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"Prionailurus bengalensis"
(A discussion of the SMALL WILD CAT of central and southern
Asia, often referred to as the Asian Leopard Cat - ALC

---Throughout our presentation, some abbreviation was used to reference the Leopard Cat and its hybrid cousin, the Domestic Bengal Cat -(i. e., -ALC - for "Asian Leopard Cat,"- SWC - for "Small Wild Cat,"- and- DBC - for "Domestic Bengal Cat"). - Such usage was necessary, not only to simplify the overall content, but, as well, to enhance and express our own views.- We have also included an introduction to "wild cats,"- their evolution and taxonomy. This inclusion, it is hoped, creates a better perspective of the species, realizing, of course, that there are many unanswered questions and debate concerning their history.- In this regard, the use of all facts, historical or otherwise, was always in accordance with current knowledge.- However, we do not include any technical or detailed scientific data, as an example, regarding genetic transformation, structure, the fossil record, or felid evolutionary theory.- Because our articles are fairly long, we have created two files: the present document, consisting of information on "felidae," including the ALC, and a separate article on the Domestic Bengal Cat. -If you want more information, we list major references in the bibliography, and, of course, their are important "online" INTERNET LINKS throughout.

---Concerning the number of ALC subspecies, just remember, this subject is controversial (there is some argument concerning their "status" and taxonomy).- Similarly, specific questions, regarding evolutionary/genetic change and species/interspecies relationships, have not been clearly differentiated, answered, or defined. Therefore, some conclusions and inferences drawn by the scientific/biological "wild cat" community are based more on singular events and circumstantial evidence, rather then by direct observation and verifiable data. In other words, there is a lot that is not known about the ALC and its subspecies.

---Since this writing is not a precursor to a thesis or a doctoral dissertation, we did not feel obligated to acknowledge, credit, or list all of our sources in the standard way (i. e., in the precise format of a research paper). - You will also notice that we have included many pictures of the Asian Leopard Cat. Unless they are specifically listed with a "copyright © notice,"- these on-line images are in the "public domain"- and can be used freely by anyone ( see our reference/copyright statement ).- Lastly, we are not so naive to believe the opinions presented in this document reflect the current thinking of the day. Inevitably, the underlying context, shaped by our conceptual ideas and perspectives, are more a reflection of an on-going process, tempered by experience and knowledge, and as such, is a "work in progress." -Nonetheless, we do hope that the information presented here, in some small way, will increase your interest, your knowledge, and your understanding of these most unusual and beautiful cats.


---Conclusive,- scientific accounts for the- "family" of cats, know as- "felidae,"- are hidden in the fabric of environmental and geologic events, and perhaps, more abstractly, in the ubiquitous and often subtle nature of genetic evolution.- Paleontological data gathered from fossil remains (including genetic/DNA information), from theoretical modeling, and from statistical analysis, suggest that the wildcats of today evolved rather quickly over a few million years (Hunt, 1996; Johnson and O'Brien, 1997; Johnson, et al, 2006).- However, genetic divergence into lineages, primary global-spread, continental migration patterns (sometimes referred to as "felid radiation"), and the appearance of subspecies, are less clear.- There are also questions related to scientific/biological classification based on similarities in physiology, structure, origin, and presumed natural relationships (i. e., issues of taxonomy).- Nonetheless, despite some historical gaps and inconsistencies in our understanding of evolutionary processes, developmental time scales have been drawn for the majority of mammalian species, including felids, and it is generally agreed, with some certainty, that current genetic data and the fossil record are fairly accurate in this regard (Hunt, 1996; Nowak, 1999; Johnson, et al, 2006).

---As a point of reference, during the earth's early geologic history, worldwide landmasses began to emerge and differentiate from an area called Pangaea.- This breakup, beginning in the Permian period approximately 225 mya (millions of years ago), would eventually lead to the continents of today (see summary of tectonic plate-shift and continental drift; illustration, below-left).- The literature, of course, is replete with fossil evidence/theoretical explanations regarding this subject and there is general agreement within the scientific community regarding such events (see PDF file for more detailed information).- Supportive evidence, that the major continents were once joined, can be seen in an extinct order of seed-ferns called glossopteris and in some early reptilian species, such as Lystrosaurus (their fossil remains can be found on most southern landmasses;- click on the image to the right for a larger picture).- By the end of the Pliocene period, 5.3 - 1.8 mya, the division of major global areas had taken place, but the overall character of specific regions would continue to be shaped by climate, earthquakes, tidal waves know as "tsunami," tectonic fluctuations, volcanic activity, and glacial oscillations, among others.- Also, island chains, known today as archipelago, continued to form.- These landmasses are prominent in areas of Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, west of Thailand and Myanmar, and in the pacific ocean.- In such locations and in more remote areas important ecosystems developed, supporting the growth of unique life forms (e. g., the mammals of Australia, the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, and the animal species of Madagascar, Paupa New Guinea, and Borneo.- See the work of Johnson and O' Brien, 1998; Nowell and Jackson, 1996; Johnson, 2006).- Nonetheless, regardless of geographic location, current scientific data suggests that the continued evolution of organisms, that is, their growth and viability, were impacted by:- (1)"rapid" speciation events, (2) genetic or allelic drift, (3) adaptive radiation, (4) exogenic/environmental infuences, and according to many experts, (5) the separation and genetic expression into dominate species through a process called natural selection (Mattern and McKennan, 2000; Nowell and Jackson, 1996; Hunt, 1996; Johnson, et al, 2006).- It is noted, that our understanding of evolutionary/developmental events, leading to the astonishing tapestry of current biological diversity, remains incomplete (although supportive hypotheses, such as macroevolution and the biological gradualism of transitional theories, are sometimes cited).

