Pallas cats find temporary home at Virginia Zoo

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mill Mountain Zoo welcomes feisty felines
By Kevin Kittredge

Chin-Li was shy.

Alexey was cranky.

“If you want to breed, you’re going to have to be a little nicer,” advised Lisa Uhl, Mill Mountain Zoo’s public relations manager.

Say hello to the two newest cats at Mill Mountain Zoo. Chin-Li and Alexey are Pallas cats. They look quite a bit like house cats, with more fluff.

If the animals seemed a little overwhelmed by their surroundings last week, well, they had reason. The 7-year-old cats arrived here recently from the Denver Zoo, which is undergoing renovation, said Dave Orndorff, Mill Mountain Zoo director and general curator. They are expected to breed here as well — assuming Alexey gets over his attitude.

From the zoo’s off-exhibit holding area, where they will remain until the zoo completes the cats’ new exhibit space in the spring, Alexey glared at a photographer Friday morning. He bared his teeth. He made a variety of sounds, some distinctly catlike, others not so much. The mating call of a Pallas cat is said to resemble a cross between a dog barking and the hoot of an owl.

“They have some very bizarre vocalizations,” Orndorff said.

Chin-Li, meanwhile, stayed mostly in her box, peeking out with one eye from time to time. Despite her shyness, she can take care of herself. When Alexey tried to come in, she swatted him away.

Pallas cats are named after German naturalist Peter Pallas, who discovered them in 1776. Also known as manuls and steppe cats, they are native to central Asia, and live in high altitudes on a diet of small rodents and birds. They were once thought to be the ancestors of Persian cats, which they resemble, but that is not true, Orndorff said.

The cats were long hunted for their fur, but have protected status now in most of their natural habitat. International trade of their fur has largely ceased, according to various sources, including, an international group of cat specialists.

The cats are considered threatened, but not endangered, Orndorff said.

There are only 53 Pallas cats in North America, however, and only five breeding pairs, Orndorff said. Alexey and Chin-Li have produced kittens together in the past.

The cats arrive at a time when the zoo’s cat population has suffered losses. Ruby the tiger, perhaps the zoo’s best-known inhabitant, died in 2006, and Natasha, a snow leopard, died this week. Both animals lived long lives and died of natural causes.

Despite the resemblance of Pallas cats to house cats, they aren’t very cuddly. Orndorff said the cats can be very aggressive.

“I just want to go in there and feel their fur,” said Uhl, watching the new cats in their cage. But she added, “That’s probably not a good idea.”


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Pallas cat, other animal deaths prompt Topeka Zoo criticism

Animal deaths prompt criticism of Topeka Zoo

By Associated Press
Posted on Fri, Oct. 23, 2009

TOPEKA — Two groups investigating the deaths of several animals at the Topeka Zoo criticized zoo officials for lax veterinary care and poor record-keeping.

A Sept. 28 inspection report cited the zoo for several noncompliance issues related to the death of seven animals from January 2007 through July 2008. That investigation was followed an August report by the USDA that cited the zoo for several noncompliance issues.

Among other problems, investigators found that two animals died after being infested with maggots.

Also Wednesday, a separate review by Kansas State University veterinarians discussed some of the animal deaths including the 2006 death of a hippopotamus, which was left in 108-degree water.

Zoo director Mike Coker said the facility implemented new policies on animal care record-keeping that he thinks will alleviate problems noted by the USDA.

“It’s important to have as complete a picture as possible,” he said. “We’re just reminding our folks to be more detailed, document everything.”

The two critical reports coming so soon after the USDA report in August prompted City Council member John Alcala to question the competence of zoo officials.

“There are serious issues happening out there, and they need to be addressed,” he said. “Things are getting let go.”

The USDA inspection on Sept. 28 found noncompliance related to the deaths of seven animals — a Pallas cat, a rabbit, an antelope, a mouse deer and three bats — from January 2007 through July 2008.

The Pallas cat died in January 2008 after being ill for several days. A necropsy found it had died from a maggot infestation. The report noted the lack of treatment.

“Medical records do not indicate that the animal was assessed by a veterinarian or that any veterinary care was provided for this animal,” the report reads.

Coker said the animal care staff followed procedures by recording the cat’s declining health. But when the information was given to a veterinarian, no diagnosis was made. Coker said he wasn’t sure why.

The report found that many of the animals’ death were not properly documented.

Coker said he has instructed the zoo staff to keep more detailed reports of animal care. He is also writing weekly reports to the USDA detailing issues involving the animals and zoo activities.


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