Other Names
Asian steppe wildcat, Indian desert cat (English)
chat sauvage d’Asie, chat orné (French)
Asiatische Wildkatze, Steppenkatze (German)
gato montés, gato silvestre (Spanish)
ye mao, caoyuan ban mao (Chinese)
psk dsty (Dari: Afghanistan)
chat sauvage d’Asie (French)
velis cata (Georgian)
myallen, sabancha, myshuk dala, jawa misik (Kazakh)
matsyl, zhapayi mishik (Kirgiz)
jhang meno (Kutch: India)
  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • tsookhondoi (Mongolia)
    gorbeh vahhshi (Farsi, Iran)
    Asiaskiya dkikaya stepnaya koshka, dlinahvostaya koshka, pyatnistaya koshka (Russian)
    yawa müshük (Uygur)
    choi pshak, sabancha, yobai pshak (Uzbek)

    Description and Behavior
    The wildcats of Central Asia differ from the European wildcats by having a more greyish-yellow or reddish background color, marked distinctly with small black or red-brown spots. The spots are sometimes fused into stripes, especially in the Central Asian regions east of the Tian Shan Mountains (Groves 1980). The Asiatic wildcats tend to be smaller in size, weighing between 3-4 kg (Schaller 1967, Roberts 1977), with females (mean 2.7 kg: Hemmer 1976) smaller than males. Some authorities consider the Asiatic wildcats and African wildcats to be conspecific (F. lybica spp.), and the European wildcat (F. silvestris) a separate species (Pocock 1951, Ewer 1973, Leyhausen 1979).

    Like the other wildcats, rodents are the preferred prey: jerboas, gerbils, voles and mice (Ognev 1935, Allayarov 1963, Heptner and Sludskii 1972, Sharma 1979). The diet also includes hares, young ungulates, birds, insects, lizards and snakes (Ognev 1935, Sapozhenkov 1961b, Allayarov 1963, Lay 1967, Heptner and Sludskii 1972, Roberts 1977, Sharma 1979). Sharma (1979) observed a mother teaching her young to kill by bringing them injured gerbils; she also provisioned them with beetles and eggs of ground birds. Asiatic wildcats rest and den in burrows (Ognev 1935, Allayarov 1963, Heptner and Sludskii 1972, Sharma 1979). They are frequently observed in the daytime (Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    Reproductive season (W): Mating season Mar-Apr and Nov-Dec (Rajasthan, India: Sharma and Sankhala 1984); Jan-Feb (Central Asia: Kashkarov 1931, Allayarov 1963); year-round (Sind, Pakistan: Roberts 1977)

    Gestation (C): 58-62 days (Hemmer 1976, Roberts 1977)

    Litter size:
    (C):2.75 (n=16; Mellen 1989)
    (W): up to 5-6 (Ognev 1935, Sharma 1979)

    Age at sexual maturity (W): 10 months (Roberts 1977), but up to 21-22 months according to testicular development in males (Heptner and Sludskii 1972)

    Habitat and Distribution
    Asiatic wildcats are most typically associated with scrub desert (Allayarov 1963, Sharma 1979; T. Roberts in litt. 1993) (Figure 4). They do not occur in the steppe grasslands of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia (Zhang 1991; X. Gao, D. Mallon in litt. 1993), nor in alpine steppe (T. Roberts in litt. 1993). They range up to 2,000-3,000 m in mountain areas with sufficient dense vegetation (Allayarov 1963, Heptner and Sludskii 1972). Wildcats can be found near cultivated areas (Salikhbaev 1950, Sharma 1979) and human settlement (T. Roberts in litt. 1993). They usually occur in close proximity to water sources, but are also able to live year-round in waterless desert. Snow depth limits the northern boundaries of their range in winter (Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    The Caucasus is the transitional zone between the European wildcat (silvestris group) to the north and west, and the Asiatic wildcat to the south and east. In this region, European wildcats are found in montane forest, and Asiatic wildcats are found in the low-lying desert and semi-desert areas adjoining the Caspian sea (Dal 1954, Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    Population Status
    Global: Category 5c
    Regional (Asia): Category 2
    IUCN: Not Listed

    In the central part of its range, Belousova (1993) and E. Matjuschkin (in litt. 1993) report that the wildcat is common and populations stable in the lowlands of Kazakhstan. In Azerbaijan, the ornata-silvestris transition zone, a pronounced loss of range has been documented (Belousova 1993). In India, the eastern limit of its range, the Wildlife Institute of India (in litt. 1992) considers that 90% of the species’ habitat in India has been lost. On the other hand, Sharma (1979), who studied the species in western Rajasthan, noted that the introduced mesquite Prosopis juliflora, which provides favorable habitat for the wildcat, was spreading extensively in various regions of the Indian desert.

    Protection Status
    Protection Status: CITES Appendix II

    National Legislation:
    Fully protected in the east of its range; elsewhere hunted commercially or not protected

    Hunting and trade prohibited:
    India, Pakistan

    Hunting and trade regulated:
    China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

    No legal protection:
    Georgia, Iran, Mongolia

    No information:
    Armenia, Azerbaijan (Nichols et al. 1991, Belousova 1993, A. Bukhnicashvili in litt. 1993, IUCN Envl. Law Ctr. in litt. 1994)

    Principal Threats
    In the past, Asiatic wildcats have been trapped in large numbers in several areas: e.g., 12,800 in Kazahkstan (1928-9: Ognev 1935); 1,350 in the Kyzylkum desert (Allayarov 1963); 1,500 annually in the 1980s in Xinjiang (X.-Y. Gao in litt. 1992). In 1979, traders in India declared stocks of 41,845 pelts for an export amnesty (Panwar and Gopal 1984). Habibi (1977) reports widespread hunting of the wildcat for the fur trade in Afghanistan, and that large numbers of pelts were seen for sale in Kabul bazaars. Roberts (1977) equates the cat’s rarity in Pakistan with demand from the fur trade. However, at present there is little international trade in Asian wildcats (WCMC unpubl. data).

    Hybridization with domestic cats has been reported from Pakistan (Roberts 1977 and in litt. 1993) and Central Asia. Heptner and Sludskii (1972: 491) state that “the female [Asiatic wildcat] mates quite often with a domestic male, and hybrid offspring are frequently found near villages where wild females live”. The situation in other parts of its range, including India, is probably similar. It has been reported that the most common race of the domestic cat occurring in rural areas in India is colored dark grey, with black stripes and spots, similar in appearance to wildcats but less pale (Pocock 1939a, Kotwal 1984).

    Roberts (1977) published reports of predation on domestic poultry, but Heptner and Sludskii (1972) claim that feral domestic cats and hybrids attack poultry more often than wildcats.

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union