---Presently, scientific explanations for mammalian evolution relate and abstract from the original ideas of Charles Darwin.- However, despite the fact that his theories and conclusions can be applied to most life forms, the rate of evolutionary development is variable, affected as such, by geological conditions and environmental factors.- Such variability has impacted anatomical/biological differences across species populations and contributed to global biodiversity (see Darwin's thesis on the "Origin of Species,"- specifically, his treatise on "natural selection").- Nevertheless, regardless of prevailing thought and theory, it is evident that "nature" set in motion genetic change and sequences, thereof.- In some instances, unrelated species have even evolved with dominant genetic tendencies and -"like"-characteristics as a result (illustration to the right.- Also, see a discussion of convergent evolution on the blog, Laelaps.- Merrell, D. J., 1994; Johnson, G., 2008.).- Such response has allowed specific morphological patterns to emerge, and in some cases, unique characteristics appear and are more easily "expressed" in later generations .- As one would expect, the variables associated with genetic evolution and the progression of dominance, both past and ongoing, are not entirely understood, although it is probable that mutational affects are present and manifest in all aspects of such developmental.- Similarly, at least in our opinion, these changes, within the constraints imposed by evolutionary time and environment(s), may also account for variable transformational growth as the result gene flow, contributing to diverse subspecies populations (e. g., as seen in the genera of wildcats.- Also, see theories of speciation).

---Despite the conclusions drawn from the fossil record and theoretical modeling, an understanding of the genetic relationship of ancient cats to today's species remains somewhat of a mystery.- Nevertheless, chance or coincidence alone can not explain all events and tendencies, although, when viewed within the context of evolution, indicates some form of natural selection and convergent evolution (see the writings of Dr. George Johnson, online, 1998-2008).- When considered together, these theories imply how species can sometimes exhibit strikingly similar physical features, similar adaptations and behaviors, yet, at the genetic level, their primary character remains intact (As an addendum, see ecological niche factors.- Gould, S. J., 2002; Berger, et al, 1979).- Among today's mammals, one of the best examples of convergence can be seen in placental animals and the marsupial species of Australia (pictured, above right).- In the plant kingdom, this phenomena can be seen in the adaptive characteristics of flora growing in desert ecosystems (e. g., the catus, milkweed, and euphorbia families).- Additionally, along every stage of evolution, improved function and strengthening occurs, and any later changes eventually become essential to species propagation and survival.- Importantly, it appears that within the dictates of evolution, the process of genetic change and progression intensifies the survival of some species, but in others, that are genetically weak, can lead to their extinction.- The aformentioned theories, of course, do not account for the large number of felid subspecies, and from a purely developmental perspective, they do not explain definitive relationships between genetics and exogenic forces.- However, in our view, they do impart a partial rendering of interspecies relationships, evolutionary genetic dependencies, and the proliferation and diversity of living organisms across environmental systems (see biodiversity).

---It is believed felid-like carnivores first appeared during the Oligocene epoch, 34 mya (Hunt, 1996; Pecon-Slattery, et al, 2004; Nowak, 1999),- but the beginning of significant transformation and change, leading to current species, did not occur until later (from Miocene times - 23 mya.- See the works of Johnson, el al, 2006; Nowell and Johnson, 1996; Pecon-Slattery, et al, 2004; Johnson and O'Brien, 1997; Mckennan and Bell, 1997; Hunt, 1996).- Anatomically, the early felids were compact, muscular, and not as long or as tall at the shoulder,-whereas today's wildcats are relatively long-legged and lithe in comparison (Cox, B., et al, 1999; Turner, A., 1997).- Nonetheless, based on the study of fossil remains unearthed in Australia and the Americas, many of the ancient cats, like the Smilodon (pictured, right), were probably more lion-like marsupials, in some ways, similar in appearance to that of kangaroos (Turner, A., 1997; Wroe, S. Myers, T. J., et al, 1999; Wroe, S., 1999).- However, this carnivore and similar felids of the time evolved in parallel, in a sense, alone separate or singular genetic paths, and according to the literature, are not related to the modern species (Thornhill and Ussery, 1999-2000; Cox, B., et al, 1999; Turner, A., 1997; Hunt, 1996; Nowak, 1999).- Such "evolutionary parallelism" and subsequent theories, thereof, are often used to explain the relatedness of species and evolutionary change among organisms (e. g., by convergence and natural selection).- Regarding today's wildcats, the larger species appeared first, between 10.8 to 6.2 mya (e. g., the Lions and Tigers), followed by their smaller cousins (such as the Ocelot, Margay, and Leopard cats), within the periods, Pilocene - 5.3 to 1.8 mya and Pleistocene - 1.8 mya to 10,000 y- (Nowell and Johnson, 1996; Pecon-Slattery, et al, 2004; Johnson and O'Brien, 1997).-Currently, scientific evidence to support a direct genetic link between the ancient and modern felids has not been established, as the veil of evolution often hides the true nature of such relationships and our understanding of events (Pecon-Slattery and O'Brien, 1998; Johnson, et al, 2006; Cox, B., et al, 1999; Turner, A., 1997).

---As of 2009, from the interpretation of updated fossil data and DNA information (i. e., from the skin samples of cat species), it is now believed that 60 percent of the known modern felids have developed within the last million years, possibly from a common ancestor approximately 23 mya (Johnson, et al, 2006; Mott, M., 2006. See article, by Mott, in National Geographic, 2006). Likewise, sudden changes in sea levels, especially, at low levels, corresponds fairly well to movement across land-bridges (e. g., such as the Bering land-bridge and the Isthmus of Panama between North and South America), with global spread into the continents of Europe, Africa, and the Americas.- More importantly, during this evolutionary developmental period, eight main lineages formed and diverged in the course of 10 bidirectional migrations, probably originating from central Asiatic regions (e. g., the Panthera and Lynx lineages; Johnson, et al, 2006; also see Wozencraft, W. C., 2005. Click on the picture, left, to see a larger composite illustration of time intervals, sea levels, and the appearance of felid species).- As an addendum, it is our view, that with the differentiation of lineages, some felids, with a strong genetic inclination for change, thrived because they lived in "pocket habitats" (i. e., often isolated from some of the adverse effects of environment; as an example, from predation).- In such cases, an environmental niche formed and the likelihood of survival and continued growth increased.- Additionally, because of allopatric or geographic speciation, genetic traits were more likely, or at least, more easily shared within specific populations.- Consequently, under the right conditions and at some point, subtle biological changes occurred.- From a developmental perspective, the cumulative effect of such progression is a strenghtening of dominant characteristics, the intensification of genetic lines, and over time, the appearance of new species and subgenera, thereof.- However, regarding the evolution of felid subspecies (esp., the Leopard Cats of southeastern Asia), their development, in our opinion, has been significantly impacted by:- (1) isolation via continental and landmass separation, (2) geo-environmental differences (e. g., climate and the topographical structure of habitat), (3)and in remote geographic areas, genetic drift and regional distribution of gene pools "within and across populations" (for more detailed information see speciation and subspecies at Wikipedia, 2008).

