Tigers, lions, leopards, and panthers are some of the world’s most powerful apex hunters. These big cats are well known, but there are many wild cat species in the world you may not have heard of. They include the ocelot, caracal, Pallas’s cat, Geoffroy’s cat, and the fishing cat. These felines are expert predators in their native habitats, and some aren’t bigger than the average house cat!
Read on to find out more about these splendid cats and their roles in nature.
Often mistaken for jaguars or pumas, ocelots range from northern Argentina to the southwestern United States. They prefer tropical and subtropical habitats, living in mangrove forests, coastal marshes, savanna grasslands, thorn scrubs, and tropical forests.
Ocelots weigh around 28 to 35 pounds and are about 16 to 20 inches tall. Their coats have chain-like blotches with black borders and light-colored centers. Ocelots’ base color can be whitish, tawny yellow, reddish gray, or gray. Their bellies are white, and the backs of their ears are black, with a white spot in the center.
These large cats are nocturnal hunters that feed on rodents, opossums, armadillos, anteaters, squirrel monkeys, fish, land crabs, and tortoises.
Ocelots are solitary cats. Females establish a nine-square-mile territory, while males have a more significant 35-square-mile region that often overlaps with one or more females. They communicate with scent marking and come together only for mating.
The caracal is a beautiful medium-sized cat that lives in the savannas of Africa and the Middle East. With a golden red coat, short tail, and long ears with tufts of black fur jutting out of the top (called tassels), the caracal is a striking feline.
These tell-tale tassels keep flies out of the cat’s face, camouflage them in tall grasses, and help them communicate with other caracals. Caracals can leap up to 10 feet high and have sharp claws for killing their prey. These cats are about 18 inches tall and weigh between 12 to 44 pounds.
These agile, solitary hunters eat mongooses, rodents, hyraxes, dik-diks (small antelope), and monkeys. But they are also known to kill domestic livestock, which often results in farmers shooting them. Still, despite these threats, caracals are deemed of “Least Concern,” meaning it is not threatened, endangered, or vulnerable.
With a luxurious long, thick coat, the Pallas’s cat is a beautiful, short-legged wild cat that inhabits the rocky slopes of Central Asia. These felines have flat ears, round pupils, and gray fur with black markings. They shelter in caves, rock crevices, and marmot burrows, preying on small rodents and birds.
Their unique appearance helps them to survive the cold where they live. Thick fur acts as insulation, and they can wrap their tails around their body for warmth. Their broad paw pads are like snowshoes on the white, frosty slopes. Their dens also help them to stay warm and protected. Flattened ears are less likely to get frostbitten, and these felines have nictitating membranes to protect their eyes from cold, dusty winds.
Pallas’s cats are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active during dusk and dawn. They have small territories and spend most of their time in their dens. Here’s a fun fact: they were named for Peter Simon Pallas, a Prussian naturalist-explorer, who first described the species in 1776.
This South American cat lives in the Andes Mountains. It inhabits the scrubby forests of the Pampas and Gran Chaco. Geoffroy’s cat has a tawny coat with black markings, but some can be all black. Geoffroy’s cats can stand upright, using their tails to balance. These difficult-to-spot wild cats only weigh around eight pounds––making them smaller than most domestic shorthairs!
Solitary and nocturnal, they sleep in trees or dense vegetation. They are excellent climbers and swimmers, hunting birds, fish, reptiles, small mammals, and amphibians. This feline was named for 19th-century French zoologist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.
The Fishing Cat
The fishing cat, weighing 18 to 31 pounds, has a gray-brown coat with black spots and stripes. It also has white spots and black markings on its cheeks. Its black ears are short and round, with a characteristic white spot on the back.
Fishing cats get their name from the way they fish at the edge of the water. Yet, these cats hunt many other small creatures, such as rodents, amphibians, and even small livestock. These cats are excellent swimmers with compact, dense fur that acts as a wetsuit to keep their skin protected.
They inhabit southeast Asia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Fishing cats prefer wetland areas like marshes, swamps, and mangrove forests. Scientists consider the fishing cat an indicator species, which means their presence indicates the health of the ecosystem.
Yet, their habitats are in danger from human encroachment. More people have reported sightings of these wild cats in urban areas in recent years––meaning they could soon join the endangered species list.
There Are Other Lesser-Known Cats
These lesser-known wild cats are marvelous examples of diversity. From the cold, rocky slopes of Asia to the desert in Africa, wild cats make their homes in many ecosystems throughout the world. With 40 wild cat species identified, many elusive and barely studied, there is still a lot to learn about these feline predators.