Fluffy mascot returns to Moscow Zoo

Fluffy mascot returns to Moscow Zoo
Pallas’s cat Timofei lives in the old section of the zoo next door to the pandas.

A Pallas’s cat has moved into the Moscow Zoo again. His name is Timofei. One of the rarest and stealthiest felines lives in an enclosure in the old section of the zoo, not far from the pandas.The manul, or Pallas’s cat (named after German biologist Peter Simon Pallas who described him for the first time) is listed on the Red Data List as close to extinction. The Pallas’s cat has been a symbol and mascot of the Moscow Zoo for over 30 years.

There used to be another Pallas’s cat in the Moscow Zoo but, regrettably, it died of a progressive incurable disease earlier this year. The main population of Pallas’s cats, which consisted of six felines before Timofei’s return to the zoo, live in the Moscow Zoo’s Centre for Rare Animal Species Reproduction near Volokolamsk. The zoologists there have created almost natural conditions for them, so the cats feel safe and reproduce regularly.

“We can again see a Pallas’s cat and study the habits of this unusual animal in our zoo. Pallas’s cat Timofei is seven years old. He did well on the journey from the reproduction centre. So far, he is timid and spends most of his time in the private part of his enclosure, looking at visitors from afar. However, he is already making himself at home and studying the world around him,” said Moscow Zoo Director Svetlana Akulova.

The soil was changed in the enclosure and wooden shelves installed before Timofei’s arrival. These cats like hiding from strangers. When the Pallas’s cat becomes interested in visitors, he will be able to see them from his observation point – a small site on the top of his enclosure.

The first Pallas’s cats moved into the Moscow Zoo in 1949 and since 1975, the zoo, one of the first in the world, has made them regularly proliferous. Almost 150 kittens have been born since then. Now many Moscow Pallas’s cats live in American, European and Asian zoos. The Moscow Zoo is the world’s leader in this species’ reproduction.

In nature, Trans-Baikal Pallas’s cats live in Eastern Siberia, Mongolia, the Himalayan foothills and the Kyrgyz Republic. However, it is very difficult to encounter these wild cats because they are extremely cautious. They are masters of camouflage. Squatting on the ground or near stones, these grayish-brownish cats blend in with the surroundings and become unnoticeable. They use this skill when they have to escape, to avoid meeting an enemy or for hunting. They make dens in rock cracks, small caves and under boulders. Even researchers who study them and monitor their numbers don’t always succeed in spotting them, but trail cameras and videos from drones help.

A Pallas’s cat is not much bigger than a house cat. Its body is 50‒65 cm long and it weighs from 2.5 kg to 5 kg. It stands out for its fluffy fur, short ears and a peculiar looking face with two narrow dark strips of fur from the eyes to the neck on either side. Its diet consists of rodents, quail and partridges.

According to zoologists, there are currently about 15,000 Pallas’s cats in the wild. The number is steadily declining because of poaching and the destruction of their natural habitat. They often fall into traps set up by hunters for other animals.

To form a stable reserve population of this species and have an opportunity to replenish it in the future, zoologists have created a special programme for them in the Eurasian Regional Association Zoos and Aquariums. Moreover, they keep records of these cats in the European and World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Moscow Zoo takes an active part in these environmental initiatives.

The Moscow Zoo makes regular additions to its collection that already consists of over 1,000 animal species. It is also a regular participant in international conservation programmes. In 2017, it acquired an aardvark for the first time and three gentoo penguin couples. In 2018, it became home to two Amur tigers, a Far Eastern wildcat, a secretary bird, black curassows, and trumpeters

The arrival of two pandas was the most anticipated event last year. Ding Ding and Ru Yi came to Moscow under a programme of preserving, protecting and studying giant pandas.

They will stay in the zoo for 15 years. Giant pandas are listed in the Red Data List as vulnerable species. They live in some provinces of China, for instance, Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan, as well as in Tibet.

The zoo also received a rare bird from tropical islands — a Bali myna. According to ornithologists, there are only a few dozen of them. There were more long-awaited arrivals in 2019, including golden lion tamarins, a rare maned wolf and a bush dog. This year, the zoo received blue-tailed monitors, for the first time in 50 years. They were brought in from the Indonesian island of Biak. Starting this April, zoo visitors can see cape ground squirrels.