---There is, not surprisingly, some disagreement within the biological wildlife community and among paleontologists concerning:- evolutionary processes, ancestral characterizations, taxonomy, and subspecies order.- Also, there is debate relevant to statistical inference and how the correlation of genetic fossil data should be used to explain not only felid, but, as well, all mammalian evolutionary development (definition of Bayesian inference and posterior probabilities at Wikipedia, and mammalian evolution using Bayesian methods.- Also, see J. P. Hulsenbeck, el al, 2001, "Bayesian inference of phylogeny,"- and the work of Johnson, et al, 2006).- To date, such issues and debate, including questions related to "Darwinism,"- have not been resolved, and it is doubtful that a consensus will be reached anytime soon (since some of these questions become entangled in the arguments between empirical science versus creationism).- However, a better understanding of the variables associated with "natural selection,"- a closer examination of fossil remains, and more precise DNA studies, will eventually untangle the "web" of confusion surrounding these subjects, hopefully, creating a more perceptible and unifying picture of the relatedness of species, both living and extinct (see the works of Johnson, et al, 2006; Nowell and Jackson, 1996; Nowak, 1999).

---Theoretically, at least from a developmental perspective, some interesting questions have been raised regarding rapid evolution relative to ecological response, and whether the attributes of environmental systems affect the outcome and pace of genetic change (Hairston, et al, 2005; Gingerich, P. D., 2001, 1993; Thompson, J. N., 1998)?- Here, it is resonable to assume, based on what is known of biological evolutionary processes, that the makeup of the external environment(s), affected, as such, by specific time-frames and the impact of geological events, altered the biological variability of all living things, especially, the character of vertebrate species and the genera of mammalian subspecies (Thompson, 1998; Johnson, et al, 2006)?- The specifics of such interaction have created some debate among evolutionary biologists, zoologists, and paleontologists,-although, finding definitive answers is difficult simply because the very nature of evolution is often clouded by an incomplete fossil record, the complexity of theoretical modeling, and the interpretation of statistical data associated with it.- In this regard, the scientific research seems to imply that the field of genetics and analysis, thereof, can best describe such relationships.- On the other hand, others believe that exogenic forces have significantly impacted, and thus, are more intrinsically linked to changes in biological viability.- Of variables associated with evolutionary processes, one of the most interesting, in our opinion, is the study of ecological dynamics (also, see the scientific letters of Hairston Jr., et al, 2005).- Here, do sudden changes in environmental conditions influence the transformation of genetic traits?--As well, does "rapid" evolutionary change correspond to significant ecological performance and do these changes occur on similar time scales (Hairston, 2005, 1986; Gingerich, 1983, 2001; Hendry and Kinnison, 1998; Grant P. R. and Grant, B. R., 1995)?- There is data to support such claims and investigation since environments are never static, often, in a constant state of change.- Likewise, the components of ecological systems can vary at dramatically different rates, influenced, as an example, by rapid bio-ecochemical fluxes, as compared to the more measured progression of global climate change (Hairston and Walton, 1986; Hairston, 2005).- It will be interesting to monitor, as more geogenetic evidence is found, how science will unravel and explain such complex interaction(s), hopefully, leading to a more definitive picture or mosaic of evolution and interspecies relationships.

---Paradoxically, it has been suggested that felid evolutionary history may not be fully represented in the fossil record (Johnson, et al, 2006), yet, our "understanding" of events and current "theoretical models" are often based on such findings.- Ultimately, resolution of this issue will require an analysis of large, multigenic samples (Johnson, 2006), although it is doubtful, at least in our opinion, that such analysis will yield a concise picture of events (esp., the developmental relationships between genetics and the natural environment).- However, in a review of the literature, very little data currently exists on this subject (at least, in meaningfully large enough data sets to have significant statistical relevance and correlation).- There is, of course, considerable debate regarding these matters and to many aspects of phylogenetics and tree of life issues.- Many of these differences are philosophic, while others are grounded in the arguments/complexity of empirical science, theology, and, according to some, the pseudoscience of "intelligent design/creationism."- In all fairness, regardless of one's beliefs, if you decide to review the scientific literature, bear in mind, that although the fossil record is generally clear,- some "theory" is usually involved in all explanations of evolution.- Still, regardless of one's feelings on this subject and despite prevailing thought and conjecture, it is our view, that the correlation of ecological conditions to rapid evolutionary genetic change, as well as estimates of respective time intervals, dates, and the like, are, nonetheless, fairly accurate representations of actual events.- More philosophically, or perhaps, from a pragmatic perspective, since man holds stewardship over the animal kingdom, including the protection of worldwide ecosystems and habitats, an understanding of the relationship between exogenic forces and evolutionary change, regardless of species, has far-reaching implications.- With such knowledge, man will be better equipped to find logical solutions for the beneficial use and management of earthly resources, and more profoundly, how he can best live in harmony with the natural environment, hopefully, without destroying it, first!


-- Many wildlife authorities and mammal biologists identify 37 species of "felidae" worldwide (Corbett and Hill, 1993; Honacki, et al, 1982; Guggisberg, 1975; Green, 1991; Alderman, 1998), and this has been, until recently, the most widely accepted view.- However, based on the interpretation of genetic evidence from felid fossil remains by Warren Johnson, et al, in 2006, there may be as many as 40, all descended from a common ancestor 10.8 million years ago.- Similarily, 60 percent of the known modern species of cats probably developed within the last million years (Mott, 2006). Nevertheless, according to present evolutionary, genetic, and morphological data,- a more comprehensive and representative update suggests 36 SPECIES ( Felid Taxonomic Advisory Group, 1996-2006;
Wilson and Reeder, 1993-2005).-Among these, the larger cats, as an example, the lions, tigers, and leopards of the genus, "panthera,"- are believed to be the oldest species, while many smaller felids, such as those belonging to the genus, "felis" and "prionailurus,"- are considered the youngest.- Of the wild cats, the Cheetah, in our opinion, is one of the most interesting, its long body supported with powerful legs, built for speed, and paws that are almost doglike.- These characteristics, among others, distinguish it from other cats, and because of its unique qualities, it is the only feline in the taxonomic group, "Acinonyx," with five subspecies (although the number of sub-genera is argured).- Regarding anatomical size, the largest of cats is the "Siberian Tiger,"- while the smallest is the "Rusty-spotted Cat" of Indian and Sri Lanka (consult the following web-sites for more in depth information regarding FELIDAE:-Big Cats Online, the Cat Specialist Group, and Animal Diversity web sites).

