Ten Little Cat Species
Big Cats tend to steal the show when it comes to wildlife documentaries, but little cats are just as fascinating as lions or tigers. They often live in remote areas and can be very hard to spot – which is why they remain something of a mystery, even to dedicated naturalists. Here are ten small cat species that you rarely hear about.
- Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus): This tiny feline lives in India and Sri Lanka and is one of the smallest cats in the world, weighing around 1.5 kilograms and standing at 30 cm (12 inches). It’s been reported that some of these cats have made a home for themselves in derelict buildings and urban areas.
- Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul): These stocky, long-coated, flat-faced cats live mainly in inaccessible regions of Central Asia and they stalk their prey around rock crevices and burrows. They are named after the German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas, who was first to identify the species in 1776.
- Sand cat (Felis margarita): This cat survives in the arid terrain of the Sahara as well as desert regions in Asia. They get most of their fluids from food (mainly gerbils) and have specially adapted feet which barely leave a footprint in the sand.
- Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes): No bigger than your average pet cat, this is the smallest cat in Africa. Their coats are a bold, spotted pattern and the soles of their feet are black, which protects them from the heat of the hot sand.
- Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps): As its name suggests, this rare wild cat has an unusually shaped, flattened forehead. They live in wetlands in Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia and have partially webbed toes, which are a great help when hunting fish.
- Marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata): This beautifully patterned cat looks like a miniature clouded leopard, with all its swirls, spots and stripes. They live in tropical forests in Southeast Asia and feed on tree-dwelling mammals. They are very elusive and have rarely been studied in the wild.
- Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita): These thick-coated cats live in the high terrain of the Andes Mountains. Mass over-hunting of chinchillas for their fur has deprived the Andean cat of a significant food source and has made it the most threatened cat species in the Americas.
- Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi): This unusual-looking cat has short ears, a flattened head and a tail like an otter’s. They are often active during daylight hours and their range extends across Central and South America, from Mexico to Uruguay. Unlike many cats, they are frequently observed travelling in pairs.
- Pampas cat (Leopadus pajeros): These wild cats are easily mistaken for domesic cats and live in a greater range of habitats than any other feline in Latin America. The can survive in grassland, woodland, swamps and forests. They have not been extensively studied in the wild so not a great deal is known about their hunting habits.
- African golden cat (Caracal aurata): About twice the size of a domestic cat, this elusive, solitary feline lives in the forests of Equatorial Africa. They share much of the same range as leopards, but very little is known about them. No one had even managed to photograph one of these secretive felines in the wild until 2002.
A Case Of Mistaken Identity.
Civets and their relatives are sometimes called civet cats. They do, after all, look a bit like cats and have spotty, tabby coats. They are actually more closely related to meerkats and mongooses and are not part of the feline family.
Back To Nature.
While many species of wild cats, both big and small, are struggling to survive, one group of felines can multiply like nobody’s business if left to their own devices. Feral cats are domesticated cats that can get by without human help and have to live on their wits. They survive largely by scavenging around humans (although they generally like to keep their distance), with a bit of hunting thrown in.
What’s remarkable about feral cats is that these naturally solitary animals often co-exist in large groups – although, inevitably, catfights and squabbles do break out from time to time. Most feral colonies are centered on groups of related females and their kittens. The size of the colony seems largely determined by the amount of food available. Where food is limited, some families will be forced out, but where food is in plentiful supply, many hundreds of cats may be able to live together more or less peacefully.
It’s impossible to say exactly how many feral cats there are in the world, but it’s thought to be in the tens of millions. There are feral cat populations in both urban and rural areas, in rich countries and poor ones, and in all sorts of different environments. Controlling feral cat populations is no easy feat either. Where cats are removed, they are usually quickly replaced by more.
Life in a feral cat colony holds some fascination for those studying feline behavior. The group dynamics reveal adaptability in the domestic cat which is rarely observed in their wild cousins, who are generally much more set in their ways. From an animal welfare perspective, however, feral cats are a cause for concern. Given the intense competition for food, coupled with the prevalence of parasites and disease, life for a feral cat can be harsh and short. In order to deal with the problem, many welfare organizations run trap, neuter, return programs, a humane and effective way to control feral populations. Once neutered, the feral cat (distinguished by having its left ear tipped) is returned back to its colony or territory.