DIFFERENT KINDS OF CATS
There are 37 species of wild cat. They fall into ten distinct lineages determined by genetic similarities: 1) the domestic cat lineage, 2) the puma lineage, 3) the ocelot lineage, 4) the panther lineage (pantherines), 5) the serval lineage, 6) the caracal lineage, 7) the bay cat lineage, 8) the rusty spotted cat lineage, 9) the Asian leopard cat lineage and 10) the lynx lineage. Other lineages such as the one that included the saber tooth tiger have become extinct.
The panther lineage includes most of the big cats: lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, snow leopards and clouded leopard. Lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars are regarded as great cats. These are the only cats that roar, a vocalization made possible by an ossified bone in their voice box that other cats don’t have. Cheetahs, pumas and the jaguarundi (an American cat) are members of the puma lineage.
Hybrids and Crossbreeds
The genetic make up of many cat species is so similar that crossbreeds can be created. Among the large cats are ligers (male lion and female tiger); tigons (male tiger and female tiger), leopons (lion and leopard). Crosses between tiger, lion and jaguar, and jaguar and leopard have also been achieved. In nearly all cases the offspring are sterile.
Among the smaller cats, domestic cats have been crossbred with oncillas, leopard cats and bobcats. Unwanted hybridization has occurred between domestic cats and the European wildcat, African wildcat and the jungle cats that threatens these species.
An African cat and an Indian cat have were born from a frozen embryo implanted in an ordinary house cat. In 2006 the U.S. Biotec form Allerca said that it had produced an hypoallergenic cat — that doesn’t make people allergic to cats allergic — by selectively breeding sneeze-free felines by reducing the protein that triggers the allergic reaction by using the small number cats that don’t carry the protein (glycoprotein Fel China ) in their saliva, skin and fur.
Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times, “Despite their evolutionary success, most of the large cats are in peril because their broad hunting ranges have brought them into collision with people. "With the exception of the house cat and a few other small cat species, nearly every one of the 37 species is considered endangered or threatened," Dr. Johnson and Dr. O'Brien write in the current Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. Fewer than 15,000 tigers, cheetahs and snow leopards remain in the wild, they estimate, and pumas and jaguar populations have been reduced to about 50,000 each. [Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, January 6, 2006]
Two thirds of cat species are listed as endangered. The remainder are threatened. Loss of habitat, hunting and poaching for furs and medicine parts are primary reasons their numbers in the wild are declining. Cats need large territories, ample supplies of prey and have slow reproductive rates and thus have a hard time recovering when their populations shrink.
Even the most endangered cats can be purchased on the exotic pet market. In the 1990s, North Chinese leopards sold for $1,250; snow leopards went for between $5,000 and $7,000; and lingers sold for only $700.
In the 1980s and 90s the illegal skin trade was very slow because there was hardly any demand for furs. Many of the furs that were seized were bound for China. With the return of fur to fashion In the early 2000s, there was an increase in the slaughter of animals for their skins, particularly among tigers, leopards and other cats.
The leopard cat is the most common wild cat in Asia. Smaller than a house cat and adapted to a number of habitats, it lives in tropical rain forests, scrub lands, semidesert and villages, and is found in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and parts of mainland China and eastern Russia. Members of the Asia leopard cat lineage include the fishing cat, Iriomote cat, leopard cat and flat-headed cat.
The leopard cat lineage appeared in Asia about 6.5 million years ago. Today leopard cats are hunted for food, stuffed for tourist trophies and killed for its spotted pelts. Their coats are sold in gift shops in Asia and people eat them for food and purported health benefits. Leopard cats have been crossbred with domesticated cat to produce hybrids sold as “Bengal cats.”
Leopard Cat Characteristics and Behavior
Leopard cats have white markings around their eyes, stripes running down either side of their nose and white markings on their cheeks, chin and mouth. These markings help accentuate their facial displays. Leopard cats have a large variety of body colors and marking. Those in India usually have black marks and a yellowish background. Elsewhere in Asia, they sometimes have rufous, pale brown, or gray background color.. In Borneo, many have white underparts. In China they are sometimes called the “money cat” because their markings are said to look like Chinese coins.