----Interestingly, one possible explanation for differences in the "numeric count" of felid species may relate to the "status" of the Iriomote Cat (sometimes referred to as "Felis iriomotensis" in the literature, and found only on the island of Iriomote-jima of southern Japan, in the Ryukyu island chain, east of Taiwan; see map, left).-This feline is believed to be either:-(1) a subspecies of the Leopard Cat (listed as "Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis"), (2) a close relative of the Leopard Cat, but a genetic variant (listed as "Prionailurus iriomotensis"), or (3) a distinct species and the sole member, as "Mayailurus iriomotensis."- If it is eventually proven not to be a subspecies of the "leopard cat,"- it is probably one of the most ancient and rarest of cats (see Cat Specialist Group, 2007), in which case, if you follow the "numeric debate,"- the actual count of felid species would be 37.- However, based on current phylogenetic evidence, the concensus among many wild cat specialists indicates three primary sub-familes (i. e., FELINAE, PANTHERINE, and ACINONYCHINAE), with 18 GROUPS and 36 species, therein (Wilson and Reeder, 1993-2005; Wozencraft, 1993; Shoemaker, 1996; Felid Taxonomic Advisory Group, 1996 and 2006; IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 2007; review the breakdown of the "felidae" family to the right). We wish to point out, this particular representation of wild cats, although the current "popular" view, is subject to change as more information becomes available. It is, therefore, not conclusive, but in our opinion, is the most logical based on current genetic data and taxonomic description ("subspecies order" and numeric accounts, not surprisingly, continue to be debated by wildlife and taxonomic experts). Additionally, wild cats are normally grouped into five geo-enviornmental areas (i. e., the continental regions where they are found):- Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Southwest Asia, Tropical Asia, Eurasia, and the Americas (see the Cat Specialist Group for more in depth information and a breakdown of current species vulnerability).

----Upon close inspection, disagreements (at least, regarding the identification, number, and taxonomy of "felidae"),- have complicated the formulation of a more clearly defined felid classification. This has been, to some degree, a source of annoyance and argument among academia and the general wildcat community for many years, and continues to be so. More specifically, current taxonomic information suggests that the majority of debate relates to differences in the number of "taxa" within the family of cats, the logical placement of species within groups, and the hierarchical ordering of subspecies. Likewise, there is the underlying inclusion and interpretation of ongoing research to consider, and, as importantly, the lack of pertinent and corroborative genetic information (which has added another layer of complexity and confusion to the debatable landscape).- Therefore, just be aware, if you browse the academic literature on the web, or study other sources related to "felid taxonomy,"-scientific or otherwise, you will find more then one explanation and opinion, especially, issues related to subspecies. Nonetheless, the combined work and research of Wozencraft (1989, 1993, 2005), Wilson and Reeder (1993, 2005), the Cat Specialist Group (1996, 2007), The Felid Taxonomic Advisory Group (2006), and the protected status of cats as monitored by CITES (2007), are often referenced as the standard for current felid species (see legal status of felidae). Concerning the domestic cats, Felis silvestris catus, they are currently listed under the African subgroup, Felis silvestris lybica, which, itself, is one of three distinct varieties belonging to Felis silvestris, known as the -"Wild Cat" (see Animal Diversity Web for more information).- However, there is, even here, disagreement regarding such order and designation.

---- Although evolutionary change has created variability in overall physical appearance among felids, behavioral differences, shaped by environment, are also noted across populations.- Still, within the general framework of taxonomy, the "family" of cats is fairly well established, but phylogenetic questions related to origin, to subspecies status, and to interspecies relationships, are less clear.- However, some of these issues were addressed in a fairly recent and important publication, The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment (Warren E. Johnson, et al, in SCIENCE, vol. 311, January 6, 2006. You can view this document on our web site, make sure you have the Adobe Reader plugin installed in your web browser).- Briefly, this study proposes an updated biogeographic hypothesis of felid evolution based on the statistical analysis of fossil remains and on geological events. The authors suggest that past intepretation of genetic information has underestimated the first occurrence of "lineages" by an average of 76 %.- Further, Y-chromosome segments are more informative than mitochondrial DNA, X-linked, or autosomal genes in identifying genetic relationships, and lends itself to a better understanding of "felid radiation" (and the rapid extent, thereof).- From a purely phylogenetic perspective, their research more closely defines causality, intercontinental migration patterns, and ancestral tree structure, which, intrinsically, increases our understanding of genetic diversity within felid populations. Nonetheless, although there are unresolved issues related to taxonomy and to evolutionary events, -all species of cats, for the most part, are differentiated and easily recognized in their natural environments (Wozencraft, 1993; the Cat Specialist Group, 2007; see tropical Asia felid species).


-Prionailurus Bengalensis -

SCIENTIFIC-LATIN-NAME: "Prionailurus bengalensis" (Pocock, 1917); sometimes listed as "Felis bengalensis" (Kerr, 1792).
COMMON-ENGLISH-USAGE:- Leopard Cat, Asian Leopard Cat, Bengal Leopard Cat, Spotted Bengal Cat.

