Asiatic wildcat

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Asiatic wildcat
Felis silvestris ornata.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Felis
F. l. ornata
Trinomial name
Felis lybica ornata
Gray, 1830–1832

The Asiatic wildcat (Felis lybica ornata) is an African wildcat subspecies that occurs from the eastern Caspian Sea north to Kazakhstan, into western India, western China and southern Mongolia.[1] It is also known as the Asian steppe wildcat and Indian desert cat.[2] The status Least Concern in the IUCN Red List is attributed to the wildcat species complex.[3] There is no information on current status or population numbers for the Asiatic wildcat's entire range, but populations are thought to be declining.[4]


Asiatic wildcat skin

The Asiatic wildcat's fur is light sandy, and small rounded spots cover its upper body. Its tail appears much thinner, as the hairs there are shorter, and more close-fitting. Its colours and, though the general background colour of the skin on the body's upper surface is very lightly coloured. The hairs along the spine are usually darker, forming a dark gray, brownish, or ochreous band. These spots are solid and sharply defined, and do not occur in clusters or appear in rosette patterns. They usually do not form transverse rows or transverse stripes on the trunk. The thighs are distinctly striped. The underside is whitish, with a light gray, creamy or pale yellow tinge. The spots on the chest and abdomen are much larger and more blurred than on the back. The lower neck, throat, neck, and the region between the forelegs are devoid of spots, or have bear them only distinctly. The tail is mostly the same colour as the back, with the addition of a dark and narrow stripe along the upper two-thirds of the tail. The tip of the tail is black, with two to five black transverse rings above it. The upper lips and eyelids are light, pale yellow-white. The facial region is of an intense gray colour, while the top of the head is covered with a dark gray coat. In some specimens, the forehead is covered in dense clusters of brown spots. A narrow, dark brown stripe extends from the corner of the eye to the base of the ear.[5]

The Asian wildcat has a long, tapering tail, always with a short black tip, and with spots at the base. The forehead has a pattern of four well-developed black bands. A small but pronounced tuft of hair up to one cm long grows from the tip of each ear. Paler forms of Asian wildcat live in drier areas and the darker, more heavily spotted and striped forms occur in more humid and wooded areas. The throat and ventral surfaces are whitish to light grey to cream, often with distinct white patches on the throat, chest and belly. Throughout its range the Asian wildcat's coat is usually short, but the length of the fur can vary depending on the age of the animal and the season of the year. Compared to the domestic cat, Asian wildcats have relatively longer legs. Males are generally heavier than females.[2]

In Pakistan and India, wildcats have pale sandy yellow coats, marked with small spots that tend to lie in vertical lines down the trunk and flanks.[6][7] The wildcats of Central Asia have a more greyish-yellow or reddish background color, marked distinctly with small black or red-brown spots. The spots are sometimes fused into stripes, especially in the Central Asian regions east of the Tian Shan Mountains.[8]

The Asiatic wildcat weighs about 3–4 kg (6.6–8.8 lb).[6][7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Caucasus is the transitional zone between the European wildcat to the north and west, and the Asiatic wildcat to the south and east. In this region, the European wildcat is present in montane forest, and the Asiatic wildcat is present in the low-lying desert and semi-desert areas adjoining the Caspian sea. It usually occurs in close proximity to water sources, but is also able to live year-round in waterless desert. It ranges up to 2,000 to 3,000 m (6,600 to 9,800 ft) in mountain areas with sufficient dense vegetation. Snow depth limits the northern boundaries of its range in winter.[5]

In Iran, the Asiatic wildcat has been recorded in arid plains, lush forests, coastal areas and mountains, but not in extremely high altitudes and deserts.[9]

In Afghanistan, the Asiatic wildcat has been recorded prior to 1973 in the central Hazarajat mountains and the steppe region, near Shibar Pass and Herat, and in Bamyan Province.[10]

In India, the Asiatic wildcat inhabits the Thar Desert and is associated with scrub desert.[11] In 1999, it was still reported as common in the Rajasthani districts of Bikaner, Barmer, Jaisalmer, Pali and Nagaur.[12] Only four sightings were reported from the Thar Desert between 1999 and 2006.[13] It has been recorded in Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary,[14] in Madhya Pradesh and Mirzapur forests.[15][16]

In Pakistan, it was known from arid regions in the Sindh Province.[6]

In the 1990s, wildcats were reported common and populations stable in the lowlands of Kazakhstan. A pronounced loss of range has been documented in Azerbaijan.[17]

