10 Spectacular Wildcat Species Native To India

10 Spectacular Wildcat Species Native To India
The Conversation

Have you ever wondered whether there might be a more violent cousin of your pet cat? Would you like it or be surprised by it if there were? With a great diversity of wildlife, India today holds the reputation for owning the largest number of wildcat species in the world. Wildcat species in India include the Caracal, Rusty-Spotted Cat, the Marbled Cat, the Asian Golden cat and many more. Here’s a list you can check out to find out more about these cats.

I. Caracal

With their sleek, streamlined body, short, reddish gold coat, and dramatic markings on the face, caracals are among the most beautiful of wild cats. Also called the desert lynx, medium-sized caracals have no spots or stripes and have longer legs and a slimmer body than a true lynx. The caracal lives in Africa, the Middle East and India, and is therefore, well adapted to the harsh environments of the savanna, semi-desert, dry woodland, arid hilly steppe, and dry mountains.

Caracals are agile hunters and mostly hunt at night. But they are not picky and eat any animal they can catch, sprinting after mongooses, rodents, hyraxes, dik diks, and monkeys. Occasionally, caracals kill mammals as large as an impala or young kudu and may attack domestic livestock.

These agile cats have amazing jumping abilities, leaping up to 10 feet (3 meters) to swat a flying bird. They sometimes climb trees and even stash their catch in the branches for a later meal. Caracals are generally solitary, patrolling and aggressively defending their territory. Most caracals come together only to mate, and the male does not stay to help raise the young.

II. Rusty-spotted Cat

The Rusty-spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) is the world’s smallest cat, found only in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It usually lives in moist and dry deciduous forests, as well as in shrub and grasslands. It is listed as a Schedule I species under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India and is classified as ‘Near Threatened’ under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In India, the rusty-spotted cat can be found in Tamil Nadu in the south to Jammu & Kashmir in north, through Madhya Pradesh in central India to Gujarat in the west and Odisha in the east. Even though very little is known about the lives of these cats, they are thought to be nocturnal and have a reputation for being fierce hunters taking large prey. Rusty-spotted Cats are accomplished climbers, and probably hunt in trees as well as on the ground. In Sri Lanka, they have been observed near termite hills, especially after a heavy rain, feeding on winged termites.

III. Marbled Cat

Found mostly in South and South-East Asia, the marbled cat is one of the most attractive species in terms of beauty and rarity, and has been listed as vulnerable by IUCN since 2002. It looks like a miniature version of the clouded leopard and is similar to a domestic cat in body size, but with a longer and thickly furred tail. Highly adapted to arboreal life, it uses its tail to balance the body while jumping from one branch to another. The texture of the thick fur is extremely soft and rich and varies in background colour from dark grey-brown through yellowish grey to red-brown. The back and flanks are marked with dark, irregular dark-edged blotches, which are suggestive of clouded leopard’s but more blurred, are never similar in size and shape on different specimens.

The marbled cat adapts easily to its environment and can mostly be found in the high and snowy forests of Sikkim (India), Nepal, eastward into southwest China and Bhutan where it overlaps the habitat of another rare and secretive member of the feline family, the snow leopard (panthera uncia), down through Assam (India), Burma (now known as Myanmar), Laos, North and South Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and all the way south to the hot and humid rain forest of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. They are primarily live amidst moist and mixed deciduous-evergreen tropical and secondary forests. They are solitary in nature, and spend much of their time in trees, as forest canopies possibly provide them with much of their prey, which include squirrels, birds and other tree-dwelling mammals.

IV. Asian Golden Cat

Sturdily built with fairly long legs, the Asiatic Golden Cat is a medium-sized animal with red, brown, black or grey fur. Their dense coat is generally unmarked, but those cats in the more northerly regions often exhibit a variety of spots and stripes. The most conspicuous features of this cat are the white lines bordered with black running across the cheeks, and from the inner corners of the eyes up to the crown. Mostly found in South East Asia including China, Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, and Nepal, the Golden Cat is a nocturnal forest dweller and lives in sub-tropical and tropical evergreen forests. Although Asiatic Golden Cats can climb well, they spend most of their time on the ground, carrying their long tail curled up at the tip. They are reported by tribesmen in Thailand to have their young in the hollow of a tree. Although they are reported to be decreasing in India and Indonesia, no factual information is known of their overall status in the wild. In India these cats are chiefly found across the Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.

V. Eurasian Lynx

Out of the four lynx species, Eurasian lynx is the largest on planet Earth. Historically, it had inhabited northern, central and eastern Europe, as well as Central Asia, Siberia, the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas. Currently however, in the Indian subcontinent, we see it mostly in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and some parts of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. They differ from other medium-sized cats by its long black ear tufts, a very short tail (which only reaches its hough), and distinctive sandy pale grey coat on the body. It is more active during dusk and dawn. Lynx bury any uneaten prey and return the next day to finish it. They mostly feed on hares, and small ungulates like goats and boars. Lynxes spend most of their day time resting in crevices, mountain steppe, woodland areas, thickets, etc.

