I went to Tilaurakot, an ancient place in Kapilvastu district, where Gautama Buddha spent his youth for 29 years, to take pictures of the historic site. This place is located in the middle of forest and bush, where I saw a jungle cat (Felis chaus) while taking photographs of the archaeological sites. Unfortunately, I was not carrying a telelens at the time. So I could not take pictures of the animal.
One day I was driving towards a small pond near Tilaurakot forest in the evening when I saw this cat walking towards the pond. Even the cat saw the car. I took four or five shots from the car to see if this feline would run away. It suddenly entered the bush while I was getting out of the car.
After that, I waited for a long time for it to come again. But it did not come. Again I would have failed if I hadn't taken four to five pictures from the car. I showed the cat's picture to a local woman and she told me the cat could be seen near the pond after dusk and also comes to the village to eat chicken.
Closest to Domesticated Cats
This feral cat is genetically closest to the domesticated cat in its markings. The jungle cat is also known as Ban Biralo, and sim buffalo. It is a very different colour from domestic cats. Plain grey and without any markings or stripes, this cat has a small stripe on its front legs, thighs, and four small stripes on its tail. Smaller and rounder than other cats, this cat's ears are covered with sharp and long bristles.
This cat is bigger and more agile than domestic cats. The average weight of this cat is 5 to 9 kg. Its tail is 21 to 27 cm long. The head and body length is usually between 59 to 76 cm. The eyes look yellow intruded and oval pupils. White lines can be seen around its eyes.
Among the small rare species, this species can be found in almost all places of Nepal. This species of cat is found in the lowlands of Nepal, interior Madhesh, hilly areas and Himalayan areas and all the protected areas of Nepal. This species is widespread in various countries in Asia including Africa, and Europe.
There are genetic differences between subspecies of Jungle Cats and domestic cats. There are five subspecies of Jungle Cat: European wild cats, African wild cats, Asiatic wild cats, Southern African wild cats and Chinese mountain cats. Furthermore, it is not clear whether the domestic cat is genetically similar to the wild cat. It should be considered as a separate species or subspecies of Jungle Cat.
The revised classification of Felida provisionally recognises the following species of the genus Felis. Felis chaus (wild cat), Felis nigripes (black-footed cat), Felis margarita (Chinese mountain cat), Felis Silvestre’s (European wild cat), Felis livica (African wild cat), Felis cats (domestic cat), Asiatic wild cat Felis livica ornata is considered a subspecies of Felis livica. Lives in Southwest and Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Mongolia, China and Nepal.
This Jungle Cat especially likes thick bushes and forest areas, this cat especially lives in grasslands, bush areas, wetlands and wet areas, forests, bush areas near villages and agricultural areas. This cat does not like to live in very cold areas. It is a favourite habitat for cats because of the abundance of food in the lowlands.
This animal is especially active in hunting at dawn and dusk and rests in thick bushes during the day. This Jungle cat that can walk 5 to 6 km daily for hunting is very agile compared to other cats and can hunt even the birds flying close. It also hunts by stalking its prey.
Then by sprinting or leaping: sharp ears help locate prey. It uses various techniques to secure its prey. This cat also looks for mice in holes. It hunts mice, frogs, amphibians, insects, lizards, snakes, rabbits and birds daily. They can sometimes search for fish as they can swim well.
Except during the breeding season, this cat prefers to live alone. This cat does not like to leave its native habitat and migrates to other places very often. Its status is difficult to assess due to its cryptic behaviour and hybridization with domestic cats.
It is mostly found in scrub deserts at altitudes of 2000 to 3000 meters in well-vegetated mountain areas, as well as in temperate forests. The Asiatic wild cat is usually close to water sources. But it can also live in areas with low water.
When this cat feels threatened, it vocalises, producing a roaring sound before engaging in an attack.
While the mating season for this cat is March to April and November to December, the mating season in Pakistan seems to be year-round. A female cat may be able to give birth twice a year if food is plentiful.
A cat can usually give birth to 2 to 6 babies at a time. It gives birth in thick bushes, caves, large holes in the ground or tree trunks. Its baby weighs around 130 to 140 grams at birth. It is ready for breeding in about 11 to 18 months. The cat has been found to live up to 15 years in the zoo. It is a solitary and territorial species.
In the village area, this cat eats chicken and goose, so the locals even kill it. In addition, it is killed by adding poison to food, and it is also killed by trapping, shepherding dogs, or being directly hunted by humans. The leather of this cat is also traded illegally in the international market. Different types of jackets, pants, shoes, belts etc. are made from its leather and sold.
Habitat destruction and reduced habitat quality are critical issues. These cats are under great pressure due to land use change. Its numbers are decreasing day by day due to human encroachment and habitat disturbance.
In Afghanistan, the Asiatic Jungle Cat was listed as the country's first protected species in 2009. It has also been proposed as a priority species for future research. It is not legally protected in Georgia, Iran and Mongolia.
According to Sagar Dahal, the number of this cat is abundant only in South Asia. It has started to disappear in South East Asia. The jungle cat found in the Nile River is the rarest small cat species in the world.
This cat is being researched in Koshi, Nepal. In Terai, where fishing cats are often found, chances of finding Jungle Cats are increasing. Since this wild animal is being hunted in the Terai region, it is very important to take an initiative from the government of Nepal for its protection. Dahal is studying fishing cats as well as wild cats. Dahal is doing his PhD on Fishing Cats (Small Mammals) at Florida International University, Miami, Florida, USA.
According to Rama Mishra, a PhD
Scholar on Small Cats (Focused on Fishing Cat) from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, the jungle cat (Felis chaus) ('Ban Biralo' in Nepali) is a close relative of the domestic cat (Felis catus) (Kitchener et al.
2016). Despite its globally decreasing population, the jungle cat is listed as the least concerned on the IUCN Red List, globally (Gray et al. 2016), and Nepal, nationally (Jnawali et al. 2011). Its global distribution is in North Africa (only Egypt), eastern Europe, and south and southeast Asian countries with an elevational record of up to 4,000 m above sea level ( Nowell & Jackson 1996, Jnawali et al. 2011).
(Dhungana is a senior wildlife photographer and writer.)