Cats come in two kinds, right? Big huge things that roam the wilds of Africa and Asia, hunting prey and roaring everywhere. And the humble domestic cat, leaving you half-dead birds and lounging in the most inconvenient places.
But there is a middle ground. There are several species of wild cat out there that aren’t exactly massive but are certainly more than your average moggie. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Thankfully, this entry isn’t about the crime against humanity that is Lynx Africa (a side note for all teenage boys – a little goes a very, very, very long way). The lynx is probably the most famous of the smaller wild cats and comes in four types, imaginatively called the Eurasian lynx, the Canada lynx, the Iberian lynx and Bob the Cat. Oh sorry. The bobcat.
The Eurasian lynx is the largest, weighing in between 40 to 66 lbs (18 to 30 kgs) and standing up to 28 inches (70 cms) at the shoulder. It’s also Europe’s third largest predator, after the brown bear and the grey wolf. But don’t worry too much – their preferred prey is roe deer, though it will make the most of any easy meal.
This small relative of the ocelot looks very similar to its bigger cousin, and inhabits the same ranges in South and Central America and Mexico. It sticks to the dense forests, where its small size of 19 to 31 inches (48 to 79 cms) at the shoulder and agility come in handy when hunting small mammals such as monkeys, birds, lizards and tree frogs. It’s mostly nocturnal so you’d be very lucky to see one of these adorable little blighters.
Its ankles can swivel up to 180 degrees, which is useful when you’re one of only three cat species that climbs down trees head first. They’ve even been seen hanging from a branch by a single foot. Just like those ‘Hang in There’ posters from the 80s.
This African wildcat has the longest legs of any cat, compared to its overall body size. It stands between 21 to 24 inches (54 and 62 cms) at the shoulder. Like most cats they tend to be solitary and don’t really like to hang out with each other. (I can relate to that sometimes.)
They live off small birds, frogs, reptiles and even insects. The serval is also capable of leaping up to 6 and a half feet (2 meters) into the air when hunting prey. That’s quite a leap.
The fishing cat
Cats hate water, right? Not always. Aside from the famously water-happy tigers, the fishing cat of south and southeast Asia is not averse to the odd dip itself. Not surprisingly, this animal catches fish for its supper around streams, rivers, swamps and oxbow lakes (thanks to Mr Gosden, my geography teacher for teaching me all about those bad boys in secondary school.) At around 7.9 to 11.8 inches (20 to 30 cms) tall, it’s about twice the size of the average domestic cat.
It has webbed feet, like the leopard cat and is also the state animal of West Bengal.
The flat-headed cat
This tiny little fellow lives in the wetlands of the Thai-Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. They have a tiny tail, and teeth that you would usually find in an animal twice their size. As you’ve probably guessed, though, these guys have rather interesting skills. They have an extreme depression running along the nose to the end of the muzzle. They also share a love of fish with the fishing cats above, and are also packing some webbed feet of their own.
The sand cat
Just look at this adorable little thing… Found dotted across Africa, central Asia and the Middle East, this is the only cat that lives mostly in true deserts. It has long ears and a very long tail for its size. It’s only 9.4 to 14.2 inches (24-36 cms) tall at the shoulder.
Its thick fur helps it tolerate the cold desert nights, and it seeks shelter in burrows when it’s too hot during the day. They usually use abandoned burrows made by foxes or porcupines, but they have been known to enlarge gerbil burrows.
It can last months without a drink, thanks to their diet of small rodents, lizards, insects and small birds.
But mainly, they’re so darn cute.