Jungle cat


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Jungle cat[1]
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: 'Felis'
Species: ''F. chaus''
Binomial name
Felis chaus
Schreber, 1777
Jungle cat range

The jungle cat (Felis chaus), also called reed cat and swamp cat, is a medium-sized cat native to Asia from southern China in the east through Southeast and Central Asia to the Nile Valley in the west. It is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as it is widespread and common particularly in India. Population declines and range contraction are of concern, particularly in Egypt, in the Caucasus, and in southwestern, Central and Southeast Asia.[2]

Geographic variation in the jungle cat is quite considerable. Due to the small tuft on the ears it is also called the jungle lynx, though it is not a member of the Lynx genus.[3]


Skull of Felis chaus nilotica
File:MSU V2P2 - Felis chaus drawing.png
Illustration by A. N. Komarov.

The jungle cat is the largest of the living Felis species. It has a small tuft on the ears, a comparatively short tail, and a distinct spinal crest.[4] Because of its long legs, short tail and tuft on the ears, the jungle cat resembles a small lynx. The face is relatively slender. Fur colour varies with subspecies, yellowish-grey to reddish-brown or tawny-grey, and is ticked with black. Vertical bars are visible on the fur of kittens, which disappear in adult cats, although a few dark markings may be retained on the limbs or tail. The muzzle is white, and the underside is paler in colour than the rest of the body.[5] Jungle cats can range from 50 to 94 cm (20 to 37 in) in length, plus a short 20 to 31 cm (7.9 to 12.2 in) tail, and stand about 36 cm (14 in) tall. Weight varies across their range from 3 to 16 kg (6.6 to 35.3 lb), with a median weight of around 8 kg (18 lb). Females are slightly smaller than males. True to Bergmann's Rule, the felid is largest at the northern limits of its range and becomes smaller-bodied closer to the tropics.[6]

The skull is fairly broad in the region of the zygomatic arch, which leads to its appearance of having a rounder head than some other cats. The ears are quite long, and relatively broad at the base, pointed towards the end, and set quite high. Small tuft of long hairs occurs on ear tips in winter. These hairs form an indistinct tassel ranging from 7 to 20 mm (0.28 to 0.79 in) in length. The fur grows to about 4000 hairs/cm² on the back, and 1700 hairs/cm² on the abdomen, and generally becomes a shade of grayish-ochre in winter. The pawprints measure about 5×6 cm, and a typical pace is 29 to 32 cm (11 to 13 in).[3]

Jungle cats have equal-sized claws on both fore and hind legs, which allow climbing down trees as easily as up.[citation needed]

Distribution and habitat

Jungle cat photographed in the Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal, India.

Jungle cats are largely oriental in distribution and found in Egypt, West and Central Asia, but also in South Asia, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. In India they are the most common small cats among the felidae found there.[7]

They inhabit savannas, tropical dry forests and reedbeds along rivers and lakes in the lowlands, but, despite the name, are not found in rainforests. Although they are adaptable animals, being found even in dry steppe, they prefer wetland environments with tall grasses or reeds in which to hide. They do not survive well in cold climates, and are not found in areas where winter snowfall is common.[5] They have been observed from sea levels to altitudes of 8,000 ft (2,400 m) or perhaps higher in the Himalayas. They frequent jungles or open country, and are often seen in the neighborhood of villages.[8]

Jungle cats were known to be absent from south of the Isthmus of Kra in the Malayan peninsula, the possibility of their occurrence was reported from a highly fragmented forest in the Malaysian state of Selangor in 2010.[9]

Although never truly domesticated, a small number of jungle cats have been found among the cat mummies of Ancient Egypt (the vast majority of which are domestic cats), suggesting that they may have been used to help control rodent populations.[5]

Distribution of subspecies


When Johann Anton Güldenstädt travelled in the Russian empire's southern frontier during 1768–1775 at the behest of Catherine II of Russia, he was the first naturalist to catch sight of a Kirmyschak in the Caucasus.[10] In his Latin description of 15 pages, published in 1776, he names the animal Chaus – a name retained for the cat by all subsequent zoologists.[11][12]

