Prionailurus bengalensis 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Prionailurus bengalensis
Species Authority: (Kerr, 1792)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Leopard Cat
French Chat-léopard du Bengale, Chat de Chine
Spanish Gato Bengalí, Gato de Bengala
Taxonomic Notes: On the basis of morphological analysis, Groves (1997) suggested recognition of several distinct island subspecies, including:

P. b. borneoensis Brongersma, 1936: Borneo

P. b. heaneyi Groves, 1997: Palawan Island, Philippines

P. b. javenensis (Desmarest, 1816): Java and Bali

P. b. rabori
Groves, 1997: Negros, Cebu and Panay islands, Philippines

P. b. sumatranus (Horsfield, 1821): Sumatra and the offshore island of Tebingtinggi

One mainland subspecies is generally recognized: the nominate P. b. bengalensis (Kerr 1792) (Groves 1997), but a number of mainland subspecies have been classically described, including the Amur Leopard Cat P. b. euptilurus of the Korean Peninsula, Russian Far East and northeast China. This was earlier proposed as a distinct species based on morphological differences from southeast Asian specimens, but Chinese specimens have been shown to be similar to those from southeast Asia and this distinction is not recognized (Wozencraft 2005).

The Iriomote Cat P. b. iriomotensis, from Japan's Iriomote island, was also originally described as a distinct species based on morphology (Imaizumi 1967), but based on genetic analysis is now considered a subspecies of Leopard Cat (Masuda and Yoshida 1995, Johnson et al. 1999).

Recent genetic analysis (Luo et al. 2014) suggests species-level distinction between the Indochinese and Sundaic populations of the Leopard Cat although further research is needed to support this.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-05-20
Assessor(s): Ross, J., Brodie, J., Cheyne, S., Hearn, A., Izawa, M., Loken, B., Lynam, A., McCarthy, J., Mukherjee, S., Phan, C., Rasphone, A. & Wilting, A.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Hunter, L., Duckworth, J.W., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C., Lanz, T. & Breitenmoser, U.
Contributor(s): Ghimirey, Y., Sanderson, J., Sunarto, S., Grassman, L., Lorica, R.P., Habib, B. & Driscoll, C.
The Leopard Cat is a widespread and relatively common species (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), although the island subspecies P. b. iriomotensis is assessed separately in the Red List because the population is small and isolated.  Across its range, threats vary enormously by region, in the Western Ghats in India, for example, it is threatened by urbanisation (Seto et al. 2012), while in Viet Nam (Wilcox et al. 2014) and Lao PDR (Coudrat et al. 2014ab) direct and indirect hunting are potentially causing large population declines. Across the majority of its range, however, this species appears to be stable and to readily use degraded forest (e.g. Mohamed et al. 2013) and even heavily modified habitats such as oil palm (Hearn, Ross and Macdonald unpublished data, Yue et al. in press) and sugar cane plantations (Lorica and Heaney 2013). Consequently the Leopard Cat does not currently meet the criteria for any of the threatened categories. It is listed as Least Concern.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2008 Least Concern (LC)
2002 Least Concern (LC)
1996 Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Leopard Cat is a widespread species. It is found through parts of India, west into Pakistan and Afghanistan (Habibi 2003), through the Himalayan foothills, throughout most of China, and north to the Korean peninsula and into the Russian Far East (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Its range extends south throughout Southeast Asia, and includes the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Taiwan. The Leopard Cat is found on numerous small offshore islands of mainland Asia (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). It is the only wild felid in Japan, where it occurs on the small islands of Tsushima and Iriomote, and the Philippines, where it occurs on the islands of Palawan, Panay, Negros and Cebu, there are unconfirmed reports from Masbate but it is presumed to be extinct on Guimaras.

There are many recent records from protected and non-protected areas throughout its range examples include Borneo: Danum Valley Conservation Area and surrounding production forest, Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Crocker Range National Park, Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Kabili-Sepilok and Gomantong Forest Reserves, and Tawau Hills National Park (Hearn, Ross and Macdonald, unpublished data), Maliau Basin Conservation Area (Brodie and Giordano 2011), Deramakot Forest Reserve (Mohamed et al. 2009), Sabangau National Park (Cheyne and Macdonald 2011), Wehea Forest (Loken et al. unpublished data), Upper Baram region of Sarawak (Mathai et al. 2010), Sumatra: Gunung Leuser National Park (Pusparini et al. 2014), Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (McCarthy et al. 2015), Singapore: Pulau Tekong (Chua 2013), Peninsular Malaysia: Endau Rompin National Park (Gumal et al. 2014), Cambodia: Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary (Gray et al. 2014), Myanmar: Taninthary Nature Reserve and Hlawga Park (Than et al. 2014), Thailand: Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (Simcharoen et al. 2014) Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary (Tantipisanuh et al. 2014), Lao PDR: Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area (Coudrat et al. 2014a), Nepal: Chitwan National Park (Lamichhane et al. 2014), Makalu-Barun National Park (Ghimirey and Ghimire 2010), India: Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary (Punjabi et al. 2014), Rajaji National Park (Saxena and Rajvanshi 2014), Bhutan: Royal Manas National Park (Tempa et al. 2013), China: Wanglang National Nature Reserve (Yu 2010), Russia: Zov Tigra National Park (Kerley and Borisenko 2013).

