Pallas’ cats may look like the Mr. Wuffles you have at home, but don’t be fooled. Pound for pound, the Pallas’ cat can be one of the most aggressive wild felines out there and should be treated more like a tiger than a house cat.
Some of the attributes that make them look cute actually have practical purposes. The long, dense fur that makes them look fluffy is twice as long on the belly as on the top and sides. This helps them keep warm as they crouch while hunting on the frozen ground in the cold climates they inhabit. Their coat is the longest and densest of all felines, and it gives them the illusion of being bigger than they really are.
Their small, rounded ears are set low on the sides of the short, broad head. While this makes them look like they are perpetually in fight mode, it helps them hunt prey in open, unprotected terrain, allowing them to peer over rocks and grass without being betrayed by their ears. Their scientific name, Otocolobus, comes from the Greek language and can be translated to “ugly-eared.”
Populations are declining in the wild primarily due to the widespread poisoning of their primary prey, pika.
The captive population is also very small and there are challenges in breeding. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) is encouraging breeding at Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions.
In February, the Pueblo Zoo partnered with expert Dr. Bill Swanson of the Cincinnati Zoo to attempt artificial insemination. While initial indications were positive, the attempt did not result in babies. This winter, the zoo will try again with a more natural method: A new male Pallas’ cat has arrived in time for breeding season, which is mid-to-late December.
Already a solitary, elusive animal, it is not surprising that Pallas’ cat breeding is very secretive. The zoo will install a dictaphone to capture sounds that indicate breeding to pinpoint when breeding happens and determine when birth will happen.
If mating is successful, cameras will be mounted in the nest box to monitor the pregnancy. This will allow zookeepers to give the mother as much monitoring as possible while allowing privacy. If successful, the birth would be 68-72 days after breeding. After breeding season, the male and female are kept apart, as they are solitary animals and do not naturally mix in the wild outside of mating season.