Leopard cat

The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small wild cat native to continental South, Southeast and East Asia. Since 2002 it has been listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List as it is widely distributed although threatened by habitat loss and hunting in parts of its range.[1]

Historically, the leopard cat of continental Asia was considered the same species as the Sunda leopard cat. As of 2017, the latter is recognised as a distinct species, with the taxonomic name Prionailurus javanensis.[2]

Leopard cat subspecies differ widely in fur colour, tail length, skull shape and size of carnassials.[3] Archaeological evidence indicates that the leopard cat was the first cat species domesticated in Neolithic China about 5,000 years ago in Shaanxi and Henan Provinces.[4]

Leopard cat
Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis 2-Découpe
Indian leopard cat (P. b. bengalensis)
Chat Léopard de Sibérie
Amur leopard cat (P. b. euptilura)
both at the Parc des Félins
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Prionailurus
P. bengalensis
Binomial name
Prionailurus bengalensis
(Kerr, 1792)
LeopardCat distribution
Distribution of leopard cat


MSU V2P2 - Felis euptilura skull
Skull, as illustrated by N. N. Kondakov.

A leopard cat is about the size of a domestic cat, but more slender, with longer legs and well-defined webs between its toes. Its small head is marked with two prominent dark stripes and a short and narrow white muzzle. There are two dark stripes running from the eyes to the ears and smaller white streaks running from the eyes to the nose. The backs of its moderately long and rounded ears are black with central white spots. Body and limbs are marked with black spots of varying size and color, and along its back are two to four rows of elongated spots. The tail is about half the size of its head-body length and is spotted with a few indistinct rings near the black tip. The background color of the spotted fur is tawny, with a white chest and belly. However, in their huge range, they vary so much in coloration and size of spots as well as in body size and weight that initially they were thought to be several different species. The fur color is yellowish brown in the southern populations, but pale silver-grey in the northern ones. The black markings may be spotted, rosetted, or may even form dotted streaks, depending on subspecies. In the tropics, leopard cats weigh 0.55–3.8 kg (1.2–8.4 lb), have head-body lengths of 38.8–66 cm (15.3–26.0 in), with long 17.2–31 cm (6.8–12.2 in) tails. In northern China and Siberia, they weigh up to 7.1 kg (16 lb), and have head-body lengths of up to 75 cm (30 in); generally, they put on weight before winter and become thinner until spring.[5] Shoulder height is about 41 cm (16 in).


Tsushima Cat 001
Tsushima leopard cat

Following a revision of Felidae taxonomy in 2017, two leopard cat species are now recognised, based on molecular analyses, morphological differences, and biogeographic separation:[2]

  • the mainland leopard cat (P. bengalensis) is widely distributed on mainland Asia, from Pakistan to Southeast Asia, China, and the Russian Far East.
  • the Sunda leopard cat (P. javanensis) is native to Java, Bali, Borneo, Sumatra, Palawan, Negros, Cebu, Panay, and possibly the Malay Peninsula.

Two mainland leopard cat subspecies are currently recognised:[2]

Previously, the following were also considered as subspecies:[1][8]

  • P. b. chinensis (Gray 1837) – in Taiwan and China except Yunnan;[6]
  • P. b. horsfieldi (Gray 1842) – in Kashmir, Punjab, Kumaon, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan;[6]
  • P. b. trevelyani (Pocock 1939) – in northern Kashmir and Punjab, and in southern Baluchistan;[6]
  • P. b. alleni (Sody, 1949) – in Hainan Island
  • Iriomote cat P. b. iriomotensis (Imaizumi, 1967) – found exclusively on the island of Iriomote, one of the Ryukyu Islands in the Japanese Archipelago;[9] Following its initial description in 1967, the Iriomote cat was often recognised as a distinct species, but following mtDNA analysis in the 1990s was considered a subspecies of the leopard cat.[1][10] The latest revision places it within the subspecies Prionailurus bengalensis euptilura of the mainland leopard cat.[2]
  • Tsushima leopard cat (Japanese: Tsushima yamaneko)[11] lives exclusively on Tsushima Island. Initially regarded as belonging to the Chinese leopard cat subspecies, it is now considered an isolated population of the Amur leopard cat, P. b. euptilura.[12][2]

Distribution and habitat

The leopard cat is the most widely distributed Asian small wild cat. Its range extends from the Amur region in the Russian Far East over the Korean Peninsula, China, Indochina, the Indian Subcontinent to northern Pakistan. It lives in tropical evergreen rainforests and plantations at sea level, in subtropical deciduous and coniferous forests in the foothills of the Himalayas at altitudes above 1,000 m (3,300 ft).[5] It is able to tolerate human-modified landscapes with vegetation cover to some degree, and inhabits agriculturally used areas such as oil palm and sugar cane plantations.[5][13]