The range map of the current assessment is based on known localities, coupled with habitat (Hansen 2013), molecular and climatic data (Mukherjee et al. 2010).
Countries occurrence:
Afghanistan; Bangladesh; Bhutan; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; China; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia (Jawa, Kalimantan, Sumatera); Japan (Nansei-shoto); Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Nepal; Pakistan; Philippines; Russian Federation; Singapore; Taiwan, Province of China; Thailand; Viet Nam
Upper elevation limit (metres): 3240
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Mohamed et al. (2013) report population densities of 9.6, 12.4 and 16.5 individuals/100 km2, from three selectively logged forest reserves in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. They also found that population density increased with forest disturbance. A similar relationship with forest disturbance was found in the Western Ghats, India, but densities here were generally lower at 10.45 and 4.48 individuals/100 km2 from Badhra and Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserves, respectively (Srivathsa et al. 2015). Across most of its range the Leopard Cat is recorded more frequently than sympatric cats (e.g. Nowell and Jackson 1996, Duckworth et al. 1999, Holden 2001, Duckworth et al. 2005, Lynam et al. 2006, Yasuda et al. 2007, Gumal et al. 2014), especially in disturbed areas such as logging concessions (e.g. Ross et al. 2010, Mohamed et al. 2013), however, in some surveys leopard cats are recorded less frequently than other species (e.g. Pusparini et al. 2014, McCarthy et al. 2015, Loken et al. unpublished data), particularly in areas of primary forest (e.g. Ross et al. 2010, McCarthy et al. 2015, Hearn, Ross and Macdonald unpublished data). Leopard Cats have also been detected in oil palm plantations (Ross et al. 2010, Rajaratnam et al. 2007, Yue et al. in press), however, fewer individual Leopard Cats were detected, and the detection rate was lower, in a survey of a large oil palm plantation, located at a greater distance from natural or semi-natural vegetation, compared to a smaller plantation, located close to natural vegetation, (Hearn, Ross and Macdonald unpublished data), suggesting that proximity to surrounding forest remains an important factor.

With a wide distribution and tolerance to human modified landscapes the Leopard Cat’s population is abundant. However, it is not invulnerable to habitat loss and degradation and this, coupled with hunting, is likely causing population declines in some regions (e.g. Seto et al. 2012, Wilcox et al. 2014, Coudrat et al. 2014a, Coudrat et al. 2014b). In the late 1980s on average 200,000 Leopard Cat skins were exported from China (Nowell and Jackson 1996), although the actual harvest was likely much higher, possibly up to 400,000 (Yu 2010). Although the Leopard Cat is more tolerant to habitat disturbance than sympatric felids it likely experiences higher mortality rates in these areas (e.g. Rajaratnam 2000). Haines et al. (2004) report survival rates of 92% in a protected area compared with only 53-82% in areas with higher human activity.

Island populations are particularly at risk of extinction, with the Iriomote Cat P.b. iriomotensis listed as Critically Endangered, and the Visayan Leopard Cat P.b. rabori of the Philippine islands of Panay, Negros, Cebu and possibly Masbate listed as Vulnerable. The small population (approximately 100) on Japan's 710 km2 Tsushima Island, considered the same subspecies as that which occurs in northeast mainland Asia, has decreased over the last 30-40 years (Izawa et al. 2007). The population of the Western Ghats, India is geographically isolated due to a climate barrier and should be managed as a discrete conservation unit (Mukherjee et al. 2010).
Current Population Trend: Stable
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Leopard Cats can range up to 3,240 m asl (Ghimirey and Ghimire 2010) and occur in a wide variety of habitats from tropical rainforest to temperate broadleaf and, marginally, coniferous forest, as well as shrub forest and successional grasslands. The northern boundary of its range is limited by snow cover, as the Leopard Cat does not occur in deep snow (but see Kerley and Bosienko 2013). It is not found in the cold steppe grasslands, and generally does not occur in arid, treeless areas (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).

