The Leopard Cats
The family of Leopard Cats is made up of between nine and twelve subspecies. (and it is not likely that researchers will come to a consensus on the varieties anytime soon) It is not uncommon to see the term “Asian Leopard Cat” used even though an Asian Leopard cat is one of the subspecies of this family of cats.
They are all small, shy, non aggressive forest dwelling wild cats. They are the most populous of the wild cats found over a huge range from Russia to China and all though the greater Asian territories. They are found from sea level up to several 1000 meters above sea level. All they require to adapt is that there are trees and that the snow remains below ~7 -10 cm.
They have a long history with humans and there have been many reported instances of natural hybridization. Some indigenous populations have a history of encouraging Leopard cats as a means of vermin control but others hunted the cats as food or for the fur.
We live next to Canadian Forces Airforce base Trenton and I’ve met many military people that have seen Leopard cats in the wild. They adapt relatively well to human encroachment and quickly learn to hunt the vermin that are attracted by human activities as well as scavenge the garbage. They are apparently a common sight around some of the military bases and I have have heard them described as swarming the dumpsters after meal time.
The Asian Leopard Cat
The Asian Leopard Cat (ALC), b. bengalensis, is one of the subspecies of the Leopard Cat. It is the species that the was utilized to produce the Bengal. It is limited to India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, to Indochina and Yunnan in China. They have mildly webbed toes and although not common, they can swim very well and have colonized most of the closer offshore islands.
It is claimed that it was given its species’ Latin name of Bengalensis because the first European to spot a wild ALC saw it swimming along the edges of the Bay of Bengal. Other accounts simply say it was first found around the Bay of Bengal.
I’ve read on numerous breeders website that ALC’s mate for life but I can find no scientific support for that. Wild populations of ALC’s have been collared and tracked allowing the researchers to study and map the territories and habits of both sexes for an extended period. Asian Leopard Cats are solitary except during breeding season. There is some reports of some males sometimes helping raise the kits.
Habitat and behavior
They are considered to be an arboreal species although they are just as comfortable hunting on the ground. Like many forest predators they are predominantly nocturnal but are often out at dawn and dusk as well. They usually spend the brightest parts of the day resting. The regional peoples tell stories of the ALC dropping out of the tree canopy onto prey. Being opportunistic predators, Their diet is quite varied depending on the habitat they find themselves in.
The ALC diet is known to consist of birds, murids, insects, rodents of all types, hares, various amphibians and there are even stories of larger ALC’s taking down the regions dwarf deer. They are one of the alpha predators in their territories but they are hunted by the areas wild dogs, larger cats and some of the regions snakes.
Males have larger territories than females usually averaging +/- 3 km2 compared to +/- 2 km2 for the female. A male’s range will typically overlap several of the female territories. The borders of their range is scent marked by spraying, leaving feces and head rubbing.
Reproduction and development
In the Northern part of their range estrus is seasonally triggered and generally occurs is late March to early April lasting for 5-9 days. The gestation period is 60-70 days and usually results in two to four kittens. In the southern portion of their range estrus may occur any any time of year.
They nest in dens found in hollow trees or root caves. Even ALC’s that have adapted to a life of eating rats in the plantations usually return to the forest to sleep and always do so to breed and raise their young. The kittens stay inside until they are a month old.
Normal birth weights are 75 to 130 g at birth and they will double their weight every two week for the first couple of months. Around the ten day mark the kits open their eyes and two weeks later their canines emerge. A few days later they taste their first solid food.