MANUL (Otocolobus manul)
The manul, also known as the Pallas's cat, is one of the most unique looking of the small cats. With its low set ears, short legs, and flat face, it resembles a Scottish fold house cat. In reality, these attributes allow it to survive in extremely cold weather. Manul are found from the Caucasus, east to central Asia, including Mongolia where our manul photo tour is held.
Manul Photo Tour Statistics
1 MANUL TOUR RUN
17 DIFFERENT MANUL SEEN
30 MINUTES ON AVG
WITH EACH CAT
Manul are small wild cats, with short legs, flat faces, and compact bodies. Their fur color is generally grey, including the cats we photograph during our manul tour, but can be brown or even reddish. Manul have unique stripes on their legs, which is one of the ways to identify individuals. The tail is short and thick, and has black bands with a black tip. The small round ears are set low on their heads, an adaptation that allows manul to hide more successfully from their prey as much of their habitat contains no cover to hide behind. For added protection from the cold and dust, they have a third eyelid, unique among all the felines. Manul weigh between 2.5 to 4.5 kg (5.8 to 10 lbs).
Manul female displaying the unique features of the species, with her compact body, low-set ears, and flat face. The gray fur pattern is typical of the cats we see during our Manul photo tour.
Manul Distribution and Habitat
Manul have an extensive distribution, being found from the Caucasus to central Asia. They are readily found in Mongolia where our manul photo tour is held. They occur in mountainous habitat throughout their range, but also inhabit the vast stepped of Mongolia, Tibet, and China. For our manul photo tour, we look for the cats in rocky areas within the steppe since females prefer to den in these spots as they provide cover and protection. The manul kittens leave the rock piles at dusk, often playing outside the den for hours at a time.
Manul kittens on rocks in Mongolian steppe. These vast grasslands provide plenty of prey for the cats to feed on. The rocky areas provide perfect protection and cover for manul den sites.
Manul Feeding Biology
Manul are active during the day (diurnal) as we as during sunrise and sunset (crepescular). To hunt their preferred prey of rodents, and pikas, they stalk, ambush, and wait at burrow entrances. Songbirds are sometimes caught as well. During our manul photo tour, we see mother's bring back rodent prey back to the den, to feed her kittens. She may do this over and over again to satiate the hunger of her litter. When rodent numbers are particularly high, more kittens are born and more of them will make it to adulthood.
A Brandt's Vole feeds on grass just outside of its burrow. This is when the rodent is most vulnerable to predation by manul.
Manul Social Organization
Like most other cats, manul are solitary and territorial. Male home ranges in Mongolia are four times larger than those of females. Male manul ranges were measured to be 20.9–207 km² and female territories were 7.4–125.5 km². Manul males will try to encompass as many females as possible, but may overlap with other male territories. Manul will scent mark their territory through urine, cheek-rubs, and scrapes. During our tour we tend to see females, so the chances of seeing territorial behavior are lower, but we have observed kittens practicing their cheek-rubbing skills.
A manul kitten scent-marks a rock, claiming it as its own. What was so special about that particular rock, we will never know, but its siblings sure couldn't claim it as theirs!
Manul give birth at very specific times of the year. In Mongolia, where we lead our manul tour, they give birth in May. When females are in oestrus, which lasts for up to 5 days in manul, a male will follow a female relentlessly to try and mature with her. Gestation lasts 66–75 days with an average of 3-4 kittens being born, but as many as eight. Young will disperse at 4-5 months old. Manul live up to 12 years in the wild.
A manul mother and one of her three kittens during out manul of Mongolia photo tour. Manul can give birth up to eight kittens!