This year, Helsinki's Korkeasaari Zoo is throwing its support behind the conservation efforts of the Pallas's cat, also known as the manul. The Pallas's cat, a furry feline resembling a thick-coated domestic cat, hails from the harsh mountainous terrains and plateaus of Asia. This elusive species remains relatively unknown, necessitating research to focus conservation efforts effectively.
Cat Nights, is Korkeasaari's most extensive conservation event, taking place on the first two Saturdays of September, namely September 2nd and 9th. For every ticket sold during Cat Nights, one euro will be directed toward the protection of Pallas's cats. The fundraising efforts are further enhanced by Fazer's fortune wheel and a range of conservation products. The zoo will remain open from 10 am to 11 pm during Cat Nights, with twilight being the most active time for many of the cats, offering the best chance to catch a glimpse of the manul kitten born at Korkeasaari in June, along with its mother.
"The manul is a lesser-known wild feline species currently involved in valuable conservation projects. We hope that with the help of our visitors, we can channel significant support toward the manuls. Their population in the wild is declining, despite being classified as 'Least Concern.' Human activities and climate change are fragmenting and encroaching on their habitats. Threats such as poisoning, food scarcity, hunting for their fur, and free-roaming dogs all pose risks to the manuls," explains Nina Trontti, Director of Animal Care and Conservation at Korkeasaari Zoo.
The Pallas's cat International Conservation Alliance (PICA) is the first international initiative dedicated to manul conservation. Field projects conducted in countries like Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, and Nepal involve mapping manul habitats, studying threats, and engaging local communities in protective actions. Korkeasaari Zoo has been supporting the conservation of wild manuls since 2014.
The manul's behavior and natural habitats are still not well understood, making research a vital component of their conservation. Research data aids in targeting conservation efforts effectively. Game cameras provide valuable insights into the presence and habits of manuls. For example, in Pakistan, 13 new manul habitat areas have been discovered in recent years. Snow leopards and manuls share much of their range, so data from snow leopard studies also assist in mapping manul habitats.
Research into manuls is also conducted in zoos. By recording the mating calls and using scent stimuli in zoos, researchers are exploring methods to attract manuls closer to camera traps, making it easier to study this elusive species.
As the conservation community comes together during Cat Nights at Korkeasaari Zoo, there is hope that increased awareness and support will contribute to the protection of these enigmatic and threatened feline inhabitants of Asia's rugged landscapes.