Jungle cat

Jungle cat
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: F. chaus
Binomial name
Felis chaus
Schreber, 1777

See text

Jungle cat range

The jungle cat (Felis chaus), also called reed cat or swamp cat, is a medium-sized cat found in China, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and central and southeastern Asia. A member of the genus Felis, that consists of small cats, the jungle cat was first described by naturalist Johann Anton Güldenstädt in 1776; however, naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber, who gave the cat its present binomial name, is generally considered to be the binomial authority. 10 subspecies are recognised. The jungle cat is a large, long-legged cat; it stands nearly 36 centimetres (14 in) at shoulder and weighs 2–16 kilograms (4.4–35.3 lb). The coat, sandy, reddish brown or grey, is uniformly coloured and lacks spots; melanistic and albino individuals are also known. Moults occur biannually.

Typically diurnal, the jungle cat hunts throughout the day. Solitary in nature, jungle cats do not interact appreciably except in the mating season. The only prominent interaction is the mother-kitten bond. Territories are maintained by urine spraying and scent marking. The cat is primarily a carnivore, and prefers small mammals (gerbils, hares and rodents) and birds. It hunts by stalking its prey, followed by a sprint or a leap; the sharp ears help in pinpointing the location of prey. Both sexes become sexually mature by the time they are a year old; females enter oestrus from January to March. Mating behaviour is similar to that in the domestic cat; the male pursues the female in oestrus, seizes her by the nape of her neck and mounts her. Gestation lasts nearly two months. Births take place between December and June, though this might vary geographically. Kittens begin to catch their own prey at around six months and leave the mother after eight or nine months.

The jungle cat is a habitat generalist; it inhabits places with adequate water and dense vegetation, such as swamps, wetlands and riparian areas. Unlike its name, the jungle cat shuns rainforests and woodlands. The jungle cat is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. Major threats to the survival of the jungle cat include the destruction of wetlands, trapping and poisoning. The status of the cat in the wild needs further study, though numbers are feared to be on the decline.

Taxonomy and phylogeny

The jungle cat is a member of the genus Felis, which consists of small cats, within the family Felidae.[2]

Baltic-German naturalist Johann Anton Güldenstädt was the first scientist who observed a jungle cat in the southern frontier of the Russian empire during his travels in 1768–1775 undertaken at the behest of Catherine II of Russia.[3] He described the animal in 1776 under the name "chaus".[4][5]

German zoologist Paul Matschie in 1912 and American zoologist Joel Asaph Allen in 1920 challenged the validity of Güldenstädt's nomenclature, arguing that the name Felis auriculis apice nigro barbatis was not a binomen and therefore improper, and that "chaus" was used as a common name rather than as part of the scientific name.[6] In 1777, German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber used chaus as the species name and is therefore considered the binomial authority.[2][7]

In 2006, the phylogenetic relationship of the jungle cat was described as follows:[8][9]

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Cougar (P. concolor)

Jaguarundi (P. yagouaroundi)


Jungle cat (F. chaus)

Black-footed cat (F. nigripes)

Sand cat (F. margarita)

European wildcat (F. silvestris silvestris)

Domestic cat (F. catus)

Chinese mountain cat (F. bieti)

African wildcat (F. silvestris lybica)

Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul)


Depending on the taxonomic treatment around 9 to 10 subspecies are recognised on the basis of distribution and pelage variation. Large scale phylogenetic studies have not been made to establish their status. The most widely recognized subspecies are :[10][11]

Results of an mtDNA analysis of 55 jungle cats from various biogeographic zones in India indicate a high genetic variation and a relatively low differentiation between populations. It appears that the central Indian F. c. kutas population separates the Thar F. c. prateri populations from the rest and also the south Indian F. c. kelaarti populations from the north Indian F. c. affinis ones. The central Indian populations are genetically closer to the southern than to the northern populations.[15]

