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Felis (Prionailurus) bengalensis



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Maximus of Bamboo
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Prionailurus
Species: Prionailurus bengalensis
      The Leopard Cat prionailurus bengalensis comes in many sub-species that range from five pounds to twenty plus pounds in size. Being a small cat, they are  very shy of humans and are predatorized by larger cats, birds of pry, and other large predators including humans. They are known to eat small birds, rodents, insects, fish and vegetation in the wild.

        The p. bengalensis euptilura subspecies are often more than twice as large as many southern Asian subspecies, with a dense coat, heavy bone and  muscling, and thick tail. These  traits are necessary for survival in the cold northern regions where they live. The euptilura has earned the nick name of Amur, for the Amurian river region of eastern Russia where the euptilura are very commonly found. But it should also be noted that the euptilura range does run down through eastern China as far south as Korea where they are commonly called Asian Leopard Cats as well.

        The LC is not an aggressive feline and will flee rather than fight. The Leopard Cat is a beautiful spotted feline which is similar in size to a domestic cat. Their coats are generally pale brown/tawny yellow, but this coloring is extremely variable, and may be bright reddish or gray. Under parts are usually bright white and they are marked with dark spots, bands, blotches, and rosettes. There are usually four longitudinal black bands running from the forehead to behind the neck. The ears of a Leopard Cat are wide and rounded and well cupped, with a white spot known as ocelli on the black backs of their ears. Two whitish stripes run up from the internal corners of the eyes and there are one or two white streaks across the cheeks.

The tail is spotted at the base and in some subspecies, ringed indistinctly toward the tip. The pads of the feet are eggplant to dark brown, with the carpal pad (little upper pad on the front feet) are very light pink. Their legs are relatively long. Cubs are born with all pads light pink, and usually have bright white bellies at birth.

Characteristically, the Leopard Cat has a small head and narrow muzzle with puffy whisker pads and nose. The skull is short and rounded and the orbits of the eye sockets are open at the back. Usually the anterior upper premolar is present.

Leopard Cats are usually classified in the genus Felis, but Wozencraft (1993) in his recent review of cat taxonomy put them in the genus Prionailurus. This reflects that the Leopard Cat's relationship with the other members of the genus (the Flat-Headed Cat P. planiceps; Rusty-Spotted Cat P. rubiginosus; Fishing Cat P. viverrinus) is closer than it is to the other cats.

At one time there was thought to be over two dozen sub-species, but after much debate in the early and mid 1990's many of these sub-species  were reclassified as belonging to another sub-species. These debates continue, but it is now generally accepted there are no more than fifteen actual separate Prionailurus bengalensis subspecies:

 
 

P. b. alleni   Hainan Island, off China
P. b. bengalensis  Northern India, Indo-China, Yunnan
P. b. borneoensis Borneo
P. b. chinensis  China and Taiwan
P. b. euptilura Korea, Far Eastern China, East Siberia
P. b. horsfieldi Kashmir to Sikkim
P.b. iriomotensis Iriomote, Ryukyu Islands
P. b. javanensis Java and Bali
P. b. manchurica Manchuria
P. b. minuta  Philippines
P.b. scripta Northern Yunnan, Western Sechuan, Southeast Tibet, Southern Gansu
P. b. sumatranus Sumatra
P. b. tingia Singapore, Malaysia
P. b. trevelyani North Kashmir, South Baluchistan, Pakistan
P.b. wagati Eastern India
This list does not contain the Tsushima cat which was only recognized by biologists in 1988 when it was given species status. There are believed only about 100 individual specimens living in the wilds of Tsushima (a small Island between Korea and Japan). Recent genetic testing has shown that it is indeed a variety of the Leopard Cat (see Leopard Cat Research). It is smaller and darker than the typical Leopard Cats and its population appears to have been separated from the mainland Leopard Cats for a long time. One article in the newsletter of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group, Cat News, stated that the Tsushima Cat was a member of the Siberian subspecies, P. b. euptilura (More on the Tsushima Cat. Cat News 12, 1990, p. 23). Previously, Professor P. Leyhausen stated that specimens from the island of Tsushima “clearly belonged to the subspecies P. b. manchuricus” (New Cat Not New? Cat News 11, 1989, p.18).

