New Look at Cats

Scientists have made extraordinary advances in learning how they live and what we must do to save them

03-01-2000 // Fiona and Mel Sunquist
New Look at Cats magazine layout - Cats' eyes

A CAVERNOUS ROOM in the Sarawak Natural History Museum bulges with skins, shells and skeletons of creatures collected by long-dead explorers. Saucer-eyed tarsiers, pale moon rats and scruffy stink badgers perch stiffly in glass cases. A giant tree squirrel the size of a Yorkshire terrier hangs from a branch affixed to the wall just above foot-long centipedes and pill bugs as big as golf balls.

In 1992, as part of an informal survey on the status of the world´s 36 species of wild cats, we had come to this museum on the island of Borneo to examine the tired remains of one particularly intriguing animal. Its display case was labeled "bay cat." Like pilgrims at a shrine, we peered reverently at a dark, elongated shape­­at the time, the only stuffed Bornean bay cat existing anywhere.

In the next few minutes our solemn review of this ancient skin would take an unexpected turn. And in an instant, the bay cat would become a symbol for what humankind has learned about that band of carnivores called the felids, the mostly lithe and slinky hunters that also include the more familiar domestic cat, the tiger and the African lion.

Noticing our excitement, museum director Charles Leh came over. "I´ve got another one in the freezer. It just came in," he announced. Certain that he must be mistaken, because the last Bornean bay cat specimen had been collected more than half a century ago, we looked at each other in disbelief. One of the rarest mammals in the world, the bay cat was known only from a few crumbling skins collected mainly in the 1800s. No weights, measurements or photographs of the animal existed. So few specimens had ever been found that some scientists doubted it was a real species.

We followed Leh to an adjoining building, where an aging white freezer was wedged between some large crates. And there, on top of a pile of assorted mammals, birds and fish was the frozen carcass of the elusive bay cat.

Just like early biologists who had to depend on appearance to identify a species, we quickly took all the appropriate measurements. But we also had a new tool­­one of many that have helped scientists modernize the study of cats and other wildlife in recent years. We sent a tissue sample from the frozen cat to the U.S. National Cancer Institute in Maryland, where Steven O´Brien, a geneticist who has studied DNA in cats, and his colleagues compared the new sample to one taken from the original specimen collected in 1855 by Alfred Russell Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin. Genetic tests showed that the DNA of the two cats was identical, and that the bay cat was indeed a species.

The new specimen added one more bit of information to a growing body of knowledge about the cat family. "A quarter century ago we knew little more than what wild cats looked like and roughly where they lived," says Peter Jackson, chairman of the Cat Specialist Group of the IUCN­­World Conservation Union. "Dedicated explorer-scientists have since uncovered many of the secrets of the cats´ lives in the wild."

Twenty-five years ago, the bay cat of Borneo and the kodkod and Andean mountain cat of South America were known only from museum skins and an occasional stuffed specimen. Even easily recognizable species such as bobcat, puma, tiger, leopard, cheetah and ocelot were unstudied, and virtually nothing was known about what they needed in terms of space and food. Today, we have basic information about the biology of most of the 36 cat species.

We have also made tremendous progress in finding ways to save these animals. International trade in spotted cat skins, which once accounted for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals, is now prohibited, and biologists are beginning to see signs of recovery in some of the cats, including ocelots and jaguars.

Domestic Cats: How They Fit In

New Look at Cats magazine layout - Black Cat

Domestic cats are thought to have descended from the African subspecies of the wildcat. Though cats were domesticated several thousand years ago, it is only in the last century that they have been bred for characteristics such as coat color and texture, or long hair. Unlike dogs, domestic cats are fairly similar in size (3 to 4 kilograms, 6.5 to 8.8 pounds on average) and have retained the same configuration, or body plan, as their wild relatives. Where food is plentiful, such as in farm buildings, feral female cats sometimes live in small groups and raise their litters communally. Domestic cats are now found around the world, and when they are not eating commercial cat food, they feed on rodents, rabbits, birds and reptiles.  

And this is only a beginning. New techniques for collecting information promise to further transform the study of cats in the wild. Big money from major corporations (ExxonMobil, Ford and Ford´s subsidiary Jaguar are sinking millions into cat conservation) is helping to fund new research. And innovative solutions to cat depredation on livestock hold out hope that humans and cats can coexist.