Today, the trinomial Felis chaus chaus still refers to the jungle cat subspecies living in the Caucasus, Turkestan, Iran, Baluchistan and Yarkand, Chinese Turkestan.[13] The other recognized subspecies are listed by year of first description:[1]

Ecology and behavior


Jungle cats are solitary in nature. They rest in other animals' abandoned burrows, tree holes, and humid coves under swamp rocks, or in areas of dense vegetation. Although often active at night, they are less nocturnal than many other cats, and in cold weather may sun themselves during the day. They have been estimated to travel between 3 and 6 kilometres (1.9 and 3.7 mi) per night, although this likely varies depending on the availability of prey. Territories are maintained by urine spraying and scent marking.[5]

Jungle cats can climb trees. Like most cats, they use not only sight and hearing while hunting, but also their sense of smell. While running, they tend to sway from side to side. They mostly hunt for rodents, frogs, birds, hares, squirrels, juvenile wild pigs, as well as various reptiles, including turtles and snakes. Near human settlements, they feed on domestic chickens and ducks. They catch fish while diving, but mostly swim in order to disguise their scent trails, or to escape threats, such as dogs or humans. They are generally hard to tame, even if taken into captivity at a young age.[3] Like most other cats, they hunt by stalking and ambushing their prey, and they use reeds or tall grass as cover. They are adept at leaping, and sometimes attempt to catch birds in flight. Although they can run at up to 32 kilometres per hour (20 mph), they rarely pursue prey that escapes their initial pounce.[5]

The jungle cat's main competitor is the golden jackal. Their most common predators include crocodiles, bears, wolves, and larger cats such as tigers. When it encounters a threat, the jungle cat will vocalize before engaging in attack, producing small roar-like sounds, a behavior uncommon for other members of genus Felis. The meow of the jungle cat is also somewhat lower than that of a typical domestic cat.[3] In some cases, they jump on their attacker, but will usually retreat upon encountering larger threats. There have been known cases of jungle cats attacking curious humans near their habitat, but their attack seems to pose no danger of serious injury besides wound infection from clawing.

They have been observed to be capable of swimming as much as 1.5 km at a time.[15]


Jungle cat from Munsiyari, Uttarakhand, India

Females are sexually mature at the age of 11 months; estrus appears to last from January through to mid-April. In males, spermatogenesis occurs mainly in February and March. In southern Turkmenistan, mating occurs in January to early February. Females give birth to litters of three to five kittens, usually only three. They sometimes raise two litters in a year.[3]

Gestation lasts 63–66 days and is remarkably short for an animal of this size. Birth generally takes place between December and June, depending on the local climate, although females can sometimes give birth to two litters in a year. Before birth, the mother prepares a den in an abandoned animal burrow, hollow tree, or reed bed.[5]

Kittens weigh 43 to 160 grams (1.5 to 5.6 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, but in captivity have been observed to be very protective of their offspring, more than the females, or males of other cat species. Kittens begin to catch their own prey at around six months, and leave the mother after eight or nine months.[16]

The jungle cat's median life expectancy in captivity is ten to twelve years. In the wild, however, some jungle cats have been known to live for as long as twenty years.[citation needed]


Jungle cat, Uttarakhand, India

Some populations of jungle cat subspecies are declining in several countries and areas:

  • Since the 1960s, populations of the Caucasian jungle cat living in the Cis-Caspian region, along the Caspian Sea and in the Caucasus range states have been rapidly declining. Only some small populations persist today. There has been no record in the Astrakhan Nature Reserve in the Volga Delta since the 1980s.[17] This subspecies is considered threatened and included in the Red Books of the Russian Federation, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.[18]
  • 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.[19] But since the early 1990s, jungle cats are rarely encountered and have suffered drastic declines due to hunting and habitat destruction. Today, their official Thai status is critically endangered.[20] In Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, jungle cats probably once occurred widely using secondary habitats, which is easily accessible to hunters and where hunting pressure is now very heavy. Due to unselective trapping and snaring, jungle cats appear quite rare nowadays in comparison to sympatric small cats. 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.[21]
  • 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.[22] In Afghanistan they are also considered rare and threatened.[23]



