International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Featured Feline: Asiatic Wildcat

This is the second in a series of fact sheets on sub-species of the domestic cat ancestor, the wide ranging Wildcat (Felis silvestris.)

F.s. ornata by Peter Cromer

The Asiatic Wildcat Felis silvestris ornata, also known as the Asian Steppe Wildcat or Indian Desert Cat, differs from its European counterparts by having a more greyish-yellow or reddish background colour. They are distinctly marked with small black or red-brown spots, which are sometimes fused into stripes. Ornata tend to be smaller in size, weighing between 3-4 kg, and females are smaller than males.

Its range extends from Iran to China and Mongolia with a small overlap into Siberia and Kazakhstan. To the south the range is bounded by the Himalayas except for an area of west India and Pakistan.

These wildcats are typically associated with scrub desert. They do not occur in the steppe grasslands of Mongolia, nor in alpine steppe. They range up to 2,000-3,000 m in mountain areas with sufficient dense vegetation.

Wildcats can be found near cultivated areas, and human settlements. They usually occur in close proximity to water sources, but are also able to live year round in waterless desert, getting enough moisture from their prey. Snow depth limits the northern boundaries of their range in winter.

The Caucasus is the transitional zone between the European wildcat Felis silvestris silvestris to the north and west, and the Asiatic wildcat to the south and east. In this region, the European wildcats are found in montane forest, while the Asiatic wildcats live in low-lying desert and semi-desert areas adjoining the Caspian Sea.

In 1989, history was made when the first test-tube kitten was born by invitro fertilization in Cinncinnati. An Indian desert cat was conceived in a glass dish and implanted as an embryo in his surrogate mother, a domestic shorthair. This was the first interspecies birth of a cat, and the first birth of an exotic cat from a test-tube fertilized egg.

In the past, Asiatic wildcats have been trapped in large numbers in several areas. In 1979, traders in India declared stocks of 41,845 pelts for an export anmesty. There were reports of widespread hunting of the wildcat for the fur trade in Afghanistan in the 1970`s and 80s, and large numbers of skins were seen for sale in the bazaars of Kabul.

Hybridization with feral domestic cats has been reported from Pakistan and central Asia. The female Asiatic wildcat mates quite often with a domestic male, and hybrid offspring are frequently found near village where wild females live. The situation in other parts of its range is probably similar.

The Asiatic Wildcat is listed on CITES Appendix II, and protected only in Pakistan and India. Hunting and trade are allowed but regulated in China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They have no legal protection in Iran, Georgia or Mongolia.

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