CatSG

Jungle cat

Felis chaus

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

Weight: 5-9 kg
Body length: 58-76 cm
Tail length: 21-27 cm
Longevity: 9-10 years
Litter size: 3-4 cubs

Description

The jungle cat (Felis chaus) is closely related to the domestic cat, and not as previously thought to the lynx with which it shares some characteristics, such as the tufted ears, long limbs and the short tail. Several subspecies of the jungle cat have been proposed. Morphological data shows the western populations (Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq) to be considerably larger in size than the eastern ones (Pakistan eastward through India and Burma). Genetic data shows no distinction among the various subspecies.

The jungle cat has generally a sandy brown, reddish or grey coloured coat without any patterns beside the conspicuous stripes on the top of the legs and occasionally on the throat, which are very light in the south and darker in the north of its range. Melanistic jungle cats often occur in south-eastern Pakistan and in India. The coat in winter is darker and denser than in summer. The jungle cat has a light coloured throat and belly. The tail measures one third of the cat‘s total head and body length and has usually dark stripes near the end, is brownish grey on the upper and yellowish brown on the lower side. The jungle cat has a long, slim face with especially tall ears that are set relatively close together, reddish on the backs and tipped with small black tufts which can reach up to 15 mm in length. A broad dark line sometimes extends along the posterior part of the back. Male jungle cats are markedly larger than female ones. 

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Afghanistan (Dari)

smuncha

Arabic

bizoon el berr, qat-wahshee

Armenia

ehegna katu

Azerbaijan

chel pshigi 

Bangladesh (Bengali)

wab, ban beral, khatas

Chinese

conglin mao, limao

English

swamp cat, reed cat

French

chat des marais, chat de jungle

Georgian

lelianis cata

German

Rohrkatze, Sumpfluchs

India (Bengali; Gujarat; Hindi; Kannada; Tamil)

wab, ban beral; sembalado; jangli bili, ban bilao, khattas; bokana kotti; kadu poona

Iran (Farsi)

Gurbeh jangali

Iraq

pishik

Kazakh

kamish mishiki

Kurdish

bizoon, pesheela-kaywee, pisheek-kaywee, kitkakive, kithakaywee

Kyrgyz

kamish suloosunu

Laos

meo pa

Myanmar

kyaung ba, twa kyaung

Russian

kameshovy kot, haus

Spanish

gato de la jungla, gato de los pantanos

Sri Lanka (Sinhalese; Tamil)

wal ballala, handun diviya; kadu poona

Thailand

maew pa, sewa kratay

Turkey

saz kedisi

Uzbek

sabancha, malim

Status and Distribution

The jungle cat is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List but considered as threatened in several range states in Europe and the Caucasus. It is included in the Red books of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The jungle cat is considered common and widespread in some parts of its range particularly in India but also in Pakistan and Bangladesh. In other regions such as southern China, South-east Asia (except north-eastern Cambodia) and South-west Asia, very few recent records exist and it is considered as rare. In Lao PDR and Vietnam, the jungle cat seems to be very rare or occurs localised in a few areas, possibly due to unselective trapping and snaring. In Cambodia, it remains locally common in the shrinking, large tracts of open deciduous forest interspersed with grassland. It was recently pictured in the Eastern Plains Landscape protected area complex in the east of the country. In other areas, its status is poorly known, particularly in Myanmar, where almost no information is available. However, it is generally assumed to be very rare in Indochina. Besides South-west and South-east Asia, other countries such as Egypt and the Caucasus and parts of Turkey show population declines and range contractions.

The jungle cat has rapidly declined in Europe since the 1960s and is still decreasing. Small populations occur in the Cis-Caspian region and the Caucasus along the Caspian Sea. It is also found around the Aral Seas and through Iran to Pakistan. In the former USSR, its distribution is limited but it has been considered as particularly abundant in Lenkoran, lowlands of Azerbaijan and the Alzani River valley, and abundant in parts of Turkmenistan. It is supposed that around 500 individuals persist in Russia and a very small population seems to remain in Georgia. In 2007, two jungle cats were observed in Turkey but almost nothing is known about its status there. All its potential habitats in Turkey were either lost or highly degraded in the last two decades. The trend is clearly a decline in population numbers and area of occupancy. 