KINGDOM: animalia.- PHYLUM: chordata.- CLASS: mammalia.- ORDER: carnivora.
FAMILY: felidae.- GENUS: prionailurus.- SPECIES: bengalensis

--- When you review the scientific literature, taxonomic data, and relevant information from various sources, especially those "online,"- you will notice that many authorities group 28 to 30 of the known felid species into a category called, "small wild cats" (SWC).- The Leopard Cat, "Prionailurus bengalensis" (Pocock, 1917; Wozencraft, W. C., 1989; Wilson and Reeder, 1993, 2005), originally defined as "Felis bengalensis" (Kerr, 1792), and placed in the genus, "Prionailurus,"- by Pocock (1917), is listed in this category (see its current grouping, in green, above, right, and its taxonomic listing, below). It is referred to, in English, as the Leopard Cat or Asian Leopard Cat in many publications (abbreviated in the present document as ALC). They were first observed near the "Bay of Bengal,"- in India (see the accounts of Pocock, 1917, 1939), hence, the scientific designation "bengalensis," and the English derivative, "Bengal,"- appears in the literature. Colloquially, this name is also used by domestic cat organizations and the general cat "fancy"-to denote the hybrid form, widely referred to as the Domestic Bengal Cat.- (As an addendum, there is disagreement over an appropriate non-scientific or common name.- Here, Bengal Leopard Cat and Spotted Bengal Cat, among others, are sometimes used. However, ASIAN LEOPARD CAT-is more logical, since they appear to be endemic to the central areas of southeastern Asia, especially in the southern regions, and because this name is more closely aligned to its scientific description.- Regarding the SWC category and ALC subspecies account, whether inclusive to a particular group or linked to a more generalized classification, continues to be debated).

----Wildlife experts consider the ALC and its subspecies to be the most common of small-wild-cats (Alderman, 1998), although they are not widely known in western cultures (the Bob Cat, Lynx, and Ocelot, as examples, are some of the more familiar SWC's).- Still, they exist in large numbers over a wide geographic area in 21 Asian countries, primarily, those of the central region (Santiapillai and Suprahman, 1985; Johns, 1989; Rabinowitz, 1990). The largest concentrations, however, can be found in southeastern Asia (i. e., east of India and south of China), especially, subcontinent locations and island nations within the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Java Sea, Bay of Bengal, and the general area of Indonesia and Malaysia (excluding Australia and some island groups of eastern Pacific proper, sometimes called Oceania). Some authorities believe they are indigenous to the central Asiatic mainland, but from a phylogenetic and historical perspective, an exact point of origin, to date, has not been clearly established (See picture, left,- shaded green represents the primary range of the ALC. CLICK on image to see a larger map).- Habitable environments are many, and include: mountainous areas, up to 3000 meters (Habibi, 1977; Feng et al., 1986), tropical rainforests, temperate broadleaf coniferous forests, deforested riverines, shrub forests, semi-desert regions, agricultural land, low elevation mountain forests, jungles, and successional grasslands, among others (Heptner and Sludskii, 1972; Feng et al., 1986). Their overall geographic range encompasses the following areas, but may also include adjacent land and unknown habitats in bordering countries (Nowell and Jackson, 1996):



----Interestingly, many wild cats frequent regions where there is water, as an example, those belonging to the panthera group, although most avoid direct contact and swim only if necessary (such as crossing a river to reach a viable food source).- On the other hand, ALC subspecies, that live in environments where there are high concentrations of water,- appear to exhibit a degree of adeptness and can swim easily (see accounts of Pocock, 1917; Cai, et al, 1989; Lekagal and McNeely, 1977; Gao, et al, 1987).- This association points to a certain affinity and natural attraction to water, in a sense, "aquatic ability."- In our view, this is a form of specialization, and depending on habitat, is probably important for survival.- Still, after a review of the literature, we believe, since there are reports of ALC on off-shore islands within their habitable range (Lu and Sheng, 1986; Santiapillas and Suprahman, 1985), such behavior suggests, that small groups of ALC may have swam short distances to other islands and established viable populations. -This possibility has been alluded to by Nowell and Jackson (1996), who also speculate, that in such environments, over an evolutionary time frame, they evolved to the point of -"subspecies status."- This particular change or transformation is referred to as SPECIATION and is common to biological organisms. Nonetheless, such occurrence, regardless of its extent, may explain the presence of so many ALC subspecies. However, this premise is theoretical, and although plausible, is not conclusive; an introduction to this process can be found at Wikipedia, see the section on allopatric speciation. -As an addendum, explanations of evolutionary events and genetic change, as they relate to habitation and species development in specific environments, such as islands and enclosed inland "pocket" habitats, thereof, is conjecture, and has not been clearly defined in the scientifiic literature. However, based on current phylogenetic data, it is reasonable to assume that such development is highly possible.

----As one would expect, applying the principles of "speciation" -to explain evolutionary events, developmental tendencies, and physical changes in "animalia" (such as the inherent genetic expression for specific characters and traits), -is both an interesting and a complex subject. After all, trying to extract and draw logical conclusions from information, that, in many instances, is based on theory and limited genetic data, is often perplexing (Baker, J. M., 2005; Rice, W. R. and Hostert, E. E., 1993). Nonetheless, aften an extensive review of the literature, and as it may apply to the ALC and its subspecies, the occurrence of such events are possible for the following reasons:

----Although the Asian Leopard Cat has evolved into a number of subspecies, very little is known about the -"chain of events"- or causative factors that produced these cats. From a theoretical perspective, it is possible, that this particular species developed a genetic predisposition, in a sense, a propensity and natural inclination for change. It is here, perhaps, that a readiness for, as well as a heightened state of transformation was quickly reached, and, at some critical developmental point, accelerated changes in outward physical appearance were expressed (ergo, the beginning of subspecies development).- Further, whether through speciation (see allopatric),- chance occurrence, or, as yet, some unexplained change in its DNA, physical variability began (but, at this particular juncture, the affects of environment and other external forces probably influenced the outcome, as well). However, the aforementioned premise is purely conjecture, but when viewed within the broader context of phylogenetics, such developmental theories, have, nonetheless, contributed to the ongoing ALC subspecies debate. An in depth discussion of this subject, is, of course, beyond the scope of the present writing, for this, the reader is referred to the literature. We do hope, however, that this short narrative, has, at least, increased your interest and awareness, and perhaps, in a broader philosophical sense, deepened your appreciation for the complexity and beauty observed in the "natural"-world.

