Brooklyn Zoo's New Pallas’s Cat Breeding Program Aims to Revitalize the Near-Threatened Species /

The Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, New York recently welcomed two important new residents, Metro reports. The pair of Pallas's cats—Batu, a male from Poland's Krakow Zoo, and Sarnai, a female from Finland's Helsinki Zoo—are part of the zoo's just-launched Pallas's cat breeding program, a new effort to conserve the near-threatened species.

First recorded by German naturalist Peter Pallas in 1776, the Pallas's cat (also known as manul) is a wildcat known for its unique appearance. Roughly 15,000 adult Pallas's cats live in the wild in Central Asia and Eurasia today, but that number is shrinking. They've lost much of their native habitat in recent decades to mining and farming, and their favorite prey, pikas and marmots, have been hit hard by vermicide campaigns. Hunters also pose a threat, both because they kill the cat for its thick fur and because the cats can become accidentally caught in traps meant for wolves and foxes.

Pallas's cats aren't yet endangered, but their quickly declining numbers have earned them near-threatened status from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). By breeding cats that are already in captivity, the Prospect Park Zoo hopes to give the precarious population a boost.

Pallas's cats exhibits are rare in the U.S., with just 42 specimens being kept in captivity across 18 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. At the Prospect Park Zoo, visitors will be able to see the cats in a new exhibit that replicates their native habitat, with rocky terrain and nooks for hiding. The species has a brief mating season, and keepers will be looking out for cues from the female that signal she's ready to breed. For most of the year, the solitary animals will keep to themselves and will rarely be seen together in the exhibit.

If the program is successful, the zoo will hopefully become home to some Pallas's cat kittens in the near future. When and if they arrive, the kittens will stay at the Prospect Park Zoo as long they're nursing, after which they'll be placed at a different zoo.

[h/t Metro]