Prionailurus bengalensis


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

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

Although one mainland Asian subspecies is generally recognized, the nominate P. b. bengalensis (Kerr, 1792) (Groves 1997), a number of mainland Asian subspecies have been classically described, including the Amur Leopard Cat P. b. euptilurus of the Korean Peninsula, Russian Far East and northeastern China. It was earlier proposed as a distinct species based on morphological differences from southeast Asian specimens, but Chinese specimens were shown to be similar and this 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 considered a subspecies of Leopard Cat (Masuda and Yoshida 1995, Johnson et al. 1999, Eizirik et al. submitted).

Patterns of genetic variation in the Leopard Cat is currently under study (Shu-Jin Luo pers. comm. 2008), and should improve understanding of subspeciation in this widespread species which occurs on more islands than any other felid.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Sanderson, J., Sunarto, S., Wilting, A., Driscoll, C., Lorica, R., Ross, J., Hearn, A., Mujkherjee, S., Khan, J.A., Habib, B. & Grassman, L.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
The Leopard Cat is a widespread and relatively common species (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), although some island subspecies are included in the Red List. Although there is a declining population trend in parts of its range due to habitat loss and hunting, the species is stable in many areas, even thriving in some altered habitats including oil palm and sugar cane plantations (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007).
2002 Least Concern

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The leopard cat is a widespread species in Asia. It is found throughout most of India west into Pakistan and Afghanistan (Habibi 2004), through the Himalayan foothills, across most of China, and north to the Korean peninsula and into the Russian Far East (Nowell and Jackson 1996). It is found throughout Southeast Asia, and on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Taiwan. It is found on numerous small offshore islands of mainland Asia (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). The leopard cat is the only wild felid found in the Japan, where it occurs on the small islands Tsushima and Iriomote, and the Philippines, where it occurs on the islands of Palawan, Panay, Negros and Cebu. In the Philippines, there are recent (2007) unconfirmed reports from the island of Masbate. It should be present in Guimaras due to proximity to Negros and Panay, but no presence was reported, and is therefore presumed to be extinct (R. Lorica and W. Oliver, unpub.).
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
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The leopard cat is the most frequently recorded small cat across most of its wide range, in comparison with sympatric species (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Duckworth et al. 1999, Holden 2001, Duckworth et al. 2005, Lynam et al. 2006, Yasuda et al. 2007), and with its broad distribution has an abundant population. However, it is probably declining due to habitat loss and hunting. Large numbers of leopard cat furs were exported from China (averaging 200,000 skins per year in the late 1980s) (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Higher survival rates (92%) were recorded in a protected area with little human influence, compared with lower rates in areas with greater human activity (53-82%) (Haines et al. 2004). While the leopard cat is more tolerant of disturbed areas than other small Asian felids, it likely undergoes higher mortality in such areas.

Island populations are most 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 a Vulnerable. The small population (approximately 100) on Japan's 710 km² Tsushima Island, considered the same subspecies as occurs in northeastern mainland Asia, has decreased over the last 30-40 years (Izawa et al. 2007).
Population Trend: Stable

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The species can range up to 3,000 m in parts of its range, which extends into the Himalayas along river valleys. It occurs in a broad spectrum of habitats, from tropical rainforest to temperate broadleaf and, marginally, coniferous forest, as well as shrub forest and successional grasslands. The northern boundaries of its range are limited by snow cover; the leopard cat avoids areas where snow is more than 10 cm deep. It is not found in the cold steppe grasslands, and generally does not occur in arid zones, although there are a few records from relatively dry and treeless areas in Pakistan. Leopard cats occur commonly in dense secondary growth, including logged areas, and have been found in agricultural and forest (rubber tree, oil palm, sugarcane) plantations. The species can live close to rural settlements. Leopard cats are excellent swimmers, and have successfully colonized offshore islands throughout their range (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).

In the most comprehensive study, based on a large sample size of 20 radio-collared cats in Thailand's Phu Khieu Wildlife Sanctuary, mean home range size (95% MCP) was 12.7 km², larger than in other areas of Thailand (4.5 km²) (Grassman et al. 2005), on Borneo (3.5 km²: Rajaratnam 2000), or on Japan's Iriomote island (Schmidt et al. 2003). There was no significant difference between male and female home range size. Open and closed forest habitats were used in proportion to their occurrence, and activity patterns showed crepuscular and nocturnal peaks. On Borneo, Rajaratnam et al. (2007) found that leopard cats hunted rodents in oil palm plantations, and used forest fragments for resting and breeding. Murids dominate the diet (85-90%: Grassman et al. 2005b, Rajaratnam et al. 2007). Other small mamals, eels and fish have also been reported, as well as occasional scavenging of carrion (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
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. Leopard Cats are occasionally kept as pets, 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 Cats are bred in captivity for the pet trade.

