8 Obscure but Adorable Wildcat Species

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We all know the big cats: lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, and cougar. You are probably also familiar with some smaller wildcats such as the lynx, ocelot, and bobcat. These cats have other cousins that roam the wilds, but we don't get a look at them as often as the bigger, more famous species.

1. Andean Mountain Cat

The Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) is rarely seen, as its habitat is restricted to the mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile at altitudes above the tree line. The total estimated population is only about 2500. This cat grows to only about two feet in length, barely larger than a house cat, with a long bushy tail that may provide a useful counterweight for maneuvering around mountains. There are none in captivity. Andean Mountain Cat image by Jim Sanderson via Wikipedia.

2. Pallas's Cat

The Pallas's Cat (Otocolobus manul) is also called Manul. It is only about the size of a domestic cat, but appears heavier because of its dense fur. The Pallas's Cat differs from other cats in that it has round pupils instead of slits and fewer teeth, giving it a relatively flat-faced appearance. The Manul ranges from eastern Europe to Siberia, roaming the higher elevations of the Middle East and Asia. It is thought to be the oldest cat species, evolving about 12 million years ago. Although the Manul are rare, you may be familiar with this cat because of a popular photograph of a poster. You can see many more images at The Pallas' Cat Project, including pictures of cubs. Pallas's cat image by Flickr user Winkelbohrer.

3. Margay

The Margay (Leopardus wiedii) resembles an ocelot, but is as small as a domestic house cat. The Margay also has relatively longer legs than an ocelot and is an excellent tree climber. Its territory stretches from Mexico down through Brazil. This near-threatened species is rarely seen, as it hunts only at night and stay hidden in the rain forest. Margay image by Flickr user mottazoo.

4. Fishing Cat

The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is native to south and southeast Asia, where it prefers to live near water -the better to find fish, of course! It is the premiere swimmer of the cat family. The Fishing Cat is listed as endangered because its habitat is being destroyed as wetlands are drained for human use, and because it is still hunted in some countries. One Fishing Cat has become an internet meme, as there were many pictures of its apartment life with a Russian couple and a house cat distributed a few years ago. Fishing Cat image by Flickr user cliff1066â„¢.

5. Serval

The Serval (Leptailurus serval) is a three to four foot long African wild cat that is believed to be the ancient ancestor of both the lion and the cheetah. It inhabits the same territory, the African savanna. Servals have small heads and long legs, efficient for chasing prey through the grass. They are also highly intelligent. Servals are the wild cat most often kept as house pets. The large domestic breed Savannah is a cross between a Serval and a domestic cat. Serval image by Flickr user Picture Taker 2.

6. Caracal

The Caracal (Caracal caracal) has a distinctly North American appearance, as if a cougar had interbred with a lynx. It is related to neither, and lives in Africa and Asia. This tall slim cat grows to about three feet in length. The Caracal prefers mountain or desert areas, and can survive without water longer than other cats. Although rarely seen, Caracals are abundant in the wild, and are sometimes kept as pets. Caracal image by Flickr user kibuyu.

7. African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata) is not always golden. In fact, its colors vary widely between individuals, ranging from gold to reddish to gray with distinctive darker markings on some cats and a lighter chest and abdomen. It may also change colors over its life cycle. The Golden Cat is native to the rain forests of equatorial Africa. This rarely-seen cat grows to 30-32 inches long and weighs up to 40 pounds. The Golden Cat is classified as near-threatened.

8. Sand Cat

The Sand Cat (Felis margarita) lives in the deserts of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and western Asia. It is about the size of a domestic cat, with thicker and longer fur. Sand Cats have wide heads and fur growing between the toes, a feature often found in Arctic cats. This serves the same purpose as insulation for the paws against the environment, but keeps the Sand Cat's feet protected from hot surfaces instead of snow. This cat is listed as threatened, with hunting prohibited in many countries. Sand Cat image by Flickr user Nick Lawes.

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July 15, 2010 - 5:11am
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