The lack of knowledge in previous years stemmed from the fact that cats are active mainly at night and almost impossible to see in the dense vegetation where they usually live. In the 1970s, radiotelemetry­­ miniature radio transmitters attached to a collar strapped around an animal´s neck­­ gave biologists their first glimpses into the darkness, turning a spotlight on the previously hidden lives of the secretive, solitary felids. The technique allowed field biologists to find an animal in the densest cover or follow it across the most remote terrain. But telemetry has its drawbacks. Cats have to be trapped and tranquilized to attach the radio collar.

Now scientists using cameras are able to collect information without ever handling a cat. Their new "hands-off" techniques make life easier for the animal and are often better received by landowners and wildlife departments. "It is much easier to get permission to run a line of cameras in the forest than to wade through the permitting process for capturing, tranquilizing and radio collaring," says Ullas Karanth. Karanth, senior scientist in charge of the Wildlife Conservation Society´s India program, uses cameras triggered by an infrared beam to estimate tiger numbers.

Such remote camera-trapping techniques are replacing radiotelemetry in many places, especially where terrain is steep and roadless. In Malaysia´s Taman Negara National Park, University of Florida graduate student Kae Kawanishi and staff of the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks are using cameras to estimate the park´s tiger population. Her team hauls its equipment into the dense forest by boat along the rivers, then slogs up steep trails through slippery red mud, carrying the cameras and protective casings in on foot.

Each member of the team can haul five cameras in addition to camping gear. "The cameras are left out in the forest for a month at a time," says Kawanishi. "Then we pick them up, change the film and walk to another sample area." Though the project has only just begun, there have already been some surprises. "All the leopards here seem to be black­­. We have yet to photograph a spotted leopard­­ and tapir show up on almost every roll of film. No one realized there were that many of them."

New Look on Cats magazine layout - Lynx

Half a world away in Montana, John Weaver of the Wildlife Conservation Society is working on another technique that allows scientists to gather information about cats without trapping them. While walking in the Bitterroot Mountains with his tame lynx Chirp, Weaver noticed that the animal often rubbed the side of her face on tree stumps and branches in a scent-marking behavior common to most cats. When he looked closely at the places where Chirp had rubbed, Weaver noticed that a few cat hairs were stuck to the wood. Aware of the technology that allowed human DNA to be gathered from hair, Weaver guessed it might be the same for animals. Suddenly, he says, "the proverbial light bulb went on and I wondered if I could get wild lynx to rub against something I had put out for them so I could collect hair samples from the whole population."

Weaver set to work to create a device that would induce a lynx to cheekrub. "I tried curry combs, cat brushes and Velcro but finally settled on a simple 4-inch square of carpet with a few small tacks sticking through it," he says. Weaver then developed a secret scent ­­"catnip is just one of the ingredients" ­­to attract cats to his hair-collecting devices. Back in the lab, geneticist George Amato, also of the Wildlife Conservation Society, was able to determine if the hairs Weaver harvested were from a male or female. He also identified genetic relationships among different lynx.

Another hot new technique for field biologists is the euphoniously named science of molecular scatology. In the future, biologists may be able to collect much of the information they need simply by picking up droppings, or scats. Whether it comes from a cow or a cat, all dung contains cells shed from the lining of the intestine. Scientists isolate these cells, then purify and amplify their DNA. Among other things, the DNA can be used to recognize individuals, determine their sex and age, and establish how they are related.

New studies, many using tools such as these, have begun to change perceptions of how cats live. Cats have always been thought of as solitary creatures, for instance, but as soon as biologists began to track individuals, they discovered that these archetypal loners had a social life after all. Long-term studies of solitary cats such as tigers, pumas, leopards, cheetahs and lynx have shown that male cubs usually leave the area where they were born and wander in search of a territory. Young females, on the other hand, often take over their mother´s range or settle next to her. The result is that neighboring females are usually grandmothers, sisters, daughters and aunts­­ just as closely related to one another as are lionesses that travel together in a pride. These females do not hunt together, but they know each other by scent and often encounter each other along boundaries.

New research initiatives have been particularly fruitful with the smaller cats of the world. The first field study of the black-footed cat in South Africa revealed that this four-pound felid can range an area as large as that used by a 300-pound tigress in Nepal and that the tiny predator travels further in a night than do many big cats. In Chile, biologists have found that the social system of the elusive kodkod resembles a scaled-down version of tiger or leopard society, with the smaller ranges of two or three females overlapped by the larger range of a male.

