Sunda leopard cat

Sunda leopard cat
Prionailurus bengalensis in Indonesia 02.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Prionailurus
P. javanensis
Binomial name
Prionailurus javanensis
(Desmarest, 1816)
SundaLeopardCat distribution.jpg
Distribution of Sunda leopard cat, 2015[1]

The Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis) is a small wild cat species native to the Sundaland islands of Java, Bali, Borneo, Sumatra and the Philippines that is considered distinct from the leopard cat occurring in mainland South and Southeast Asia.[2][3]


Desmarest described the Sunda leopard cat from Java as a little smaller than the domestic cat with brown round spots on grey-brown coloured fur above and whitish underneath, a line from above each eye towards the back and longish spots on the back. He noted the similarity to the leopard cat from India.[4] Like all Prionailurus species it has rounded ears.[5] Like its mainland relative, the Sunda leopard cat is slender, with long legs and well-defined webs between its toes. Its small head is marked with two prominent dark stripes and a short and narrow white muzzle. There are two dark stripes running from the eyes to the ears, and smaller white streaks running from the eyes to the nose. The backs of its moderately long and rounded ears are black with central white spots. Body and limbs are marked with black spots of varying size and color, and along its back are three rows of elongated spots that join into complete stripes in some subspecies. The tail is about half the size of its head-body length and is spotted with a few indistinct rings near the black tip. The background color of the spotted fur varies from light grey to ochre tawny, with a white chest and belly. There are two main variants in the coloration.[3] The cats from Java, Bali and Palawan are a light grey, sometimes yellow-grey, with very small spots that may not be clearly defined. The three spotted lines along the back do not from complete stripes and are close together. Those from Sumatra, Borneo and Negros have a warm ochre toned background color and larger well-distinguished spots. The three longitudinal spot-lines are usually fused into stripes. Sunda leopard cats weigh 0.55 to 3.8 kg (1.2 to 8.4 lb), have head-body lengths of 38.8 to 66 cm (15.3 to 26.0 in) and tails about 40-50% of that length.[3][6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Sunda leopard cat inhabits the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Bali, Tebingtinggi, Palawan, Negros, Cebu and Panay.[3] Its natural habitat is lowland tropical evergreen forest, but it has also adapted to human-modified landscapes with suitable vegetation cover, and inhabits agricultural areas such as rubber, oil palm, and sugarcane plantations.[7]

In Sabah's Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sunda leopard cats had average home ranges of 3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi).[8]

In Kalimantan, Sunda leopard cats were recorded in mixed swamp forest and tall interior forest at elevations below 20 m (66 ft) in the vicinity of Sabangau National Park between 2008 and 2018.[9]

Taxonomy and evolution[edit]

Felis javanensis was the scientific name proposed by Anselme Gaëtan Desmarest in 1816 for a leopard cat from Java.[4] In the 19th and 20th centuries, several leopard cat zoological specimens from the Sunda islands were described:

  • Felis sumatranus by Thomas Horsfield in 1821 from Sumatra.[10]
  • Prionailurus bengalensis borneoensis by Leo Brongersma in 1935 from Borneo.[11]
  • P. b. heaneyi from the Philippine island of Palawan[3] and
  • P. b. rabori from Negros, Cebu and Panay, both in 1997 by Colin Groves, based on a morphological analysis of 147 skins and 100 skulls of leopard cats from insular and peninsular Southeast Asia.[3]

Results of a phylogeographical study indicate that the Sunda leopard cat lineage diverged in the Middle Pleistocene. The Borneo population is thought to have expanded to Sumatra and the Philippines island of Palawan after the Toba eruption, when these islands were connected during the late Pleistocene glaciation. Since leopard cats in Palawan and Negros show low genetic differentiation, it is possible that humans introduced the leopard cat from Palawan to Negros and adjacent islands.[12] Based on these results, two Sunda leopard cat subspecies are recognised, namely P. j. javanensis and P. j. sumatranus, the latter including the Visayan leopard cat.[2]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

Sunda leopard cats photographed by camera-traps in Kalimantan between 2008 and 2018 were foremost nocturnal, overlapping with the activity pattern of flat-headed cats (Prionailurus planiceps).[9] Those recorded in an oil palm plantation in central Kalimantan were active from late afternoon to early morning and preyed foremost on ricefield rats and other rodents.[13]

Nine radio-collared Sunda leopard cats in Sabah used predominantly oil palm plantations and also logged dipterocarp forest adjacent to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. They were observed up to 4 m (13 ft) above ground hunting rodents and beetles, and preyed foremost on Whitehead's spiny rat, dark-tailed tree rat, long-tailed giant rat, lizards, snakes and frogs. Males had larger home ranges than females, averaging 3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi) and 2.1 km2 (0.81 sq mi), respectively. Each male's range overlapped one or more female ranges.[14] Scats collected of Sunda leopard cats in sugarcane fields in Negros island indicate that they feed foremost on rodents such as house mouse, Polynesian rat, ricefield rat and Tanezumi rat.[15] To a lesser extent, they also prey on amphibians, geckos, lizards and passerine birds occurring in these sugarcane fields.[7]

In western Java, Sunda leopard cats were encountered close to human settlements and resting on the ground.[16]