----Not surprisingly, as one investigates the greater body of research regarding ALC subspecies, it is evident that current data creates even more questions. Here, finding answers, and constructing models that clearly reflect evolutionary change and physical differences among these cats, continues to be elusive. Still, what variables are known, and their preponderance "to effect" change, have only added fuel to the debate:- Why are there so many subspecies of the ALC (listed as ten by some sources), when there is only a limited genetic database to support the current classification? - In this regard, it has not been shown there is a similar or uniform genetic footprint across subspecies populations, nor, is there proof, there are specific genetic markers that would, conclusively, differentiate these cats. However, such information, that is, an accurate and descriptive genetic account, does not currently exist.- Therefore, until such information is found, in a sense, until more pieces of the genetic puzzel can be put together, the subspecies controversy will continue.- As reported by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group (1996-2007):
" very little progress has been made in re-defining species using modern
--molecular analysis, including genetic analysis, and most classically described
--cat subspecies are not valid based on current genetic information."



--- If- you examine pictures of the ALC and its subspecies throughout this writing, you will notice that no two cats look alike.- In our opinion and discounting genetic influences, such development is due, in part, to climate differences, geographic separation, and isolation, especially in the southern basin of southeastern Asia, where unique habitats and island land masses frequent the region (as seen in areas of Borneo, Malaysia, Sumatra, and Jakarta, as examples).- It is in such environments, and over an evolutionary time period, that variability and physical fragmentation has occurred across populations (with attributes, that, for the most part, are easily recognized. As examples, differences in color, markings, and in some cases, overall size.- See Heptner, V. H., 1971; Johns, A. D., 1989; Yu, J., and Wozencraft, 1993).

--- From a phylogenetic perspective, the primary mechanisms responsible for physical variability among ALC subspecies remain unexplained.- However, speciation events,- random occurrences, incremental genetic drift, and geo-environmental forces, among others, have impacted developmental tendencies.- Whether these changes are due more to genetics, or to what degree and extent environmental factors have played in the outcome, have not been fully explained.- In one sense, it is easy to assume that genetics are responsible, after all, biological -"animalian"- structure is primarily genetically based, although the influence of environment may be more important then is currently believed.- Nonetheless, in our view, genetic changes, resulting in physical differences among these cats are intrinsically subtle, and therefore, difficult to analyze.- Therefore, until the scientific community clearly differentiates these factors and accurately defines their interaction(s), some conclusions, as they relate to developmental variability, remain fragmented, and more theory then fact.- Fragmentation, of course, has complicated a definitive genetic picture and taxonomy.- Because of this, some experts suggest, that until the ALC subspecies question(s) is resolved, individual species names would be more appropriate or logical, rather then the current listing(s). However, when one reviews the literature on this subject, which, incidentally, is very limited, such "premise" (with its associative inferences and assumptions), is not entirely supported by current evidence.- So, until there is more definitive genetic information, the current taxonomy is more then adequate for classification purposes.- Nonetheless, since questions remain regarding evolutionary, genetic, and physical variability, the following represent points of inquiry that the scientific wildcat community should consider in their quest to resolve some of the ALC subspecies controversy:

--- It is worth repeating, that the debate, surrounding specific aspects of ALC taxonomy and its subspecies, can never be fully resolved until a concise genetic description and geo-evolutionary history is completed. In a sense, without an accurate genetic map as a guide, and in the absence of verifiable information, the questions surrounding subspecies status and classification will be difficult to answer with any degree of certainty, if at all. As reported by the International Cat Specialist Group (1996-2006):
" With regard to subspecies, there is considerable debate on definition,
--and even whether the traditional taxonomic concept is valid in the light
--of contempory knowledge of population biology and genetics. It is generally
--agreed that too many subspecies of cats have been described in the past
--on the basis of very slim evidence. "

----As an addendum, one could reasonably assume, it would be relatively easy to obtain additional data that would explain, and hopefully, resolve, the issues, questions, and developmental events that have impacted the ALC?- But, presently, no serious attempt has been made to gather such information. It is true, some "field research" and radio-telemetry studies have been conducted in the past (Rabinowitz, 1990; Izawa et al., 1991), but such investigations, although helpful and necessary, have identified and yielded only estimates of territorial, movement/migration patterns, population densities, and behavioral characteristics. In all fariness, however, gathering the most important data, which in this particular case, would be genetic information, could prove to be difficult. Here, blood, tissue, and similar samples would need to be obtained and carefully examined using molecular/genetic techniques and instrumentation (not an easy undertaking). As well, one must also consider present world events, such as terrorism in some Asian countries; you would certainly not want to put field-research personnel "in harms way."- Likewise, there are unforeseen geo-political, resource/finanical allocation, academic, logistical , and geo-topographical constraints, which also complicate such ventures. Because of these factors, among others, we believe relevant genetic information will not be forthcoming anytime soon.



--The scientific name for the ALC is prionailurus bengalensis (Pocock, 1917), but the original name, felis bengalensis (Kerr, 1792), is sometimes used. Such description is in the "binomial" form of "Genus + Species." -In this "Latin" classification system, developed by the 18th century Swedish botanist and physician, Carolus Linnaeus (see Linnaean taxonomy), the organism is composed of its "genus" name, with the first letter always "capitalized,"-followed by a "species modifier" in small letters, and in some cases, if there are more then one "subspecies,"- a regional or geographic descriptor (this nomenclature still stands as the basis for most scientific classification and identification systems). Of course, such usage can be shortened with the letters "p" and "b" (e. g., "Prionailurus bengalensis chinensis," is the scientific name for the ALC subspecies found in regions of China, and is abbreviated as "P. b. chinensis;"- this is sometimes referred to as trinomial description). Not surprisingly, any particular Gensus (its grouping), -can have one or more SPECIES. As an example, the Flat-headed Cat, the Fishing Cat, and the Asian Leopard Cat, although different species, all belong to the same genus, "Prionailurus" (i. e., "small wild cats" in regions of Asia).

---Many aspects of "taxonomy" and "classification"- were addressed in a major update and review of "wild cats" by Wozencraft (1989, 1993). Concerning the ALC, enough phylogenetic information is present to clearly list this cat in the genus,-"Prionailurus,"- along with the Fishing Cat (p. viverrinus), the Flat-Headed Cat (p. planiceps), and the Rusty-Spotted Cat (p. rabiginosus). Such placement, according to Wozencraft, not only defines its status as the most common and widely distributed SWC, but, as well, reflects a close relationship to felines of similar genetic background and geographic location.