Taxonomic history

An 1874 illustration of the jungle cat

In the 1820s, German explorer Eduard Rüppell collected a female jungle cat near Lake Manzala in the Nile Delta.[16] English naturalist Thomas Hardwicke’s collection of illustrations of Indian wildlife comprises the first drawing of an Indian jungle cat, named the "allied cat" (Felis affinis) by British zoologist John Edward Gray in 1830.[17] Two years later, German naturalist Johann Friedrich von Brandt proposed a new species under the name Felis rüppelii, recognising the distinctness of the Egyptian jungle cat.[18] The same year, a stuffed cat was presented at a meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal that had been caught in the jungles of Midnapore (West Bengal, India). J. T. Pearson, who donated the specimen, proposed the name Felis kutas for the specimen, noting that it differed in colouration from Felis chaus.[19] French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire described a jungle cat from the area of Dehra Dun in northern India in 1844 under the name Felis jacquemontii in memory of the French explorer Victor Jacquemont.[20]

A 1904 illustration of the jungle cat

In 1836, British naturalist Brian Houghton Hodgson proclaimed the red-eared cat commonly found in Nepal to be a lynx and therefore named it Lynchus erythrotus;[21] Ceylonese naturalist Edward Frederick Kelaart described the first jungle cat skin from Sri Lanka in 1852 and stressed upon its close resemblance to Hodgson's red cat.[22] William Thomas Blanford pointed out the lynx-like appearance of cat skins and skulls from the plains around Yarkant County and Kashgar when he described Felis shawiana in 1876.[23]

Russian naturalist Nikolai Severtzov proposed the generic name Catolynx in 1858[24] followed by the suggestion of Chaus catolynx by Austrian zoologist Leopold Fitzinger for the "swamp lynx" in 1869.[25] In 1898, the British zoologist William Edward de Winton proposed to subordinate the specimens from the Caucasus, Persia and Turkestan to Felis chaus typica, and regrouped the lighter built specimens from the Indian subcontinent to F. c. affinis. He renamed the Egyptian jungle cat as F. c. nilotica because Felis rüppelii was already applied to a different cat. A skin collected near Jericho in 1864 led him to describe a new subspecies, F. c. furax, as this skin was smaller than other Egyptian jungle cat skins.[26] A few years later, the German zoologist Alfred Nehring also described a jungle cat skin collected in Palestine, which he named Lynx chrysomelanotis.[27]

The British zoologist Reginald Innes Pocock reviewed the nomenclature of felids in 1917 and classified the jungle cat group as part of the genus Felis.[28] In the 1930s, Pocock reviewed the jungle cat skins and skulls from British India and adjacent countries. Based mainly on differences in fur length and colour he subordinated the specimens from Turkestan to Balochistan to Felis chaus chaus, the Himalayan ones to F. c. affinis, the ones from Cutch to Bengal under F. c. kutas, and the tawnier ones from Burma under F. c. fulvidina. He newly described six larger skins from Sind as F. c. prateri, and skins with shorter coats from Sri Lanka and southern India as F. c. kelaarti.[11]


A close view of a jungle cat F. c. affinis. Note the plain coat and the dark-tipped hairs.

The jungle cat is a large, long-legged cat; it is, in fact, the largest of the extant Felis species.[29] The head-and-body length is typically between 59 and 76 centimetres (23 and 30 in). This cat stands nearly 36 centimetres (14 in) at shoulder and weighs 2–16 kilograms (4.4–35.3 lb).[30][31] A study showed that body size showed a decrease from west (Israel) to east (India); this was attributed to greater competition from small cats in the east;[32] body size shows a similar decrease from the northern latitudes toward the tropics. Sexually dimorphic, females tend to be smaller and lighter than males.. The face is long and narrow, with a white muzzle. The large, pointed ears, 4.5–8 centimetres (1.8–3.1 in) in length and reddish brown on the back, are set close together; a small tuft of black hairs, nearly 15 millimetres (0.59 in) long, emerges from the tip of both ears. The eyes have yellow irides and elliptical pupils; white lines can be seen around the eye. Dark lines run from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose and a dark patch marks the nose.[30][31][33][34] The skull is fairly broad in the region of the zygomatic arch; hence the head of this cat appears relatively rounder.[14]

