Around the world, wild cats are among the most powerful animals. They may look like oversized kitties, but they are ferocious hunters. Certainly, to some degree, all cats are ‘cats’. When you see your kitty stalking a squirrel in the garden, you can see a miniature leopard stalking a deer in wild. There are 36 species (types) of wild cats, distributed throughout the world.
Interestingly, none of them naturally occur in Australia or the Polar regions. Luckily, four species of wild cat are inhabited in Sri Lanka; the leopard, the fishing cat, the jungle cat and the rusty-spotted cat. Among them the leopard is the biggest, the only big cat species lives in Sri Lanka. All the others are called small cats. Out of them rusty-spotted is the smallest which is close in size to a small domestic cat.
Furry coats and patterns
Their furry coats have distinctive patterns that help in camouflage, so prey won’t see them coming. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. The different types of cat species have distinct patterning types on their fur coats. The coat of the leopard is with a pale background, pale yellow on its underside that darkens to a light brown towards its back, while black spots decorate its body limbs and head. The formation of the spots on the head and face of a leopard is unique to each individual. This is like the uniqueness of fingerprints in humans.
Jungle cat has an evenly colored sandy brown coat with a greyish tone. Tips of its ears have black hairs, which give them a blackish rim. The rusty spotted cat has white strips on its head and rusty red colour spots on a greyish brown coloured fur coat. Coat of the fishing cat is light brown with dark irregular spots, fading in to white beneath. The backs of its ears are black with a central white spot. It has two layers of fur so that when they are in the water doesn’t touch their skin. But those elegant furry coats are both a blessing and a curse for them, especially on leopards. They are been poached for their nicely spotted fur coats, which are elusive and has a high demand.
All the wild cats hunt because they need meat to survive. Most cats are ‘stalk and ambush’ hunters, sneaking up on prey and pouncing to deliver a crushing bite to the head and neck. Among them, the leopard has the record of been the top most terrestrial predator in Sri Lanka. Leopards eat almost any kind of a meat from frog to buffalo .So, they are called opportunistic hunters. Leopards are good climbers.
Meow to a roar
Sometimes, they may drag the carcass weight twice as their own into the branches to prevent other predators. Fishing cat is very fond of fish and it mainly hunts at night. Both the other small cats prey on various small mammals. All the wild cats are keen-sighted which favors them in hunting. Along with that, they have strong heads, massive paws, and razor-sharp claws, and they use them to wrestle down prey. Their hind legs are long and strong, making them impressive jumpers too.
Powerful yet vulnerable
Despite their reputation for ferocity, these majestic predators face more danger than many of the other animals. It is mainly driven by hunting, poaching, habitat loss/fragmentation and road kills. Normally, fishing cats and leopards are getting trapped in animal poaching traps (snares) is common in Sri Lanka. Other than that, the big cats like leopards naturally tend to have wide home range sizes. In Yala and Wilpaththu, a male’s home range is approximately 16-25 sq km. So, the habitat destructions and fragmentations of those large areas could severely affect their survival in future.
The writer currently works as a graduate (Zoology) researcher at the Peradeniya University