(Last Updated on : 28-08-2014)
Small Cats comprise of a rich variety in India. Typically they are solitary in hunting, furtive and secretive in their habits, and seldom seen by man except through lucky chance encounters. In the Northern Himalayas, there is an isabelline race of the Lynx (Felis lynx) which is the size of a large dog (weighing up to twenty five kilograms) and with long pointed ears terminating in black tassel-like hair tufts and an incongruously short black-tipped tail. Confined to the inner mountain ranges from alpine grassy slopes to tumbled rock talus they hunt by scent, preying upon snow cocks, marmots and hares. At the other extreme is the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), a long-tailed and very short-limbed cat (weighing up to twenty kilograms) which is adapted to an arboreal existence in the evergreen rain-forests of Assam
, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Depending in size, there are two more quite large and fearsome cats. One is the Caracal (Felis caracal), adapted to desert and low hill areas, extending from Rajasthan
, Kutch, and the northern Punjab
including the Salt Range westwards to the North West Frontier and Baluchistan. Slimmer in build than the Lynx, Weighing about sixteen kilograms, they have reddish buff fur with long legs and a medium-length tail. Incredibly agile in their final rush up on any quarry, they are capable of knocking over the Desert Hare even as it leaps away, or the Sandgrouse as it springs into the air. In the same humid forest regions of the north-east where the Clouded Leopard dwells, the Golden Cat (Felis temmincki) also occurs. They are of an unspotted golden red colour and have distinctive horizontal dark and light alternating strips on their cheeks. Specimens are generally heavier in build than the Caracal, with a longer tail, and they believed to prey upon chevrotains and young deer. They readily climb trees but are thought to be more at home in areas of tumbled rocks. Because of its rareness little is known about its habits.
Descending further in scale of size there are tow cats which generally average considerably bigger and heavier than the domestic cat. The Fishing Cat (Felis viverrina) is a thick-set tabby-marked cat of savage disposition which swims freely both under and on the water, hunting waterfowl and any small mammals which it encounters. The Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) is a smaller, longer-legged greyish fawn cat which also has small tufts on its large upstanding ears and a few black rings on the tip of its rather short tail. Adapted to a wide variety of conditions from pure desert to low thorn scrub hilly country, they are partly diurnal in hunting.
There remain five truly small cats which are becoming increasingly rare and local in distribution. The beautifully patterned Leopart Cat (Felis bengalensis), perhaps the least rare, is confined to forest zones from the outer Himalayas down to the Ghats. They are largely arboreal in hunting and nocturnal. In south India and Sri Lanka the smallest representative of the family, known as the Rustyspotted Cat (Felis rubiginosa) occurs. About three quarters of the size of a domestic cat (adults weigh a little over one kilogram), they have a fawn grey coat patterned with rusty brown bars and spots coalescing into horizontal lines. In the high steppe mountain areas of the North West Frontier and in the Northern regions of Gilgit and Ladakh, the Steppe or Pallas's Cat (Felis manul) is found. They have a thick bushy tail, very low-set rounded ears and a broad skull framed by a ruff of long hair. Four faint vertical stripes traverse its body and there are two parallel radiating black stripes from the corners of its eyes.
In the desert regions of Sind and Rajasthan
, the Desert Cat (Felis lybica) occurs sparingly. It is a small yellow- buff cat with prominent black spots over its body and vertical stripes on its forehead. Considered conspecific with the African Wild Cat it is believed to have provided the predominant ancestral stock from which domestic cats evolved. Finally in the evergreen rain-forests of Assam
and Bangladesh, another very elusive small cat, known as the Marbled Cat (Felis marmorata), survives. It has a long bushy tail, and is beautifully patterned in rufous buff with irregular black and darker brown patches. It is exclusively arboreal and like the Leopard Cat preys upon roosting birds, squirrels and even insects.