The Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small wildcat that is found across South and East Asia. There are twelve different subspecies depending on where they live and many of them are threatened by loss of habitat and hunting areas, while still listed as a species of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List.
The Leopard cat is only the most distant relative of the Leopard and is of similar size to the domestic cat. It is generally of a more slender body type with longer legs and distinctive webbing between the toes of its feet. It has a small head that has two prominent dark stripes on it and a short, narrow muzzle that is white. Dark stripes also run from the eyes to the ears and there are white streaks from the eyes to the nose.
Both the body and legs are marked with a variety of black spots that come in different shapes and sizes. Their tail is typically around half the length of their body and has a few faint rings near the black tip.
The background color of their fur is a tawny brown with the chest and belly being white. The different subspecies have different shades and can be very different in size and weight, meaning they were originally all thought to be different types of wildcat but are now recognizedised as subspecies. In the tropical areas, they can weigh 1.2 to 8.4 lb and be 15 to 26 inches long while in northern China and Siberia they weigh less and are longer.
The Leopard Cat is the mostly widely distributed species of Asian small cats and are found from the Amur region of the Russian Far East, across the Korean peninsula and China to Indochina, the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and to the south in the Philippines and the Sundra islands of Indonesia.
The typical habitat of these cats are the tropical evergreen rainforests and plantations when at sea level. In the subtropical areas, they live in deciduous and coniferous forests and in the foothills of the Himalayas up to altitudes of 3,300ft. in the north-east of their range, they live near rivers, valleys and ravine forests but keep away from anywhere with more than 4 inches of snow.
Behavior and diet
Apart from in breeding season, Leopard cats live alone and do most of their hunting at night, though some will be active during the day. They are very good climbers and will even rest in trees as well as using dense undergrowth to mask their presence. In some parts of their range, they have been observed as high as 13 feet above the ground in oil palm plantations. They can swim but only do so if necessary. Their vocalisations are very similar to the domestic cat.
Their diet consists of mammals, lizards, amphibians, insects and birds. The major element of their diet comes from rodents such as rats and mice and they will add grass, eggs and aquatic prey to this. They bounce and bite their prey but don’t ‘play’ with their food, instead holding it firmly with their claws until it dies.
In the north of their range, they tend to breed in March and April when the weather is at the warmest while in the south, it can vary by weather conditions. The gestation period is 60-70 days and two to four kittens are born in a den where they stay until a month old. They weigh 2.6 – 4.6 oz. at birth and double their weight in the first two weeks, and then are four times this size by five weeks of age. Eyes open at ten days and they start eating solid food at 23 days. In captivity, these cats can live to an age of 13 years.
The Asian Leopard cat, found in parts of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Malay Peninsula and across Indochina to Yunnan province of China is the wildcat species that is crossed with domestic cats to create the Bengal domestic breed. This domestic cat breed resembles the Leopard Cat but after four or more generations, is tame enough to make a perfect pet.