The coat, sandy, reddish brown or grey, is uniformly coloured and lacks spots; melanistic and albino individuals have been reported from the Indian subcontinent. White cats observed in the coastline tracts of the southern Western Ghats lacked the red eyes typical of true albinos. A 2014 suggested that their colouration could be attributed to inbreeding.[35] Kittens are striped and spotted, and adults may retain some of the markings. Dark-tipped hairs cover the body, giving the cat a speckled appearance. The belly is generally lighter than the rest of the body and the throat is pale. The fur is denser on the back compared to the underparts. Two moults can be observed in a year; the coat is rougher and lighter in summer than in winter. The insides of the forelegs show four to five rings; faint markings may be seen on the outside. The black-tipped tail, 21–36 centimetres (8.3–14.2 in) long, is marked by two to three dark rings on the last third of the length.[31][33] The pawprints measure about 5 by 6 centimetres (2.0 in × 2.4 in); the cat can cover 29 to 32 centimetres (11 to 13 in) in one step.[14] There is a distinct spinal crest.[34] Because of its long legs, short tail and tuft on the ears, the jungle cat resembles a small lynx.[33] The caracal and the African wildcat have a plain coat as the jungle cat's. The jungle cat is larger and slenderer in comparison to domestic cats.[36]

Distribution and habitat

A jungle cat in Sri Lanka

A habitat generalist, the jungle cat inhabits places with adequate water and dense vegetation, such as swamps, wetlands and riparian areas. Reeds and tall grasses being typical of its habitat, it is often known as the "reed cat" or the "swamp cat".[31][36] Unlike its name, the jungle cat shuns rainforests and woodlands;[29][33][36] it also keeps away from open areas.[31] In Indochina, the jungle cat occurs mainly in deciduous forests rich in dipterocarp trees.[1] Jungle cats are common in agricultural lands, such as fields of bean and sugarcane, across their range. They have often been sighted near human settlements.[31] They can thrive even in areas of sparse vegetation.[33] The jungle cat does not adapt well to cold climates, and is rare in areas where snowfall is common.[33] Historical records indicate that it may occur up to elevations of 2,310 m (7,580 ft) in the Himalayas.[11]

The jungle cat is largely oriental in its distribution; it is found in China, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and central and southeastern Asia.[1][37] It is the most common small wild cat in India.[32] Thought to be absent from south of the Isthmus of Kra in the Malayan peninsula, the possibility of its occurrence was reported from a highly fragmented forest in the Malaysian state of Selangor in 2010.[38] In Iran the jungle cat inhabits a variety of habitat types from plains and agriculture lands to mountains at elevations ranging from 45 to 4,178 m (148 to 13,707 ft) in at least 23 of 31 provinces of Iran.[39]

Although never truly domesticated, a small number of jungle cats have been found among the cat mummies of Ancient Egypt, dating to 3700 BC.[40] The vast majority of these are domestic cats, suggesting that they may have been used to help control rodent populations.[33]

Ecology and behaviour

The jungle cat rests during the hot midday hours.

Typically diurnal (active mainly during the day), the jungle cat hunts throughout the day; activity tends to decrease during the hot noon hours. It rests in burrows, grass thickets and scrubs. The cat often sunbathes on winter days. Jungle cats have been estimated to walk 3–6 kilometres (1.9–3.7 mi) at night, although this likely varies depending on the availability of prey. The behaviour of the jungle cat has not been extensively studied. Solitary in nature, jungle cats do not interact appreciably except in the mating season. The only prominent interaction is the mother-kitten bond. Territories are maintained by urine spraying and scent marking; some males have been observed rubbing their cheeks on objects to mark them.[31][33]

Bears, crocodiles, golden jackals, leopards and snakes are the main predators of the jungle cat.[14][31] The golden jackal, particularly, can be a major competitor to the cat.[41] When it encounters a threat, the jungle cat will vocalise before engaging in attack, producing sounds like small roars – a behavior uncommon for the other members of Felis. The meow of the jungle cat is also somewhat lower than that of a typical domestic cat.[14][31] The jungle cat can host parasites such as Haemaphysalis and Heterophyes species.[42]