--- As examples of ALC's in the classification debate, those of Java, Sumatra, and Borneo have been recognized as distinct subspecies (p. b. sumatranus, p. b. borneoensis, p. b. javaenis), but not the cats of the Philippine islands (p. b. minuta), which have not been adequately described ( see IUNC web site, Cat Specialist Group, 1996, descriptive and behavior section). Likewise, the Iriomote Cat, found only on the island of the same name (on the southern most tip of the Ryuku island-chain), near Taiwan, is a unique species (Imaizumi, 1967), although others consider it to be a subspecies of the ALC (Masua et al., 1994; Suzuki et al., 1994). Similar questions exist for the Amur Leopard Cat, subspecies, p. b. euptilurus (found in the Amur river region of south eastern Russia), and the Tsushima Cat (found on Tsushima island, off of Japan). It has even been suggested that there may be as many as 15 ALC subspecies. However, there is currently not enough genetic information to support such claims (see articles and cat information in the IUCN Cat Specialist group news letters, 1990).-


KINGDOM: animalia.- PHYLUM: chordata.-SUBPHYLUM: vertebrata.- CLASS: mammalia.
- ORDER: carnivora. FAMILY: felidae.- GENUS: prionailurus. -SPECIES: bengalensis
(the subphylum category refers to all species with vertebra, that is, the fishes, amphibians,
reptiles, birds, and mammals, but it is often not included in many taxonomic listings)


* * F.(P.) b. bengalensis ---- - The regions of India to Indo-china and Yunnan.
----F.(P.) b. borneoensis ----- Borneo.
----F.(P.) b. chinensis--------- China and Taiwan region.
* * F.(P.) b. euptailura ------- Far eastern regions of Russia and Siberia.
----F.(P.) b. horsfieldi -------- Parts of Kashmir to Sikkim.
----F.(P.) b. javaenis ---------- Java and Bali.
----F.(P.) b. iriomotensis------ Iriomote-jima, Ryukyu island chain of southern Japan.
----F.(P.) b. manchurica ------ The region of Manchuria (the largest subspecies).
----F.(P.) b. minuta ---------- - The Philippines (the smallest subspecies).
----F.(P.) b. sumatranus------- Sumatra and outlying regions of the Indonesia basin.
----F.(P.) b. trevelyani------- - North Kashmir to South Baluchistan, Pakistan.

* The number of subspecies and their classification is much debated (THIS ISSUE HAS NOT BEEN RESOLVED AS OF 2008). Further, there is some question regarding the Iriomote Cat of Japan. Some feel it is a subspecies, while others consider it a rare and separate species. Until more supporting genetic data is found, it is, in our view, a genetic variant belonging to the genus, Prionailurus, and its status remains undetermined (although it is often listed in the literature as a subspecies of the ALC, as Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis). There are also similar questions regarding the Tsushima Cat and other sub-genera of Prionailurus.

--The Abbreviation of subspecies, as presented in the scientific literature, is usually listed with a lettered prefix(s): -F. - felidae/felis (i. e, the cat family), -B. - bengalensis (species designation), -P. - prionailurus (its genus - as a small Asian wild cat); in most context, the F prefix is not needed. Such description, whether it is in binomial-or trinominal-form, is based on Latin (see Big Cats Online history and evolution section, which gives a short, but concise account of taxonomy).

* * It is noted, that p. b. euptailura, is listed as a subspecies of the ALC by some authorities. However, this is debated by wildlife biologists, and, to date, this issue has not been resolved by the scientific community. Nonetheless, this cat is endangered and is approaching extinction. The subspecies, p. b. bengalensis, of India and Indo-China regions is endangered. The current status of these two cats is according to the CITES listing (2008).



----Actual field observations describe the ALC as shy, reclusive, and nocturnal, although there are documented reports of movement and foraging behavior during the daylight hours (Rabinowitz, 1990). They are intelligent, accomplished swimmers, agile climbers (arboreal in some habitats), and like all wild cats, are primarily carnivores. Their overall size, at maturity, is approximately 5-8 pounds, as seen in the southern parts of their range, to as much as 18-20 pounds in the northern geographic regions, and males, not surprisingly, are larger then females (Izawa et al. 1991; Rabinowitz, 1990).- Ten subspecies have been identified, each of which show variation in overall markings and body color, but as previously mentioned, this number is controversial (See IUCN/SSC web site, 1996). The general concensus, however, suggests seven to ten subspecies. Additionally, our research indicates their physical and behavioral makeup is dependent not only on the "genetic footprint" of the individual, but as importantly, by environmental influences (i. e., climatic conditions and the topographical features of the particular regions where they are found). Still, no two ALC have exactly the same look, since there can be both subtle, and sometimes, striking differences in appearance (see pictures throughout this document). Such physical divergence and development is relative to, and influenced by: time-duration, specific topographical habitat, and more importantly, to genetic interactions, which, to date, have not been clearly defined.

-- Research and data reported in the literature suggest ALC's are very adaptable, and can: (1) live in diverse environments, (2) adapt quickly and readily to sudden or abrupt changes in habitat (in a sense, to what we define as environmental complexity), and (3) easily adjust and supplement their dietary needs in order to survive (since they can eat almost anything). In other words, you can infer these cats are probably "survivors" based solely on their adaptability, despite the fact that they are often hunted for their fur and as a food source in many countries (esp. in China and India). As an example of their ability to adapt to the presence of man, it has been reported that villagers, in some Asian countries, keep ALC and Leopard cat hybrids in their homes (as pets, and to hunt/control rodent populations, such as mice and rats). So, although the ALC is classified as a wild cat, it appears that under certain conditions or circumstances, they are trainable, and therefore, could be considered good candidates for domestication, whether it be as an adult, that is raised from a kitten, or through selective breeding programs that produce hybrids (as seen in the domesticated Bengal Cat of Canada, the United States, and Europe). Conversely, there are reports and evidence that suggest the opposite, that even if carefully "hand-raised," -they can not be domesticated, because they will revert back to their wild and shy behavior as they mature.

