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Another Member of the Cat Family – Leopard Cat

Feb 2019
Author : Green Power

The Leopard Cat is native to Hong Kong. Yet most of us never see the cat due to its low population and shy character. Leopard Cats are nocturnal – active mostly at night or in the early morning – and secretive. Recently, a Leopard Cat was even mistaken for a tiger and caused some panic among the public!

A Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is about the size of a large domestic cat, with a body length of 40-60cm, and weighing 2-3kg. The species is widely distributed in Asia and South East Asia, and is the most widely distributed member of the Felidae Family. The solitary cat lives in woodlands and rainforests, hiding in caves and other holes during the day and hunting at night. It is carnivorous and feeds on various small animals such as rodents, birds and amphibians. Apart from meat, it will also eat berries, grass and eggs as supplements.

Tiger in Hong Kong?

A leopard cat has been mistaken for a tiger in Hong Kong. The two do have some resemblances. Looking closer, however, the leopard cat has a greyish yellow body covered with spots. There is a distinguishing white patch behind its ear, four dark stripes that run from the forehead to the back of its head, white streaks from the eyes to the nose, and one or two white stripes on its cheek. Its tail is half the length of its body.

South China Tigers (Panthera tigris amoyensis) have indeed been recorded in Hong Kong. But the last time a tiger was killed locally was 1942. In recent decades, the tiger has not been recorded in Southern China any more. The biggest difference between a tiger and a leopard cat is the body size. The largest Leopard Cat is the size of a juvenile tiger. The tiger has irregular vertical stripes on its body, while the leopard cat is covered with spots. The head of the tiger is also proportionately larger, so the two can actually be easily differentiated.

There is perhaps more chance of confusion between a Bengal Cat (Felis catus x Prionailurus bengalensis) and a Leopard cat. The Bengal cat is a hybrid that has been developed from wild leopard cats and domestic cats over 5 generations of cross-breeding. As a result, many of the features of the leopard cat disappeared in the Bengal cat, including the white patch behind the ear and the white streaks between the eyes and the nose.

Survival Threatened

The beautiful Leopard Cat is a popular target of illegal trading as a pet or for its fur. In Hong Kong, Leopard Cats have been found in a police raid of an illegal rearing site for endangered species. The Leopard Cats are "Protected Wild Animals" under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170.) and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586.). To possess a Leopard Cat, you need a permit issued by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

If you discover a pet shop that is trading Leopard Cat without a permit, do call the police and help protect the species!

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Leopard Cat
© Lam Pui Yin
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Leopard Cat
© Dr. Martin Willaims
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South China Tiger
Photo from Pixabay
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Bengal Cat
Photo from Pixabay
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Bengal Cat

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