Other Names
chat marbré (French)
Marmorkatze (German)
gato jaspeado (Spanish)
marbel biral (Bengali: Bangladesh, India)
shih mao, shihban mao, xiao yunbao [small clouded leopard] (Chinese)
kucing batu (Indonesia)
kucing dahan (Malaysia)
kyaung tha lin (Myanmar)
maew laey hin on (Thailand)
  • Description and Behavior
  • Biology
  • Habitat and Distribution
  • Population Status
  • Protection Status
  • Principal Threats
  • References
  • Action Planning

  • Description and Behavior
    The marbled cat’s coat is very similar to that of the clouded leopard, although the black-edged blotches on the sides of its body are less distinct, and black spots on the limbs more numerous. It also has a long tail, equivalent to or longer than head-body length (TL = 48-55 cm: Pocock 1939a). Corbett and Hill (1993) place both species in the genus Pardofelis, noting that “the unique and complex pattern of the pelage is unlikely to be independently derived or primitive”. Groves (1982) also supports a close relationship, noting that, like the clouded leopard, the marbled cat’s upper canines are relatively enlarged. However, the marbled cat is less than one-third the weight of the clouded leopard, has a shorter, rounder skull (Pocock 1932b) and shares an identical karyotype with Lynx, Panthera, and Uncia (Wurster-Hill and Centerwall 1982). The evolutionary history of marmorata continues to be a taxonomic puzzle: Wozencraft’s (1993) revision of the family Felidae concluded that the classification of the marbled cat should best be considered incertae sedis, or uncertain.

    Very little is known of its behavior, diet and ecological niche. It is believed to be primarily nocturnal. The few times marbled cats were observed in the Bukit Suharto Protection Forest in Kalimantan were in the evening between eight and 10 p.m. (Yasuma and Alikodra 1990). The stomach of a specimen shot in Sabah contained remains of a small rat (Davis 1962). There was an observation around the turn of the century of a marbled cat stalking a bird in a tree (Guggisberg 1975). Squirrels have been reported in the diet (Ha Dinh Duc, Wang Yingxiang pers. comm.). The marbled cat has proved to be an adept climber in captivity (Leyhausen 1979).

    Gestation (C): 81 days

    Litter size (C): 1-4

    Age at sexual maturity (C): 21 months (Green 1991)

    Longevity (C): up to 12 years (Medway 1978)

    Habitat and Distribution
    The marbled cat is primarily an animal of moist tropical forest, but there is only anecdotal information on the specificity of its habitat requirements. In Thailand, marbled cats were not found in dry tropical deciduous forest mosaic where a study of the carnivore community was carried out, but were known to be present in adjacent areas of more extensive mixed deciduous-evergreen forest (Rabinowitz and Walker 1991). Occurrence in secondary forest has been noted in Vietnam (Trinh 1991) and Thailand (B. Lekagul pers. comm., cited in Humphrey and Bain 1990), and Hose (1893) noted that marbled cats were seen frequently in clearings in Sarawak, and were found more often at low elevations than in the mountains. A marbled cat was observed in a six-year-old logged forest isolate in Sabah (Johns 1989). Although most records for the marbled cat in Borneo are from Dipterocarp forests, Davies and Payne (1982) observed one individual on a sandy beach stabilized with Casuarina trees and grass, in a remote, swampy mangrove area. Pocock (1939a: 258) reported that a specimen was captured in a chicken house on the Barito River, southern Borneo, “in a district which for miles around and for many years had been cleared of native forest and planted for rubber and cereals. The animal was living on the river cliff, which consisted of rocks overgrown with scrub and low bush.”

    There are few records on which to base the distribution map (Figure 12). However, in 1994 what is thought to be the first photo of a marbled cat in the wild was obtained in a photo-trap set in Thailand’s Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve (K. Conforte pers. comm.; see Plate X), where there were no previous reports. The sparseness of earlier records is indicated by the following examples: although Pocock (1939a) quotes Horsfield on the marbled cat’s occurrence in hilly regions in Nepal, recent records consist of only a single specimen circa 1981 from Nawalpur, just to the west of Royal Chitwan National Park; it has not been recorded from the park itself (C. McDougal in litt. 1991). The cat has only recently been recorded from China: a specimen was collected in China’s Yunnan province in the 1970s (Wang and Wang 1986), and B. Tan (in litt. 1991) writes that there are new reports of its presence in neighboring Guangxi province. Although some distribution maps have excluded much of South-East Asia (e.g., Sunquist 1991, Corbett 1993) from the marbled cat’s range, it is present in the lowland forests of southern and central Vietnam (Van Peenen 1969; Dao Van Tien, C. Santiapillai in litt. 1991). Husain (1974) thought it occurred in the Chittagong hill forests of Bangladesh, but Khan (1986) states that there are no actual records. In India, the species appears to be restricted to the eastern Himalayan foothills between 1,500-3,000 m altitude, associated with moist deciduous and semi-evergreen forest habitats (Biswas and Ghose 1982, Banerjee 1984).

    Population Status
    Global: Category 3
    Regional: Category 2
    IUCN: Insufficiently Known

    The marbled cat may be a naturally rare species. On the other hand, 50 years ago, Pocock (1941: 476) ascribed the rarity of observation to its forest habitat and nocturnal habits rather than to real scarcity. Arboreality can also be added to the factors mitigating against sightings and collection. A field study is long overdue.

    Protection Status
    Protection Status: CITES Appendix I

    National Legislation:
    Protected over parts of its range

    Hunting prohibited:
    Bangladesh, China (Yunnan only), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand

    Hunting regulated:
    Laos, Singapore

    No legal protection outside protected areas:
    Bhutan, Brunei

    No information: Cambodia, Vietnam (Nichols et al. 1991; U. Ohn, R. Salter in litt.; China Cat Specialist Group meeting 1992)

    Principal Threats
    The degree of forest clearance the species can tolerate needs investigation (see Part II Chapter 1). The marbled cat is probably opportunistically hunted, but specimens are not commonly observed in local wildlife markets (Low 1991, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia in litt. 1993).

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union