Leopard cats feed on rodents, lizards, amphibians, birds, and fallen bats. Occasionally they take a small deer and are said to kill birds by dropping down on them from trees. In villages, they are regarded as both as an asset and a pest. They kill crop-eating rodents but also raid chicken coups and eat crops themselves. Generally, leopard cats occupy ranges of 1.5 to 7.5 kilometers. They are good swimmers and have swum considerably distances to occupy remote islands.
Mother leopard cats make their dens in tree hollows, small caves and holes beneath the roots of fallen tree. After a 10 week gestation period, two to three young are born.
The fishing cat of is about twice the size of a domestic cat. It is found in Southeast Asia, northwest India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Sumatra and Java and is seen mostly in wetland areas such as marshes, oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove swamps and dense vegetation along streams and rivers. Adults have a head and body that measures 66 to 86 centimeters, with a 21 to 23 centimeter tail. They weigh 6 to 12 kilograms (13to 27 pounds) and have green eyes, round ears and slightly elongated muzzles.
Mother fishing cats make their dens in tree hollows or dense shrubbery. After a nine week gestation period, two to three young are born. Little is known about their social behavior but male and female pairs are often spotted together and males are believed to take a role in child rearing. Both of these traits are unusual among cats.
Fishing cats are hunted for their pelts and eaten in some places. Their biggest threat to their populations comes from the deforestation of their riverine habitats and development in mangrove and freshwater swamps. There are estimated to be fewer than 10,000 mature breeding individuals.
Fishing Cats on the Hunt
According to a Canon wildlife advertisement: “The fishing cat is a dedicated angler and spends most of its life around water. It thinks nothing of diving right in, in fact, when a juicy fish remains stubbornly out of paw’s reach. But not all entrees are underwater, the fishing cat will take anything from frogs and snakes to rodents and even wild pigs. Active during both night and day, it roams a home range of up to 22 square kilometers, troubled by no predators other than humans.”
Unlike many felines, fishing cats love the water. Equipped with slightly webbed front toes that help them swim, they dive into streams and pools of water in pursuit of frogs, crustaceans, and fish. On land they feed on birds, small mammals. reptiles and can bring down animals larger than themselves such as goats, calves, even dogs.
Fishing cats catch fish several ways. Sometimes they wait on the shore for a fish to pass by and then bat it out of the water onto land. Other times they sit motionless in the water and wait for a fish to pass its way. When one does the cat then grabs it with its two front paws and pulls it to its mouth to deliver a lethal bite or it flings the fish into the air with its front paws and catches it with its mouth.
The jungle cat is found in three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. Defying its name, it thrives in a number of habitats, including semi-deserts, tall grass, thick bush, deciduous forest, agricultural land; is often seen looking for food along the banks of canals and streams; and seems comfortable living in close proximity to people.
Jungle cats are very quick and good jumpers. They feed on rodents, frogs, lizards, fish, insects, chickens and small deer. They have been observed leaping into the air to catch birds and eating carrion and the remains of a kill left behind by a tiger.
Jungle cats vary in size from 10 to 30 pounds, with bigger cats found in the northern extremes of their range and the biggest of all in Central Asia. They have a plain unspotted coat that varies in color from reddish to gray ro brown. Black ones have been seen in Pakistan and India.
Jungle cats may be the source of domesticated cats. They are fairly common in the Middle East and were mummified and depicted in tomb paintings by the ancient Egyptians. Today they breed easily with house cats and produce hybrids. They are regarded as pest and killed by poultry farmers and hunters who blame them for killing chickens and game animals.
Golden Cats (Felis temmincki) have a body length of 70-110 centimeters and a tail of 40-60 centimeters long and weigh 10-15 kilograms. Their preferred habitats are forests in mountains and rocky mountains and live in Southeast Asia, South Asia and China. They are regarded as a threatened but not endangered species.
Golden Cats are mainly found in the mountains at an altitude less than 3000 meters. Solitary in nature and nocturnal in habit, golden cats are good climbers. A fierce carnivore, it feeds on birds, rodents, mice, wild rabbits, small-sized dears and medium-size ungulates like tufted deer. Sometimes, they attack secretly and kill their prey with their paws and teeth. Golden Cats have no fixed breeding season. After a 91 days pregnancy, the female gives birth to two or three young. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net]
Golden Cats are nocturnal animals and usually are solitary. They’re good at climbing trees and have a particularly fierce nature. Even after a long time in captivity, they still show their teeth and growl at people when close. Golden cats change greatly in their lifetime. Their normal color is orange yellow with dark ribbons but can change into reddish brown, brown and black. But no matter how their color changes, their faces are the same. The inner upper corner of their eyes have a white wrinkle with black ribbons. Based on their color change, Chinese villagers call them "Toona sureni panther", "grass panther" and "sesame panther" separately in different seasons.