These subspecies and those of many other animals are the subject of much taxonomic debate, and many are still being disputed.

The Sumatran subspecies has fewer and smaller markings than the typical mainland forms. In contrast to the bright and quite rufous Bornean subspecies, the Javanese and Balinese Leopard Cats have rather dull brown coloration. The Pakistani leopard cat is rather gray. The India Leopard cat p.bengalensis bengalensis has a golden coat, with dark longated spots, seldom rosetted. The central Chinese Leopard Cat chinensis is thought to be the most striking of Leopard Cats, with light golden coat and beautiful two-tone paw print rosettes. The Chinese refer to them as the money cat, because their rosettes resemble Chinese coins.

The largest subspecies euptilura sometimes reaching over 20 pounds, is the one which occurs the farthest north and has a thicker coat, usually rosetted and are less distinctly marked than the other subspecies. As the scientific name suggests, the Philippine sub-species minuta is the smallest, averaging under 5 pounds and usually have tiny round spots on a tan coat.

   Principal dimensions

 
 

  Overall Size
Head and Body lengths 17"-42" 
44-107cm
Tail lengths 6"-17"
15-44cm
Total Weight 5-20 lbs.
2.25-9kg

Distribution and Habitats

 
Leopard cats are one of the most  widely distributed felids, from the dense tropical forests of Sumatra to the Manchurian and Siberian taiga. They are not restricted to primary forests, being found in scrublands, second-growth woodland, semi-deserts, and even agricultural regions, especially near water. They are tolerant of human activity, often being found close to villages, in which they will hunt for rodents and raid poultry houses in at night.

Distributed as far north as Eastern Siberia, down through theAmur basin and North Korea and as far south as Bali, the Leopard Cat's range extends through China towards Pakistan through northern India, the southern Himalayas, Bangladesh, Burma, and Indo-China. They are found on the Philippines, Borneo and Java and several islands near Japan.

The island of Tsushima is about 270 square miles, with steep mountains and ravines. On the map it appears as a tiny dot just off the south coast of Korea. The map shows the distribution of Leopard Cats in red. The map is based on information in the Wild Cats Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan published by the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group in 1996.

Diet

Leopard Cats are, like most felids, opportunists, and they will prey on hares, rodents, reptiles, moles, insects, amphibians, game birds, fish, mouse deer and even the fawns of roe deer. Northern subspecies are known to prey on hares. Grass and eggs may supplement their diets as well. They are known to raid poultry and to tackle aquatic prey in the water.

Behavior

Primarily first thought to be nocturnal, Leopard Cats hunt both in daylight and at night on the ground and in trees. They are also extremely good swimmers as well. A male's average home range has been measured at 3.5 miles. Unlike most felids, the southern or Asian Leopard Cats usually pair for life and the males participate in rearing their young. The northern P.b. euptilura subspecies are sometimes solitary and males may breed several females a year, but have also been known to pair and help in the rearing of their young as well.

Many cats delineate their territories using their feces and spray urine as scent markers, but many adult Leopard Cats urinate and defecate in water to mask their traces. This behavior has also been noted in LCF's captive Leopard Cats. In the wild, juveniles have been known to bury their feces near the den. This avoids drawing attention to themselves and when supplied a litterbox in captivity, they usually do the same. It is believed that the large Leopards take significant numbers of Leopard Cats each year as well as Eagles and other predators.

Reproduction

One to six (usually two or three) cubs are born, usually in May, but Leopard Cats have been known to breed at any time in warmer regions and in captivity. The young are usually born in a hollow tree or rock cavity. Gestation takes about 56 to 72 days. At birth the cubs weigh about 75 to 130 grams. They are born with their eyes closed and open their eyes when they are about ten days old, and start to eat regurgitated meat by 23 days. If the kittens are removed from the mother or lost to predators, she is sometimes able to have another litter that same year. Unlike most felids, Leopard Cats usually pair for life and cubs are raised by both parents and usually remain as a family unit for 7-10 months.

Full sexual maturity is reached at 18 months, but males have been known to successfully breed as early as 7 months and females at 10 months of age in captivity. Because the males mature earlier, they are much more likely to seek mates outside of their family units, helping to eliminate interbreeding with siblings.