Leopard Cats occur commonly in dense secondary growth, including logged forest (Ross et al. 2010, Mohamed et al. 2013) and have been found in Acacia (Giman et al. 2007), oil palm (Ross et al. 2010, Yue et al. in press, Hearn, Ross and Macdonald unpublished data) and sugarcane (Lorica and Heaney 2013) plantations. A camera trap study in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo found that both number of individuals and overall detections of Leopard Cats were higher in a small oil palm plantation with shorter distances to the nearest forest compared to a large plantation, suggesting that although Leopard Cats do use oil palm areas, forest habitat remains important (Hearn, Ross and Macdonald, unpublished data). It is still unknown how dependent Leopard Cats in oil palm plantations are on surrounding forest, or the maximum distances they will move into plantations, or even if plantations support stable populations. Leopard Cats can also live close to rural settlements. They are excellent swimmers, and have successfully colonized offshore islands throughout their range (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).

From 20 radio-collared Leopard Cats in Phu Khieu Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand, Grassman et al. (2005) report mean home ranges of 12.7 km2, larger than that reported for other radio-collared Leopard Cats in Thailand (4.5 km2; Grassman et al. 2005) or on Borneo (roughly 3.0 km2; Rajaratnam 2007, Hearn and Ross, unpublished data) or Iriomote Island (Schmidt et al. 2003). Grassman et al. (2005) found no significant difference between the range sizes of males and females. They also found that habitat use was in proportion to occurrence. Rajaratnam et al. (2007) report that Leopard Cats used oil palm plantations for hunting but forest fragments were important for resting and breeding. This was also seen in Sumatra, where Leopard Cats have been frequently recorded in remnant forest fragments in and amongst coffee plantations (McCarthy, unpublished data).

Murids have been shown to dominate the diet (Rabinowitz 1990, Grassman et al. 2005, Rajaratnam et al. 2007, Shehzad et al. 2012). Other small mammals, eels and fish have also been reported, as well as occasional scavenging of carrion (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

The Leopard Cat is predominantly nocturnal (Grassman et al. 2005, Cheyne and Macdonald 2011, Lynam et al. 2013, McCarthy et al. 2015, Hearn, Ross and Macdonald, unpublished data), with crepuscular peaks in some areas (Grassman et al. 2005) but some diurnal activity has been recorded (e.g. Saxena and Rajanshi 2014, Hearn, Ross and Macdonald unpublished data).
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Leopard Cat skins are commercially traded internationally for the fur trade, primarily coats. Skins are also used as decorations in some parts of its range. Leopard Cats are occasionally kept as pets, sometimes taken from the wild and sometimes from captive breeding and they have been interbred with domestic cats, particularly in the West, to make the popular Bengal breed. Their bones are used in some traditional Asian medicines (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Leopard Cat populations in Bangladesh, India and Thailand are listed on CITES Appendix I, and all other populations are listed on Appendix II.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): In China, commercial exploitation has been heavy: hundreds of thousands of Leopard Cat skins per year were exported in the 1980s. Although commercial trade is now much reduced (Yu 2010) this species continues to be hunted throughout most of its range for fur, for food and as pets. They are also widely viewed as poultry pests and killed in retribution. In villages around Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on Sumatra, chicken depredation was frequently attributed to Leopard Cats, and commonly resulted in retribution killing of the species (McCarthy 2013). Island populations are small and seriously threatened in the Philippines and Japan. Leopard Cats can hybridize with domestic cats, as is shown by the popular domestic breed, the Bengal Cat although most of these exotic cats are now bred from Bengal Cat stock rather than wild crosses (TICA, The International Cat Association 2012). Hybridization in the wild has been reported, but is not considered a significant threat. Although this species is less dependent on forest cover than others, habitat loss and fragmentation is still a threat across most of its range (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The Leopard Cat is listed on CITES Appendix II, and populations in Bangladesh, India and Thailand are included on Appendix I (as Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis). This species is protected at the national level over part of its range, with hunting prohibited in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Thailand and Taiwan, and hunting and trade regulations in place in South Korea, Lao PDR and Singapore (Nowell and Jackson 1996). This species is on Afghanistan’s 2009 Protected Species List, banning all hunting and trading of this species within the country. It is found in numerous protected areas. A clearer understanding of the Leopard Cat’s use of agricultural plantations and the effect of habitat disturbance is needed to better plan for its conservation.

Citation: Ross, J., Brodie, J., Cheyne, S., Hearn, A., Izawa, M., Loken, B., Lynam, A., McCarthy, J., Mukherjee, S., Phan, C., Rasphone, A. & Wilting, A. 2015. Prionailurus bengalensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T18146A50661611. . Downloaded on 29 November 2015.
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