Other field studies have revealed that although most cats are general stalk-and-ambush-style hunters, there are a few species that specialize, either in terms of their hunting style or their prey. The lanky African serval, which weighs 25 pounds, hunts surprisingly small rodents in tall grass, for instance. The cat´s long legs provide its satellite-dish ears with a raised platform to "hear" into the vegetation, enabling it to pinpoint the position of a mouse in the grass even with its eyes shut. Among prey of servals studied in South Africa´s Kamberg Nature Reserve, 80 percent was made up of rodents weighing little more than one ounce.

Studies of how cats live have also turned up characteristics that have important conservation implications. The ocelot and margay of South America usually raise a single kitten and give birth every two years. A similar-sized bobcat might have three kittens in each litter and give birth every year. Clearly, bobcats could survive hunting pressures better than margays and ocelots.

Some of the big cats may also turn out to be surprisingly resilient. Cheetahs, with their large number of young and comparatively short time between litters, should do well if they have enough food and protection from lions and hyenas, which kill many cheetah cubs. Tigers also have great potential to thrive if their habitat is protected and the prey base is not depleted.

Scientists have also learned a great deal about managing problem cats­­ - those individual predators that destroy livestock and, in the process, often bring down the wrath of humans and make cat conservation difficult. We now know that translocation is a fairly pointless exercise. In the past, wildlife authorities regularly captured cattle-killing jaguars, leopards and pumas (also called cougars or mountain lions), then relocated them to remote areas. During a 10-year study in New Mexico, Kenny Logan and Linda Sweanor of the Idaho-based Hornocker Wildlife Institute moved 13 radio-collared pumas to a similar area 300 miles away and followed them to see where they went. Within 6 months, two adult males had made their way back to their original territories. Nine others died, probably killed by resident animals.

Solutions that do work are being tried around the world. In Namibia, Laurie Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund are breeding livestock-guarding dogs to help ranchers who are willing to try nonlethal methods to keep predators away from their livestock. The dogs, Anatolian shepherds, live with the livestock on the range and protect them from cheetahs and leopards.

The fund is also conducting trials on a therapy known as Conditioned Taste Aversion in which a nonlethal emetic salt, lithium chloride, is injected into a dead cow. A predator learns that if it eats a certain food, it will become ill. "If you can make a lion or leopard sick by adding a chemical to its kill, it will develop an aversion for that particular type of food­­ in this case a calf or a cow," explains Debra Forthman, director of field conservation at Zoo Atlanta, who is part of the project.

In Venezuela, electric-shock treatment is keeping big cats away from livestock. In a pioneering study there, solar-powered electric fences are used to surround maternity pastures where expensive, pedigree calves are born. This has significant implications for conservation because cattle ranches in South America are often huge­­some about a third of the size of the state of Rhode Island. If only a small percentage of ranch owners can be convinced to tolerate large cats on their ranches, the result will be millions of acres of habitat where cats are accepted rather than shot.

While these new approaches offer hope that cats and humans will find ways to coexist in the future, it was international legislative protection in the past that rescued many cat species from almost certain extinction. And these laws, plus changes in public perceptions about cats, have helped buy researchers time to better understand the cat family and to apply those understandings to conservation.

During the late 1960s, the international trade in spotted cat skins was worth an estimated $30 million a year. In New York, fur coats made of jaguar skin sold for $20,000, while in Germany ocelot coats fetched as much as $40,000. At that time, the pelts of more than 10,000 leopards, 15,000 jaguars, 3,000 cheetah and 200,000 cats labeled as "ocelots" were being imported into the United States and Europe each year. By 1970, even fur traders were worried that wild cat populations could not support this level of harvest.

In 1971, the International Fur Trade Federation joined with the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (now the IUCN­­World Conservation Union) to recommend a voluntary moratorium on trade in tigers, snow leopards and clouded leopards, and a three-year ban on trade in leopard and cheetah skins. In 1975, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) came into force, and all the large cats and several smaller species were listed in its Appendix I, meaning that they could not be traded on the international market. Simultaneously, public opinion and effective advertising campaigns convinced many people that coats made from wild cat skins looked best on the original owners.

Smithsonian biologist Louise Emmons, who has worked in South America for 20 years, thinks that the trade regulations have been remarkably effective. "I´m seeing more small spotted cats today than I´ve seen in years, and primate numbers seem to be up as well, probably because fur trappers used a monkey as bait in each [cat] trap they set," says Emmons.

