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Prionailurus bengalensis (Kerr, 1792)

by Noor Faradiana Binti Md Fauzi, Mohammad Shahfiz Azman, Kaviarasu Munian, Nor Hazwani Binti Ahmad Ruzman & Nur Alwani Binti Zakaria

Prionailurus bengalensis is commonly known as the leopard cat. This species is among the small wild cats under the family Felidae. It is about the size of a domestic cat with a more slender body and a head-to-body length of between 40 and 55 cm. It has longer legs than the domestic cat, with well-defined webs between its toes, and weighs about 3 to 5 kg (in the wild). The average length of its tail is between 23 and 29 cm (Francis, 2010).

The leopard cat has a small head with a short, narrow, white muzzle and black, round ears with central white spots. Its small head is marked with two prominent dark stripes running from the eyes to the ears, and smaller white streaks running from the eyes to the nose (Phillipps & Phillipps, 2016). Its colouration varies from reddish-orange to yellowish buff with the entire upperparts marked with black spots. The pattern and size of the black spots vary considerably among individuals, ranging from large spots to numerous small spots, to large irregular splotches with darker brown centres. The spots may be rounded or elongated in shape and often form dotted streaks (Phillipps & Phillipps, 2016). In contrast, the belly and chest are white with black spots. The tail is spotted with a few indistinct rings at the tip.

This wild cat is mainly distributed in Asia, especially throughout most of southern Asia, including Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia (Jawa, Kalimantan, and Sumatera), the Philippines and Singapore, and also in Nepal, Siberia, China, Pakistan, India, and Taiwan. The species has been recorded throughout Malaysia, including Mersing and Panti Forest Reserves in Johor, Sungai Yu Forest Reserve in Pahang, Pasoh Forest Reserve in Negeri Sembilan, Gunung Inas Forest Reserve in Kedah and at Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah (Ross et al., 2015).

The leopard cat inhabits a variety of habitats, from tropical rainforest to temperate broadleaf forest and marginally, coniferous forest, as well as shrub forest and successional grasslands (Ross et al., 2015). It can also be found in plantations and even suburban areas (Tweedie, 1978). The species has also been reported in orchards and oil palm plantations including forest patches within oil palm plantations (Rajaratnam et al., 2007; Silmi et al., 2013; Bernard et al., 2014; Yue et al., 2015).

This carnivorous and primarily ground-dwelling mammal devours small vertebrates including rodents, lizards, amphibians, birds and insects (Miller, 2011; Azlan et al., 2016). This nocturnal cat is a fast and agile climber and spends most of its daytime resting up in trees (Yu, 2010). The leopard cat is a solitary animal that communicates with conspecifics and marks its territories using scat and urine. Like other feline species, it hunts by quietly ambushing its prey (Nowak, 2005; Miller, 2011).

This species mates throughout the year. Its gestation period lasts from 65 to 72 days and the female can give birth to 1 and up to 4 cubs at one time. The cubs weigh from between 75 and 120 g at birth and can open their eyes within 10 days after parturition. The cubs become sexually mature at around 18 months old (Miller, 2011 & Nowak, 2005).

This cat is one of the natural biological control agents in an ecosystem, especially in forests and plantations. It can help to control pest populations in rural and agricultural areas, thereby controlling the transmission of diseases associated with rodents to humans and other animals within the ecosystem (Miller, 2011).

In terms of conservation status, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies P. bengalensis as Least Concern (LC). This may be due to its wide geographic range and relatively high abundance (Nowell & Jackson, 1996), as well as its ability to persist in modified habitats. Although the species has been massively hunted for fur in China (Yu, 2010; Ross et al., 2015; Azlan et al., 2016), its population is believed to be relatively stable in other parts of its range.

References

  1. Azlan, M., Ross, J., Hearn, A.J., Cheyne, S., Alfred, R., Bernard, H., Boonratana, R., Samejima, H., Heydon, M., Augeri, D.M., Brodie, J.F., Giordano, A., Fredriksson, G., Hall, J., Loken, B., Pilgrim, J.D., , , Semiadi, G., Van Berkel, T., Hon, J., Lim, N.T.L., Marshall, A.J., Mathai, J., Macdonald, D.W., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Kramer-Schadt, S. & Wilting, A. (2016). Predicted distribution of the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) on Borneo. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 33: pp. 180-185
  2. Bernard, H., Baking, E.L., Giordano, A., Wearn, O.R. & Ahmad, A.H. (2014). Terrestrial mammal species richnees and composition in three small forest patches within an oil palm landscape in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Mammal Study 39 (3): pp. 141-154
  3. Francis, C.M. (2010). A Field Guide To The Mammals Of South-East Asia. London:Princeton University Press, England.
  4. Miller, C. (2011). World Wide Web electronic publication (Prionailurus bengalensis: Animal Diversity Web) (2011). Retrieved May 07, 2018, from https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Prionailurus_bengalensis/
  5. Nowak, R.M. (2005). Leopard Cat. In Nowak, R.M. (ed.) Walker's Carnivores of the World. 1 Edition, volume 1. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press. pp. 249.
  6. Nowell, K. & Jackson, P. (1996). Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K. pp. 382.
  7. Phillipps, Q. & Phillipps, K. (2016). Phillipps’ Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan. Natural History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. pp. 400.
  8. Rajaratnam, R., Sunquist, M.E., Rajaratnam, L. & Ambu, L. (2007). Diet and Habitat Selection of the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis borneoensis) in an Agricultural Landscape in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Journal of Tropical Ecology 23 (2): pp. 209-217
  9. Ross, J., Brodie, J.F., Cheyne, S., Hearn, A.J., Izawa, M., Loken, B., Lynam, A., Mukherjee, S., Phan, C., Rasphone, A. & Wilting, A. (2015). Prionailurus bengalensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T18146A50661611 (2015). Retrieved May 08, 2018, from http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T18146A50661611.en
  10. Silmi, M., Mislan, , Anggara, S. & Dahlen, B. (2013). Using leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis) as biological pest control of rats in a palm oil plantation. Journal of Indonesian Natural History 1 (1): pp. 31-36
  11. Tweedie, M.W.F. (1978). Mammals of Malaysia. Malaysia: Malaysian Nature Handbooks. pp. 87.
  12. Yu, J. (2010). Leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis. Cat News, Special Issue (5): pp. 26-29
  13. Yue, S., Brodie, J.F., Zipkin, E.F. & Bernard, H. (2015). Oil palm plantations fail to support mammal diversity. Ecological Applications 25 (8): pp. 2285-2292
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