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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
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Mainland Leopard Cat

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3

Fig 4

Fig 5


Family : Felidae
Species : Prionailurus bengalensis

Head-body length : up to 55 cm
Tail length : up to 29 cm
Weight : up to 5 kg

The Mainland Leopard Cat is amongst the smallest of Southeast Asia's wild cats. This species is highly adaptable, occurring in a wide range of habitats including various types of primary forest, secondary habitats including cultivated areas, and plantations including oil palm.

The image at left shows the typical colour and patterning which comprises large, irregular dark blotches or short stripes on a buff background. The markings vary sufficiently to allow these cats to be identified on an individual basis. The chest, throat and muzzle are white with black markings. 

The species is rarely seen by day, but becomes active as soon as night falls. It is most commonly encountered crossing rural roads, where it is at risk of being killed by traffic. In natural habitats it is known to make use of vantage points, such as fallen trees or termite mounds, to search for its prey. It can climb well, and is a strong swimmer.

Its diet is highly varied and includes large insects, and small vertebrates such as lizards and reportedly amphibians. In oil palm plantations it is known to feed largely on rats.

The Mainland Leopard Cat occurs throughout mainland Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore). Outside the region it occurs in South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal) and parts of China and Taiwan. 

Fig 1 : Example from forest edge habitat.

Fig 2 : Specimen from an oil palm plantation adjacent to primary lowland forest, showing the typical golden flanks of the species, patterned with irregular dark blotches.

Fig 3 : A typical scene in Southeast Asia: forest is cleared and oil palm is planted. Leopard cats appears to be the only felid able to survive in such areas.

Fig 4 : Side profile showing the sloping profile of the hread.

Fig 5 : The sad fate of a Leopard Cat killed on a busy stretch of road which has a forest reserve on one side and an oil palm estate on the other.  

References : M3, M5

Kitchener, A. C., Breitenmoser-Wrsten, C., Eizirik, E., Gentry, A., Werdelin, L., Wilting, A., ... & Johnson, W. E. (2017). A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group.