Propagating a Passel of Pallas’ Cats

Posted January 25, 2018
Pallas' cat (Photo: Lisa Hubbard)
Pallas’ cat (Photo: Lisa Hubbard)

Pallas’ cats (Otocolobus manul) have been one of the focal species for conservation research at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) for the past 20 years. Our studies in zoos and the wild have explored the intricacies of Pallas’ cat biology, helping to define their pronounced reproductive seasonality controlled primarily by light exposure, and to document their extreme susceptibility to the Toxoplasma parasite that can adversely affect neonatal survival.

Our research into assisted reproduction also has provided zoos with another means to propagate this rare species when natural breeding fails. This accumulated knowledge has been shared with the Pallas’ Cat Species Survival Plan (SSP) and the 15 North American zoos that maintain this species.  By providing breeding, veterinary and other husbandry advice and monitoring fecal hormones for pregnancy diagnosis in select breeding pairs, CREW is helping to ensure that Pallas’ cats have every opportunity to reproduce and thrive.

Pallas' cat kitten produced by artificial insemination performed by CREW scientists (Photo: Columbus Zoo & Aquarium)
Pallas’ cat kitten produced by artificial insemination performed by CREW scientists (Photo: Columbus Zoo & Aquarium)

The value of this science was demonstrated in the past year when five of the eight breeding females in the SSP conceived and gave birth to 18 kittens. One of these pregnancies, at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, resulted from artificial insemination conducted by CREW scientists, producing a healthy female kitten that was the first offspring born to this breeding pair. The birth and survival of healthy kittens has increased the Pallas’ cat SSP population by over 50% in a single year and enhanced the sustainability of this species in our zoos for years to come.

At the same time, we also contribute to efforts to protect Pallas’ cats in the wild through our support of the recently established Pallas’ Cat International Conservation Alliance (PICA). PICA brings together field researchers, conservation organizations, zoological institutions and conservation specialists to improve our understanding of the species and enhance global conservation efforts. They aim to improve monitoring techniques and gather data on the distribution of Pallas’ cats in the wild, increase knowledge on the species’ basic ecology, create a targeted conservation plan, and raise awareness.

(CREW research supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.)