Small Cats - Often Overlooked
encompass approximately three quarters of the world's wild cat
species and conservation research studies are
essential to the future of these lesser felines. They are
native to nearly all parts of the world and include many
kinds of small, undomesticated cats from the 3 pound Black Footed Cat to the 80
pound Eurasian Lynx. Some scientist also include the Clouded
Leopard and the mountain Lion as small cats.
exclusively meat eaters and typically sit at the top of food
chains. They are dependent upon a healthy population of prey
animals and so are excellent indicators of ecosystem health.
Due to their predatory ways, cats have conflicted with man
since the beginning of time and particularly with the advent
of domestic livestock. Throughout the world, cats have been
hunted and persecuted relentlessly as man has expanded his
Education and public awareness are
major components of wildcat conservation as many have never
been studied in their natural habitats,
and as a
result, very little or nothing is known of their requirements for
survival. They are extremely difficult to study in the wild,
and not just because of their size. They are shy, elusive,
and adept at concealing themselves.
some of the worlds most rugged terrains from the highest
mountains, to the densest rain forest canopy and the arid desert regions.
Compounded by their shy, elusive nature, with most of them
There are many
differences between a big and small cats. But there is one
thing which clearly differentiates large from small. There
are no exceptions to this rule. This is the hyoid bone which
connects the tongue to the roof of the mouth. In big cats
this has an elastic segment, while that of small cats is
hard all over. It is this
which allows big cats to produce a roar, and which also
prevents them from purring in the same manner small cats
can. The 'purring' type of noise produced by big cats can
only be made as they exhale.
Loss of habitat and human
encroachment into their territories, poaching
and the loss of prey remains their largest threats for survival.
Though they have adapted to many of the global changes
throughout the last few decades. These smaller felines
are not cat fanciers of human contact.
tropical cats are currently perceived as having no economic
value, and thus are of little value in their native
People destroy the cats, either deliberately or
through habitat alteration and removal of prey species,
because they are seen as being valueless.
Lately, more attention is beginning to focus on these small
felines. Often they are included in studies evaluating total
biomass of an area, or as part of a carnivore study. For effective
wild cat conservation, research must make cat populations
more valuable to local residents and government authorities.
Field studies identify areas where they may be found, and
provide data on their ecology to bring in eco-tourists.
Details on the small cats prey species, usually
agricultural pests and disease carriers, help convince rural
people that these little cats are valuable allies. The first
field study on the little kodkod in Chile discovered that
local people thought the cats were vampires, due to the
teeth marks on domestic poultry killed by the cats. When
researchers showed people the small size of the cats, and
explained they lived mainly on mice and rats, the local
people became staunch defenders of the tiny cat.
Scientists fear that the
numbers of most small cats are declining for two reasons.
Since the penalties for hunting big cats have increased,
people have begun hunting the small spotted cats for their
fur. Coats made from cat fur are still popular in parts of
Europe and Asia. Since small cats have smaller skins, as
many as 25 cats must be killed to make one fur coat. Like
their larger cousins, small cats can be helped if people
stop wearing their fur.
Loss of Habitat—
The other threat to the survival of small cats is loss of
their habitat due to development of towns, cities, and
farms. When people move into their habitat, small cats are
often viewed as a threat to pets,
livestock, or humans, and so they are killed. We
can protect small cats by preserving their habitat and by
learning to live with them. Keep in mind that they are
predators that control
populations of potential