Though the international fur trade is no longer a major concern, the world´s cats face other problems. The burgeoning trade in bones and body parts for use in folk medicines threatens tigers and other big cats. And deer, pigs and other big-cat prey are being eliminated by subsistence hunters in many regions. On a larger scale, the combined loss of habitat to development, agriculture, mining and logging endangers wildlife across the globe. Scientists are shifting their attention from natural history studies to questions about how best to conserve isolated and declining populations.

The major piece of the puzzle still missing is the political will to make conservation a priority. John Seidensticker, curator of mammals at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., believes that for conservation to become a reality, "a tiger has to be worth more alive than dead." In some areas this has already happened. At an innovative program near Nepal´s Royal Chitwan National Park, villagers began planting trees for firewood and grass for livestock fodder on degraded land next to the park. As the vegetation returned, so did the wildlife. Rhinos and tigers now roam the once denuded area and villagers charge tourists a fee to watch wildlife.

Ironically, however, placing a high value on a cat can also jeopardize its survival. The bay cat we saw in the freezer in the Sarawak Natural History Museum had starved to death. It had been trapped illegally, then held in captivity for several months, probably while the animal dealer responsible searched for a buyer. Last year, under circumstances that are murky at best, another bay cat turned up in an animal dealer´s collection in Sarawak, but this one was alive. A well-known American photographer paid $10,000 for exclusive rights to photograph it.

As a result, according to Malaysian wildlife authorities, local trappers are now aware that animal collectors and photographers are willing to pay big bucks for a live bay cat. In Malaysia, such transactions are understandably illegal since many individual cats die in the trapping and handling process before they even reach a buyer. This extra pressure on an already rare animal could be catastrophic. In the bay cat´s case, the high price on its head may mean the end of the species.

CATS OF THE WORLD

New Look at Cats magazine layout - Cat Of The World

The 36 species of wild cats appear in a dizzying range of sizes­­ from 550 pounds down to just over 2 pounds. They live in an equally amazing spectrum of habitats and hunt a wide variety of foods. The following summary includes the status of each species, if known, according to scientists at the IUCN­­World Conservation Union.

The cats are listed in descending order of size in the regions where they are most common, but some species also occur in other areas. Weights are given in the metric system (1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds):

NORTH AMERICA

New Look at Cats magazine layout - Bobcat

Puma (also known as mountain lion, cougar): Reddish-brown to tan, plain-colored coat; long tail. Ranges from western Canada to southern South America. Males weigh up to 103 kg., females about a third lighter. Feeds on variety of prey from elk to raccoon. Lower risk; two subspecies critically endangered.

Bobcat: Tail short, black on the upper tip. Males weigh about 10 kg., females slightly less. Lives in variety of habitats from forest to desert in United States, Canada and Mexico. Specializes on rabbits but also eats rodents, birds and deer. Lower risk.

Canadian lynx: Long hind legs give tipped-forward appearance. Leg length and thick fur make species look larger than it really is­­. Males weigh about 10 kg., females slightly smaller. Lives mainly in boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Feeds almost exclusively on snowshoe hare. Lower risk.

SOUTH AMERICA

New Look at Cats magazine layout - Jaguar

Jaguar (left): Powerful and stocky, with large head and short legs. Fur is spotted, but all-black jaguars are not uncommon. Weights vary enormously­­males from 55-130 kg., females smaller. Prefers forested habitats near water, where it hunts wide range of prey from peccaries and turtles to deer and cattle. Ranges from Mexico south into South America. Lower risk.
Photo at left Copyright© 2000 Tony Rath Photography 

Ocelot: Short, close fur marked with solid and open dark spots. Rounded ears have prominent white spot on back. Males weigh 9-13 kg., females 7-10 kg. Found in tropical forest, dry forest, scrub and flooded savanna from Texas south to Argentina. Feeds on rodents and small mammals. Lower risk; one subspecies endangered.

Pampas cat: Long fur can be dark with reddish spots, unpatterned silvery gray, or anything in between. Size of heavyset house cat ­­weighs 3.2 - 6.4 kg. Lives in grasslands and forests of southern South America. Feeds on birds and rodents. Lower risk.

Jaguarundi: Unspotted coat, very long tail, small head. Sometimes compared to marten or weasel in looks. Weighs 3-6 kg. Lives in various habitats from thorn forest to swampy grasslands. Hunts mainly during day, eating rodents, birds and rabbits. Ranges from southern Texas south into South America. Lower risk; one subspecies endangered.

