We often read about the plight of lions, tigers, and jaguars on our Facebook feeds – habitat destruction, rampant poaching, and illegal trading have led to rapidly decreasing “big cat” populations. These majestic animals get significant media exposure and subsequently receive the majority of cat conservation funding. However, what you don’t hear a lot about the thirty small wildcats who often weigh in at less than fifty pounds.
These beautiful, yet lesser known cats are also under the threat of extinction. With so much focus on the “Big Seven”, humans have yet to unlock the secrets of many species of wildcats. It is important to remember that all members of a species – big and small – are affected by habitat destruction due, in large part, to clear cutting. Let’s take a look at 10 small wildcats that need our attention today!
1. Rusty Spotted Cat
As one of the smallest wildcats in the world, these little pouncers are only located in India and Sri Lanka. As we all know, these two countries are undergoing rapid transition towards further industrialization and the effect is a reduction in habitat. Known for fierce attacks on domestic chickens, they are killed by farmers whenever possible. They also suffer attacks from humans when their fur is mistaken for that of leopard cubs. Exceedingly rare to spot, there is very little research on the Rusty Spotted Cat. If you are exploring and see one of these cats, consider yourself blessed.
Often mistaken for the cat below, the Margay, the Oncilla is a little cat that stalks forests from Venezuela to northern Argentina. Interestingly, they love high elevation montane cloud forests – I think there are more than a few people in the tentree tribe who’d get along with these climbers. While these cats live in the trees, they often hunt prey on the ground. It is important to note that the Oncilla is very similar in colouring to the Margey and Ocelot, so be sure to snap a picture if you see one!
Here’s 8 more adorable endangered species that’ll just melt your heart.
A slightly “bigger” cat than the Oncilla, the Margay shares much of the same habitat. With much of the Brazilian rainforest disappearing, the Margay is slowly, but surely running out of real estate to dwell in. They live in the trees and are rarely found on the ground – due to this, the Margay has a stunning tail that is up to 70% of its body length. Sadly, the Margay does not cross developed lands in order to find a new home. So when humans clear cut for farm land, the Margay will eke out an existence until it can no longer sustain itself.
Made famous by its moth chasing scene in Planet Earth, the award for cutest cat on the planet goes to the Kodkod. The smallest cat in the Western Hemisphere, they also have the smallest range of any cat in this area. They love to live in the Patagonian forest (who wouldn’t?), which means that they are always under threat from logging and the ever present Oil and Gas industry. No Kodkod has ever been seen in previously cleared forest, so once its home is gone, so is the Kodkod.
Related: Too soon or just in time? Manatees have been removed from the endangered species list.
5. Fishing Cat
As that name alludes to, this cat likes to fish! With partially webbed feet and claws that protrude even when retracted, the Fishing Cat is a lethal fish eater. Their fur is different from any other cat in that it is completely waterproof. They are an anomaly to the old adage that cats don’t like water – these little buggers love to swim and will do so fully submerged. They can be found in scattered pockets around South East Asia. However, as is a reoccurring theme, the Fishing Cat is losing its home to deforestation and humans.
Ready for some extra cuteness? Peru just released 500,000 threatened baby turtles into the wild.
6. Snow Leopard
One of the most gorgeous and lethal killers on the planet, the snow leopard was nearly hunted to extinction for its fur. Dwelling in the mountain ranges of Central Asia, the snow leopard exists in extremely small numbers. Known for controlling vast territories, this cat can average upwards of thirty kilometers of trekking a day. The lack of prey has been a big contributor to why the snow leopard has dwindled – prey hunted out by humans. Interestingly, for a larger cat, they purr rather than roar!
Snow leopards are truly handsome creatures! Another rare species in South America, the “fox on stilts,” just gave birth in captivity for the first time. Check it out.
7. Flat-Headed Cat
The most unique looking of the cat family, this cat has a long, flat head and is around the size of a housecat. Found in wetlands, the Flat-Headed Cat’s range has been reduced to isolated pockets of Borneo, Sumatra, and parts of Malaysia. These elusive cats weren’t photographed until 1996! Flat-Headed Cats love the water and often turn to it as a means of escaping any humans they may encounter. Water pollution in the aforementioned countries threatens the existence of this species.
8. Bay Cat
This cat is in competition with the Flat-Headed Cat on Borneo, the only place it is found on Earth. As it is so isolated, very little is known about the Bay Cat other than the fact its numbers appear to be dwindling. Commercial logging and palm oil plantations threaten the Bay Cat with extinction. Fur traders know how rare this cat is, so they will skin a Bay Cat and sell it on the black market.
9. Andean Cat
With its unique fur, the Andean Cat is often considered the most beautiful cat in the world. Found in remote sections of the Andes, they prefer arid to semi-arid zones above the tree line. Driven close to extinction by the fur trade, this cat’s numbers are estimated to be around 2000. It is the most threatened cat in the Western Hemisphere.
Black Footed Cat
The smallest cat in Africa, the Black Footed Cat ranges in South Africa. Typically found in deserts due to lack of competition, the cat thrives on small mammals and is notorious for its feisty attitude. Locals typically describe this cat as able to take down a giraffe with its tenacity. Poisons are the number one reason as to why the Black Footed Cat is endangered – farmers looking to poison locusts and larger cats often put out meat that the cat then consumes.
The cats detailed above make up only thirty percent of wildcats – there are still many more species under threat. Next time you are out exploring, take a second to consider what wildcats may be in the area and how humanity is impacting them. Then take action: join The International Society of Endangered Cats (ISEC), help restore forests via planting, or pick-up some sweet new tentree gear. Our furry friends need our help! Follow my explorations and love of wildcats