August 8th is International Cat Day, but before you open up the catnip for your domestic moggy why not take a look at their wild relatives? There are 41 cat species in the Felidae family and while the more famous members steal most of the limelight, there are probably quite a few species that you haven’t even heard of who are equally astounding. Here’s 10 that we thought deserved a bit of recognition this International Cat Day…
1) Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus)
The rusty-spotted cat is the world’s smallest cat, with the some adults weighing just 0.8kg. This nocturnal hunter is found across India as well as Sri Lanka and Nepal, where it lives in dry deciduous forest, scrub and grassland and feeds on some of the classic cat favourites: rodents, birds and domestic poultry.
2) Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)
The Iberian lynx is the world’s rarest cat; only 400 individuals remain and until recently there were only two known strongholds for this species. This cat is threatened by a dwindling food supply; their diet largely consists of rabbits which have declined due to epidemic outbreaks of myxamatosis. However may not be lost, as individuals have been translocated and reintroduced into three conservation areas across Spain and Portugal, which has led to a subsequent increase in the population.
3) Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul)
Pallas’s cat is an elusive and solitary cat whose range stretches across Central Asia. Far from the top of the food chain, Pallas’s cat is often predated by raptors, wolves, red foxes and, more recently, domestic and feral dogs.
4) Wildcat (Felis silvestris)
The wildcat is of huge importance to the human population, as without this species there would be no domestic cats. We’ve fed, groomed and generally been ruled by our cats for 9,500 years and it’s thought that wildcats were originally lured towards human settlements due to rodents that lived in their grain stores. The friendliest individuals domesticated themselves by taking advantage of human protection and leftovers, and this affinity with humans due to easy access to food is something has never shown any signs of stopping!
5) Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps)
It’s commonly thought that cats hate water, but this is a misconception. It certainly isn’t the case for this brave felid, which lives a semi-aquatic life due to its love for feeding on fish, frogs and crustaceans. It has specialised adaptations for aquatic hunting, including webbed feet and backward pointing teeth. The flat-headed cat is not the only cat species that is regularly seen in water – check out this video of a tiger swimming across a river.
6) Caracal (Caracal caracal)
Arguably the most striking of all of the cat species, the caracal (or rooikat) is a fierce predator. Hunting in tropical savannas across Africa and Asia, the caracal can take prey items up to three times its size, including small antelope.
7) Borneo bay cat (Pardofelis badia)
The Borneo bay cat, endemic to the island of Borneo, is the most under-studied cat in the world, and only 25 individuals have ever been recorded. The first bay cat was collected by the famous biologist Alfred Russell Wallace in 1855, although this individual was dead and it wasn’t until 1992 that a live bay cat was caught and recorded. The Asiatic golden cat is a close relative of this species, although the population of their common ancestor is thought to have been split in two around 4.9 to 5.3 million years ago, triggering the evolution of these separate but genetically similar species.
8) Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi)
Found in the New World, the jaguarundi is an unusual looking cat. Its slender build and small head gives it a weasel-like appearance. It also differs from other New World cats in its behaviour, as it is active in the day, has a large home range and is spends much more time on the forest floor than in the trees. Amazingly, individuals of this species have been seen jumping up to two metres off the ground when attempting to catch birds.
9) Guigna (Leopardus guigna)
Due to of its secretive nature and tiny size, very few people have seen a guigna and it is definitely not a cat that many people have heard of…until now! This arboreal species is found in Chile and Argentina, where it is known as the ‘kodkod’. The guigna is one of the smallest cat species in the Southern Hemisphere and I think we can probably all agree that it is extremely cute.
10) Lion (Panthera leo)
We imagine you’ve heard of this one, but did you know that lions were once common in Greece? There was once a European lion (Panthera leo europaea), which is often featured in Ancient Greek mythology, writings and pottery. Due to their geographical proximity these lions were captured and used in Roman arenas where they fought the ‘bestiarii’ (men who fought animals). In one festival in 240 AD, 70 Lions were slaughtered for entertainment. This was a main factor for extinction for both the Barbary lion and the European lion.
Want to find out more about wild cat conservation? Check out these amazing conservation organisations…
Ted Savile, Arkive Guest Blogger