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    China’s First Artificially Bred Pallas’s Cat Dies in Qinghai Park

    In China, these elusive animals, which mainly inhabit the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, are at serious risk due to decades of hunting. Researchers say they are the most difficult feline to breed in the world.

    Animal lovers across China are mourning the unexpected death of Sundaniang, the country’s first artificially bred Pallas’s cat, at the Xining Wildlife Park in the northwestern Qinghai province.

    Born in May 2021, the cat quickly rose to celebrity status both for her unique contribution to the scientific research of artificial reproduction and her daily antics, which were livestreamed.

    Zoo officials announced that Sundaniang died Sunday from pyometra, a life-threatening infection of the uterus common in animals such as cats, dogs, and rabbits, particularly when in estrus — a phase of heightened fertility during mating season. Officials added that Sundaniang had also become pregnant earlier this year.

    Characterized by dense gray fur and low-set round ears, Pallas’s cats thrive in cold, dry environments more than 4,000 meters above sea level. The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is the animal’s prime habitat in China.

    Despite the International Union for Conservation of Nature listing the species as of “least concern” since 2020, in China, these elusive animals — a class 2 protected species — are at serious risk of becoming endangered due to decades of hunting.

    The species, with an average lifespan of six to nine years, poses significant challenges for artificial reproduction, mainly because it has a weak immune system. “Artificial breeding is an important part of translocation conservation. However, the Pallas’s cat is the most difficult feline to breed in the world,” stated park officials.

    After the death of Sundaniang, the Xining Wildlife Park — which now houses four Pallas’s cats, three females and one male — is the only facility in China involved in conserving the species.

    “She has brought countless valuable experiences to researchers and countless unforgettable joys to those who loved her,” the Xining Wildlife Park stated.

    Also known as the park’s zhanggongzhu, or “eldest princess,” Sundaniang was the daughter of Sunsimiao, another celebrated Pallas’s cat whose death in 2022 triggered a similar reaction across the country.

    Despite regular monitoring, park officials stated that they had observed no unusual signs in Sundaniang’s behavior or health before her death. She was found dead in a small resting house on Saturday night, which a fan had donated.

    The announcement of Sundaniang’s death led to widespread tributes online, with a related hashtag garnering 35 million views on the microblogging platform Weibo by Tuesday. Some netizens even commended the zoo for its transparency in disclosing the details of her death.

    A fan surnamed Zhang, who had visited the park five times in the past year, told Sixth Tone: “It felt like I’d known her for a long time. Whether she was warmly affectionate or playfully indifferent, I enjoyed every moment with her.”

    Sundaniang became a favorite among animal lovers, partly due to her unique blend of a piercing gaze and timid demeanor. The Qinghai park’s Pallas’s cats are even credited with helping them attract more visitors and recover from a financial crisis.

    Veterinarians at the park said they had forwarded samples to Beijing for further analysis. “We hope to confirm the specific causes of the pyometra and provide more scientific data for the prevention and treatment of such diseases in Pallas’s cats,” the park stated.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: Sundaniang, China’s first artificially bred Pallas’s cat in Xining, Qinghai province, September 2022. Ma Mingyan/CNS/VCG)