Description and Behavior
Peter Pallas, who first described the manul, erroneously suggested that it was the ancestor of the
long-haired Persian breeds of domestic cat, because of its long fur, stocky build and flattened face.
The hair on its underparts and tail is nearly twice as long as on the top and sides (Gao et al.
1987). Like the snow leopard, this presumably helps keep the animal warm when it hunts
on snow, cold rock or frozen ground (A. Abdukadir in litt. 1993). The background color
of its fur varies from grey in the north of its range to fox-red in some parts of the south (Ognev
1935, Pocock 1951, Roberts 1977), although greyish animals are also found in the south
(Heptner and Sludskii 1972). The hairs have white tips, producing a silvery, frosted
appearance in all but the reddest specimens. The body is compact, with short legs marked with
indistinct black bands, and a thick, short, black-tipped tail (about 45% of head-body length).
Weight ranges from 2-4.5 kg (Pocock 1939a, Heptner and Sludskii 1972, Gao et al. 1987).
The forehead is patterned with small black spots. Its ears are small and rounded and set low on
the sides of the head. The auditory bullae are enlarged, similar to those of the sand cat (Pocock
1951, Heptner and Sludskii 1972). The barking call of the manul is similar also to that of the
sand cat (Heptner and Sludskii 1972) and, likewise, the low profile of its head is an
adaptation to hunting in open country where there is little cover (Pocock 1907b).
In the Lake Baikal region, analysis of 502 scats found pikas to form the major part of the manulís prey
(89%), with small rodents also frequently taken (44%). Other prey included susliks (3%), birds (2%)
and insectivores (1%) (Fetisov 1937). Bannikov (1954) reported that one catís
stomach from Mongolia contained the remains of 16 voles; another contained two pikas, one vole and
a hamster. Pikas and small rodents were also reported to be the major prey in Ladakh (Stockley
1936) and China (Feng et al. 1986, Gao et al. 1987, Anon. 1987a, Cai et al. 1989a).
One cat in Baluchistan, Pakistan, was found feeding on chukor partridge (Roberts 1977).
Manuls are generally crepuscular, being most frequently encountered at dusk or in early morning, but
are occasionally seen at mid-day (Heptner and Sludskii 1972). They den in small caves and
rock crevices, and may take refuge in the burrows of other animals such as marmots, foxes and badgers
(Bannikov 1954, Y. Ma pers. comm. 1992). Heptner and Sludskii (1972) reported
that tame manuls hunting for rodents caught not only animals running on the surface, but also
successfully ambushed them by hiding near exits of burrows, using their paws to fish out the inhabitants
when the holes were shallow enough.
Reproductive season (C & W):
Most litters born Apr-May (Fetisov 1937, Bannikov 1954, B. Tan in litt. 1991)
26-42 hours (n=1: Schauenberg 1978) -- 5 days (n=2: Mellen 1989)
Estrus cycle (C): 46 days (n=1: Mellen 1989)
66-67 days (n=2: Mellen 1989); 74-75 days (n=1: Schauenberg 1978)
Litter size (C,W): 3.57 ± 0.53 (n=7: Mellen 1989); range up to six or eight
(Heptner and Sludskii 1972)
Age at sexual maturity (C): females - one year (Mellen 1989)
Longevity (C): up to 11.5 years (Jones 1977)
Habitat and Distribution
The manul is adapted to cold arid environments and has a wide distribution through Central Asia
(Figure 3), but is relatively specialized in its habitat
requirements. It is found in stony alpine desert and grassland habitats, but is generally absent from
lowland sandy desert basins (Bannikov 1954; E. Matjuschkin in litt. 1993), although it
may penetrate these areas along river courses (Ognev 1935): i.e., it has been
recorded from the Dzungarian Basin and Takla Makan Desert in Xinjiang, China (A. Abdukadir
in litt. 1993). The small southern populations in Baluchistan, isolated from the main population,
occur in montane juniper steppe (Roberts 1977). The manulís range ends in the north where
the steppes meet coniferous taiga forest (Bannikov 1954). It has been found at altitudes up
to 4,800 m (Feng et al. 1986), but it does not occur at such high elevations as the snow
leopard, and is more strongly associated with flat, rolling steppe and south-facing slopes where deep
snow cover does not accumulate. Exposed rock outcrops or expanses of talus are a strong characteristic
of its habitat (Heptner and Sludskii 1972). Manuls have been collected from the fringes of
cultivated areas in Chinaís Qinghai province (Cai et al. 1989a).
Global: Category 4
Regional (Asia): Category 2
IUCN: Insufficiently known
The manul has been described as most abundant on the cold grasslands of Mongolia and Inner
Mongolia (Mallon 1985, Feng et al. 1986, Y. Ma pers. comm. 1992). On the Tibetan
Plateau, it occurs widely but is nowhere common (G. Schaller in litt. 1993), as most
of the region lies above 4,500 m in elevation. Elsewhere, the species is considered vulnerable
to rare and uncommon: Afghanistan (Habibi 1977), Lakdakh, India (Mallon
1991), and Pakistan, especially the small, isolated populations found in Baluchistan
(Roberts 1977). In particular, the manul has disappeared in recent years from much
of the Caspian region (Bannikov and Sokolov 1984, Belousova 1993). Y. Ma (pers.
comm. 1992) reports that it has been eliminated from the easternmost parts of its range in
China due to hunting.
Protection Status: CITES Appendix II
Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan,
Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Afghanistan, Georgia, Tajikistan
(Nichols et al. 1991, Belousova 1993, IUCN Envl. Law Ctr. in litt. 1994)
Although there has been little recent international trade, the manul has long been hunted for its
fur in relatively large numbers. Western Chinaís annual harvest (excluding Inner Mongolia and
Manchuria) in the early 1950s was of the order of 10,000 (Tan 1984). Annual take in
Mongolia in the early 1900s was reportedly as high as 50,000 skins (Heptner and Sludskii
1972). Between 1958-68, harvests averaged 6,500 animals (Mallon 1985). In the
mid-1970s, annual harvest in Afghanistan was estimated to be 7,000 (Rodenburg 1977).
Harvests in the former Soviet Union declined in the 1970s, suggesting a decrease in abundance
(Bannikov and Sokolov 1984). Harvests also declined in China in the 1970s-1980s prior
to extension of legal protection to the species (Tan 1984). Mongolia was the primary
exporter of manul pelts in the 1980s, with 9,185 exported in 1987, but hunting was prohibited in
1988, and exports have essentially ceased (WCMC unpubl. data).
Poisoning to control pika populations has taken place on a large scale in parts of the Russian
Federation (south-west Transbaikalia, Tuvinskaya, Altai Mountains), where they are considered to
be vectors for plague, and parts of China (Qinghai, Gansu and Inner Mongolia), where they are
considered to compete with domestic stock for graze (Smith et al. 1990).