- HB Length: 58-76 cm (23-30″
- Tail Length: 21-27 cm (8-11″)
- Height: 35-38 cm (14-16″)
- Weight: 5-9 kg (11-20 lbs)
Jungle Cats Felis chaus are not actually associated with ‘jungles’, but with dense vegetative cover surrounding wetlands. They are more commonly known as Swamp Cat or Reed Cat.
The coat colour of the Jungle Cat varies from a sandy or yellowish grey, to a greyish brown or tawny red above, with underparts of the slender body cream or pale rufous. The legs sometimes retain some faint horizontal striping, not completely faded from their younger days. Their head is rather narrow and has a high, domed forehead. Ears are tall and rounded, tipped with small tufts of black hair, and set fairly close together. The eyes have bright yellow irises. Their legs are long and slender, and the tail is comparatively short, with several dark rings and a black tip. Melanistic individuals have been found in Pakistan and India.
Their preferred habitat is the tall grasses, reed beds or thick brush surrounding wetlands which is prime rodent habitat. These areas are found in a variety of ecosystems including desert oases or along riverbeds in grasslands, scrub or deciduous forests.
These adaptable cats can do well in cultivated landscapes and forest plantations with artificial wetlands. They have been found in association with man-made fish ponds, reservoirs and sprinkler-irrigated landscapes.
Jungle Cats feed on a wide variety of prey species reflecting the variety of habitats they frequent, but small rodents are the main prey. A field study in India estimated one cat could catch and eat 3 to 5 rodents per day, with birds ranking second in importance. However, in southern Russia waterfowl was found to be the mainstay of their diet in the winter months. The Russian study also showed that olives made up 17% of their diet.
Jungle Cats frequently use the abandoned burrows of other carnivores such as foxes and badgers as den sites. Known to be active by day and by night, they are often spotted amidst human settlements, denning in old buildings.
They are thought to be polyestrous throughout the year. Mating occurs in February and March in Central Asia but May is thought to be the chief mating season in India. Kittens have been found in Assam in January and February, and in June in the west Caspian region. It is possible that the jungle cat breeds twice a year in productive habitat. One to six kittens are usually born in den sites located in dense reed beds or other thick vegetation, also in hollow trees or abandoned burrows. The kittens are born with black stripes that fade with age. They weigh 130 – 140 grams at birth and their eyes open at 10 – 12 days. They are weaned at three months, stalk and kill prey by five to six months (are independent at this time), and are sexually mature between 11 and 18 months of age. Captive individuals have lived to 15 years old. The Jungle Cat was once fairly common in zoos but their numbers are now dwindling.
These cats are reliant on healthy wetland systems so the ongoing reclamation and destruction of natural wetlands poses a serious threat to the species. Jungle Cats are widespread and common in some parts of their range, but in Egypt and many parts of Asia their populations are showing sharp declines. Trapping, snaring and poisoning have also caused population declines in many areas throughout their range.
In India, local tribesmen easily identify the Jungle Cat from photos, and describe it as part of their wild meat diet. It is considered a delicacy and found more regularly on the menu than other wild cats in the area.
These cats share the distinction with African Wildcats Felis silvestris and domestic cats of having been mummified and placed in tombs in ancient Egypt. They are also depicted hunting small birds and mammals in Egyptian wall paintings.
Photo L Shyamal
Range Map IUCN Red List 2008