The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small wild cat endemic to continental South, East, and Southeast Asia.
Since 2002 it has been listed on the IUCN Red List of Threaten Species as Least Concern. However, its population has been threatened by hunting in parts of its range and habitat loss.
Leopard cats differ widely in tail length, fur colour, size of carnassials, and skull shape. The estimated total population of the Leopard cat is 50,000.
Its top speed is 72.4 km/h.
Table of Contents
- Scientific classification
- Behaviour and ecology
- Habitat and distribution
Compared to the domestic cat, the leopard is about the same size but is more slender, with web-defined webs between its toes and longer legs.
Its small head is marked with two conspicuous dark stripes and a short but narrow white muzzle. Two dark stripes run from the eyes to the ears and two smaller white streaks that run from the eyes to the nose.
The back of its moderately rounded and long ears are black with white spots. The limbs and body are marked with black spots of varying colour and size, and along its back are 2 – 4 rows of elongated spots.
The tail of a leopard cat is about half the size of the head to body length and is seen with a few vague rings close to the black tip.
It has a tawny background colour for the spotted fur, with a white belly and chest. However, due to their huge range, they vary so much in size and colouration of spots as well as in weight and body size.
The southern populations have yellowish-brown fur, while those in the north have pale silver-grey fur. The black markings could be rosette, spotted, or dotted streaks.
In the tropics, leopard cats weigh 1.2 to 8.4 lb (0.55 to 3.8 kg) and have a head to body lengths of 15.3 to 26.0 in (38.8 to 66 cm), with long 6.8 to 12.2 in (17.2 to 31 cm) tails.
In Siberia and northern China, they weigh up to 16 lb (7.1 kg) and have a head to body length of up to 30 in (75 cm). Shoulder height is about 16 in (41 cm).
The leopard cat mating season varies depending on the climate. In tropical regions, kittens are born throughout the year, while farther north, in colder regions, kittens are born in spring.
The estrus period lasts 5 to 9 days. Their gestation period lasts 60 to 70 days. Litters size varies between 2 – 3 kittens. Captive born kittens weigh 2.6 – 4.6 oz (75 – 130 grams) at birth and open their eyes 15 days after birth.
Their permanent canine begins to erupt at the age of 4 weeks. Female leopard cat in captivity tends to mature the earliest at the age of one year. They produce their first litter at the age of 13 – 14 months.
The average lifespan of a captive leopard cat is 13 years, while in the wild, they are known to live for 4 years.
The leopard cat is a carnivorous animal that feeds on a variety of small prey including lizards, mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects.
In some regions, small rodents like mice and rats form the major part of their diet, which is also supplemented with eggs, grasses, aquatic prey, and poultry. They are primarily hunters that hunt with a rapid pounce and bite to their prey.
Distinct from other small cats, leopard cats do not play with their food; in other words, they make sure their prey is dead before releasing the tight grip they had on the animal.
Behaviour and ecology
Leopard cats are solitary animals. They only interact during the mating season. Some may be seen during the day, although they are mostly active at night.
They prefer stalking tree shrews, murids, and hares. They are quite arboreal in their habits and are also agile climbers. They hide in highly dense thorny undergrowth on the ground and also rest trees.
The leopard cat can swim but rarely do so. Similar to the domestic cat, the leopard cat has a similar range of vocalisations. Both sexes scent mark their territory by leaving faeces in exposed locations, spraying urine, scratching, and head rubbing.
Habitat and distribution
Leopard cats are the most widely distributed Asian small cat. Its range extends from the Korean Peninsula to the Amur region in the Russian Far East, Indochina, China, and northern Pakistan to Indian Subcontinent.
It lives in tropical evergreen plantations and rainforests at sea level, in subtropical coniferous and deciduous forests in the foothills of the Himalayas at elevations above 3,300 ft (1,000 m). It also inhabits agriculturally used areas such as sugar cane and oil palm plantations.
The highest altitudinal record was obtained in the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in September 2012 at 14,678 ft (4,474 m).
In the northeast of its range, it lives close to valleys, rivers, and ravine forests, but avoids areas with more than 3.9 in (10 cm) of snowfall.
In Thailand’s Phu Khieu Wildlife Reserve, the home ranges of males ranged from 0.85 sq mi (2.2 km2) to 11.2 sq mi (28.9 km2), and of the six females from 1.7 sq mi (4.4 km2) to 14.3 sq mi (37.1 km2).