Diet and hunting

The posture in which the jungle cat stalks its prey

Primarily a carnivore, the jungle cat prefers small mammals (gerbils, hares and rodents) and birds; fishes, frogs, insects and reptiles (small snakes) are hunted as well. Its prey typically weigh less than 1 kilogram (2.2 lb), mammals as large as young gazelles may also be hunted.[31][33] The cat may be omnivorous as it may eat fruits, especially in winter. In a study done in the Sariska Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan, India), rodents were found to comprise as high as 95% of the diet.[43]

The jungle cat hunts by stalking its prey, followed by a sprint or a leap; the sharp ears help in pinpointing the location of prey. Different techniques may be used to secure prey. The cat has been observed searching for musk rats in their holes. Like the caracal, the jungle cat can perform one or two high leaps into the air to grab birds;[33] the jungle cat is an efficient climber as well.[14] The jungle cat has been clocked at 32 km/h (20 mph).[29][33] Efficient swimmers, jungle cats can swim up to 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) in water and plunge into water to catch fishes.[44]


Both sexes become sexually mature by the time they are a year old. Females enter oestrus (typically five days long) from January to March. In males, spermatogenesis occurs mainly in February and March. In southern Turkmenistan, mating occurs from January to early February. The mating season is marked by noisy fights among males for dominance. Mating behaviour is similar to that in the domestic cat; the male pursues the female in oestrus, seizes her by the nape of her neck and mounts her. Vocalisations and flehmen are prominent during courtship. After a successful copulation, the female gives out a loud cry and reacts with aversion towards her partner. The pair then separate.[14][31]

Gestation lasts nearly two months. Births take place between December and June, though this might vary geographically. Before parturition, the mother prepares a den of grass in an abandoned animal burrow, hollow tree or reed bed.[33] Females can give birth to litters of one to five kittens; typically two to three kittens are born. Females may raise two litters in a year.[14][31] Kittens weigh between 43 and 55 grams (1.5 and 1.9 oz) at birth, tending to be much smaller in the wild than in captivity. Initially blind and helpless, they open their eyes at ten to thirteen days of age and are fully weaned by around three months. Males usually do not participate in the raising of kittens; however, in captivity, males appear to be very protective of their offspring. Kittens begin to catch their own prey at around six months and leave the mother after eight or nine months.[14][45] The lifespan of the jungle cat under captivity is 15 to 20 years; this is possibly higher than that in the wild.[31]

Threats and conservation

A jungle cat in the Olmense Zoo, Belgium

The jungle cat is classified as "least concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN); it is listed under CITES Appendix II. Hunting is prohibited in Bangladesh, China, India, Israel, Myanmar, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Thailand and Turkey, but does not receive legal protection outside protected areas in Bhutan, Georgia, Laos, Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.[46] Major threats to the survival of the jungle cat include the destruction of wetlands, trapping and poisoning. According to the IUCN, the conservation status of the jungle cat is unclear and needs further research.[1]

Since the 1960s, populations of the Caucasian jungle cat living along the Caspian Sea and in the Caucasus range states have been rapidly declining. Only small populations persist today. There has been no record in the Astrakhan Nature Reserve in the Volga Delta since the 1980s.[47] Jungle cats are rare in the Middle East. In Jordan, they are highly affected by the expansion of agricultural areas around the river beds of Yarmouk and Jordan rivers, where they are hunted and poisoned by farmers for attacking poultry.[48] They are considered rare and threatened in Afghanistan as well.[49] India exported jungle cat skins in large numbers, till this was banned in 1979; some illegal trade, however, continues in the country, as well as in Egypt and Afghanistan.[1]

In the 1970s, southeast Asian jungle cats still used to be the most common wild cats near villages in certain parts of northern Thailand and occurred in many protected areas of the country.[50] However, since the early 1990s, jungle cats are rarely encountered and have suffered drastic declines due to hunting and habitat destruction. Today, their official status in the country is critically endangered.[51] In Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, jungle cats have been subject to extensive hunting. Skins are occasionally recorded in border markets, and live individuals, possibly taken from Myanmar or Cambodia, occasionally turn up in the Khao Khieo and Chiang Mai zoos of Thailand.[52]


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