Despite its name, the jungle cat – Felis chaus – actually prefers wasteland or dense brush to a rainforest-style jungle. (Gray and others) This small wild cat also likes wetlands. No wonder it’s also called the swamp cat. (Sunquist and Sunquist)
Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the house cat lineage.
Felis chaus is an exotic cat to anyone from northern Eurasia or the New World. But in Egypt and southwestern Asia, it’s so common that some call it a “small-cat equivalent of the jackal.” (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)
What does it look like?
If you’re in the right part of the world, just look for a lanky brown cat in the reeds, grass, or scrub. In parts of Pakistan and India, it also comes in black, for some reason.
Chaus is a little bigger than a house cat – around 16 to 30 pounds (7 to 13 kg) – and it has a ringed tail. Kittens can be striped or spotted; sometimes adults still show a few of these marks faintly on their leg fur. (Cat Specialist Group; Sunquist and Sunquist; Wright and Walters)
How friendly/dangerous is it?
It’s a little cat. Chaus also can tolerate being around people. There are probably some individual pet jungle cats out there, but generally this is a wild animal and will hurt you if you surprise it, box it in, or get too close.
The Cool Factor
If there’s an unmarked kitty in an ancient Egyptian tomb painting, it’s probably Chaus. In the pharaoh’s day, people kept jungle cats as pets and sometimes mummified them, though most cat mummies that have been studied are regular domestic tabby cats. (Bradshaw; Kurushima and others; Wright and Walter)
Where can I find this cat?
At elevations below 14,000 feet (4178 meters) in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Georgia, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam. Jungle cats are most common in the Nile River Valley and southwestern Asia. (Gray and others)
Why is it on the IUCN Red List?
Chaus is listed as “Least Concern,” but it’s on there. Jungle cat populations are isolated from each other, and this little cat is rare in some parts of its range. Also, while Chaus does fine in some human settings – rice paddies, for instance – overall habitat destruction and increasing urbanization are taking their toll.
Featured image: Dr. Tarak N Khan, Flickr. CC BY 2.0.
Bradshaw, J. 2013. Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet. New York: Basic Books.
Cat Specialist Group. Jungle cat. http://www.catsg.org/m/index.php?id=114 Last accessed September 1, 2017.
Gray, T. N. E.; Timmins, R. J.; Jathana, D.; Duckworth, J. W.; and others. 2016. Felis chaus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016. e:T8540A50651463.
Kurushima, J. D.; Ikram. S.; Knudsen, J.; Bielberg, E.; and others. 2012. Cats of the pharaohs: Genetic comparison of Egyptian cat mummies to their feline contemporaries. Journal of Archaeological Science. 39(10):3217-3223.
Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the world. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Wright, M., and Walters, S. 1980. The Book of the Cat New York: Summit Books.