--- Although there will always be similarities between cats, many characteristics, nonetheless, remain quite variable (Heptner, V. H. and Sludskii, 1972, 1992). Such observations are especially evident in the various colors seen in their coat (i. e., background colors and the foreground markings). These traits tend to be darker in the northern geographic areas, and lighter in the southern regions (Goa, Y. T., et al., 1987; Pocock, R. I. 1939). As examples of coat differences, the ALC of Java and Bali have somewhat dull coloration, the Sumatran subspecies have fewer and smaller markings as compared to cats of the Asian mainland, the Pakistani subspecies coat is quite gray, while the cats of Borneo have rufous and brightly colored coats and markings. In terms of size, f. b. manchurica, is the largest subspecies, while f. p. minuta, of the Philippines, is the smallest (Gao, Y. T., et al., 1987; IUCN Cat Specialist Web Site, on-line, 1996; The Cat Survival Trust Web Site, on-line, 1996).

--- Generally, the hair, fur, texture, and soft covering of the coat, called the pelage, and its background and foreground coloring, appear as yellowish-brown, from pale-yellow to orange (with a mix of reddish hues), in the southern climates, and greyish-brown, with reddish brown markings on a yellowish-gray background, in the northern regions (Gao, Yao ting, et al., 1987; Pocock, R. I., 1939). Cream colors with an orange-tinge mix, occassionally dark orange, are quite common, but pigmentation is not overly dark; the orange hues are referred to an rufous.- However, as previously mentioned, color is variable and is determined by hereditary influences, diet, extremes in temperature, the amount of sun exposure, and topographical features (e. g., intermittent elevation differences and the amount of terrestrial vegetation). The pelt is dotted with dark spots (varying in size and shape), which are sometimes solid, sometimes rosetted, and mixtures of these. The underside of the chin is usually white (sometiimes as off-white color), with no markings. The under-belly is also white, with dark spots, which are usually solid, although rosetted type patterns sometimes appear. The tail is banded (with black rings toward the tip), is moderately long (from 10 to 14 inches), and unlike the "domestic cat," does not come to a point at its end (it has a more rounded tip). The pads of the feet are dark, usually dark brown or shades of black (never light or with skin-tone colors). Their overall body length, form head to tail, is longer as compared to the standard domesticated cat. Full maturity is reached at approximately 18 months, but sexual/breeding behavior can begin as early as 8-10 months (especially in the tropics). They have been know to live for 15-20 years. Other characteristics of the ALC, as reported in the literature (see IUNC-SSC web site, 1996), and by field observations, are:

(1) The head is relatively small in size, and is more rounded, but not triangular (as viewed from the front). The space between the ears, the upper skull, has a rounded, dome-type shape, but is not flat (see side view, below). The chin is strong with no over-bite, and the under-chin is essentially white. The muzzel is slightly long and somewhat narrow, but not overly long. The ears are relatively small with rounded tips and are positioned at a slight angle from the mid-point of the head (they are not vertically placed). The whisker pads are prominent, and the eyes are large with varying colors from amber to grey. Their are usually four vertical band-type stripes running from the forehead to the back of the neck (variable, as per subspecies), and a degree of white coloration as a background to contrast these stripes (many of these characteristic markings are also observed in the domestic bengal, but are especially evident in early generation hybrids, F1 to F3). The pictures, below, depict various head profiles of the ALC:

-- -- -- --

(2) ALC's utilize habitat uniformly, with a marginal preference for riverine and off-road areas. Of course, this is very much dependent on the topography of the terrain. They adjust quickly to environmental changes, and therefore, are highly adaptable animals.

(3) Behavior is fairly consistent between subspecies, with a demeanor of shyness and wildness, but are non-aggressive. They remain solitary, except during the active breeding season, and generally, have nocturnal feeding habits.

(4) In certain habitats, where there is restricted or reduced movement due to thick ground-vegetation, they are, to some degree, arboreal, living in the heights of trees (Rabinowitz, 1990). Similarly, they live in close proximity to water (Gao et al., 1987), like most wild cats, and avoid deep snow cover as found in some northern climates (i. e., greater then 10 centimeters as reported by some experts). Their diet consists of rodents and other small animals (Heptner and Sludskii, 1972; Robinowitz, 1990), but they will also eat birds, fish, reptiles, and an assortment of insects.

(5) Kittens are born after a gestation period of approximately 65-70 days, with 1-4 young (usuallly 2-3) born in a hollow tree, rocky crevice or burrow. In the nothern climates kittens are born in May, while in the southern regions kittens are found at all times of the year.



-- Information obtained from the internet and other sources, concerning captive Asian Leopard Cats, indicates there are approximately 30 to 40 of these animals in structured breeding programs; most of these are found in the European zoological community. There may even be a larger number, held privately, in the United States, although an accurate numeric count, whether it be in the home environment (as pets), in on-going breeding programs, or in registered commercial enterprize, is not known. Similarly, despite the loss of some habitat due to human expansion, with its resultant destructive deforestation and poor agricultural/plant practices, suggests they are in no immediate danger of extinction (at least, at the present time). However, many conservation and animal-watch groups consider them to be at risk because of over-hunting and the massive fur trade in cat skins; this is especially true in China (e. g., The Species Survival Commission, The World Conservation Union, The Nature Conservancy, The Carnivore Conservation Organization, The Small Cat Conservation Alliance, among others). Based on these concerns, the ALC have been placed in the protected categories of CITES (the "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna," 1974). This organization monitors the international trade of animal and plant species, many that are endangered (those at great risk are carefully monitored and placed in Appendix-I of their guidelines and regulations). At last count, 100 countries, including the United States, follow the "conventions" of this worldwide agency. The ALC are listed in Appendix-II, as "not endangered, but could become so if the trade is not regulated" (of these, only the subspecies,
p. b. bengalensis and p. b. euptailura are listed in Appendix-I as endangered (p. b. euptailura, commonly called the Amur Leopard Cat, is nearing extinction, at least according to some wildlife experts). Currently, all ALC, regardless of subspecies "status" (as an example, the Iriomote and Tsushima Cats of Japan), are afforded some protection under the CITES guidelines.



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