Life span

Because of the dangers in the wild, a Leopard Cat's life span is estimated at only about 4 years. Captive Leopard Cats with proper care and nutrition have lived for as long as 19-20 years. Unfortunately, many don't live  but a couple of years in captivity because so many are being purchased by pet owners and Bengal cat breeders without proper nutritional knowledge.

Many cubs and adults are still illegally being taken from the wild and exported to other countries including the USA to be sold as pets or to be used in hybrid programs. Many of these cubs are unable to adjust to the stress of captivity, shipping, and change of diets and are lost during or shortly after they arrive to their new homes.

It should be noted, that only about one of ten Leopard Cats will ever breed a domestic cat and many of those that don't breed end up being neglected, mistreated, or even illegally released into the wild to die of starvation. This is why it is very important that responsible Leopard Cat programs like LCF do not market their Leopard Cats they raise into non-Leopard Cat breeding programs.

All Leopard Cat subspecies have been put on the CITES protection list with P. b. bengalensis and p.b. iriomotensis already being placed on the endangered species list. Every year countless valuable, unique Leopard Cat genes are lost. It is LCF's belief that no one should own Leopard Cats unless they are legally produced in captivity or acquired by special permits and are to be used in a Leopard Cat breeding programs.

Bengal breeders should not purchase Leopard Cats to be used in domestic Bengal cat (Leopard Cat x domestic cat hybrids) programs unless their main goal is to use them in Leopard Cat breeding programs to avoid exploiting the species and losing their valuable genes.

Mutations

Though very rare, color mutations do occur in Leopard Cats. Melanistic (solid black) mutations of Leopard Cats have been reported in both the wild and in captivity. There has been a female melanistic (black) Leopard Cat living in a Tailand zoo for a number of years.

Pink-eyed albino (white) Leopard Cats have also occured, mature male photographed in 2002, by Musa Kiana, Chelmsford, UK.

Unknown Subspecies:

Leopard Cats of undocumented subspecies. It is believed that many of the Leopard Cats in captivity without subspecies documentation is a result of unethical animal importers and breeders discarding their documents in an effort to hide their status of endangered subspecies. Basically making them of unknown origins just to allow easy import/export and sales of these valuable endangered cats. This practice is causing their endangered gene pools to be lost forever, adding to the endangerment of the subspecies.

US Fish and Wildlife has cracked down in recent years by only allowing the importation of Leopard Cats of known documented subspecies to enter the US. Many  undocumented Leopard Cats are being confiscated by USFW at Ports of Entry and it's only the beginning.

It is my understanding USFW will also start to crack down on all undocumented Leopard Cats in captivity. The Endangered Species Act does not allow the sale or transportation of endangered species or subspecies across state lines without an ESA special permit. Because of this requirement, Leopard Cats of unknown or of known endangered subspecies that are sold through interstate transactions can also be confiscated. Basically, if you cannot prove a Leopard Cat is not of an endangered subspecies, USFW will consider them endangered and have already confiscate some.

Be warned that dealing with Leopard Cats of undocumented subspecies may lead to their confiscation even within US boarders. Also, dealing with undocumented subspecies will encourage the future exploitation of the endangered Leopard Cat subspecies.

Buyer beware! There are still some animal dealers in Europe who are purchasing undocumented subspecies from Zoo's in poor countries where they have been heavily inbred. They purchase these cats for only $500-$800 true value and resell them for $4,000.00 - $5,000.00, here in the US to people who do not know better.

What is even worse is that once the dealer has their money including several hundred more for shipping, the cats are never sent or they are confiscated by USFW. This has happened to several Bengal cat breeders here in the US without them ever getting a refund.

If you are even thinking about purchasing a Leopard Cat please go to http://www.leopardcat.8k.com/purchasingLC.html


References:
Bamboo Cattery website
Leopard Cat Foundation, Mike Bloodgood
Animal Diversity Web: Prionailurus bengalensis
Big Cats Online: Leopard Cat
Cat Survival Trust: Leopard Cat
ISEC Canada: Leopard Cat
IUCN Cat Specialist Group: Leopard Cat
Wild Cats of the World. Blandford: United Kingdom
Fieldmuseum, philippine,bengalensis


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