Hellabrunn Zoo supports Pallas's cat conservation

Ever heard of a Pallas’s cat? Despite its name, the species is not a domestic cat, but rather a potentially endangered small wild cat from Central Asia. Hellabrunn Zoo is home to two Pallas’s cats who live in the Asia geozone, next to the Jungle World.

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Eva Korb

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Daniela Hierl

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / PICA

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / PICA

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / PICA

Relatively little is known about the Pallas’s cat, also called manul. They are native to the rocky steppes, deserts and low and high mountains of Central Asia. Their diet comprises primarily small mammals and birds, but also includes insects. Pallas's cats are extremely shy animals, and mostly active at dusk and dawn. During the day, their light grey-brown coat provides excellent camouflage for blending in with the rocky landscape. As a result they are rarely seen.

When sighted, their stocky posture and dense fur often make them appear larger than they really are. On average a Pallas's cat is about 60 cm long, not much larger than a domestic cat. Another distinguishing characteristic of this Asian wild cat species is its face: the eyes and ears are set wide apart, giving the Pallas's cat the appearance of always being in a bad mood. In contrast to most other types of small cat, its pupils are circular as opposed to slit-shaped.

The species is classified as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with the current population estimated at 15,000 worldwide, with a continuing decline in the number of individuals. This is mainly due to increasing habitat loss, poaching (for their fur) and government sanctioned poisoning of their main prey, pikas, to control the population of the latter. Since very little is known about the small wild cat, it is still very difficult to determine what conservation measures are most effective. In order to improve our understanding of the species, the conservation project PICA (Pallas's Cat International Conservation Alliance) was established in 2016. The project focuses on the research, population assessment and observation of the Pallas’s cat in countries such as Mongolia, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Iran and Pakistan.

The findings of the three-year project will provide the basis for a long-term, global conservation plan for the Pallas’s cat. The project includes field researchers in natural habitats, as well as experts from various European zoos. Hellabrunn Zoo supports the project not only financially, but also through public relations activities and the collection of data from the two small wild cats living at the zoo. The behaviour and health of the Pallas’s cats in Munich will be regularly monitored, analysed and recorded. With better global knowledge of the Pallas’s cat, this will not only assist in the long-term conservation of the species itself, but also its entire habitat, including many other animal and plant species.

For more information on PICA please visit