CatSG

Asiatic wildcat

Felis lybica ornata

IUCN Red List: NA

Weight: 2-7.7 kg
Body length: 40.6-64 cm
Tail length: 21.5-37.5 cm
Longevity: up to 11 years
Litter size: 2-4 cubs, rarely up to 8

Description

The taxonomy of the wildcat is still debated as are the genetic differences between the wildcat subspecies and the domestic cat. It is discussed if the wildcat (F. silvestris) consists of five subspecies: the European wildcat (F. s. silvestris), the African wildcat (F. s. lybica), the Asiatic wildcat (F. s. ornata), the Southern African wildcat (F. s. cafra) and the Chinese mountain cat (F. s. bieti) or if F. bieti, F. silvestris and F. lybica should be considered as three recently radiated phylogenetic species, with F. lybica including the subspecies  F. s. ornata and F. s. cafra. Moreover, it is not clear if the domestic cat, genetically very similar to the wildcat, should be considered as a separate species (F. catus) or as a subspecies of the wildcat (F. s. catus).

The revised taxonomy of the Felidae provisionally recognises the following species of the Genus Felis: Felis chaus (Jungle cat), Felis nigripes (Black-footed cat), Felis margarita (sand cat), Felis bieti (Chinese mountain cat), Felis silvestris (European wildcat), Felis lybica (African wildcat) and Felis catus (domestic cat). The Asiatic wildcat (Felis lybica ornata) is considered as a subspecies of Felis lybica and inhabits South-West and Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Mongolia and China. 

The Asiatic wildcat is smaller than the European wildcat and its fur is more yellow or reddish in colour with characteristic small black or reddish-brown spots and sometimes stripes. Its fur colour varies from region to region with paler coloured individuals living in dryer areas and darker more heavily spotted and striped individuals in more humid areas. 

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Afganistan (Dari)

psk dsty

Chinese

ye mao, caoyuan ban mao

English

Asian steppe wildcat

French

chat sauvage d'Asie, chat orné

Georgian

velis cata

German

Asiatische Wildkatze, Steppenkatze

India (Kutch)

jhang meno

Iran (Farsi)

gorbeh yahhshi

Kazakh

myshuk dala, jawa misik

Kirgiz

matsyl, zhapayi mishik

Mongolia

tsookhondoi

Russian

asiakiya dkikaya, stepnaya koshka, dlinahvostaya koshka, pyatnistaya koshka

Spanish 

gato montés, gato silvestre

Uygur

yawa müshükl

Uzbek

choi pshak, sabancha, yobai pshak

Status and Distribution

The wildcat (including Felis silvestris and Felis lybica) is considered as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The status of Felis lybica ornata is not very clear and recent population estimates are missing. Due to its cryptic behaviour and its hybridization with domestic cats, it is difficult to assess its status. In the central parts of its range, in the lowlands of Kazakhstan, the population of the Asiatic wildcat was reported to be stable in 1993. It has been photographed recently in Afghanistan, Armenia, Iraq and Tajikistan, but its status in those countries is still unknown. In Iran, the species occurs in a variety of habitats throughout the country (apart from Caspian forests).

The wildcat has a very wide distribution, found throughout most of Africa, Europe, southwest and central Asia into India, China, and Mongolia. The Asiatic wildcat is widely distributed from the Caucasus and Turkey to western India, northward to Kazakhstan, western China and southern Mongolia. India is the southeastern border of the Asiatic wildcat’s range and its occurrence is reported from the drier areas of west and central India. The western extent of the Asiatic wildcat distribution is unknown. It has been suggested that Felis lybica ornata, Felis silvestris and Felis lybica lybica divide in the region of Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus. However, recent camera trap pictures from Armenia, western Iran, Eastern Turkey and Kurdistan Mountains in Iraq reveal a common coat pattern, suggesting that the division of the European wildcat and Felis lybica lybica and Felis lybica ornata might occur further west. Comprehensive genetic analyses are required to map the distribution of Felis lybica ornata in Southwest Asia.

Extant distribution area of the wildcat (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015).
Extant distribution area of the Asiatic wildcat (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015).