Geoffroy´s cat: Small, lightly built and spotted­­ about size of domestic cat. Weighs 2-6 kg. Lives in various habitats in southern South America, including forest and open terrain. Climbs and swims well, preying on rodents, birds, guinea pigs. Lower risk.

Andean mountain cat: Long, soft, silvery gray fur marked with bars and stripes. Tail long and very bushy. Weighs 4 kg. Confined to cold, windy, treeless zone of high Andes. Feeds on viscachas and other rodents, plus lizards and birds. Vulnerable.

Margay: Spotted coat; short, round head with large eyes. Long tail. Highly arboreal. Weighs 2.5 - 4 kg. Strictly a forest cat, found in variety of forest habitats and even in coffee or cocoa plantations from Mexico to Argentina. Eats rodents, birds, reptiles and insects. Lower risk.

Oncilla: Small, daintily built with thick, soft fur marked with dark spots and rosettes. Weighs 1.75-2.75 kg. Found only in cloud forest and humid lowland forest in southern Central America and South America. Feeds on rodents and birds. Lower risk.

Kodkod (also called guigna): Has long gray brown fur, heavily marked with small round spots. Melanistic (all-black) kodkods are common. Weighs 1.5-2.5 kg. Found in coniferous forests and wooded areas of Chile and Argentina. Feeds on small rodents and birds. Vulnerable.

AFRICA

New Look at Cats magazine layout - Lion

Lion: Adults have plain unspotted coat, cubs spotted. Males weigh 150-250 kg., females about a third lighter. Found in open habitats across Africa. A few hundred survive in India. Feeds on buffalo, zebras and wildebeests. Vulnerable; one subspecies endangered.

Leopard: Similar in appearance to jaguar, but not as powerful. Males weigh 37-90 kg., females less. Ranges through Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Russian Far East. Lives in almost every type of habitat and feeds on prey ranging in size from rodents to gazelles. Lower risk; four subspecies endangered, four critically endangered.

Cheetah: Slender, long-legged, with small head. Short, coarse yellow fur with small black spots. Weighs 39-65 kg. World´s fastest land mammal. Found in open habitats in Africa and Middle East. Hunts by day, chasing mammals such as impala and gazelles. Vulnerable; one subspecies endangered, one critically endangered.

Caracal: Long-legged with short tail and plain, unspotted coat. Males can weigh 20 kg., females a third less. Found in scrub and dry mountain areas in parts of Africa, Middle East, Russia, Pakistan and India. Feeds on birds, rodents and antelope. Lower risk.

Serval: Tall, long-legged cat with short tail. Small head dominated by large ears. Weighs 8-18 kg. Found in well-watered grasslands in Africa, south of the Sahara. Highly specialized rodent catcher; uses large ears to locate mice and rats in tall grass. Lower risk; one subspecies endangered.

African golden cat: Has one of the most variable coat colorings of any cat­­fur can be orange, gray or black; plain or spotted. Weighs 5-12 kg. Lives in forests and open areas in West Africa and Central Africa. Feeds on rodents, monkeys and duikers (small antelopes). Lower risk.

Wildcat: Appearance varies significantly across range. Tall and slim with short, close fur in Africa and Asia; much stockier, with long, thick fur in northern Europe and Russia. Weighs 3-8 kg. Lives in wide range of habitats, feeding mainly on rodents. Lower risk; one subspecies vulnerable.

Sand cat: Small, short-legged, with large, wide-set ears. Dense mat of hair grows between pads of feet. Weighs 2-3 kg. Lives in northern Sahara, Arabia and east to Pakistan, among sand dunes and rocky deserts. Feeds on jerboas (jumping rodents), reptiles and birds. Lower risk.

Black-footed cat: Tawny gold fur marked with black or brown spots. Gets name from black underparts of feet. Weighs 1.5-2.5 kg. Lives in arid parts of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa where it hunts insects, small birds and mice. Lower risk.

EUROPE/NORTHERN ASIA

New Look at Cats magazine layout - Snow Leopard

Snow leopard: Long, thick, smoky gray fur patterned with large dark spots and rosettes. Short legs, broad paws and very long tail. Slightly smaller than leopard­­ weighs 25-75 kg. Found in steep, rugged terrain above tree line in central Asia. Feeds mainly on blue sheep and marmots. Endangered.