The only density estimations of the jungle cat are from tugai habitat in Central Asia where 4-15 individuals per 10 km² were estimated. However, in areas where this particular vegetation type has declined, the density did not exceed 2 individuals per 10 km². In the Republic of Dagestan (Russian Federation), the jungle cat population was estimated at 307 animals in 2013. 

The jungle cat is distributed from Egypt across the Caucasus including Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, central Asia and south Asia through south-east China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and marginally in Lao PDR and Vietnam. In Egypt (the only African country where the jungle cat occurs), it is distributed along the Nile River Valley south to Aswan, and in El Faiyum, Farafara, Dakhla and Kharga oases. It is found in Israel, southern Lebanon, north-western Jordan, western Syria, Turkey, western Iraq where it is found only around riparian vegetation and permanent water sources into Iran. In Iran, the species ocurs in the north int he provinces of Glestan and Mazandaran westwards along the coast of to the Caspian Sea and towards the West Azarbaijan Province. In Turkey the species is considered to be widely distributed in the south but to be restricted to wetlands and to have a fragmented distribution. It was recorded in Büyük Menderes Delta, Aydin Province, in the Akyatan Wildlife Conservation and Development Area, Akyatan Lagoon, Adan Province and Antalya Province. In tropical and subtropical Asia, the jungle cat is widely distributed around almost all of India and Sri Lanka and is found as well through South-east Asia to southern China. It is absent in the Malayan peninsula, south of the Isthmus of Kra.  

Distribution area of the jungle cat (red = extant, orange = possibly extant; IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016).

Habitat

The jungle cat is not, as its name suggests, strongly associated with closed forest but with scrub, grassland, wetlands and dense vegetation. It inhabits a remarkable spread of habitats. It prefers moist habitats with dense vegetation cover as well as tall grass or reeds to hide in, especially reed swamps, wet marshes and littoral and riparian environments. Hence its other common and more applicable name: swamp cat. Beside swamps, it also inhabits shrub and grassland, deciduous forest, dry, sandy deserts and sparsely vegetated steppes where it occurs mainly along riverbeds or near oases. It does not occur in cold climates, where snowfall is common, or in thick forest and is probably also absent from rainforests. In Iran it mainly occurs in shrub lands and woodlands. In the Republic of Dagestan its prefers reed thickets, thorn bush thickets and thick lowland forests near water sources. In South-east Asia, it is typically found in tropical deciduous forest but has also been recorded in evergreen forest. In Indochina, the species is predominantly found in areas with extensive deciduous dipterocarp forest with at least scattered surface water. In India, much of the jungle cat’s habitat is in the dry semi-arid belt but it is strongly associated with water.

The jungle cat seems to have adapted to irrigated cultivation and has been detected in different types of agricultural and forest plantations; in tropical Asia mainly in sugarcane fields. It appears to also use habitats around human settlements when there is sufficient cover. In southern India, a breeding pair of jungle cats was found occupying an old building in an urban area near coconut palm plantations. In Israel, they can be found around pisciculture ponds and irrigation ditches.

Most of the range of the jungle cat lies under 1,000 m but in the Himalaya, jungle cats live up to 2,400 m.

Ecology and Behaviour

The jungle cat is solitary and active during day and night. It is a good climber. It rests in borrows of badgers, porcupines or foxes, under bushes, in caves, in the thicket or in reeds where it also makes its dens. The jungle cat stalks its prey on the ground and attacks from behind, but can also jump high into the air to catch birds. It communicates via scent markings yet little is known about its social organization. In captivity, males are very protective of the cubs, even more so than females, and sexual dimorphism may be linked to this behaviour. Family groups of a male with a female and cubs have been seen in the wild. The jungle cat is a good swimmer and even dives to catch fish or to escape danger such as a dog.

