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cats and bengals > small cat species > Andean
Mountain cat > wild cat sites
Many of you know that I am a cat admirer. My love
of the feline mobsters goes back to childhood when our family moved to
Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, from the Fifeshire town of Dunfermline
where I was born.
We inherited a rather undesirable grey, moth-eaten
old tomcat with an ear missing. We named him Smudge. This unattractive
but still noble creature used us a feeding stop and occasional shelter
while about his dubious business. He did not once bring home a lady friend,
let alone the product of his ungirded, unguarded even, loins.
I remember, as a five or six year old, throwing the protesting
animal on to an (unlit) fire which scared the proverbial out of
him and attaching a rubber ball with a length of
elastic to his poor tail which caused much hilarity in me, but
not in the strangely trusting old Smudge. The awful guilt and sadness
to follow meant that these dreadfulnesses of brat-child excess
were never to repeat in my subsequent relationships with that most
independent but people- loving companion, Felis felis, Felis domesticus,
Felis vulgaris, or Felis pussycatimus, depending on your level
of schoolboy Latin and taxonomic species recognition.
My wife Shona had, when we first met, a black and rather disapproving
flat mate called Fur. He was to become a rather reluctant but pragmatic
and permanent house guest in due course when we married and enjoyed
his final years in the seclusion of the English countryside, far
from his perch above the Diwan-I-Am Indian restaurant in George
Street, London. His second floor apartment (which he had shared
with the pre-marital Shona) offered the opportunity to test Newtonian
Gravitational Theory when he plummeted to a spell of mild concussion
from a slippery window sill.
A series of country cats was to follow through the seventies,
eighties and nineties: a Burmese called Cuillin (bossy, bad tempered
and utterly selfish), and a series of mostly black feral farm cats
beginning with Kirin and ending with Squeek - two of the most noble
of some twenty-something little guys rescued from the grain store
and carefully nurtured through post-suckling, human-bonding weeks
before finding homes amongst the local community and friends. Mum
was eventually trapped successfully and spayed but was absolutely
untameable, being multi-generational feral and hateful of humankind.
Indeed, the trauma of capture and spaying caused her (we guess)
to leave the farm buildings and she was not seen again.
In the nineties, we moved home and purchased our first Bengal
cat. The Bengal is an attractively spotted domestic breed which
began in the seventies as a hybrid of the wild
Asian Leopard Cat (Felis bengalensis) and the domestic cat as an
experiment into resistance to Feline Leukaemia. The Bengal, with
its varying, but usually tiny degree of wild genetic input is still
somewhat controversial amongst the zoo and feline conservation
Currently, the breed is sold by reputable breeders as an animal
four or more generations removed from the original hybrid (which
is known as a F1). The F4 cross (or more likely, an F8 or greater)
will prove to be a fine pet and companion, with only positive traits
left from the wild origins. The Bengal is playful, loves water,
delights in walks with its human guardians and, while displaying
some special loyalty to an individual with whom it bonds, will
still happily relate to all the family including dogs and other
But to the purists, this "fooling around with nature" is
undesirable and potentially weakens the discrete gene pool of Felis
bengalensis, the wild Asian Leopard Cat. Well, that might be the
case but for two realities: there are no non-captive ALC's in California
or the home counties of England for the potential dilution of the
species. And on the human-settled fringes of the native habitat
of many of the small wild cats of the world, there have been, most
believe, opportunistic matings between species of wild cat and
domestic cats for probably several thousand years.
Although the males from such hybridisation are typically sterile
for the first three, or so, generations, the female off-spring
can reproduce as mates of domestic and wild males alike.
The ancestor of the modern domestic cat is probably Felis lybicus,
the African Wild Cat and his northern companion Felis sylvestris,
the European Wild Cat, may also be to blame for the subsequent
creation of one of those two friendly animal species who have favoured
us humans with their loving presence as working companions around
and in the home. O.K: I know some of you prefer the dopey old dog.
Each to his own. Even I have two Belgian Shepherd working guard
dogs. (They are termed guard dogs because I have to guard them
from the cats.)
Some work has been done by adventurous private breeders with the
hybridisation of the American Bob-cat (Felis lynx), the Asian Jungle
Cat (Felis chaus) and the African Serval (Felis serval), but these
attempts to produce exotic pets may go a step too far for most
of us. The validation of the establishment of the Bengal breed
must be that it might raise the consciousness of the public as
to plight of the endangered species of small wild cats, particularly,
the little spotty guys.
SMALL WILD CAT SPECIES
Most of the countries of the world have one or more species of
small wild cat. By small, I mean big enough to give you a fright
but probably not mean enough to bite your leg off.
we are talking something less than size of the Puma (Mountain Lion,
Cougar, Felis Concolor) and on down to the tiny Oncilla (Felis
tigrina) weighing a mere 4 - 6 pounds. Smallest of all is the delightful
Rusty Spotted Cat (Felis rubiginosa) which, at just over two pounds,
is half the size of a typical domestic cat.
There are, arguably, around 26 species of small wild cat on planet
CNN and many of them are endangered and a few to the point of near-extinction.
These little guys are in need of first, recognition on a larger
scale and second, some funding to provide research and last-resort
breeding facilities, both in captive circumstances and in the wild
through acquisition and management of conservation reserves.
One of my favourite mystery cats is the Andean
Mountain Cat (Felis jacobita) who lives in the high Andes above
the 12,000 foot mark. Never caught or kept in captivity, this hardy
and adaptable animal is probably threatened on many fronts: human
predation for fur, totem or imagined damage to poultry and small
livestock: loss or fragmentation of habitat leading to less than
sustainable mass in any one area: etc., etc., etc.
Only recently photographed live in the wild (Jim Sanderson, Santa
Fe) the Andean
Mountain Cat is the object
of fundraising as outlined elsewhere on this website.
The Margay, the Ocelot, Geoffroy's Cat, Pallas' Cat, the Marbled
Cat, the Fishing Cat, the Flat-headed Cat, the Rusty-spotted Cat,
the Iriomote Cat, the Bornean Bay Cat, the Jaguarundi, and the
Kodkod are some of the threatened species of small wild cat which
need our help. The first three have been mercilessly depleted for
their fur - being trapped in their hundreds of thousands in South
America - and it is hoped that international pressure will bring
this ridiculous trade to an end in our lifetimes, if not in the
lifetimes of the little guys themselves.
Because the small cats are nocturnal, shy and secretive, they
do not make good commercial sense as Zoo exhibits in the ever-tightening
economy of the modern zoo. Most zoos have now abandoned breeding
programmes for the small cats and the future of some of the species
is in the hands of independent privately funded captive breeders,
most of whom are scientifically sound and with great dedication
and experience. Some website links are displayed elsewhere on this
I hope that the information here is of some stimulation to any
of you who have ever cuddled a new pet kitten or simply admired
one of nature's minor miracles. The little guy who shares your
home is a tiny step away, genetically speaking, from the wide array
of the 36 species of wild cat, big and small.
They all, to a man, are the pussies cat.
SUGGESTED WILD CAT WEBSITES
Some useful and stimulating links to the world
of the small (and not so small) wild cats (all open in new browser
general wild cat information site)
Cat Specialist Group)
private breeding and conservation)
Blankstein's private wildcat breeding centre)
and Helen's work with margays and ocelots)
wild cat sanctuary and conservation body)