In 2009, a leopard cat was camera trapped in Nepal's Makalu-Barun National Park at an altitude of 3,254 m (10,676 ft). At least six individuals inhabit the survey area, which is dominated by associations of rhododendron, oak and maple.[14] The highest altitudinal record was obtained in September 2012 at 4,474 m (14,678 ft) in the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area.[15]

In the northeast of its range it lives close to rivers, valleys and in ravine forests, but avoids areas with more than 10 cm (3.9 in) of snowfall.[16] It is rare in Pakistan's arid treeless areas.[17] In Afghanistan, it was reported in the 1970s from Jalalkot and Norgul in the Kunar Valley, and the Waygul forest of Dare Pech.[18]

In Thailand's Phu Khieu Wildlife Reserve 20 leopard cats were radio-collared between 1999 and 2003. Home ranges of males ranged from 2.2 km2 (0.85 sq mi) to 28.9 km2 (11.2 sq mi), and of the six females from 4.4 km2 (1.7 sq mi) to 37.1 km2 (14.3 sq mi).[19] In China, it was recorded in the Changqing National Nature Reserve in the Qinling Mountains, in the Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve in the Min Mountains, in Wolong Nature Reserve and other protected areas in the Qionglai Mountains and Daliang Mountains between 2002 and 2008.[20]

In the Japanese archipelago, the leopard cat is currently restricted to the islands of Iriomote and Tsushima.[9][11] Fossils excavated dating to the Pleistocene period suggest a broader distribution in the past.[21]

Ecology and behavior

Leopard cat India
A leopard cat photographed in the Sundarbans, India
Leopard Cat Tennoji
An alert leopard cat

Leopard cats are solitary, except during breeding season. Some are active during the day, but most hunt at night, preferring to stalk murids, tree shrews and hares. They are agile climbers and quite arboreal in their habits. They rest in trees, but also hide in dense thorny undergrowth on the ground.[19] In the oil palm plantations of Sabah, they have been observed up to 4 m (13 ft) above ground hunting rodents and beetles. In this habitat, males had larger home ranges than females, averaging 3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi) and 2.1 km2 (0.81 sq mi) respectively. Each male's range overlapped one or more female ranges.[22] There is evidence to suggest that rats are abundant and may be easy to catch in oil palm plantations.[22] There, leopard cats feed on a large proportion of rats compared to forested areas.[13]

Leopard cats can swim, but seldom do so. They produce a similar range of vocalisations to the domestic cat. Both sexes scent mark their territory by spraying urine, leaving faeces in exposed locations, head rubbing, and scratching.[5]


Leopard cats are carnivorous, feeding on a variety of small prey including mammals, lizards, amphibians, birds and insects. In most parts of their range, small rodents such as rats and mice form the major part of their diet, which is often supplemented with grass, eggs, poultry, and aquatic prey. They are active hunters, dispatching their prey with a rapid pounce and bite. Unlike many other small cats, they do not "play" with their food, maintaining a tight grip with their claws until the animal is dead. This may be related to the relatively high proportion of birds in their diet, which are more likely to escape when released than are rodents.[5]

Reproduction and development

The breeding season of leopard cats varies depending on climate. In tropical habitats, kittens are born throughout the year. In colder habitats farther north, females give birth in spring. Their gestation period lasts 60–70 days. Litter size varies between two and three kittens. Captive born kittens weighed 75 to 130 grams (2.6 to 4.6 oz) at birth and opened their eyes by latest 15 days of age. Within two weeks, they doubled their weight and were four times their birth weight at the age of five weeks. At the age of four weeks, their permanent canines break through, and they begin to eat meat. Captive females reach sexual maturity earliest at the age of one year and have their first litter at the age of 13 to 14 months. Captive leopard cats have lived for up to thirteen years.[5]

The estrus period lasts 5–9 days.


