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The Leopard Cat is a small, carnivorous mammal that looks like a domestic cat with a leopard-like coat. It is widely distributed in various parts of Asia but is considered a rare animal in Singapore, where it is believed to be the only remaining wild cat. It is classified as "critically endangered" in the 2008 edition of The Singapore Red Data Book, which describes the locally threatened flora and fauna.
On average, the Leopard Cat is about the same size as a domestic cat, but its size can vary significantly between countries. In Singapore, it is reported to grow up to 56cm long with a tail of up to 27cm, and weigh around 2kg in adulthood. It has a round head with a short muzzle and large erect ears. Its fur is yellowish or reddish brown on the upper parts and white on the underparts, dotted with black spots all over including the tail. Some of these spots may merge to form bands. It usually has several distinct black stripes on the top of the head and back of the neck as well as a white spot on each ear.
It is not only a skilful climber but also a good swimmer. It is largely nocturnal, spending the daytime in its den, which may be a hole in a tree, a cave or a rock crevice. It is usually solitary but sometimes moves in pairs or small family groups. Females give birth to a litter of one to four kittens after a gestation period of 56-70 days. If the newborns do not survive, they may produce another litter within 4-5 months. Males may help to rear the young.
Its diet consists mainly of small vertebrates, including frogs, lizards, rats, birds and small mammals such as bats and squirrels.
Leopard Cats are forest dwellers in Singapore but are found in a wide range of habitats elsewhere. They can live in forests, including logged areas, as well as scrubland, grassland and plantations.
This species is distributed in South, East and Southeast Asia. Within Southeast Asia, it can be found in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. Other parts of Asia where it occurs include China, Siberia, India, Nepal, Japan and Taiwan.
In Singapore, sightings have been rare. In fact, it was once feared to be extinct locally until it was discovered on Pulau Ubin in 1997. In March that year, an adult female was found trapped in an abandoned fishing net on the island and later released back into the wild. Until then, the last confirmed sighting of this animal in Singapore was in 1968, in the Mandai area on the mainland. It is now also believed to exist on Pulau Tekong, another island off the northeastern coast of Singapore. There have been no recent live sightings on the mainland, but one was found dead on Mandai Road in 2001 and another on Jalan Bahar in 2007, probably victims of road accidents. The Mandai Road specimen is now preserved at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.
Habitat loss is the most serious threat facing this species in Singapore. As a carnivore, it requires a much larger area for hunting its prey. However, the rapid urbanisation of Singapore has resulted in a drastic shrinkage and fragmentation of its natural forest habitat. Another threat is poaching, as illegal animal traps have been found in various forested areas such as on Pulau Ubin. While they may not necessarily be the targets of poachers, Leopard Cats may unwittingly get caught in the traps. Elsewhere in Asia, they continue to be hunted for their beautiful fur and as food or pets.
The Leopard Cat is covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which Singapore has been a member of since 1986. This species is therefore protected in Singapore under the Endangered Species Act, which requires anyone importing or exporting CITES-listed species to obtain a permit from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). Those caught smuggling endangered species are liable to be prosecuted in court and fined a maximum of S$50,000 for each animal and/or jailed for up to two years.
In addition, under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, it is an offence to kill, take or keep wild animals in Singapore without a licence from the AVA, except in the case of selected birds such as House Crows, Feral Pigeons and Common Mynas. Offenders would be liable to a fine of up to S$1,000 and the forfeiture of the animal.
Scientific name: Prionailurus bengalensis
- English - Leopard Cat
- Dutch - Chinese Bengaalse kat
- French - Chat de Chine, Chat-léopard de Chine, Chat-léopard du Bengale
- Spanish - Gato bengalí, Gato de Bengala, Gato leopardo chino
- Swedish - bengalisk katt, dvärgtiger, dvärgtigerkatt, kattamurkatt, leopardkatt
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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.