Flat-Headed Cat and the Bornean Bay Cat
The flat-headed cat is an elusive small cat native to Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo. An unusual looking creature that in some way looks more like a lemur or a loris than a cat, it has a flat forehead s its name suggests and has with small, wide-spaced ears, large, close-set eyes and a narrow head. There were once thought to be extinct but then a population was found feeding on rodents in Malaysia’s palm oil plantations.
Little is known about the flat-headed cat. It hangs out by rivers and, like the fishing cat, it is not afraid to get wet. It is thought to feed on frogs and fish and small rodents. They weigh five to seven pounds and have short legs. Their backward-facing teeth are ideal for grasping slippery prey and their close set eyes provide binocular vision, useful in catching fish.
The Bornean Bay Cat is the rarest of all Asian cats. Nothing is known about it habits and it has never been observed alive. What is known is based on six skins and a museum specimen collected in 1874. Closely related to the Asian golden cat, it is believed to favor primary rain forests and feeds on small mammals, monkeys and carrion.
Marbled Cat and Rusty Spotted Cat
The marbled cat is a small nocturnal predator found in tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Assam India, Nepal and Sikkim. Resembling a small clouded leopard, it is slightly larger than a house cat and difficult to spot. Little is known about it.
The marbled cat spends much of its time in trees. It has an unusually long tail which helps it balance itself on tree branches. Virtually nothing is known about is numbers and breeding habits. It is assumed that it survives best in primary tropical rain forests and thus suffers from deforestation.
The rusty spotted cat of southern India and Sri Lanka is the smallest wild feline. Considerably smaller than a house cat, they stand only seven inches high. The average weight of the female is 2 pounds and 7 ounces. Little is known about them. They are active mainly at night and are found in a variety of habitats. Based on climbing skills in captivity, it believed that they hunt birds, small mammals, lizards and insects in trees. In Sri Lanka they caught with nets, using flashlight to blind them., when they hunt frogs after heavy rains,
The Indian desert cat looks like a house cat, and in fact many domestic speciees from Asia are thought to have descended from it. Found in northern India and the semi-deserts and steppes of southwestern Asia, it has spots that help it blend in with its arid environment and slight ear tufts and short hair. It feeds on gerbils, hares, rats, doves, peacocks, sparrows and other birds. The Indian wild cat purrs, caterwauls, hisses and growls like a house cat and produces loud meows, gurgling greetings, and teeth chattering mating greetings.
Rare Indian desert cats have been raised from embryos placed on domestic cats. Indian desert cats found eats of the Indus River in the Sind Pakistan have a much longer legs, body and tail than other members of the subspecies.
The Chinese desert cat lives in an area of China that stretches from the Tibetan plateau to the mountains in Sichuan to Inner Mongolia. An elusive creature, it is slightly larger than a domestic cat and has dense yellowish gray fur, slightly tufted ears and feet that are protected by tufts of fur growing between the pads. The Chinese desert cats lives in variety of environments — mountains, forests and steppes — but usually not deserts. Little is known about their diet and social and breeding behavior. They are more often spotted in cages in Sichuan markets than in the wild.
Iriomote wildcat Iriomote cats have been designated an endangered species. Only about 100 are believed to be left, all of them living on 282-square-mile Iriomote island in Okinawa. They are one of the world's most endangered cats and were only discovered in 1965 and confirmed as a unique species in 1967. Even so they closely resembles cats that lived three million years ago and is thought have developed from mainland Asia’s leopard cat.
Iriomote cats are solitary, nocturnal animals. About the size of house cats, they are dark, mottled brown in colored and have a rounded club-like tail. They eat lizards, fruit bats, birds, snakes, crabs, fish and insects and are equally comfortable in forests, in the trees or on the beach. They prefer coastal regions and areas around streams and rivers. The make dens and give birth in the hollows of large tree trunks and usually don’t eat like many cats do by holding their prey with their fore paws, an adaption that seems to have come from spending a lot of time in trees.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
Last updated November 2012