CatSG

Marbled cat

Pardofelis marmorata

IUCN Red List: Near Threatened

Weight: 2-5 kg
Body length: 45-62 cm
Tail length: 36-55 cm
Longevity: to 12 years
Litter size: 1-2 cubs

Description

The marbled cat was once thought to be a close relative of the clouded leopard (genera Neofelis) because of many morphological similarities. However, genetic analyses indicate that it is more closely related to the Asiatic golden cat (Catopuma temminckii) and the Borneo bay cat (Catopuma badia). Recent genetic analyses indicate possible distinction between the Indochinese and the Sundaic marbled cat populations on a species level but more research is needed. 

Marbled cats and clouded leopards are similar in appearance as both species bear a distinctive, irregular blotched pattern on their coats. The background colour of the marbled cat is brownish-grey to reddish-brown. The flanks and back are patterned with large irregularly shaped brown to reddish blotches which are lined in black. One observation of two individuals at a salt lick in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand reported that one of the individuals exhibited a reddish-brown colour with a very vague blotched pattern, while the blotched pattern on the other individual was very distinct. The large blotches fade to small dark spots on the legs, tail and up to the crown. The underside and proximal aspect of the inner leg are a pale buff colour. Two black stripes stretch from the inner corner of the eye back over the crown and down the neck. Melanism has been reported for the species in Sumatra: a melanistic individual and a typically pigmented individual, that were recorded together in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, and the pelt of a melanistic individual, that was collected from an unknown location in Sumatra. All samples are catalogued at the Museum Zoology Bogor on Java, Indonesia.

The marbled cat is about the same weight as a large domestic cat but gives the impression of being more slender and elongated. The marbled cat has a more rounded head than most other felids with a broad face and also rounded ears that have white bars on the back. Its pupils are large and brown. The tail is extremely long, nearly as long as the total head and body length, and very bushy. While walking, the marbled cat holds its tail stretched out horizontally and does not drag it on the ground. The foot structure, relatively short legs and the long tail imply the arboreal adaptations of this small cat. 

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Bangladesh (Bengali) 

marbel biral

Chinese

shih mao, shihban mao, xia yunbao (small clouded leopard)

French

chat marbré

German

Marmorkatze

India (Bengali)

marbel biral

Indonesia

kucing batu

Malaysia

kucing dahan

Myanmar

kyaung tha lin

Spanish

gato jaspeado

Thailand

maew laey hin on 

Melanistic marbled cat.

Status and Distribution

The marbled cat was first photographed in the wild at the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand, in 1994 as camera trap use in the field became more prevalent.

The marbled cat is classified as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List. However, status and distribution of the marbled cat are poorly studied and population trends are unknown. There is some indication that the species may be relatively rare when compared with other sympatric felids. A study in Sumatra’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park found that the photo rate for marbled cats (Pardofelis marmorata) was lower than that of Sunda clouded leopards (Neofelis diardi), Asiatic golden cats (Catopuma temminckii), and Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae). In the Sabangu peat-swamp forest of Kalimantan, the photo rate for marbled cats was also lower than that of the Sunda clouded leopard, the leopard cat and the flat-headed cat. Over 5,423 trap nights (476 days) were required in the study site before the first photograph of a marbled cat was recorded. In Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Lao PDR, the occupancy rate for the marbled cat was estimated at 11% in comparison to the occupancy rate of the Asiatic golden cat which was estimated at 42%. In Jarangau Forest Reserve on Peninsular Malaysia, the marbled cat had the lowest number of detections of any of the six felid species recorded. However,  there is quite a high encounter rate in Cambodia. The only density estimation of marbled cats comes from the Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Borneo. This reserve was logged for 20-30 years and is surrounded by oil palm plantations. The density of marbled cats there was estimated to be 16.6 +/- 6.84 individuals per 100 km².

The marbled cat is found from Nepal, Bhutan and northeastern India to parts of Indochina. It also occurs in Malaysia and on Sumatra and Borneo. In Sabah, the marbled cat has been recorded in Danum Valley Conservation Area, Palum Tambun Watershed Reserve, Ulu Segama Forest Reserve, Malua Forest Reserve, Tabin wildlife Reserve, Deramakot Forest Reserve and Tangkulap Forest Reserve. In India, the marbled cat seems to be restricted to the eastern Himalayan foothills, and to be associated with moist deciduous and semi-evergreen forest habitats. A specimen of a marbled cat has been recorded from China in the Yunnan province in the 1970s and it may be present in the Guangxi province. In Lao PDR it was not detected in camera trap surveys in Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area, and it was only detected at 4% of camera sites in Nam Kading National Protected Area. Although the marbled cat has a relatively wide geographical distribution, its range is highly fragmented.

Extant distribution area of the marbled cat (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015).

