Cat of the Month ~ August 2014
A nervous Leopard Cat looks on
The general build of an Asian Leopard Cat (aka 'Bengal Cat' or Prionailurus Bengalensis) is similar to a normal domestic cat, but with somewhat longer legs and a longer sleeker back. They are though a lot smaller than the African big cats after which they're named They have a relatively small head with a short narrow muzzle, large eyes (because of their need to stalk prey at night) and a thick tail of about 11 to 14 inches length. Body length varies between 25 to 32 inches, and they weigh between 7 to 15 pounds - males being generally heavier than the females. Clearly the spotted coat gave this feline its name of 'Leopard' but there are around ten different known sub-species, showing distinct variations in body colour. For example, leopard cats in the Northern regions tend towards reddish brown spotting on a yellowish-grey background and leopard cats from more humid regions tending to be more ochre-yellow to brownish.
The cats’ beautiful markings, which have in many ways been their downfall by attracting the attention of the fur trade, are striking and show some variation between individuals. All subspecies have a spotted or ringed tail, with a black tail tip, four black bands running from the forehead to the back of the neck, breaking up into elongated spots on the neck and shoulders, often forming a " broken necklace". The round black ears have a white spot on the back, and all cats have a white underside, throat and cheek-flashes. The underparts are spotted on the white background. The body markings can be solid or rosetted and sometimes show marbling.
Despite its name, the Asian Leopard Cat is not restricted to southern Asia, but can be found across India, China, Korea and the Eastern Soviet Union. It can also be found on islands such as Borneo, Bali, Java, Sumatra, the Philippines and Taiwan. Naturally, the widespread habitat of the Asian Leopard Cat has led to many different names, such as the Javan cat, Wagati cat, Chinese cat or "money cat", so called because the spots resembled Chinese coins.
A Leopard Cat sleeping during the day
Of all the small cats the Leopard Cat is probably one of the most common and widespread, and most authorities do not consider it to be in imminent danger of extinction. However, the destruction of its habitat by rapidly expanding human populations, deforestation, farming, and soil erosion, all remain threats to the wild cat populations. The Asian Leopard Cat has therefore been placed on Appendix II of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and its trade is restricted and regulated as an endangered species.
Asian Leopard Cats are generally solitary and nocturnal in behaviour and prefer brush and forest as their habitat. They make their dens in hollow trees, small caves or under large roots and, living in a wide variety of environments, have an unusually wide variety of skills. For example, they often live near water and are accomplished at swimming and fishing. This legacy lives on in the Bengal’s liking for playing in water, and pawing at the surface of pools, just for fun it would seem! Equally, they are excellent and agile climbers very much at home in a tree or tall bush, hunting for birds, squirrels, tree shrews and other climbing animals. In fact this liking for heights is bourne out in reports of tropical Leopard Cats being totally tree dwelling in their nature. When hunting for food they often pounce on and kill thier prey outright rather than toying with it - as do many of the small cat species. Hunting invariably takes place at night with the days spent resting in trees, hollows and caves.
A Leopard Cat does not make a good pet, being solitary and reclusive, rarely allowing humans to touch or handle them. They are carnivorous hunters and could represent a threat to children or other pets in a domestic environment. However when bred to be domestic pets, from the fourth generation removed from the wild and beyond they can be considered a domestic animal, and are officially then known as a Bengal, rather than a Leopard Cat hybrid. Given that the current breeding programmes will have been explicitly aimed at producing good pets, the resulting Bengals should display the beautiful markings and unusual behaviour of the wild cats, whilst inheriting the domestic cat’s social nature and adaptability to human lifestyles.