The Prospect Park Zoo has joined a program to breed Pallas’s cats (Otocolobus manul), which are classified as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The zoo will breed the cats as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program between AZA-accredited zoos, to help maintain genetically viable, sustainable zoo populations. Currently, there are 42 Pallas’s cats in 18 accredited AZA zoos that participate in the SSP.

Pallas’s cats, native to the Central Asian steppes of Mongolia, China, and other central Asian countries and are at risk because they are hunted for their fur and organs, which are used in traditional medicines.  And like many small animals, they are accidentally caught in traps set for larger predators like wolves.

“Because Pallas’s cats are not common in U.S. zoos, our work to breed these cats will be pivotal to their conservation,” said Denise McClean, Director of the Prospect Park Zoo.

The new exhibit will give visitors an opportunity to view male, Batu, from Krakow Zoo and female, Sarnai, from Helsinki Zoo.  Both cats are new to the Prospect Park Zoo. The exhibit features a rocky terrain that provides several hiding places, much like their native habitat. The outdoor space will let the cold-weather cats experience similar climate to what they would in the wild.

Pallas’s cats are primarily a solitary species, and only come together for breeding. For this reason, both cats will be seen at the same time only rarely. Because they are seasonal breeders and there is only a short window of time where females are receptive, keepers will need to watch closely for subtle behavioral signals in the weeks leading up to their breeding season to ensure they male and female have access to each other at the right time.

Pallas’s cats are small and resemble domestic cats, but the species is not closely related to domestic breeds. The Pallas’s cat is the sole member of its own genus.  They have striking characteristics including perfectly round irises instead of slits like most small cats.  They are well adapted for their cold, rocky environment, with a thick fur coat and flat heads with side-positioned ears that allow them to peek over rocks without being seen by prey. The species is named after the Prussian naturalist Peter Simon Pallas who first described the species in 1776.

In 1993, the Wildlife Conservation Society helped establish the Chang Tang Nature Reserve in the northwestern part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China, the second largest protected area on Earth. The reserve provides protection for a unique assemblage of wildlife such as the Tibetan gazelle, wild yak, wolf, snow leopard and, of course, the Pallas’s cat.

The story of the construction of the Pallas’s cat exhibit and its new residents will be featured in the third season of Animal Planet’s THE ZOO, which premieres Sunday, February 10 at 8pm (EST).  The series takes viewers behind the scenes at the Bronx Zoo and the other WCS wildlife parks in New York City including the Prospect Park Zoo and tells powerful, compelling stories of animals and their keepers, and the zoos’ contribution to conserving wildlife around the globe.

Read more about the Prospect Park Zoo Pallas’s cats on the WCS Wild View photo blog -