We are two reporters from the Yomiuri Shimbun who simply adore cats. Whenever we don’t see our feline friends, we long for their comfort. The mere mention of cats excites us greatly, but our busy lives deprive us of their nourishment. So, we’ve grown to seek cats that are unique and special. We found ourselves drawn to Pallas’s cats! According to a Japanese saying, the day you come up with an idea is the best day to start working on it. So, we embarked on a journey to Nasu Animal Kingdom in Tochigi Prefecture, where two Pallas’s cats reside. Pallas’s cats, also known as manul, are believed to be the oldest species in the cat family. They have a distinctive appearance due to their expressive eyes, flat faces, and thick fur. Bol, a seven-year-old male born in a Japanese zoo, and Polly, a six-year-old female from a Swedish zoo, are the two cats residing at Nasu Animal Kingdom. Their popularity skyrocketed after videos showing their facial expressions and peculiar hunting methods went viral. Upon our arrival at the animal kingdom, we were greeted by Bol, who sat quietly on a stump, staring at us with his powerful and round pupils. Common domestic cats have vertical pupils, whereas Pallas’s cats have round pupils, giving them a unique appearance. They have human-like expressions, thanks to their pupils. However, it’s unknown whether this trait provides them with an advantage to survive in the wild.
Polly, a female Pallas’ cat, has a fondness for walking on snow and was spotted approaching visitors along with Bol. These cats have thick winter pelage due to their natural habitat in Central Asia where they endure extreme climate conditions. They are perfectly adapted to the cold Japanese winter and are supported in maintaining their wild nature at the facility. They move like they do when they hunt, showcasing their characteristic behavior and wild demeanor. Although undeniably cute, they emit menacing hisses instead of meowing, except during the breeding season when males may occasionally meow.
Bol, the Pallas’s cat, stretches his body as he watches people approach him. He is not one to be held or cuddled, as his sharp claws and defensive nature make it clear that he prefers to keep his distance. Visitors to the exhibition room are advised to carry a shield if they want to get close. Watching these cats eat is also a sight to behold, as they devour horsemeat with wild abandon. It’s clear that these cats demand respect.
The Pallas’s cat has had a difficult history, with its population declining sharply due to hunting for their fur. They were once on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a near-threatened species. However, efforts to protect them have been successful, and they are now categorized as of “least concern” on the list.
In Japan, 16 Pallas’s cats are kept at zoos and animal parks. These facilities have learned from past mistakes and are doing their best to protect these cats, who naturally inhabit high altitudes and can be susceptible to contagious diseases. Despite their reputation for being aloof and defensive, the cats at these parks showed a curious and playful side, coming up to the glass walls to investigate and play.
Observing these cats up close revealed the diversity of their expressions and movements. Far from just being cute, they are fascinating creatures that deserve protection. As we left the park, we felt renewed in our determination to help protect these cats and hoped to see them again.