By, Jo Carol Hebert
Oh, those ‘Big Cats’ – we love them all! The Lion King, posing majestically on the high slopes above the Serengeti plains of Africa. The exotic Tiger, slinking through the jungles of Asia . . .
But, what about all those ‘little’ wildcats?
‘Little’ Doesn’t Mean Less
There are thirty-eight wildcat species in the world. Thirty-one of them are considered to be ‘small cats’.
From the Rusty-spotted cat of India, at less than three pounds, to the 50-pound Eurasian lynx in Europe and Asia, the small cats are all around us.
They inhabit all continents except Australia and Antarctica. They live everywhere from deserts to rain forests to city parks.
When Is a Wildcat a Small Cat?
One way to put cats in the ‘small’ category is by the sound they make. Due to a flexible neck bone that allows them to stretch their larynx (voice box), Big Cats can roar. Due to a hardened larynx, small wildcats can only purr, hiss, growl, and ‘chirrup’ (make chirping sounds).
Why Do We Need These Little Wildcats?
These clever, adaptive creatures are important to the food chain. They are fierce predators that control fast-breeding populations of rodents, rabbits, and varieties of insects in their habitats. The destruction of their habitats also destroys their source of food.
The Little Wildcats of the World
Did you know that of the world’s 18 most threatened wild felids (cats), 12 of them are small wildcats?
Asia Losing Wildcats
Much of Southeast Asia, home to 14 of the small-cat species, is busy turning forest cat-
habitats into palm oil plantations.
Loss of wetlands has endangered the Fishing cats, and the small Flat-headed cats that rely on these marshlands for fish. Small cats in Asia are also extremely threatened by the illegal wildlife trade in skins and furs.
Did You Know?
- The long, long-tailed Marbled cat in Asia is so rare, scientists hardly know what it eats.
- The equally rare Bay cat, found only on the island of Borneo, is as unknown today as it was when it was first discovered in 1958.
China’s Small Cats
China’s long-haired Mountain cat, happy at high altitudes, is holding its own in the wild with a population of about 10,000, and listed as Vulnerable.
Africa’s Small Cats
The fluffy Black-footed cat, Africa’s smallest wildcat, may only exist in a total population of less than one-hundred.
Spain’s ‘Comeback Cat’
The Iberian lynx, of Spain, is a ‘comeback cat’. The government has carefully conserved their treasured national cat and has reintroduced almost 200 of them back into the wild.
The Small Wildcats of North American . . .
. . . are faring somewhat better. The lynx-like Bobcat, ocelot, Canadian lynx, and
Jaguarundi roam the continent in varied habitats. Like all the world’s disappearing wildlife, their natural habitats, and food sources are disappearing to farmlands and industrial plants.
As these little cats come in closer contact with humans, they also have acquired a bad habit of eating people’s chickens and livestock.
Here, Kitty, Kitty
The domestic cat is an ancestor of the ancient cats of Asia. So, next time you cuddle up with your kitty, just think, he might be dreaming of chasing mice with his cousins in the wild, wonderful, but endangered world of the wildcat.
Be sure to check out the historical fiction story of Cobby, the Wild Cat.