Amazing Small Wild Cats [Nina Reznick]

Forget the lions and tigers, these prowling felines have much more to tell us about the natural world



The margay is among the many small, spotted cats of Central and South America, but this nocturnal hunter has a clever ability that hasn’t yet been seen in any of its neighbors.

Margays are adept at hunting among the rainforest trees, where they try to nab anything from frogs to squirrels. But the cat is also capable of setting a trap. A 2009 study reported that a margay mimicked the call of a small monkey called a pied tamarin to lure the primate closer. The cat’s attempt was foiled that time, but the fact that the margay tried to fool the monkeys shows that it’s a very clever kitty.


Bay Cat

Borneo’s bay cat is so elusive that it took over a century before researchers got a chance to study a live one in detail. Covered in striking, rust-red fur with white under the tail and face stripes, this cat was officially named  in 1874 on the basis of a skull and torn skin sent to England by the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. 

Naturalists didn’t have a chance to study a live one until a bay cat was captured in 1992, and the cat remains so difficult to find that researchers know very little about how this secretive cat actually lives. The fact that the cat is so difficult to find is all the more frustrating because conservationists list the felid as endangered. The deforestation of Borneo may wipe out the bay cat before scientists get a chance to find out more about it. 



Found among the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa, the serval looks like a cat on stilts. Immediately recognizable by its long legs and large, rounded ears, this graceful felid’s stretched-out look is perfectly suited to detecting and pouncing on prey in the tall grass. Capable of jumping 12 feet into the air, servals can nab fleeing birds in mid-air and get the drop of scurrying small mammals. And this cat’s genetic legacy isn’t restricted to the savannah. Cat breeders have created a domestic cat-serval cross called the Savannah cat, and they’ve become accepted enough that The International Cat Association now recognizes them as a championship breed.

Pallas’ Cat

These felines are the original grumpy cats. Found over a wide swath of central Asia, Pallas’ cats have short ears and fluffy faces that give them a perpetually miffed look. That’s befitting their temperament – like many other small felids, Pallas’ cats are mainly solitary hunters that wait in ambush until an unwary pika or partridge comes within pouncing range. Sadly, though, these puffy cats are coming under increasing threat. While currently listed as near threatened, continued hunting, accidental poisoning, and habitat degradation complicate the Pallas’ cat’s future.

See More at Smithsonian

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