Populations of Bangladesh, India and Thailand are listed on CITES Appendix I.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): In China, the centre of its range, commercial exploitation has been heavy: hundreds of thousands of Leopard Cat skins per year were exported in the 1980s. Although commercial trade is much reduced, the 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. 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 the species is less dependent on forest cover than others, habitat loss and fragmentation is still a major threat across most of its Asian range (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix II; populations in Bangladesh, India and Thailand are included on Appendix I (as Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis). The 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, A. Wilting pers. comm. 2008). The 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.

Bibliography [top]

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.

Duckworth, J.W., Salter, R.E. and Khounbline, K. 1999. Wildlife in Lao PDR: 1999 Status Report. IUCN, Vientiane, Laos.

Eizirik, E., Johnson, W.E. and O'Brien, S.J. Submitted. Molecular systematics and revised classification of the family Felidae (Mammalia, Carnivora). Journal of Mammalogy. [see]

Grassman Jr, L. I., Tewes, M. E., Silvy, N. J. and Kreetiyutanont, K. 2005. Spatial organization and diet of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in north-central Thailand. Journal of Zoology (London) 266: 45-54.

Groves, C. P. 1997. Leopard-cats, Prionailurus bengalensis (Carnivora: Felidae) from Indonesia and the Philippines, with the description of two new species. Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 62: 330 pp.

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

Haines, A. M., Grassman Jr., L. I. and Tewes, M. E. 2004. Survival of radiocollared adult leopard cats Prionailurus bengalensis in Thailand. Acta Theriologica 49: 349-356.

Holden, J. 2001. Small cats in Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia. Cat News 35: 11-14.

Imaizumi, Y. 1967. A new genus and species of cat from Iriomote, Ryukyu Islands. 3(4): 74.

IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

Izawa, M., Doi, T., Okamura, M., Nakanishi, N., Murayama, A., Hiyama, T., Oh, D., Teranishi, A. and Suzuki, A. 2007. Toward the survival of two endangered felid species of Japan. In: J. Hughes and R. Mercer (eds), Felid biology and conservation conference 17-20 September: Abstracts, pp. 120-121. WildCRU, Oxford, UK.

Johnson, W.E., Ashiki, F.S., Menotti R.M., Driscoll, C., Leh, C., Sunquist, M., Johnston, L., Bush, M., Wildt, D., Yuhki, N., O'Brien, S.J. and Wasse, S.P. 1999. Molecular genetic characterization of two insular Asian cat species, Bornean Bay cat and Iriomote cat. Evolutionary Theory and Process: Modern perspectives, Papers in Honour of Evivatar Nevo, pp. 223. Kulwer Academic Publisher.

Lynam, A. J., Round, P. D. and Brockelman, W. Y. 2006. Status of birds and large mammals in Thailand's Dong Phayayen - Khao Yai Forest Complex. Biodiversity Research and Training, Bangkok, Thailand.

Masuda, R. and Yoshida, M. C. 1995. Two Japanese wildcats, the Tsushima cat and the Iriomote cat, show the same mitochondrial DNA lineage as the leopard cat Felis bengalensis. Zoological Science 12: 655-659.

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

Rajaratnam, R. 2000. Ecology of the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia. PhD Thesis, Universiti Kabangsaan Malaysia.

Rajaratnam, R., Sunquist, M., Rajaratnam, L. and Ambu, L. 2007. Diet and habitat selection of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis borneoensis) in an agricultural landscape in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Journal of Tropical Ecology 23: 209-217.

Schmidt, K., Nakanishi, N., Okamura, M., Doi, T. and Izawa, M. 2003. Movements and use of home range in the Iriomote cat (Prionailurus bengalensis irimotensis). 261: 273.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press.

The International Cat Association. Bengal. Available at: (Accessed: 17th September 2012).

Wozencraft, W.C. 2005. Order Carnivora. In: D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder (eds), Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Third Edition, pp. 532-628. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Yasuda, M., Matsubayashi, H., Rustam, Numata, S., Sukor, J. R. A. and Abu Bakar, S. 2007. Recent records by camera traps in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo. Cat News 47: 14-16.

Citation: Sanderson, J., Sunarto, S., Wilting, A., Driscoll, C., Lorica, R., Ross, J., Hearn, A., Mujkherjee, S., Khan, J.A., Habib, B. & Grassman, L. 2008. Prionailurus bengalensis. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 30 August 2015.
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