Within China, the Asian wildcat is distributed in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia. Records from northern Tibet as well as Sichuan are questionable.[18] Prior to 1950, it was the most abundant cat in Xingjian dwelling along all major river basin systems and Taklimakan desert but later it got confined to three regions of southern Xinjiang only viz., Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Oblast, Aksu and Hotan. It is declining rapidly in its natural habitat in the Xinjiang desert region of China mainly because of excessive hunting for pelt trade followed by shrinkage of its habitat due to cultivation, oil and gas exploration and excessive use of pesticides.[19]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

Asiatic wildcats are frequently observed in the daytime. They frequently use rock crevices or burrows dug by other animals.[5]

Hunting and diet[edit]

In Turkmenistan, the Asiatic wildcat feed on great and red-tailed gerbils, Afghan voles, thin-toed ground squirrels, tolai hares, small birds (particularly larks), lizards, beetles, and grasshoppers. Near Repetek, the wildcat is responsible for destroying over 50% of nests made by desert finches, streaked scrub warblers, red-tailed warblers, and turtledoves. In the Qarshi steppes of Uzbekistan, the wildcat's prey, in descending order of preference, includes great and red-tailed gerbils, jerboas, other rodents and passerine birds, reptiles, and insects. Wildcats in eastern Kyzyl Kum have similar prey preferences, with the addition of tolai hares, midday gerbils, five-toed jerboas, and steppe agamas. In Kyrgyzstan, the wildcat's primary prey varies from tolai hares near Issyk Kul, pheasants in the Chu and Talas River valleys, and mouse-like rodents and gray partridges in the foothills. In Kazakhstan's lower Ili River, the wildcat mainly targets rodents, muskrats, and Tamarisk jird. Occasionally, remains of young roe deer and wild boar are present in its faeces. After rodents, birds follow in importance, along with reptiles, fish, insects, eggs, grass stalks and nuts (which probably enter the cat's stomach through pheasant crops).[5]

In the scrub habitat of western Rajasthan, they live largely on desert gerbils, but also hunt hares, rats, doves, gray partridges, sandgrouses, peafowl, bulbuls, sparrows and eat eggs of ground birds. They have also been observed killing cobras, saw-scale vipers, sand boas, geckos, scorpions and beetles.[11]

Results of a feed item analysis of Asiatic wildcats in the Tarim Basin revealed that their primary prey was the Tarim hare followed by gerbil, jerboa, poultry and small birds, fish, Cardiocranius spp., Agamid lizards and sand lizard.[19]

Parasites and infestations[edit]

The wildcat is highly parasitised by helminths. Some wildcats in Georgia may carry five helminth species: Hydatigera taeniaeformis, Diphyllobothrium mansoni, Toxocara mystax, Capillaria feliscati and Ancylostoma caninum. Wildcats in Azerbaijan carry Hydatigera krepkogorski and T. mystax. In Transcaucasia, the majority of wildcats are infested by the tick Ixodes ricinus. In some summers, wildcats are infested with fleas of the genus Ceratophyllus, which they likely contract from brown rats.[5]


Female Asiatic wildcats mate quite often with domestic males, and hybrid offspring are frequently found near villages where wild females live.[5] They have been hunted at large in Afghanistan; in 1977 over 1200 pelts manufactured into different articles were on display in Kabul bazaars.[10]


Felis silvestris is included on CITES Appendix II. In Afghanistan the species is legally protected, has been placed on the country's first Protected Species List in 2009, banning all hunting and trading within the country, and is proposed as a priority species for future study.[3]


Illlustration of an Indian wildcat by Thomas Hardwicke, 1829

Felis ornata was the scientific name used by John Edward Gray in the early 1830s as caption to an illustration of an Indian wildcat drawn by Thomas Hardwicke.[20] In subsequent years, several naturalists described spotted wildcat zoological specimens from Asian range countries and proposed names, including:

In the 1940s, Reginald Innes Pocock reviewed the collection of wildcat skins and skulls in the Natural History Museum, London and subordinated all the spotted wildcat specimens to Felis lybica, arguing that size of skulls and teeth do not differ from those from African range countries.[27]


