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May 1, 2024 6 mins

These small, wild cats with famously grumpy expressions are uniquely adapted to their frigid high-altitude environtments. Learn more about them in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/pallas-cat.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey brain Stuff,
Lauren Vogelbaum here furry, funny, and fascinating. The Palace's cat
is perhaps one of the most expressive felines in the world,
and that's saying a lot. These cats famously appear cantankerous,
in part due to their flat faces and large eyes

(00:24):
with round pupils, a bit more like a human or
a monkey than a house cat. With their distinctive black
and white markings down their cheeks, drooping whiskers, and long fur,
they look like grumpy old men who are unamused with
your Shenanigans. Also known as the manual cat after their
taxonomical species name Autocolobus manual, these wild cats are only

(00:46):
about the size of your average housecat. They look a
little larger because they have the longest and densest fur
in the feline world. It's mostly solid gray in the winter,
but as summer arrives, their coats gain faint stripes and
some earth the rusty highlights. But why all that fluff.
It's less about making them look larger and more about
having a camouflaged winter parka That abundance of long fur

(01:10):
helps them stay warm in the frigid temperatures of their
high altitude habitat, while keeping them hidden from deadly predators
amidst rocky landscapes. Palace's cats are found throughout Central Asia,
with the largest populations thought to be in cold, dry
parts of Mongolia and Russia, where they've long held a
level of celebrity status. They've played the role of mascot

(01:31):
for the Moscow Zoo for over thirty years. The name
Palace's Cats comes from one Peter Simon Palace, a German
zoologist who was the first to describe them. Palace was
part of the first Russian Siberian expedition to survey the
Russian Empire in the seventeen hundreds. There are also an
assortment of birds, other mammals, and plants that bear his name.

(01:53):
Their Chile habitat is also the reason for Palace's cat's
trademark tiny ears, which bear the same cup shape as
other cats, but are much smaller and rounded instead of pointed,
increasing their resemblance to cranky muppets. Their genus name, Autocolobus,
actually means ugly ears, but whatever you think of them personally,

(02:13):
this ear shape plays a crucial part in their survival.
For the article this episode is based on How Stuff Works.
Spoke via email with Jim Sanderson, the founder and director
of the Small Wildcat Conservation Foundation. He explained winter in
the Asian Step, especially at high latitudes in Mongolia and
North and to Russia and the windswept grasslands of Kazakhstan,

(02:36):
can be brutally cold. Large ears, like those of a
jack rabbit, give off a lot of body heat, an
advantage in the hot desert like the Saunarin Desert, but
a disadvantage in cold places. Having no ears would be best,
but Pallas's cats must also listen for rodents, so they
need ears. Evolution has produced the perfect compromise. During the day,

(02:59):
Pallace's cats lounge and dens they create in small caves,
rock cracks, and under boulders. At dusk, they emerge to hunt,
searching for small prey like pikas, birds, voles, and hares.
They're quite cautious, squatting low to the ground or behind
rocks to blend in, a behavior which serves as both
an advantage for sneaking up on prey as well as

(03:20):
protection against predators. But once read into pounds, they're very
aggressive in or out of their dens. Palaces cats don't
socialize much, and the male cats don't stick around after mating.
Younglings will live with their mother and litter for a
few months up to a year after birth, and then
strike out and stake out their own territory. So is

(03:42):
it all the snarky attitude that keeps others away? Not
at all, explains Henderson a quote. All thirty three species
of small cats and six of seven big cats are solitary.
Lions are the single exception. While many feline fans would
love to have such a curiously cute furball join their home,
the palace's cat isn't suited for domestic life. Not only

(04:05):
are they solitary in wild animals that are built to hunt,
their health can be in serious jeopardy when removed from
their high altitude habitat. A palace's cats have a specialized
immune system that allows them to thrive in those high altitudes,
but it's not built to fight the increased number of
bacteria and viruses found in lower areas, ultimately causing a

(04:26):
high mortality rate in captivity. Populations of these cats are
in decline and they're currently considered near threatened. Human activity
seems to be their greatest threat. Some local peoples do
hunt them for their fur, meat and fat, but even
just the expansion of human settlements into their habitat has
been damaging. Pockets of the cats are now effectively isolated,

(04:50):
limiting their gene pools, and measures meant to control rodents
like peakas sometimes kill Palaces cats too. Given the dangers
of placing Palace's Cats in lower altitude habitats, conservation is
a bit tricky in comparison with many other near threatened animals.
They're not placed in zoos or other rehabilitation programs as often,

(05:10):
so the typical captive breeding approach doesn't increase the population
very much. Scientists and wildcat conservation societies continue to do
research to better understand and protect the Palace's Cat. Even
if you aren't able to trekt to high altitudes in
Asia to see one or find one of these fluffy
fur balls in a zoo, you can still enjoy a

(05:31):
treasure trove of online photos of their beautifully grumpy expressions.
Today's episode is based on the article The Palace's Cat
is the original grumpy Wildcat on HowStuffWorks dot com, written
by Katiecarmen. Brain Stuff is production of iHeartRadio in partnership
with HowStuffWorks dot Com and is produced by Tyler Klang.

(05:53):
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Ben Bowlin

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Lauren Vogelbaum

Lauren Vogelbaum

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