As two devoted cat-loving journalists from the Yomiuri Shimbun, our yearning for the solace and companionship that our feline companions provide often exceeds the ordinary. This quest led us to the enchanting world of Pallas’s cats. Captivated by their distinct appearance and expressive countenances, we embarked on a journey to Nasu Animal Kingdom in Tochigi Prefecture, eager to make their acquaintance in person.
Pallas’s cats, also known as manuls, are thought to be the oldest among the Felidae family. Their wide eyes adorned with round pupils, coupled with a flattened visage and luxuriant fur, collectively create a distinctive and utterly endearing aura. Within the realm of these diminutive wildcats, the two Nasu Animal Kingdom residents, Bol and Polly, have gained a quasi-celebrity status, owing to their viral videos and peculiar hunting behaviors.
Upon our arrival at the animal kingdom, Bol bestowed upon us a warm welcome. He scampered over and perched atop a stump, his fur even more voluminous than our imaginations had conjured. His gaze, robust and captivating, held us transfixed. The keeper of these creatures, Yuri Chiba, explained that Pallas’s cats, with their round pupils, express a facial demeanor strikingly reminiscent of our own.
Our encounter with these extraordinary felines left us enriched, departing Nasu Animal Kingdom with our spirits nourished by their presence. While our bustling routines may not permit us the luxury of housing a Pallas’s cat as a companion, we remain grateful for the opportunity to observe them up close, honoring their unique splendor.
Polly, a Pallas’s cat, demonstrates a penchant for venturing onto snow-laden landscapes and, intriguingly, even approached humans. Cloaked in a thick layer of winter fur, both Polly and Bol, hailing from Central Asia, exhibit adaptations for enduring harsh climates encompassing scorching summers and frigid winters. According to Miyachi, enduring the chill of Japanese winters poses no challenge for them. Polly, showcasing signs of a stealthy hunter, moved with measured steps, her body poised low, tail and limbs aligned. Chiba divulged that these movements reflect their innate hunting instincts, a facet Nasu Animal Kingdom aims to facilitate. Despite their charming façade, an innate wildness surrounds them, evident through their infrequent meowing, which primarily surfaces during the breeding season, often accompanied by menacing hisses from males.
Bol, the Pallas’s cat, relishes stretching his sinuous frame, albeit harboring a disinterest in being held. Their robust nature mandates caution upon entering their exhibit. Their voracious appetite extends to devouring horsemeat with a primal enthusiasm. These singular creatures demand respect, as their impressive demeanor attests. Regrettably, their population once dwindled due to indiscriminate hunting for their fur. Nonetheless, their status recently transitioned from near-threatened to the more positive categorization of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Japan houses 16 Pallas’s cats within zoos and animal sanctuaries, where staff fervently safeguard them from communicable diseases. During our visit, the cats exhibited more than mere cuteness; their diverse expressions and movements enthralled us. Departing, we bore with us an augmented determination to champion the cause of Pallas’s cat conservation and a profound desire for a reunion in the near future.