Species Facts: The Flat-Headed Cat

What’s rarer than the fishing cat?

Its neighbor, the flat-headed cat! This unusual-looking feline is also considered to be a better fisher.

Who’s this?

What little is known about Prionailurus planiceps comes from observing captive animals. In the wild, flat-headed cats live in swamps, along rivers and lakes, and in forested wetlands. They apparently only come out at night.

Researchers can’t get many camera-trap images of these elusive kitties.

Flat-headed cats have been seen in parts of the Malayan Peninsula as well as on Sumatra and Borneo, but it’s difficult to find many images of them online. Here are some from Arkive.

What does it look like?

Planiceps is about the size of a domestic cat, with a longer body and shorter legs. This rather weasel-like feline was named for its long sloped muzzle as well as the slighty flattened skull.

Adding to the strange appearance are close-set big eyes and tiny ears that are situated more along the sides of the head than up on top, like with most cats.

Flat-headed cats have a short, extremely furry tail. The rest of their reddish brown/gray fur is thick and soft. Each hair has a white tip, giving the cat an overall shimmering appearance.

How friendly/dangerous is it?

Unlike its relatives – the fishing cat and the leopard cat – there don’t seem to be any reports of flat-headed cats kept as pets.

The Cool Factor:

Flat-headed cats are adorable little Tim-Burton-style Halloween cats.

Along with its huge eyes, Planiceps’ teeth are sharper, longer, and more pointed than in other cats (the better to catch and eat fish and other slippery water-loving critters).

Its toes are also longer and the claws stick out of the sheath. If that reminds you of a raccoon, then this will blow your mind. Flat-headed cats sometimes wash their food, just like a raccoon, and they carry it away from the water so the prey can’t escape.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

The conservationists don’t know much about this cat, but it obviously needs wetlands. These are vanishing quickly in Southeast Asia. There is also concern about water pollution and overfishing in the fishing cat’s home region.

Fishing cats were last seen in Thailand about twenty years ago, and they may already be extinct there.

A few have been recorded in the Sunda Islands, but overall the number seems to be in decline and things don’t look very good for this cat’s future.

This is why the IUCN/World Conservation Union gives Planiceps the highest priority of any small Southeast Asian wild cat.


Featured image: By Jim Sanderson. CC BY-SA 3.0.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group (CSG): Flat-Headed Cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=119 Last accessed October 6, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada: Flat-Headed Cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/flat-headed-cat/ Last accessed October 6, 2017.

Wilting, A.; Brodie, J.; Cheyne, S.; Hearn, A.; and others. 2015. Prionailurus planiceps. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:e.T18148A50662095.

Species Fact: The Pallas cat/Manul

This adorable little feline has an impressive scientific alter ego: Otocolobus manul.

Despite such a metal-sounding name, Pallas cats aren’t superheroes – they are little cats that have carved out their own niche in an enormous, unfriendly world.

“Manul” is their name in Mongolia, and “Otocolobus” is just another way to say that they have small ears.

Here is a Pallas cat starting its day in Russia’s Daursky nature reserve:

Who’s this?

Pallas cats only weigh 7-10 pounds and can’t run very far on their stubby legs. (Cat Specialist Group) In the wild, life for such a small animal is full of emergencies.

Manul avoids large predatory birds, as well as wolves, red foxes, and domestic dogs by staying close to a hideout or crouching on the ground, flat and very still. Its fur blends in well with the rocky landscape. (Ross and others)

Its ears are small, rounded, and set wide apart. They help make that little curve of a head, with its speckled facial camouflage, almost invisible as Manul peeks out from a rock or bush. (Cat Specialist Group)

Pallas cats are thinly spread across Central Asia’s steppe lands and rocky terrain. Their core population is in Mongolia and China. Russian Pallas cats are usually found near the border with Mongolia – this border region is where the Daursky Reserve sits – and China. (Ross and others)

When did it evolve?

The little Pallas cat is quite a challenge for scientists.

  • It has round pupils like many big cats, but it’s the size of a house cat.
  • It doesn’t look anything like the other small cats of Eurasia, which are either wildcats (the Felis lineage) or related to leopard cats (the Prionailurus lineage).
  • It even has an extra eyelid for protection against the dust storms and icy winds of the Central Asian high country!

Experts are still working on this, but many of them put Manul into the leopard-cat group. Others suspect that it’s closer to Felis. (Kitchener and others)

The Cool Factor:

Just look at it!

Also, this cat’s combination of cuteness, killing efficiency, and ability to survive in some of the harshest land on Earth is amazing.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

People are moving into Pallas cat country.  

Livestock change the environment and they are accompanied by dogs, this cat’s natural enemy. Human activities that range from the fur trade to mineral exploration and exploitation also directly affect Manul. (Ross and others)

Researchers say that it’s very difficult to get an accurate count of wild Pallas cats, but from what they’ve learned so far, the species does appear to be in decline, especially in the southwestern part of its range.

That’s why they have listed Manul as near threatened and may upgrade that to vulnerable fairly soon. (Ross and others)


Featured image: Pallas cat by Nick Jewell on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.


