Encounter the charming Pallas’ cats: The idols of the wild feline world.

As two cat-loving reporters for the Yomiuri Shimbun, we always crave the comfort and companionship that our feline friends bring us. However, our busy lives often leave us wanting more than just an ordinary housecat. This is how we discovered Pallas’s cats. We were intrigued by their unique appearance and expressive faces, and we decided to journey to Nasu Animal Kingdom in Tochigi Prefecture to meet them in person.

Pallas’s cats, also known as manuls, are believed to be the oldest species among the Felidae family. They have wide eyes with round pupils, a flat face, and thick fur, which give them a distinctive and adorable appearance. The two Pallas’s cats at Nasu Animal Kingdom, Bol and Polly, have become like pop idols in the world of these small wildcats due to their viral videos and peculiar hunting habits.

When we arrived at the animal kingdom, we were greeted by Bol, who ran up to us and sat on a stump in front of a glass wall. His fur was even fluffier than we had imagined, and his powerful gaze was mesmerizing. According to animal keeper Yuri Chiba, the round pupils of Pallas’s cats give them a unique facial expression that is similar to humans.

We were fascinated by these special cats and left Nasu Animal Kingdom feeling nourished by their presence. Although our daily lives may not allow us to have a Pallas’s cat as a pet, we are grateful for the opportunity to see them up close and appreciate their unique beauty.

Polly, a Pallas’ cat, has a fondness for walking on snow and was spotted approaching humans. Covered in a thick layer of winter pelage, both Polly and Bol, who are from Central Asia, are adapted to harsh environments with hot summers and cold winters. According to Miyachi, they can survive the cold Japanese winters without any issues. Polly, who exhibited characteristics of stalking prey, moved slowly with lowered body, tail, and limbs. Chiba revealed that the movements are part of their hunting nature, which the facility aims to support. Despite their cute appearance, the cats exuded a wild air, and being wild by nature, they rarely meow, except during the breeding season, when males may meow or hiss menacingly.

Bol, the Pallas’s cat, loves to stretch his body but is not fond of being held. The cats are fierce and require a shield when entering their exhibition room. They even devour horsemeat with wild abandon! These unique felines are impressive animals that should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, their population declined due to indiscriminate hunting for their fur, and they were classified as a near-threatened species until recently. However, they are now categorized as “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. In Japan, 16 Pallas’s cats are kept in zoos and animal parks, where staff work hard to protect them from contagious diseases. During our visit, we saw that these cats are more than just cute; they have diverse expressions and movements that are fascinating to watch. We left with a renewed determination to help protect Pallas’s cats and a wish to see them again soon!

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