Prionailurus bengalensis pelt id
Skin and skin details from an identification guide for law enforcement agents

In China, leopard cats are hunted mainly for their fur. Between 1984 and 1989, about 200,000 skins were exported yearly. A survey carried out in 1989 among major fur traders revealed more than 800,000 skins on stock. Since the European Union imposed an import ban in 1988, Japan has become the main buyer, and imported 50,000 skins in 1989.[23] Although commercial trade is much reduced, the species continues to be hunted throughout most of its range for fur, for food, and as pets. They are also widely viewed as poultry pests and killed in retribution.[1]

In Myanmar, 483 body parts of at least 443 individuals were observed in four markets surveyed between 1991 and 2006. Numbers were significantly larger than non-threatened species. Three of the surveyed markets are situated on international borders with China and Thailand, and cater to international buyers, although the leopard cat is completely protected under Myanmar's national legislation. Implementation and enforcement of CITES is considered inadequate.[24]


Stavenn Felis bengalensis 00
A leopard cat at the Bronx Zoo

Prionailurus bengalensis is listed in CITES Appendix II. In Hong Kong, the species is protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap 170. The population is well over 50,000 individuals and, although declining, the cat is not endangered.[1]

The Tsushima leopard cat is listed as Critically Endangered on the Japanese Red List of Endangered Species, and has been the focus of a conservation program funded by the Japanese government since 1995.[12]

In the United States, P. bengalensis is listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1976; except under permit, it is prohibited to import, export, sell, purchase and transport leopard cats in interstate commerce.[25]

Taxonomic history

In 1792, Robert Kerr first described a leopard cat under the binominal Felis bengalensis in his translation of Carl von Linné's Systema Naturae as being native to southern Bengal.[26] Between 1829 and 1922, different authors of 20 more descriptions classified the cat either as Felis or Leopardus.[6] Owing to the individual variation in fur colour, leopard cats from British India were described as Felis nipalensis from Nepal, Leopardus ellioti from the area of Bombay, Felis wagati and Felis tenasserimensis from Tenasserim. In 1939, Reginald Innes Pocock subordinated them to the genus Prionailurus. The collection of the Natural History Museum in London comprised several skulls and large amounts of skins of leopard cats from various regions. Based on this broad variety of skins, he proposed to differentiate between a southern subspecies Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis from warmer latitudes to the west and east of the Bay of Bengal, and a northern Prionailurus bengalensis horsfieldi from the Himalayas, having a fuller winter coat than the southern. His description of leopard cats from the areas of Gilgit and Karachi under the trinomen Prionailurus bengalensis trevelyani is based on seven skins that had longer, paler and more greyish fur than those from the Himalayas. He assumed that trevelyani inhabits more rocky, less forested habitats than bengalensis and horsfieldi.[27]

Between 1837 and 1930, skins and skulls from China were described as Felis chinensis, Leopardus reevesii, Felis scripta, Felis microtis, decolorata, ricketti, ingrami, anastasiae and sinensis, and later grouped under the trinomen Felis bengalensis chinensis.[6] In the beginning of the 20th century, a British explorer collected wild cat skins on the island of Tsushima. Oldfield Thomas classified these as Felis microtis, which had been first described by Henri Milne-Edwards in 1872.[28]

Two skins from Siberia motivated Daniel Giraud Elliot to write a detailed description of Felis euptilura in 1871. One was depicted in Gustav Radde's illustration cum description of a wild cat; the other was part of a collection at the Regent's Park Zoo. The ground colour of both was light brownish-yellow, strongly mixed with grey and covered with reddish-brown spots, head grey with a dark-red stripe across the cheek.[29] In 1922, Tamezo Mori described a similar but lighter grey spotted skin of a wild cat from the vicinity of Mukden in Manchuria that he named Felis manchurica.[30] Later both were grouped under the trinomen Felis bengalensis euptilura.[6] In the 1970s and 1980s, the Russian zoologists Geptner, Gromov and Baranova disagreed with this classification. They emphasized the differences of skins and skulls at their disposal and the ones originating in Southeast Asia, and coined the term Amur forest cat, which they regarded as a distinct species.[31][32] In 1987, Chinese zoologists pointed out the affinity of leopard cats from northern China, Amur cats and leopard cats from southern latitudes. In view of the morphological similarities they did not support classifying the Amur cat as a species.[33]

The initial binomial euptilura given by Elliott[29] has been incorrectly changed to "euptilurus" by some later authors, but under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature Article 31.2.1, nouns and noun phrases are not subject to gender agreement; at present, both terms appear in use, but only the spelling "euptilura" is correct.[34]

Molecular analysis of 39 leopard cat tissue samples clearly showed three clades: a northern lineage and southern lineages 1 and 2. The northern lineage comprises leopard cats from Tsushima Islands, the Korean Peninsula, the continental Far East, Taiwan, and Iriomote Island. Southern lineage 1, comprising Southeast Asian populations, showed higher genetic diversity. Southern lineage 2 is genetically distant from the other lineages.[7]

Leopard cats and hybrids as pets

Archeological and morphometric studies have indicated that the first cat species to become a human commensal or domesticate in Neolithic China was the leopard cat, beginning at least 5000 years ago. However, these cats were ultimately replaced over time with cats descended from Felis silvestris lybica from the Middle East.[35]