Sources:

Cat Specialist Group: Pallas cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=103 Last accessed September 20, 2017.

ISEC: Pallas cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/eurasia/pallas-cat/ Last accessed September 20, 2017.

Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, Ch.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; and others. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae. The final report of the Cat. Classification Task Force of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Cat News Special Issue 11, 80 pp.

Ross, S.; Barashkova, A.; Farhadina, M. S.; Appel, A.; and others. 2016. Otocolobus manul. The IUCR Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15640A87840229

Species Facts:  The Fishing Cat

Most people wouldn’t consider “saving wetlands” as the method of choice for protecting an endangered cat, but it’s just what Southeast Asia’s fishing cat needs.

Fishing cats have a layer of waterproof fur as well as somewhat webbed hindfeet. The front claws retract just like in other cats, but they are never completely covered. This way, the cat can grab prey while its hindfeet paddle along. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC)

There is even a report that a fishing cat swam underwater to catch an unsuspecting waterfowl! (Sunquist and Sunquist)

Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the leopard-cat lineage.

Who’s this?

Fishing cats are a little bigger than the average domestic cat, with a top weight of around 35 pounds. Their head and body are 2-3 feet long. That muscular tail adds less than a foot of extra length, but it makes a great swimming rudder! (Cat Specialist Group; Sunquist and Sunquist)

These felines pack a lot of muscle and are capable of killing a dog with one blow of their powerful paws. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

That’s why villagers in the above video are so concerned. Fishing cats do supplement their diet with livestock and dogs. (Cat Specialist Group)

The question is, how much of the perceived threat to human property is real and how much is just fear?

That’s still under debate, but the concern has led to a sharp decline in fishing cat numbers in Southeast Asia, where they are often killed as pests. (SCARLK)

Conservationists say that, besides protecting wetlands, this cat’s survival also depends on preventing its indiscriminate slaughter. (Mukherjee and others)

The Coolness Factor:

In addition to being a fish-catcher by trade, this cat has an adorably round face and stubby ears. Multiple dark lines run from its forehead down the neck and back, and there are beautiful cheek stripes, too.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

Today you’re most likely to see a fishing cat in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and parts of the Himalayan foothills and eastern India. It’s hard to find them in other parts of a range that once extended from Pakistan through Cambodia and south to Sri Lanka. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC; Mukherjee and others)

Little is known about actual numbers, though. (Mukherjee and others)

Research on fishing cats only began in 2009, and the cat was red-listed at first as endangered. As of 2016, it is rated vulnerable, but only because experts have more information now, not because there has been much conservation progress. (Mukherjee and others)

Fishing cats have declined an estimated 30% in the last fifteen years, and if present trends of urbanization in Sri Lanka and India – and more Indian industrialization – continue, then the world’s fishing cat population will probably drop another 30% as its habitat disappears.


Featured image: By Gellinger at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group: Fishing cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=121 Last accessed September 19, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC): Fishing cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/fishing-cat/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Mukherjee, S.; Appel, A.; Duckworth, J. W.; Sanderson, J.; and others. 2016. Prionailurus viverrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:3.T.18150A50662615.

Small Cat Advocacy and Research (SCARLK): Fishing cat. https://scar.lk/fishing-cat/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the world. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Species Facts: The Leopard

The world’s most famous spotted cat is a little better off than other big cats. Although its range has shrunk, the leopard still calls two continents home. (ISEC; Stein and others)`

Since leopards can adapt to almost any environment from sea level up to around 17,000 feet in the Himalayas, you will find them in most of sub-Saharan Africa and across much of southern/northeast Asia. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC; Panthera; Stein and others; Uphyyrkina)

While the overall species isn’t endangered, some leopard subspecies are. (ISEC)

But in India the high numbers of both leopards and people are causing serious problems. (Cat Specialist Group)

Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the big cat lineage.

Who’s this?

They may be smaller than lions, but leopards are large enough and pack enough muscle to bring down prey two to three times their size. (Cat Specialist Group)

Leopards are also built for climbing and do well in lion country wherever there are trees available for refuge. (Cat Specialist Group; Kitchener and others)

With a massive skull and powerful jaws, leopards resemble jaguars but are slimmer. Their tail is also longer, and the head is not quite as big. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC)

What does it look like?

These cats have a lot more variety than we give them credit for.

Yes, all leopards have black spots on their head, legs, and tail, with black-rimmed rosettes elsewhere and whitish fur on their undersides. (ISEC)

But their size and background fur color vary according to habitat. African leopards are the biggest, weighing up to 200 pounds or more.

In the chilly Russian Far East, the leopard’s coat is so long and the background is such a pale color that some confuse this cat with the snow leopard – a totally different species. (Uphyrkina and others)

And in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, leopards are often black, though you can still see their spots in the right light. (ISEC; Kitchener and others)

Scientists are still debating how to classify leopard subspecies (Stein and others), but the best known common names for them include:

How friendly/dangerous is it?

This is one of the most dangerous cats in the world.

