JUNGLE CAT

Felis chaus
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016; National Red List 2012 Sri Lanka
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia

  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Felis
  • Species: chaus
  • English Name: Jungle Cat
  • Sinhala Name: Vul Balala
  • Tamil Name: Kāttu Poonai
  • Average adult weight: 3-8 kg
  • Size comparison: About the size of an average street dog
Illustration by Eric Losh

Appearance

Jungle cats are the largest living member of the Felis species. They can get to about 3-4 times the size of a domestic cat and their lanky build resembles that of a serval. Depending on its range country, the species’ coat colouring varies between a uniform, unspotted reddish or sandy brown, to a tawny grey. However, some individuals do have a speckled look to their coats, which is caused by the fine black-tips of guard hairs. Like most other feline species, kittens are spotted and striped at birth, and lose these markings once they reach sexual maturity. The only markings retained as adults are the dark arm bands on the forelimbs and hindlimbs (a visible marker of the species) , and very faint rings towards the end of the tail.

They have long, slender faces with a bright white muzzle, white lines above and below the eyes, and tear lines in front of their eyes, and along the side of the nose. Unlike the fishing cat and the rusty-spotted cat, the back of a jungle cat’s ears have no distinct spots. Their ears are set close together at the top of their head, and are topped with a tuft of short – but distinct – black hairs. Its ear tufts, long limbs and short tail, caused scientists to originally assume that the species was related to lynxes. However they were later included in the genus Felis.

Jungle cats are one of the 11 species of melanistic wild cat, meaning that in rare cases, an individual can be completely black. Melanistic jungle cats have been recorded in the wild – regularly occurring in southeastern Pakistan – and in captivity.

“More than 2,000 years ago, the Egyptians venerated, tamed, and even trained cats, depicting them in wall paintings and statues. Cats were worshipped as deities, kept as house pets, and entombed with their owners. Some cats were used to protect granaries against rats and mice, while others were trained for hunting. Among the mummified cat remains that have been examined, scientists have identified two species: the African wildcat and the larger jungle cat or reed cat. However, of 190 mummified remains examined, only three were those of jungle cats. The African wildcat is generally considered to be the progenitor of the domestic cat. While the Egyptians may have tamed the jungle cat and kept it for its rodent-catching ability, there is no evidence of true domestication of this species.”

– (Sunquist & Sunquist, 2002).

Image by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard
Image by ©Joel Sartore/ www.joelsartore.com

Behaviour and Reproduction

Like most small wild cats, the jungle cat is a poorly studied species, and as a result many aspects of its social organisation and behaviour is unknown. The species is considered solitary, outside of mating situations. A male’s territory will overlap several females, and this spatial arrangement is most likely arranged by scent marking. It is unclear how vocalisation plays a part in the species’ social system.

It is speculated that in the wild, the mating season is marked by the shrieks and fights of males. However in captivity, there are no outward signs indicating the onset of reproductive activities, though certain males were observed being more vocal just prior to copulation. Records of wild births show that most young are born between December and June, and in Sri Lanka, births are recorded between December and March. As many as six kittens can be born in a litter, though the most common number is three, with kittens weighing between 43-55 grams at birth.

Watch this jungle cat as it hunts
Filmed by Aditya Joshi
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016; Illustration by Anya Ratnayaka

Range

The species has a broad, but patchy distribution, giving them the nickname “the jackal of the cat family”.

Illustration by Eric Losh

Habitat and Ecology

Despite its name, jungle cats are not associated with “jungle habitats”, but rather with scrubland, grassland, deciduous dipterocarp forests and habitats that have dense vegetation cover and a good source of water. The species also adapts well to irrigated cultivation and agricultural areas, that have a low intensity of human use, since these habitats  retain small patches of scrubland.

A study done in India’s Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, showed that jungle cats were most active at night, whereas a study done in Cambodia pointed to  the opposite. Thus, it’s clear that the species needs to be studied further.

Their main source of prey consists of small mammals (i.e. rodents) weighing less than one kilogram, small birds (i.e. waterfowl), medium sized mammals (i.e. hares and nutria), and snakes, lizards, frogs, insects and fish. In India, jungle cats have also been known to scavenge  kills made by larger predators.

Use and Trade

There are cases of illegal trade and killing in India and other range countries in South Asia.

Threats

Habitat loss for industrialisation, urbanisation and large scale agricultural purposes is the biggest threat faced by the species throughout their range.

The trapping, snaring and poisoning of jungle cats around agricultural and rural areas has also played a large role in the species’ decline. Before the species was placed under legal protection in India in 1979, large numbers of jungle cat skins were traded and exported. In some range countries in South Asia, Egypt and Afghanistan, the species is still illegally traded.

Conservation

The species is listed on CITES Appendix ll, and is protected from hunting in some range states in India.In others, it receives no protection outside protected areas. In 2009, the species was placed on Afghanistan’s Protected Species List, and since then the species has received legal protection from all hunting and trade.

In Sri Lanka, the jungle cat is protected in the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 2009, under Schedule ll, listing the species as a strictly protected mammal.

The ecology and status of the jungle cat is poorly understood, and in Southwest and Southeast Asia, where it is considered a rare and declining species, much more research needs to be undertaken in order to gain better knowledge of the species’ current distribution, both inside and outside protected areas.

In many range countries, the species is considered a pest, as it preys on poultry. Thus, better conservation and advocacy is needed in these areas, so locals can be convinced to cease trapping and poisoning  these animals. These communities may also need help protecting their poultry from jungle cats.

For more detailed information, please visit the

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species jungle cat species page

Reference List

Abu-Baker, M., Nassar, K., Rifai, L., Qarqaz, M., Al-Melhim, W. and Amr, Z. (2003). On the current status and distribution of the jungle cat Felis chaus in Jordan (Mammalia: Carnivora). Zoology in the Middle East. 30. 5-10.

Duckworth, J. W., Poole, C. M., Tizard, R. J., Walston, J. L. and Timmins, R. J. (2005). The Jungle Cat Felis chaus in Indochina: A threatened population of a widespread and adaptable species. Biodiversity and Conservation. 14. 1263-1280.

Gray, T.N.E., Timmins, R.J., Jathana, D., Duckworth, J.W., Baral, H. & Mukherjee, S. 2016.Felis chaus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8540A50651463. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-2.RLTS.T8540A50651463.en.

Habibi, K. 2003. Mammals of Afghanistan. Zoo Outreach Organisation/USFWS, Coimbatore, India.

Mukherjee, S., Goyal, S. P., Johnsingh, A. J. T. and Pitman, M. R. P. L. (2004). The importance of rodents in the diet of jungle cat (Felis chaus), caracal (Caracal caracal) and golden jackal (Canis aureus) in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, India. Journal of Zoology (London). 262. 405-411.

Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Pocock, R. I. (1939). The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia. – Volume 1. London: Taylor and Francis Ltd.
Sunquist, M & Sunquist, F, (2002) Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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