Habitat

The Asiatic wildcat occurs in a wide variety of habitats. It can be found mostly in scrub deserts, up to 2,000-3,000 m elevation, mountainous areas with sufficient vegetation, as well as temperate forests. It avoids vast deserts, dense forests and deep snow. The Asiatic wildcat usually occurs close to water sources but can also live in low-water areas. It does not seem to avoid cultivated areas and human settlements. 

Habitat of the Asiatic wildcat in India.
Asiatic wildact in its typical habitat, India.
Asiatic wildcat hunting for rodents, India.
Asiatic wildcat, India.
Asiatic wildcat, India.
Astiatic wildcat on the way to its burrow, India.

Ecology and Behaviour

The Asiatic wildcat is mostly nocturnal but can also be observed during daytime. It hunts on the ground and yet is a very good climber. It hunts its prey by stalking followed by a quick attack. The mother teaches her cubs to hunt by providing them injured prey individuals or by giving them beetles and the eggs of ground dwelling birds. The Asiatic wildcat rests and dens in burrows. It is a solitary and territorial species. Home ranges of males and females are recorded from 1.7 – 51.2 km², depending on habitat and prey abundance. Density estimates range from 0.7 - 10 individuals per km².

The mating season seems to vary according to the range. In India, the mating season has been recorded to be from March to April and from November to December whereas in Central Asia it took place in January to February. In Pakistan, the mating season seems to be year round. Litter size is usually 2 – 4, rarely up to 8. The gestation lasts for 56-68 days and age at sexual maturity can be at 9 - 12 months but first breeding probably takes place at 18 - 22 months. 

Asiatic wildcat looking out from its burrow, India.
Asiatic Wildcat, India.
Asiatic wildcat cleaning its paw, India.
Female Asiatic wildcat with its kitten, India.
Asiatic wildcat hunting for prey, India.
Asiatic wildcat kittens playing, India.

Prey

Asiatic wildcat kitten hunting, India.

The main prey species of the Asiatic wildcat, as for all wildcat subspecies, are rodents such as jerboas, gerbils, voles and mice. Occasionally, it also takes birds, amphibians, insects, lizards, snakes or even hares. The Asiatic wildcat also sometimes scavenges food, or preys upon poultry and small livestock. 

Main Threats

As all wildcat subspecies, also the Asiatic wildcat is threatened by domestic cats. Hybridisation with domestic cats can lead to the loss of genetic information and is thought to be one of the main threats. Hybridisation was reported from Pakistan and Central Asia and is most likely also a problem in India. There may be very few genetically pure populations of Asiatic wildcats remaining. Feral domestic cats also compete for food with the Asiatic wildcat and can transmit diseases to it.

Another important threat is from poaching related to conflict with humans. Asiatic wildcats are reported to kill small livestock and poultry and hence are reported being trapped, poisoned, killed by shepherd dogs or directly poached by humans in Iran and probably other parts of its range. Road mortality can be high in certain areas. In the past, the Asiatic wildcat was trapped in high numbers for its fur in several areas such as Kazakhstan, China, India and Afghanistan. In 1979, traders in India declared stocks of 41,845 furs of Asiatic wildcats for an export amnesty. Presently, there is little international trade in Asiatic wildcats, but pelts still show up in local markets throughout the range. Also, habitat destruction and reduced habitat quality remain important issues. The Asiatic wildcat is under heavy pressure due to land use changes. In Azerbaijan and India habitat loss has been documented and in India, its population is possibly declining fast. Rodenticides and other chemicals may also threaten it.

Conservation Efforts and Protection Status

The wildcat is included in Appendix II of CITES and is fully protected across most of its range in Asia. Hunting and trade are prohibited in India and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Asiatic wildcat was placed on the country’s first Protected Species List in 2009. All hunting and trading of the species is prohibited and it is proposed as a priority species for future research. In Armenia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, hunting and trade is regulated. In Georgia, Iran and Mongolia it is not legally protected. No information is available for Azerbaijan, Iraq and Turkey.

There is an urgent need for more information about the status and distribution of the Asiatic wildcat as little information is available and its population size and status are largely unknown. It is likewise important to identify genetically pure populations and to prevent hybridisation with domestic cats. Also, mapping the distribution of this subspecies using genetic sampling is of high priority.