Felis chaus is listed on 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, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.[24]

Taxonomic history


Subsequent to Güldenstädt’s first description of Felis chaus, various naturalists published descriptions of jungle cat skins from west and further southeast of the Caucasus between 1811 and 1939.[13] Using the scientific name Felis catolynx the German explorer Peter Simon Pallas described lynx-like cats in 1811, which inhabit the reeds and subalpine forests around the Terek River through northern Persia up to the Aral Sea.[25] In the 1820s the German explorer Rüppell collected a female Felis Chaus near Lake Manzala in the Nile Delta.[26] But only in 1832, Brandt recognized the distinctness of the Egyptian jungle cat and proposed the name Felis Rüppelii.[27]

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 Gray in 1830.[28] Two years later, a stuffed cat was presented at a meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal that had been caught in the jungles of Midnapore in West Bengal. Pearson who donated the specimen described it as different in colour from Felis chaus and proposed the name Felis kutas.[29] In 1836, Hodgson proclaimed the red-eared cat commonly found in Nepal to be a lynx and therefore named it Lynchus erythrotus.[30] In 1844, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire described a jungle cat from the area of Dehra Dun in northern India under the name Felis jacquemontii in reminiscence of the French explorer Victor Jacquemont.[31] When the Ceylonese naturalist Kelaart described the first Felis chaus skin from Sri Lanka in 1852, he emphasised its close resemblance to Hodgson's Lynchus erythrotus.[32]

The Russian naturalist Severtzov proposed the generic name Catolynx in 1858.[33]The Austrian zoologist Fitzinger proposed the scientific name Chaus Catolynx for the "swamp lynx" in 1869.[34] Also Blanford pointed out the lynx-like appearance of cat skins and skulls from the plains around Yarkand and Kashgar when he described Felis Shawiana in 1876.[35] The German naturalist Grevé proposed the subgenus Lynx Chaus in 1895.[36]

In 1898, the British zoologist de Winton examined the collection of jungle cat skins in the Natural History Museum and revised taxonomic assessments of the jungle cat group. He 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 Felis chaus affinis. He renamed the Egyptian jungle cat Felis chaus nilotica as the name Felis Rüppelii was already applied to a different cat. A single skin collected near Jericho in 1864 prompted him to describe the new subspecies Felis chaus furax as this skin was smaller than other Egyptian jungle cat skins.[37] A few years later, the German zoologist Nehring also described a jungle cat skin collected in Palestine, which he named Lynx chrysomelanotis.[38]

In the 1880s, mammal skins were collected during an expedition to Afghanistan and presented to the Indian Museum. One cat skin without skull from the area of Maimanah was initially identified as of Felis caudata, but in the absence of skins for comparison the author was not sure whether his identification is correct.[39] In his revision of Asian wildcat skins collected in the Zoological Museum of Berlin, the German zoologist Zukowsky reassessed the Maimanah cat skin, and because of its larger size and shorter tail than caudata skins proposed a new species with the name Felis (Felis) maimanah.[14]

The British zoologist Pocock reviewed the generic nomenclature of the Felidae in 1917 and classified the jungle cat group as part of the genus Felis, which is characterized by broad heads, reduced rhinarium, pointed ears, vertically contracted ocular pupil and narrow paws.[40] When the mammal collector of the Natural History Museum Thomas described the first jungle cat from Annam in 1928 he consented with Pocock and referred to Gray’s “Allied cat” by naming it Felis affinis fulvidina.[41]

In the 1930s, Pocock reviewed the Natural History Museum's 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 Felis chaus affinis, the ones from Cutch to Bengal under Felis chaus kutas, and the tawnier ones from Burma under Felis chaus fulvidina. He newly described six larger skins from Sind under the trinomen Felis chaus prateri, and skins with shorter coats from Sri Lanka and southern India under Felis chaus kelaarti.[4]

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.[42]



This species of cat is capable of being domesticated under certain conditions. Cat breeders have been able to hybridize jungle cats with certain domestic cats, producing such breeds as the "chausie" (Jungle cat × domestic cat) and the "jungle bob" (Jungle cat x pixie bob).


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