FARGO - The Red River Zoo can again claim a purr-fect result in breeding Pallas cats, a near-threatened species.

The zoo on Thursday, May 11, announced the birth of five Pallas cat kittens.

The rare kittens, born April 20, are the third litter born at the Red River Zoo, according to zoo Executive Director Sally Jacobson.

Jacobson said this is still a delicate time for the kittens, which are susceptible to diseases common here that they aren’t faced with in their natural habitat of Central Asia.

“They are currently off exhibit, nesting with their mother,” Jacobson said in a Facebook message. “Pallas cat kittens have an extremely high mortality rate. So, as a precaution, we are not allowing anyone in the exhibit right now. They are healthy and thriving but we must still be cautious.”

The Red River Zoo is home to four adult Pallas cats; two males (Subitai and Sural), and two females (Eva and Elvira.).

This is the first litter born to 1-year-old Eva and 3-year-old Sural, who apparently got along meow-velously.

The zoo imported Sural from the Saitama Children’s Zoo in Japan last year with the intention of increasing genetic diversity within the captive population in the United States. Eva came from California.

The zoo hopes the birth of these kittens will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the species, Jacobson said in a news release.

The Red River Zoo participates in the Pallas’ cat Species Survival Plan, working with members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and zoos around the world to maintain a healthy and diverse population.

The problem with getting Pallas cats to successfully reproduce in captivity is that they have no natural immunity to diseases such as toxoplasmosis, a parasitic organism not found in their natural environment. Adult cats can mount an immune response, but kittens’ undeveloped immune systems leave them susceptible, according to the International Society for Endangered Cats.

Pallas cats, also called manuls, are native to the frigid grasslands and steppes of Central Asia, from the Caspian Sea through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India to central China, Mongolia and southern Russia, ISEC said.

Hunting, loss of habitat and the eradication of one of their preferred food animals, the pika, have pushed them to near-threatened status in the wild.

Pallas cats generally weigh 5 to 10 pounds as adults - similar to house cats - though they look bigger thanks to their stocky builds and thick fur coats.

In the wild, the cats are solitary and only get together to mate in a short window of time between December and March. Females are only in estrus for 24 to 48 hours, the ISEC said.

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