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Small Wild Cats – Overlooked by Conservationists and in Serious Decline

Margay CatTigers and other big cats rival Pandas as “conservation darlings”…so much so, that an Africa-based colleague of mine recently commented that she doubted there was “…a single Cheetah alive that had not been radio-collared and filmed chasing down a Gazelle”!  However, 30 of the 37 known cat species are small, secretive creatures that, lacking the glamour of their larger relatives, are disappearing without generating much notice.   The plight of Chinese Desert Cats, Flat Headed Cats, Iriomote Cats, Kodkods and other rare felines should be of concern to all, especially Domestic Cat owners – after all, many taxonomists consider the Domestic Cat to be a mere subspecies of the African Wild Cat, and not a distinct species at all.

My First Crude Attempt at Small Cat Husbandry

With few exceptions (please see below), zoos have largely ignored small cats.  While I’ve had the good fortune to work with Ocelots, Leopard Cats, Lynxes, Clouded Leopards and Jaguarondis (reports persist that these odd fellows, also called “Otter Cats”, have become established in Florida via the pet trade!), try as I might, experience with others has eluded me.

My most memorable small cat experience was not zoo related, however – it arose when, at age 14, I tried to transfer a young Bobcat from a box trap (I was working at a camp’s nature center in upstate NY at the time) to a cage.  The enraged beast bounced off the back of the cage, ran over me, climbed the half-wall leading to the “arts and crafts room” and jumped onto a table amid 20 or so young campers…fortunately, no one was injured (other than myself!) and the Bobcat escaped.

A Small Cat Conservation Leader

Fishing CatThe International Society for Endangered Cats, the only organization focused solely on small cat conservation, sponsors research, education, habitat preservation, captive breeding and reintroduction efforts.

A number of species have been bred over the past 30 years at its facility in southern California.   The Iberian Lynx, perhaps the world’s rarest small cat (approximately 120 individuals remain), is the focus of a breeding project in Spain and Clouded Leopards are reproducing at the society’s facility in Thailand.  A variety of field research projects are in progress, including studies of Cougars in Canada, Black-footed Cats in Africa and Pampas Cats in Argentina.

The International Society for Endangered Cats is also unique in having no paid employees.  Members’ donations can be applied for the benefit of the species of their choosing or be used to help purchase small cat habitat in Cambodia, Canada, Brazil and elsewhere.

Further Reading

Leopard Cats have been crossed with Domestic Cats to produce the popular The Bengal Cat.

I was pleased to see that the Cincinnati Zoo has remained focused on small cat conservation, exhibiting an unprecedented 13 species.  Read more here.

First photo of the Sunderland Clouded Leopard and photos of 4 other rare Bornean cats.



Margay Cat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Malene Thyssen

Fishing Cat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by duloup


  1. avatar

    What a great post! Always wonderful to see people speaking up for the small cats. Thank you for promoting our organization – the small wild cats appreciate it!

    International Society for Endangered Cats

  2. avatar

    Great article on small wild cats and their decline. Thanks for introducing me to the international society for endangered cats, I did not know such a society existed and plan on finding out more about it. Always a pleasure reading your work. Susan

  3. avatar

    Hello Pat, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. My interests have always leaned towards smaller mammals that garner less attention – small cats, bats, rodents and so on. Your group does a wonderful job and I’ll continue to refer people there whenever possible.

    Good luck and please keep me posted on your activities when possible; I can post updates from time to time,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Hello Susan, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks so much for your interest and kind words; I look forward to your future comments and questions,

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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