Keeping a leopard cat as a pet may require a license in some localities. License requirements vary.[36]

The Bengal cat is a cross bred between leopard cat and domestic cat, which was introduced to cat shows in the 1970s. The fifth generation is marked like a leopard cat.[37] This hybrid is usually permitted to be kept as a pet without a license. For the pet trade, a Bengal cat will typically be at least four generations (F4) removed from the leopard cat. The "foundation cats" from the first three filial generations of breeding (F1–F3) are usually reserved for breeding stock purposes or the specialty-pet home environment.[38]


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External links

Asiatic linsang

The Asiatic linsang (Prionodon) is a genus comprising two species native to Southeast Asia: the banded linsang (Prionodon linsang) and the spotted linsang (Prionodon pardicolor). Prionodon is considered a sister taxon of the Felidae.

Batang Gadis National Park

Batang Gadis is a national park covering 1,080 km2 in North Sumatra province, Indonesia extending between 300 and 2,145 metres altitude. It is named after the Batang Gadis river that flows thorough the park. Signs of the endangered Sumatran tiger and the threatened Asian golden cat, leopard cat and clouded leopard were seen in the park. The protection of Batang Gadis as a national park is part of a plan to create the Northern Sumatra biodiversity conservation corridor, which would be connected, via a series of protected areas and forests, to Gunung Leuser National Park in the north of the island.

Bengal cat

The Bengal cat is a domesticated cat breed created from hybrids of domestic cats and the Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) – the breed name comes from the taxonomic name. Back-crossing to domestic cats is then done with the goal of creating a healthy, and docile cat with wild-looking, high-contrast coat.Bengals have a wild appearance and may show spots, rosettes, arrowhead markings, or marbling.


The Felinae is a subfamily of the family Felidae that comprises the small cats that have a bony hyoid, because of which they are able to purr but not roar.Other authors proposed an alternative definition for this subfamily: as comprising only the living conical-toothed cat genera with two tribes, the Felini and Pantherini; thus excluding all fossil cat species.

Highlander cat

The Highlander (also known as the Highlander Shorthair, and originally as the Highland Lynx), is an experimental breed of cat. The unique appearance of the Highlander comes from the deliberate cross between the Desert Lynx and the Jungle Curl breeds, also recently developed. The latter of these has some non-domestic ancestry from two Asian small cat species, the leopard cat and jungle cat, making the Highlander nominally a feline hybrid, though its foundation stock is mostly domestic cat.

Iriomote cat

The Iriomote cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis) is a subspecies of the leopard cat that lives exclusively on the Japanese island of Iriomote. It has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2008, as the only population comprises fewer than 250 adult individuals and is considered declining. As of 2007, there were an estimated 100–109 individuals remaining.In Japanese, it is called Iriomote-yamaneko (西表山猫, "Iriomote mountain cat"). In local dialects of the Yaeyama language, it is known as yamamayaa (ヤママヤー, "the cat in the mountain"), yamapikaryaa (ヤマピカリャー, "that which shines on the mountain"), and meepisukaryaa (メーピスカリャー, "that which has flashing eyes").

Jean Mill

Jean Mill (May 11, 1926 - June 7, 2018) was cat breeder, and a conservationist who worked to protect the Asian leopard cat. Mill is best know as the founder of the modern Bengal cat breed: Mill successfully crossed the wild Asian leopard cat with a domestic cat, and then backcrossed the offspring through five generations to create the domestic Bengal. Mill made contributions in two other cat breeds: the Himalayan and the standardized version of the Egyptian Mau. Jean and her first husband Robert Sugden were involved in a precedent-setting case about the United states power to monitor short wave radio communications. Jean Mill has also authored two books.

Khun Chae National Park

Khun Chae National Park (Thai: อุทยานแห่งชาติขุนแจ) is a national park in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. This rugged park is home to high mountains and waterfalls.

Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary

Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary (Assamese: লাওখোৱা অভয়াৰণ্য) is protected area located in the state of Assam in India. This wildlife sanctuary covers 70.13 km2, on the south bank of the Brahmaputra River in Nagaon district, It is situated 40 km downstream of the Kaziranga National Park and 30 km northwest of the Orang National Park on the other side of the river Brahmaputra.

It is a part of the Laokhowa-Burachapori eco-system. The sanctuary is an ideal habitat for Indian rhinoceros and Asiatic water buffaloes. Other animals found here are the royal Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, Indian boar, civet, leopard cat, hog deer, etc.

