About the size of a house cat, Pallas’s cats, also called manul, are solitary animals that feed on small mammals and birds. If you aren’t familiar with the Pallas’s cat, you’re not alone. The species is difficult to observe, even for those living in Pallas’ cat habitats. Lack of public awareness is often cited as a consistent challenge for conservation efforts – especially among small and elusive species like the Pallas’s cat. So how can conservationists overcome this hurdle?
Our colleague, Otgontamir Chimed, currently working as a doctoral student at the Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, recently published her undergraduate research project findings, which explored how access to educational materials about conservation issues could increase peoples’ awareness, knowledge and attitudes towards the Pallas’ cat. She interviewed herders living in the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park in southern Mongolia about their knowledge of this elusive little carnivore.
Otgontamir conducted interviews before providing educational materials and then again a year after, noting a positive impact on awareness and perceptions of the Pallas’s cat – and for wildlife more broadly. Specifically, people had more favorable opinions of small mammals like Pika and rodents after learning they are the main prey source of the Pallas’s cat. She even notes that such “spillover” opinion for other species may be a common, if undocumented, benefit of public engagement.
Although Otgontamir’s study had a narrow focus, she believes the findings are replicable for other species and other parts of the world. Educational materials appear to be an effective method for increasing awareness of lesser-known conservation issues, especially when followed up with continued engagement.
Before conducting any interviews, relevant educational materials had to be created. As Otgontamir notes, “there [was] virtually no information about public awareness of the Pallas’s cat in any of the countries the species inhabits.” Instead, analysis around public awareness and engagement with conservation has focused almost exclusively on high-profile, often larger mammals, like the snow leopard.
Fortunately, these higher-profile species can play a role in helping protect their lesser-known and often smaller neighbors. Snow Leopard Trust researchers helped create the educational materials Otgontamir used in her study alongside our longtime conservation partners Nordens Ark (Sweden) and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
The poster, leaflet and pocket guide created under this program are invaluable resources for anyone interested in learning more about this small, enigmatic cat that has recently captivated much of social media. And the best part? All these resources have been expertly translated into 20 languages, including at least one of the languages spoken in each of the countries where Pallas’s cats are found.
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The study was done as part of PICA’s effort to raise awareness of the Pallas’s cat. It was a collaboration between numerous organizations – National University of Mongolia, Nordens Ark, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation and Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.
Photo credit: Zita Quentin