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  2. ^ a b Nowell, K.; Jackson, P. (1996). "Asiatic Wildcat Felis silvestris, ornata group (Gray 1830)". Wild Cats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. pp. 99−101.
  3. ^ a b Yamaguchi, N.; Kitchener, A.; Driscoll, C. & Nussberger, B. (2015). "Felis silvestris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2015: e.T60354712A50652361. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T60354712A50652361.en. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  4. ^ Jutzeler, E.; Xie, Y.; Vogt, K. (2010). "Cats in China: Asian wildcat" (PDF). Cat News (Special Issue 5): 42–43.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Heptner, V. G.; Sludskii, A. A. (1992) [1972]. "Asiatic Wildcat". Mlekopitaiuščie Sovetskogo Soiuza. Moskva: Vysšaia Škola [Mammals of the Soviet Union. Volume II, Part 2: Carnivora (Hyaenas and Cats)]. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation. pp. 398–497.
  6. ^ a b c Roberts, T. J. (1977). "Felis lybica". The Mammals of Pakistan. London: Ernest Benn. p. 138−140. ISBN 9780510399009.
  7. ^ a b Sunquist, M.; Sunquist, F. (2002). "African-Asian wildcat Felis silvestris lybica and Felis silvestris ornata". Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 92–98. ISBN 978-0-226-77999-7.
  8. ^ Groves, C. P. (1980). "The Chinese mountain cat (Felis bieti)". Carnivore. 3 (3): 35–41.
  9. ^ Ghoddousi, A.; Hamidi, A. Kh.; Ghadirian, T.; Bani’Assadi, S. (2016). "The status of Wildcat in Iran - a crossroad of subspecies?". Cat News (Special Issue 10): 60–63.
  10. ^ a b Habibi, K. (2003). "Asiatic Wildcat Felis lybica ornata". Mammals of Afghanistan. Coimbatore, India: Zoo Outreach Organisation. ISBN 9788188722068.
  11. ^ a b Sharma, I. K. (1979). "Habits, feeding, breeding and reaction to man of the desert cat Felis libyca (Gray) in the Indian Desert". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 76 (3): 498–499.
  12. ^ Sharma, S.; Sharma, S. K.; Sharma, S. (2003). "Notes on mammalian fauna in Rajasthan". Zoos' Print Journal. 18 (4): 1085–1088. doi:10.11609/jott.zpj.18.4.1085-8.
  13. ^ Dookia, S. (2007). "Sighting of Asiatic Wildcat in Gogelao Enclosure, Nagaur in Thar Desert of Rajasthan". Cat News (46): 17–18.
  14. ^ Pande, A.; Vasava, A.; Solanki, R.; Bipin, C. M.; Jhala, Y. V. (2013). "Photographic records of the Asiatic Wildcat from two states of India". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 5 (17): 5283–5287. doi:10.11609/JoTT.o3351.5283-7.
  15. ^ Sinha, D.; Chaudhary, R. (2019). Wildlife Inventory and Proposal for Sloth Bear Conservation Reserve in Marihan-Sukrit-Chunar Landscape of Mirzapur Forest Division, Uttar Pradesh. Mirzapur: Vindhyan Ecology and Natural History Foundation. p. 39. ISBN 978-93-5279-561-1. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Sloth bear surprise for experts in Mirzapur forests | Lucknow News - Times of India". The Times of India (Lucknow). The Times of India. 2019. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  17. ^ Belousova, A.V. (1993). "Small Felidae of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Far East: survey of the state of populations". Lutreola. 2: 16–21.
  18. ^ Wozencraft, W. C. (2008). "Felinae". In Smith, A. T.; Xie, Y. (eds.). A guide to the Mammals of China. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 390−398. ISBN 978-0691099842.
  19. ^ a b Abdukadir, A.; Khan, B.; Masuda, R.; Ohdachi, S. (2010). "Asiatic wild cat (Felis silvestris ornata) is no more a 'Least Concern' species in Xinjiang, China" (PDF). Pakistan Journal of Wildlife. 1 (2): 57–63.
  20. ^ Gray, J. E. (1830–1832). "Felis ornata Gray. Beautiful cat". Illustrations of Indian Zoology; Chiefly Selected from the Collection of Major-General Hardwicke, F.R.S. Volume 1. London: Treuttel, Würtz, Treuttel, Jun. and Richter. p. Plate 2.
  21. ^ Gray, J. E. (1874). "On the Steppe-Cat of Bokhara (Chaus caudatus)". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London: Plate VI−VII, 31−33.
  22. ^ Blanford, W. T. (1876). "Description of Felis Shawiana, a new Lyncine cat from Eastern Turkestan". The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 45 (2): 49−51.
  23. ^ Satunin, K. (1904). "Neue Katzenarten aus Central-Asien" [New cat species from Central Asia]. Annuaire du Musée Zoologique de l'Académie des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg. 9: 524−537.
  24. ^ Zukowsky, L. (1914). "Drei neue Kleinkatzenrassen aus Westasien" [Three new races of small cats from West Asia]. Archiv für Naturgeschichte. Abteilung A. 80 (10): 124−146.
  25. ^ Birulya, A. (1916). "De Felibus asiaticis duabus novis" [About two new Asiatic cats]. Annuaire du Musée Zoologique de l'Académie des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg. 21 (Supplement): I−II.
  26. ^ Ogneff, S. I. (1930). "Übersicht der russischen Kleinkatzen" (PDF). Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde. 5 (2): 48−85.
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