List of species native to Thailand

The wildlife of Thailand includes its flora and fauna and their natural habitats.


Lutrogale is a genus of otters, with only one extant species—the smooth-coated otter.


Mustelinae is a subfamily of family Mustelidae, which includes weasels, ferrets amd minks.It was formerly defined in a paraphyletic manner to also include wolverines, martens, and many other mustelids, to the exclusion of the otters (Lutrinae).


Prionailurus is a genus of spotted, small wild cats native to Asia. Forests are their preferred habitat; they feed on small mammals, reptiles and birds, some also on aquatic wildlife.

Snow leopard

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia), also known as the ounce, is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because the global population is estimated to number less than 10,000 mature individuals and decline about 10% in the next 23 years. It is threatened by poaching and habitat destruction following infrastructural developments.The snow leopard inhabits alpine and subalpine zones at elevations from 3,000 to 4,500 m (9,800 to 14,800 ft), ranging from eastern Afghanistan to Mongolia and western China. In the northern range countries, it also occurs at lower elevations.Taxonomically, the snow leopard was initially classified in the monotypic genus Uncia. Since 2008, it is considered a member of the genus Panthera based on results of genetic studies. Two subspecies were described based on morphological differences, but genetic differences between the two have not been confirmed. It is therefore regarded a monotypic species.

Sunda leopard cat

The Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis) is a small wild cat species native to the Sundaland islands of Java, Bali, Borneo, Sumatra and the Philippines that is considered distinct from the leopard cat occurring in mainland South and Southeast Asia.

The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants

The Tale of Loyal Heroes and Righteous Gallants (忠烈俠義傳), also known by its 1883 reprint title The Three Heroes and Five Gallants (三俠五義), is an 1879 Chinese novel based on storyteller Shi Yukun's oral performances. The novel was later revised by philologist Yu Yue and republished in 1889 under the title The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants (七俠五義), with the story essentially unaltered.

Set in 11th-century Song dynasty, the story detailed the rise of legendary judge Bao Zheng to high office, and how a group of youxia (knights-errant)—each with exceptional martial talent and selfless heroism—helped him fight crimes, oppression, corruption and rebellion. It was one of the first novels to merge the gong'an (court-case fiction) and the wuxia (chivalric fiction) genres.

Praised for its humorous narration and vivid characterizations, the novel has enjoyed huge readership: it spawned two dozen sequels by 1924 (according to Lu Xun) and served as the thematic model of allegedly over 100 novels in the late Qing dynasty. Even in the modern era, the tales have been continuously reenacted in popular cultural mediums, including oral storytelling, operas, films and TV dramas.

Visayan leopard cat

The Visayan leopard cat is a Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis sumatranus) population in the Philippine Islands of Negros, Cebu and Panay. It has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List in 2008 under its former scientific name P. bengalensis rabori as its range is estimated to be less than 20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi).

Wildlife of Bangladesh

The wildlife of Bangladesh includes Bangladesh's flora and fauna.

Bangladesh is home to roughly 53 species of amphibian, 19 species of marine reptiles, 139 species of reptile, 380 species of birds, 116 species of mammals and 5 species of marine mammals. In addition to the large bird count, a further 310 species of migratory birds swell bird numbers each year. It has the Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, hoolock gibbon, Asian black bear and other flagship species. The vast majority of these creatures currently dwell in an area of land that is some 150,000 sq kilometers in size. However this does not mean all is well with the country’s natural heritage. So far a number of creatures have disappeared completely from the country and a further 201 species are threatened. The dhole, also called the Asiatic wild dog, is now endangered by habitat and prey-species loss and human persecution. Notable animal species that have disappeared from Bangladesh are the greater one-horned rhinoceros, the Asian two-horned rhinoceros, the gaur, the banteng, swamp deer, nilgai, Indian wolf, wild water buffalo, marsh crocodile and common peafowl.

The majority of the human population lives in or around large cities and this has helped to limit deforestation to some extent. However, the growth rate continues to increase and this has placed large demands on the environment and lead to subsequent clearing of numerous natural habitats. Though several areas are protected under law, a large portion of Bangladeshi wildlife is threatened by this growth.

In 2016, conservationists surveying the super-remote, little-known Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh took the country’s first ever photos of the sun bear and gaur. Moreover, the team also captured photos of the Himalayan serow, Asian golden cat, sambar deer, barking deer, leopard cat and Dhole. Locals in the Chittagong Hill Tracts led conservationists to a new population of Arakan forest turtle. Once thought extinct, the critically endangered species was assumed only to survive in neighbouring Myanmar.

Extant Carnivora species

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