The Coolness Factor:

leopard-518210_640 (1)

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

The Cat Specialist Group sums it up well:

The main threats to the leopard are of anthropogenic origin. Continuing persecution by humans, habitat loss and fragmentation, prey base declines, illegal wildlife trade, retaliatory killing and poorly managed trophy hunting are the main problems leading to leopard reductions.


Images:
Featured image: Persian leopard in snow. Felix Broennimann at Pixabay. Public domain.

Leopard in tree: designerpoint at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=110 Last accessed September 10, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC). Leopard. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/africa/leopard/ Last accessed September 10, 2017.

Kitchener, A. C., Van Valkenburgh, B., and Yamaguchi, N. 2010. Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 83-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Panthera. Leopard fact sheet.
https://www.panthera.org/cat/leopard Last accessed September 10, 2017.

Stein, A. B.; Athreya, V.; Gemgross, P.; Balme, G.; and others. 2016. Panthera pardus. (errata version published in 2016) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15954A102421779.

Uphyrkina, O.; Johnson, W. E.; Quigley, H.; Miquelle, D.; Marker, L.; Bush, M., and O’Brien, S. 2001. Phylogenetics, genome diversity and origin of modern leopard Panthera pardus. Molecular Ecology. 10:2617-2633.

Species Facts: Lions

Oh, this cat doesn’t need an introduction!

Let’s just set out a few basic facts, focusing on some things about Leo that you might not have heard yet.

For instance, did you know that the King of the Beasts is not actually the biggest cat out there?

Who’s this?

The lion is slightly smaller than a tiger, which must be enormous since lions are 7 to over 11 feet long, including the tail, and they weigh up to 600 pounds. (Cat Specialist Group; Haas and others)

Lionesses are just as tall as males, or taller, but they weigh a little less. (AZA)

We tend to see a lion pride as the family unit, and that’s true for lionesses. They are usually related to each other and use a nursery system to raise the cubs. (Cat Specialist Group)

But just like many other cats, each male’s range usually includes more than one female range – in this case, more than one pride. (Cat Specialist Group)

And it’s generally a group of males, not just one. There is tremendous competition for prides. Males usually have one breeding season -about 24 to 36 months – before they are driven off by other males.

This is a harsh fact of life for that cute little cub up above. He has a lot of work to do before he can be “just like daddy.”

While roughly two-thirds of female cubs stay with the pride as mature adults, the males leave it when they are three to four years old, or earlier if there is a takeover. (AZA)

They’re not full adults yet, so they wander for a while, often forming coalitions, until ready to make their move. (Cat Specialist Group)

Around age five or six, testosterone levels are higher, their manes have filled in and darkened some, and it’s time for them to start looking (and fighting) for a pride of their own. (AZA; Cat Specialist Group)

What about the roar?

It’s a structured call that keeps those wandering subadult males away and tells adult males that this territory is occupied. (AZA; Cat Specialist Group; Kitchener and others)

Roaring also is reassuring and it is a good way to stay in touch over distance – prides usually break into small groups to hunt, and their territory can cover more than 1900 square miles. (Cat Specialist Group; Haas and others)

Lions generally roar when they are most active – at dawn, dusk, and around midnight. (AZA)

The Cool Factor:

Seriously, though – they’re lazy, too, resting 19-21 hours a day.

Where can I find lions?

Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Ethiopia; India; Kenya; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; and Zimbabwe.(Bauer and others)

Lions may or may not be extinct in the Ivory Coast; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Mali; Rwanda; and Togo. (Bauer and others)

Why are they on the IUCN Red List?

Lion conservation is complicated and deserves a post of its own. Generally, the number of lions in the world has dropped a little over forty percent in 21 years – three lion generations. (Bauer and others)

The small lion population in India is stable, but it’s in a precarious situation. A single disaster – disease, fire, something else – could wipe it out. That’s why conservationists hope to establish another wild Asiatic lion group elsewhere in the region.

Lions in southern Africa are actually increasing a bit, but lion numbers in eastern Africa are down 52% over that period of time, and in western Africa – where there is most concern about extinction soon – it’s an 85% drop. (Cat Specialist Group)

For more details, read the IUCN sources below.


Featured image: eteritlux at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:

AZA Lion Species Survival Plan. 2012. Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Silver Spring, Maryland, p. 143.

Bauer, H.; Packer, C.; Funston, P. F.; Henschel, P.; and Nowell, K. 2016. Panthera leo (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15951A115130419.

Breitenmoser, U.; Mallon, D. P.; Ahmad Khan, J.; and Driscoll, C. 2008. Panthera leo ssp. persica. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008:e.T15952A5327221.

Cat Specialist Group. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=108 Last accessed September 8, 2017.

Haas, S. K.; Hayssen, V.; and Krausman, P. R. 2005. Panthera leo. Mammalian Species. 762:1-11.

Henschel, P.; Bauer, H.; Sogbohoussou, E.; and Nowell, K. 2015. Panthera leo (West Africa population). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:e.T68933833A54067639.

Kitchener, A. C., Van Valkenburgh, B., and Yamaguchi, N. 2010. Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 83-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.