Its reproductive biology is not well understood. The reproductive season is reported to be in October in south-western India, and in January to February in Central Asia. In Armenia, births were reported in early May. Estrus lasts for five days and gestation for 63 to 68 days. Interbirth Interval is 93-131 days. Sexual maturity is reached at 11 to 18 months. Both males and females produce bark like calls when females are in estrus.

Jungle cat family.
Jungle cat with its kitten.
Jungle cat kitten.
Jungle cat male.

Prey

The jungle cat’s prey varies across its broad range and consists commonly of rodents, such as rats and mice, all of which weigh less than 1 kg. However, it is also capable of taking larger rodents, such as the coypu in Eurasia, or occasionally young wild pigs or gazelles. Birds are the next major prey but they also feed on squirrels, frogs, lizards, small snakes, amphibians, insects and eggs of birds. In Russia, waterfowl appear to be an important prey species in winter. With overwintering populations of waterfowl congregating in large numbers on unfrozen rivers and marshes, the jungle cat hunts among reed beds and along edges of wetlands, searching for injured or weakened birds. In India, jungle cats were observed to scavenge on kills of larger predators such as the Asiatic lion. Close to villages, jungle cats also take domestic animals such as chickens, ducks and geese.

Jungle cat with a frog.
Jungle cat with a just hunted rodent.

Main Threats

The jungle cat adapts more readily than most other small felids to cultivated and artificial landscapes, mainly irrigated agriculture. However, this intensifies conflicts with humans. In areas where the jungle cat takes poultry, it is persecuted by people and often poisoned. Non-selective trapping, snaring and poisoning of carcasses has and does negatively affect the jungle cats in many areas throughout its range. This trapping activity seems to be mostly responsible for the jungle cat's recent rarity in South-east Asia, especially in Lao PDR and Thailand.

In India, the jungle cat was hunted extensively and its skins exported. It is now legally protected but illegal trade of its fur still occurs in India, Egypt and Afghanistan. It showed up on markets in Myanmar during surveys 1998-2006. The clearing of uncultivated vegetation along rivers and destruction of natural wetlands taking place throughout its range (particularly in arid areas) poses serious threats, since densities in natural wetlands are higher. Habitat destruction also negatively affects the jungle cat’s prey species. Perhaps agricultural chemicals also have negative effects on the jungle cat. Jungle cats are sometimes killed by larger predators such as leopards and big snakes. Land policies such as wasteland categorisation and subsequent development that encourage and require dramatic changes in land use (urbanisation and industrialisation) are a major threat to this cat in India. In Turkey, mainly dam constructions and irrigation projects threaten the species habitat and pollution and illegal hunting are major problems. Illegal killing of jungle cats is also a threat in Iran. 

Conservation Effort and Protection Status

The jungle cat is included in the CITES Appendix II and protected over part of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Israel, Myanmar, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Thailand and Turkey. In Bhutan, Georgia, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam there is no legal protection of the jungle cat outside protected areas. No information is available for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Considering the high habitat loss occurring in riparian and wetland areas, the jungle cat should be considered a research priority. Natural wetlands and reed beds should be better protected, particularly in the dry parts of its range. There is a need for better legal protection and law enforcement. The status and the ecology of the jungle cat are poorly known throughout its range. Another priority should therefore be to gain more knowledge about its ecology and current distribution in order to establish effective conservation measures.

Another issue to be addressed is the conflict between farmers and the jungle cat mostly due to poultry predation. Conservation measures should include better management and protection of domestic fowl, and the prohibition of indiscriminate poisoning and trapping. 

Land policies should take in to account the ecological values of species and ecosystems. For example each jungle cat consumes approximately 1,500 rodents annually and this could form natural pest management and economic benefit for farmers.