In Java and Bali, 219 Sunda leopard cats were recorded in 21 of 27 wildlife markets surveyed between 1996 and 2018. More than half were kittens, indicating they were caught in the wild. Numbers offered decreased from the 1990s surveys to 2018.[17] In Sumatra, it is threatened by habitat loss following deforestation.[18]


  1. ^ Ross, J.; Brodie, J.; Cheyne, S.; Hearn, A.; Izawa, M.; Loken, B.; Lynam, A.; McCarthy, J.; Mukherjee, S.; Phan, C.; Rasphone, A. & Wilting, A. (2015). "Prionailurus bengalensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T18146A50661611. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; Werdelin, L.; Wilting, A.; Yamaguchi, N.; Abramov, A. V.; Christiansen, P.; Driscoll, C.; Duckworth, J. W.; Johnson, W.; Luo, S.-J.; Meijaard, E.; O'Donoghue, P.; Sanderson, J.; Seymour, K.; Bruford, M.; Groves, C.; Hoffmann, M.; Nowell, K.; Timmons, Z. & Tobe, S. (2017). "A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group" (PDF). Cat News (Special Issue 11): 28–29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Groves, C. P. (1997). "Leopard-cats, Prionailurus bengalensis (Carnivora: Felidae) from Indonesia and the Philippines, with the description of two new subspecies". Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde. 62: 330–338.
  4. ^ a b Desmarest, A. G. (1816). "Le Chat de Java, Felis javanensis Nob.". In Société de naturalistes et d'agriculteurs (ed.). Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, appliquée aux arts, à l'agriculture, à l'économie rurale et domestique, à la médecine. Tome 6. Paris: Chez Deterville. p. 115.
  5. ^ Pocock, R. I. (1939). "Genus Prionailurus Severtzow". The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia. – Volume 1. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 265–284.
  6. ^ Sunquist, M.; Sunquist, F. (2002). "Leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis (Kerr, 1792)". Wild cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 225–232. ISBN 0-226-77999-8.
  7. ^ a b Lorica, M. R. P. & Heaney, L. R. (2013). "Survival of a native mammalian carnivore, the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis Kerr, 1792 (Carnivora: Felidae), in an agricultural landscape on an oceanic Philippine island". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 5 (10): 4451–4460. doi:10.11609/JoTT.o3352.4451-60.
  8. ^ Rajaratnam, R. (2000). Ecology of the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia (PhD Thesis). Bangi: Universiti Kabangsaan Malaysia.
  9. ^ a b Jeffers, K. A.; Adul & Cheyne, S. M. (2019). "Small cat surveys: 10 years of data from Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 11 (4): 13478–13491. doi:10.11609/jott.4466.11.4.13478-13491.
  10. ^ Horsfield T. (1821). Zoological researches in Java and the neighbouring islands. London: Kingbury, Parbury and Allen.
  11. ^ Brongersma, L. D. (1935). "Notes on some Recent and fossil cats, chiefly from the Malay archipelago". Zoologische Mededelingen. 18: 1–89.
  12. ^ Patel, R. P.; Wutke, S.; Lenz, D.; Mukherjee, S.; Ramakrishnan, U.; Veron, G.; Fickel, J.; Wilting, A. & Förster, D. (2017). "Genetic Structure and Phylogeography of the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) Inferred from Mitochondrial Genomes". Journal of Heredity. 108 (4): 349–360. doi:10.1093/jhered/esx017. PMID 28498987.
  13. ^ Silmi, M.; Anggara, S. & Dahlen, B. (2013). "Using leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis) as biological pest control of rats in a palm oil plantation". Journal of Indonesia Natural History. 1 (1): 31–36.
  14. ^ Rajaratnam, R.; Sunquist, M.; Rajaratnam, L.; Ambu, L. (2007). "Diet and habitat selection of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis borneoensis) in an agricultural landscape in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo". Journal of Tropical Ecology. 23 (2): 209–217. doi:10.1017/s0266467406003841. S2CID 86520583.
  15. ^ Fernandez, D. A. P. & de Guia, A. P. O. (2011). "Feeding habits of Visayan leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis rabori) in sugarcane fields of Negros Occidental, Philippines". Asia Life Sciences. 20 (1): 141–152.
  16. ^ Rode-Margono, E. J.; Voskamp, A.; Spaan, D.; Lehtinen, J. K.; Roberts, P. D.; Nijman, V. & Nekaris, K. A. I. (2014). "Records of small carnivores and of medium-sized nocturnal mammals on Java, Indonesia". Small Carnivore Conservation. 50: 1–11.
  17. ^ Nijman, V.; Ardiansyah, A.; Bergin, D.; Birot, H.; Brown, E.; Langgeng, A.; Morcatty, T.; Spaan, D.; Siriwat, P.; Imron, M. A. & Nekaris, K. A. I. (2019). "Dynamics of illegal wildlife trade in Indonesian markets over two decades illustrated by trade in Sunda Leopard Cats". Biodiversity. 20: 27–40. doi:10.1080/14888386.2019.1590236. S2CID 134007069.
  18. ^ Haidir, I. A.; Macdonald, D. W.; Wong, W.-M.; Lubis, M. & Linkie, M. (2020). "Population dynamics of threatened felids in response to forest cover change in Sumatra". PLOS ONE. 15 (8): e0236144. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0236144. PMC 7423073. PMID 32785217.

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