Habitat

The marbled cat is forest dependent and appears to be mainly associated with moist and mixed deciduous-evergreen tropical forests. It seems to have a preference for remote moist forests and primary forests. A radio collared individual in Phu Kheio Wildlife Sancturay in Thailand was tracked for one month and moved continually towards mountainous terrain until becoming undetectable. In Sumatra, analyses from a camera trap study indicate that the marbled cat was most likely to inhabit areas further from the forest edge and at moderate elevations. In Lao PDR, the species was most often associated with montane evergreen forest above 1,000m. In Kalimantan, the species has been recorded from the Sabangau peat-swamp forest. In Borneo, it was recorded in Dipterocarp forests, sandy beaches with Casuarina trees and in grasslands of remote swampy mangrove areas. There have also been observations of the species in secondary forests, cleared areas or agricultural plantations, and at lower elevations. In Sabah, Borneo, a marbled cat was observed in an isolated forest that had been logged six years previously. On Sumatra, the species has been recorded by camera traps located in very small fragments of remnant forest within a landscape of coffee plantations, as well as in lowland secondary and primary forests.

The marbled cat has been recorded from sea level up to an elevation of 3,000 m. In the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Lao PDR, the species was recorded at altitudes ranging from 1,043 to 1,913 m. 

Marbled cat in Danum Valley, Borneo.

Ecology and Behaviour

The ecology and behaviour of the marbled cat are poorly known. It was originally thought to be primarily crepuscular and nocturnal. A radio collared individual in Thailand was mainly active at night, and several observations in Kalimantan were in the late evening. However, recent camera trap studies on Sumatra and Borneo, and in Thailand and Lao PDR indicate that the marbled cat may is primarily diurnal.

The marbled cat is thought to be a forest-dependent species and is known as a very good climber, able to climb down a tree headfirst. It is referred to as the Old World margay for its arboreal activity. The marbled cat was thought to spend most of its time in the trees, and in the past this has been thought to account for the rarity of sightings. An individual was observed at night resting on a tree branch 25m above the ground in the Deramakot Forest Reserve in Borneo. It subsequently climbed among the branches and descended the tree face first to escape the spotlight. However, there have now been numerous camera trap photographs of the species on the ground, and several sightings as well. In 2008, a primate researcher observed an adult individual resting on the ground under a fruiting tree. The individual remained resting at a distance of 1.2 m from the observer for over an hour before calmly moving off. Two individuals were observed visiting a salt lick in Thailand, and one individual was observed sitting in the middle of a road during a night survey in Deramakot Forest Reserve on Borneo. This implies that the species may not be as arboreal as previously thought.

A radio-tagged female in the Phu Khieu National Park of Thailand had an estimated home range of 5.3 km². However, she was only tracked for a month before becoming undetectable. The species is thought to be relatively solitary, but two individuals were observed traveling together at a salt lick in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand. Two individuals were also photographed traveling together in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on Sumatra and in the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Laos. It is unknown whether these records constitute mated pairs, or siblings.

Gestation lasts for 81 days. Age at sexual maturity is approximately 21 months.

The marbled cat is a very good climber.
Marbled cat in the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, India.

Prey

There have been no diet studies conducted for marbled cats. They are thought to feed on birds, tree squirrels, fruit bats, rodents (such as rats and mice), and presumably also on insects, reptiles (e.g. lizards) and amphibians (e.g. frogs). There have also been several documented instances of marbled cats preying on primate species. The stomach of a deceased individual in Thailand contained the remains of a small rat, and the species has also been observed stalking birds in trees. In Sumatra, the marbled cat has been reported to occasionally prey on poultry. 

Main Threats

The main threat to the marbled cat is deforestation. Southeast Asia has one of the highest and fastest deforestation rates mainly due to logging and forest conversion for human settlements, agriculture, oil palm, coffee, rubber and other plantations. The marbled cat seems to be sensitive to changes and disruptions caused by humans. It is not commonly found in close proximity to human settlements; although on Sumatra and in the eastern Himalaya, villagers outside of national parks indicate that the species very occasionally predates poultry. The species has also been photographed in agricultural landscapes. The marbled cat is not frequently recorded in the wildlife trade but its fur, meat and bones have high value and it is hunted in some areas. In the Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, India, surveys of local villagers indicated that the marbled cat was one of the wildlife species commonly hunted for either subsistence, commercial purposes, or medicine. Indiscriminate snaring is a large problem and is thought to be occurring throughout much of the marbled cat’s range. 

Conservation Effort and Protection Status

The marbled cat is included into CITES Appendix I and protected over parts of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China (Yunnan only), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand. Hunting is regulated in Lao PDR and Singapore. 

More investigations and research are needed to understand the marbled cat’s ecology, distribution and status. An important aspect to study would be its tolerance for secondary or disturbed forests over the long-term.