads a rather secretive lifestyle and is not very easy to meet in wildlife.
Pallas’s cats have made three appearances on camera traps in Turkmenistan since November 2019. The first and third sightings occurred in the Central Kopet Dag, close to the Iran border, while the second one was documented in the Big Balkan range, situated in northwest Turkmenistan. Notably, the Central Kopet Dag had anecdotal reports of Pallas’s cat sightings, but until recently, there had been no documented records in the Big Balkan range. However, according to older literature dating back to 1962 (Shukurov 1962), Pallas’s cat was purportedly observed in the Big Balkan range back in 1940.
The discovery of the Pallas’s cat traces back to 1776, attributed to Peter Simon Pallas, who first encountered it near Lake Baikal. Since then, the cat has been spotted across vast expanses of Central Asia, occupying diverse locales from the Caucasus, Iranian Plateau, Hindu Kush, parts of the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, to the Altai-Sayan region and South Siberian Mountains. It prefers to inhabit rocky montane grasslands and shrublands, particularly those with snow cover measuring below 15–20 cm (6–8 in). For shelter, it seeks refuge in rock crevices and burrows and preys mainly on lagomorphs and rodents. During spring, the female gives birth to a litter of two to six kittens.
The Pallas’s cat’s adaptability and extensive distribution have led to its classification as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List since 2020. However, certain population groups face threats such as poaching, declining prey numbers due to rodent control programs, and habitat fragmentation from mining and infrastructure projects.
Since the early 1950s, the Pallas’s cat has found a place in various zoos worldwide. Currently, approximately 60 zoos across Europe, Russia, North America, and Japan actively participate in captive breeding programs dedicated to conserving this delightful species.