VI. Pallas’s Cat

Pallas’s Cat also called manul, is distinguished from other cats by its greyish face, stout build, and long hair with white tips giving it a frosted appearance. Unlike other cats, their pupils don’t contract in vertical slits, rather it becomes small dark circles. It has the densest and longest fur among the other cat which helps to insulate them against cold. They wrap their well-furred tail around the body like a warm muff. Their habitat is characterized by an extreme climate with little rainfall, low humidity and a wide range of temperatures. Their primarily habitat is the steppe grassland regions of Mongolia, China and the Tibetan Plateau. In India, the Pallas’s cat has been in the cold deserts of Ladakh, in Sikkim and in the Nelong valley of Uttarakhand.

They prefer rocky areas, crevices, caves, and mountain steppes even sheltering in abandoned dens of marmots and foxes. They are solitary cats and scent mark their territories of 2 to 4 km. They ambush and stalk their prey before they seize it. Pika being their favorite prey, comprises around fifty percent of their diet.

VII. Fishing Cat

Fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) are medium-sized wild cats that owe their names to their eating habits. Unlike what we may imagine of feline creatures, fishing cats are well adapted to life by the water. They appear to be good swimmers and have partially webbed feet that may help them navigate water and wet soils. The species appears across wetlands in South and Southeast Asia, but always in patches. n India for instance, fishing cats have been recorded in wetland areas in Rajasthan, including the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, around the Yamuna floodplains in Agra, in the different parts of the vast Terai landscape, protected areas like the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve and Corbett National Park and the extensive lower Gangetic floodplains and the Sundarbans in West Bengal. The species has been reported in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, as well around the Chilika lake and Bhitarkanika National Park in Orissa, and in the Godavari and Krishna Delta in Andhra Pradesh. Most people working on fishing cats seem to agree that the species is threatened. Conservationists from both West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, point to aquaculture as one of the biggest culprits, erasing wetlands. Since 2016, it has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN List.

VIII. Jungle Cat

Generally found in the Middle East, Southern China and South and South-East Asia, the Jungle Cat is today considered the largest remaining species of the wild cat genus, Felis. It lives in savannas, tropical dry forests and reedbeds along rivers and lakes, and are not found in rainforests. Being very agile and nimble, they climb up and down trees very fast. Jungle cats are solitary in nature. Their habitat consists of other animals’ abandoned burrows, tree holes, and humid coves under swamp rocks. Their natural enemies are crocodiles, bears, wolves and other larger felines such as tigers. When countered by a threat, the jungle cat will vocalize before engaging in attack, producing small roars, a behavior uncommon for domestic cats. In some cases, they jump on their attacker, but will usually retreat upon encountering larger threats. Jungle cats are diurnal and mostly hunt for rodents, frogs and birds. They can sometimes hunt for fish while diving, but mostly swim in order to lose track of their scent. In India jungle cats can be found in Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary or Jeypore-Dehing lowland forests.

IX. Snow Leopard

The snow leopard is an endangered large cat inhabiting the high mountains of Central and South Asia. It has an extremely patchy and fragmented distribution throughout its range. Snow leopards are found in 12 central Asian countries, including India, China and Mongolia. The estimated global population of the species is 4500 to 7500 individuals. Within India, 200 to 600 individuals are thought to occur in the higher reaches of the Himalayas encompassing the northern areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Snow leopard is highly threatened due to poaching for its pelt and other body parts, a decline in its natural prey base, increasing competition between its natural prey and domestic livestock. More recent threats include hydroelectric projects, mining and climate change. Within Ladakh, retaliatory killing by villagers/farmers, whose livestock are occasionally killed by the cat, remains the most important threat. The snow leopard is listed as an ‘Endangered’ species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, it remains one of the least studied large cats in the world due largely to its secretive nature, and the inaccessibility and political sensitiveness of its high altitude habitats.

X. Desert Cat

Also known as the Asiatic Wildcat or the Asian Steppe Cat, the Desert Cat inhabits the eastern Caspian region, northern Kazakhstan, Pakistan, western India, western China and Mongolia. These cats are more often associated with drier scrub desert. They inhabit thickets of thorn scrub in western deserts, and bush and reeds along lakes in Kazakhstan. Preferring to live near water, these cats can live year round in waterless desert, relying on prey species for their moisture requirements. Their main prey is the desert gerbille, with hares, birds, small rodents, insects and reptiles making up the balance. Asiatic wildcats are frequently observed in the daytime. They frequently use rock crevices or burrows dug by other animals. In India and Pakistan they reportedly shelter underground or in dense cover during the heat of the day. Asiatic Wildcats face considerable threat from habitat loss and poaching. Reclaiming wastelands in the name of development has resulted in the destruction of much of their habitat in India. These cats can be found near cultivated areas and human settlements, which increases cross-breeding with feral domestic cats. Hybridization with feral domestic cats has been reported from Pakistan, India and Central Asia. No detailed ecological studies exist on Asiatic Wildcats.

In India these cats can be found in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat (Little & Greater Rann of Kutch).

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