How familiar are you with the world’s small wild cats? Did you know that there are 28 cat species that weigh less than 50 lbs? These pint-sized predators may not get the fanfare or attention that their larger feline cousins do, but they play just as important a role as predators of smaller prey animals.
The Cincinnati Zoo is known for its unique variety of small cats. In Night Hunters, you can see species you may never had heard of such as the black-footed cat, the sand cat, the fishing cat and the feisty furry feline known as the Pallas’ cat.
Named for the German naturalist, Peter Pallas, the Pallas’ cat has a reputation for being a tough customer, and it always seems to be wearing quite a stern expression. I suppose this is for good reason. In order to survive in the harsh, mountainous climate of Central Asia where it has to steer clear from wolves, large birds of prey, domestic dogs and other predators while hunting for its own prey, it would have to be tough.
The Zoo is also known for its research on the reproductive biology of small cats. The Pallas’ cat is one of the five small cat species with which our Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) works on its Small Cat Signature Project.
In addition to conducting zoo-based research, we also support the research and conservation of Pallas’ cats in the wild. Though it is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, little is actually known about this elusive feline, which researchers have come to call “small ghost of the mountain”. In fact, scientists aren’t even sure of its true range.
To that end, we are currently supporting research out of the Siberian Environmental Center (SibEcoCenter) to identify where Pallas’ cats are found in Kazakhstan. This project aims to determine whether Pallas’ cats are present in the area around Lake Zaissan through the use of camera traps and interviews with local people. The data will help construct a complete picture of the actual distribution of Pallas’ cats across Central Asia, which is essential to conservation planning.
Thus far, the project has verified that Pallas’ cats are present in Eastern Kazakhstan. The next step will involve thoroughly investigating smaller sites to estimate the cat’s population density in this region.
So while we don’t exactly know where all the Pallas’ cats are in the wild, we do know you can find a pair of the original “grumpy cats” right here in the Night Hunters exhibit at the Zoo! Sophia and Buster blend in with, and tend to hang out on top of, the rocks in their habitat so be sure to look closely and up high. And if you happen to catch their eye, be glad you’re on the other side of the glass.