Leopard Cat

Prionailurus bengalensis

Quick Bio for Leopard Cats:

Status: Least Concern
have from 1-4 kittens, usually 2
Weight: 3-7 kg
Diet: Carnivore, Piscivore, Insectivore

Physical description of Leopard Cats

Leopard cats are a mid-size cat. Weighing about 5 kg, they can be up to a meter in length but are generally about 75 cm. The tail adds about half the body length again.

There are many subspecies of the leopard cat, as can be expected from such an extensive geographic range with many different habitats. The fur and markings depend on the subspecies. Further north and at higher altitudes where snow falls, the leopard cat has a paler and much fuller fur, whereas, in jungles, they are quite a bit darker. These are natural adaptations to meet the need for camouflage.

Leopard bengal cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)  live in the tropical rain forest of South East Asia. This kitten is sitting on the sand and licking his paw in the process of cleaning himself.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Leopard bengal cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) live in the tropical rain forest of South East Asia. This kitten is sitting on the sand and licking his paw in the process of cleaning himself.

Distribution and habitat of Leopard Cats

The Leopard Cat occupies territory from the jungles of the Philippines to the mountains of Afghanistan. Despite its massive range, the cat isn’t found everywhere in this large region.

The leopard cat likes woodland. Tropical forests in the south, and temperate forests in the northern part of its range. While it does live in grassland areas, it doesn’t inhabit the steppe of central Asia. It also avoids arid climates and areas of desert.

The leopard cat does best in forest, but it also is abundant in areas of high agriculture and higher human population densities.

A leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) on the search for the next meal.
Licensed from Shutterstock
A leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) on the search for the next meal.

Leopard Cat behaviour

As stated, leopard cats like forests. Their standard hunting practice is most straightforward when they have cover. They are ambush predators of small prey.

Being small and unobtrusive, these cats are tough to spot, and despite being seen on occasion during the day, they are primarily nocturnal.

Urine and scat are used to mark territories.

This attentive Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) perching on a branch,  ready to dart away at any given moment.
Licensed from Shutterstock
This attentive Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) perching on a branch, ready to dart away at any given moment.

What do Leopard Cats eat?

Mice, rats, and other rodents are standard food. Sometimes, the leopard cat will also prey on small or young ungulates. The diet depends on what is available, and this adaptability is what allows the leopard cat to live in such a large range of habitats. Birds and fish are potential prey as well, though small rodents are preferred.

Mating and Parental care of Leopard Cats

It would be nice to fill this section with significant information for more than just a couple of cats. However, most cats are very secretive, and the leopard cat is no exception. Despite the large range of habitats, the cats themselves are not very abundant.

Cats breed all year round in the tropics, though in the north it is no surprise that it prefers the summer months for rearing kittens. In the north, the mating season is in the spring, and kittens are born around May after two months of pregnancy. Generally, a couple of kittens are born.

They are looked after by their mother exclusively. However, for how long is difficult to say. Kittens probably spend most of the first year with their mother learning to hunt. By the age of 18 months they will have established their own territory and be sexually mature.

Female territories are exclusive, but male territories are likely to overlap with females in nearby areas. This is common for cats. As with other cats, dominant males will mate with multiple females and so maintain a territory that lets them stay in contact, at least olfactorily, so they know when a female is in oestrus.

The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) boasts a vast range spanning South and Southeast Asia. This particular individual was photographed in Northern Thailand.
Licensed from Shutterstock
The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) boasts a vast range spanning South and Southeast Asia. This particular individual was photographed in Northern Thailand.

Who preys on Leopard Cats?

The leopard cat is nocturnal, so they aren’t seen very often. The coloring is good camouflage, and it helps the cat to avoid predators. It also helps that they prefer, like a lot of cats, to ambush their prey and even spend part of their time in the cover of trees. All of this helps stay hidden and avoid most predators. However, Some larger cats and bigger birds of prey do attack the leopard cat. Humans are, of course, a significant danger as well.

How long do Leopard Cats live?

The leopard cat lives to an average age of about 4 in the wild, though a lot more in captivity.

Leopard Cat (Prionailurus Bengalensis) sitting in the shelter of a building. This one is probably habituated to humans.
CC License, image by Bernard DuPont
Leopard Cat (Prionailurus Bengalensis) sitting in the shelter of a building. This one is probably habituated to humans.

Leopard Cats and their ecosystem

Above them in the food chain, there isn’t much, but there is a lot below the leopard cat. Small mammals are a favorite, and the cat often acts as pest control, especially on the smaller islands that it inhabits.

Impact of Leopard Cats on the human economy

On small islands, the leopard cat has an influence over the number of smaller rodents and pests. They also help with pest control in rural areas throughout their range.

They are, however, hunted and trapped for both their fur and as exotic pets. In some parts of Asia, they are even hunted for their meat. As of now, the trade in leopard cats is not as regulated as other exotic species.

Leopard cats can interbreed with domestic cats, and being so close genetically means that they are a dangerous carrier of FIV disease – basically cat HIV. This passes between leopard cats and domestic cats relatively easily.

The Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), though widely distributed across Asia, remains a mysterious figure due to its nocturnal habits. This stealthy feline thrives under the cover of darkness, which makes sightings a rare and special occurrence.
CC License, image by Mike Price
The Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), though widely distributed across Asia, remains a mysterious figure due to its nocturnal habits. This stealthy feline thrives under the cover of darkness, which makes sightings a rare and special occurrence.

Conservation status and human impact on Leopard Cats

The leopard cat is like others threatened by humans but is generally not in danger. The IUCN list, which isn’t great for widespread species, lists them as non-threatened as, over their whole geographic range, they are not at risk. However, a lot of smaller and isolated populations are at risk within their own areas due to commercial trade.

Leopard Cats (Prionailurus bengalensis) are primarily active at night, presenting challenges for photography. However, they are often content to sit in the spotlight, making them easier to capture on camera despite the low light conditions.
CC License, image by Mike Price
Leopard Cats (Prionailurus bengalensis) are primarily active at night, presenting challenges for photography. However, they are often content to sit in the spotlight, making them easier to capture on camera despite the low light conditions.

Leopard Cat in French, German, Spanish ...

Latin Name
Prionailurus bengalensis
French Names
Chat de Chine, Chat Léopard du Bengale
German Names
Leopardkatze
Spanish Names
Gato Bengalí, Gato de Bengala
Swahili Names
Paka-chui

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