Eurasian lynx: Long legs, large paws and short, black-tipped tail. Nearly twice as large as Canadian lynx­­males average 20 kg., females smaller. Prefers forests with dense undergrowth. Found in parts of western Europe, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Mongolia and Manchuria. Feeds on rabbits, hares, deer and birds. Lower risk.

Iberian lynx: Smaller and more heavily spotted than Eurasian lynx. Males weigh 12-13 kg., females slightly smaller. Lives in Mediterranean woodlands of southwestern Spain and Portugal. Feeds on rabbits, ducks and deer fawns. Endangered.

Chinese desert cat: Yellowish gray fur sometimes marked with brown. Larger than domestic cat­­weighs 6-9 kg. Has restricted range in eastern Tibetan plateau and Inner Mongolia. Lives in steppe and forest. Diet unknown. Status not evaluated.

Pallas´s cat: Heavyset body, short legs and long fluffy fur make it especially distinctive. Weighs 2.5-3.5 kg. Lives in deserts and high treeless regions of Central Asia. Eats hares, marmots, pikas and birds. Lower risk.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

New Look at Cats magazine layout - Tiger

Tiger: The only striped cat and the largest living felid. Historical records show male Siberian tigers weighing 320 kg., but more commonly males weigh 200-250 kg., females a third less. Hunts deer and pigs in forested habitats from Sumatra to India and Russia. Endangered; three subspecies critically endangered.

Clouded leopard: Short, powerful legs and very long tail. Fur patterned with large, cloud-shaped markings. Weighs up to 22 kg. Rarely seen in wild; distribution strongly tied to dense, tropical, evergreen forest in Southeast Asia. Thought to hunt both on ground and in trees, feeding on primates, birds and deer. Vulnerable.

Asiatic golden cat: Yellowish coat can be either unmarked or spotted, but all-black variations not uncommon. Weighs 12-15 kg. Found in rain forests and deciduous forests through Southeast Asia. Feeds on small deer, hares, birds and lizards. Lower risk.

Fishing cat: Heavyset, with short legs and thick muscular tail. Swims well. Front paws partially webbed. Males weigh 11-12 kg., females 6-7 kg. Lives in Southeast Asia in dense cover near rivers, streams, mangroves and marshes. Feeds on fish, mammals and birds. Lower risk.

Jungle cat: Adults have sandy brown, plain, unspotted coat; kittens are striped. Weighs 4-12 kg., heavier in Russia, lighter in Thailand. Lives in wide variety of habitats in Africa, Middle East and Asia. Feeds mainly on small mammals and birds. Lower risk.

Leopard cat: Slightly built, with narrow head; spotted; swims well. Size of small domestic cat­­weighs 2-7 kg. Found throughout much of Southeast Asia from India to Sumatra and north to Russia. Thrives in variety of habitats including dense tropical forest, scrub, semi-desert and farmland. Eats rodents, reptiles and birds. Lower risk; one subspecies endangered.

Marbled cat: Looks like smaller version of clouded leopard with an extremely long tail. Weighs 2-5 kg. Found only in forested areas of northern India and Southeast Asia. Thought to be highly arboreal. Eats birds, squirrels and rats. Status not evaluated.

Bay cat: Bright mahogany coat, paler on the belly. Long tail. Weight unknown. Found only on the island of Borneo. Believed to live in dense forest. Probably feeds on small mammals and birds. Vulnerable.

Flat-headed cat: Long face, small low-set ears and large eyes. Weighs 1.6-2.1 kg. Lives in Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand and Indonesia. Believed to hunt fish and frogs along rivers. Vulnerable.

Rusty-spotted cat: Short, reddish brown-gray fur marked with dark spots and blotches. Only about half the size of domestic cat­­ weighs about 1 kg. Found in forest and scrub in India and Sri Lanka. Feeds on birds, insects, small mammals and reptiles. Status not evaluated.


The IUCN­­World Conservation Union lists the status of animals according to the following categories in descending order of threat: extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, lower risk.


Mel Sunquist, an expert in the biology and behavior of big cats, is a professor at the University of Florida. Fiona Sunquist, a science writer and nature photographer, is a roving editor of this magazine. The Sunquists are coauthors of dozens of scientific publications and a book, Tiger Moon, which recounts their years studying tigers in Nepal. Their next book, The World´s Wild Cats, is scheduled to be published later this year by the University of Chicago Press.

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