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DateLine Sunday, 10 February 2008

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Nature trail


Skilled hunters

Felines - small, wild and beautiful IV:

We introduced you to six species of small wild cats over the past weeks through Nature Trail and we hope you enjoyed reading about these feline beauties. After a break last weak, due to Independence anniversary celebrations, we are back with the series this week.

Today we like to enlighten you about more small or medium-sized wild cats which you may or may not be familiar with.

Bobcat

An elusive (hard to find) mammal living in North America, the bobcat is also occasionally called the bay lynx because of its close resemblance to the lynx genus, though smaller in size.


Two bobcats relaxing.

The bobcat is distributed from southern Canada to northern Mexico including most of the continental US. It is an adaptable predator and inhabits wooded areas, semi-deserts and also urban edge and swampplain environments. It selects its-prey depending on the location, habitat, season and availability of food. There are 12 recognised sub-species of bobcats.

The bobcat is a muscular cat of about 70-120cm (28-47 inch) in length, including a 10-18cm (4-7 inch) long, stubby tail. On average, the cat is about 90 cm (36 in) long. An adult male weighs around 7-14 kg (16-30 lbs) and a female, 9 kg or 20 lbs.

Its muscular hind legs are longer than the front ones and give it a bobbing gait (manner of walking). Its black-tipped stubby tail too has 'bobbed' appearance, hence its name.


Believed to be a descendant of the Sabre tooth cat

Smaller than the Canadian lynx, but twice as big as the domestic cat, the bobcat has a coat, the base colour of which varies from tan to red or greyish-brown. There are black streaks on the body and distinctive dark or black bars on its forelegs and tail.

The fur is brittle, rather long and dense too. The ears are short, pointed and black-tipped, with black tufts. The nose is pinkish red and the eyes are yellow with black pupils. The tufts of hair on the sides of the whiskered face below the ears gives its face a wide appearance.

The bobcats' pupils, which are elongated vertically, widen to catch light during nocturnal activity. It is believed to have excellent vision and sharp hearing too, coupled with a good sense of smell. The bobcat is able to swim, but will generally avoid water. Bobcats figure prominently in Native American mythology.

Mostly active at twilight and dawn, the bobcat is on the move, hunting for prey three hours prior to sunset until about midnight and then again before dawn, till three hours after sunrise.

Territorial and mostly solitary by nature, the bobcat covers an area of about 2-7 miles (3-11 km) along its habitual route each night when hunting for prey. As its activities are confined to well defined territories, the bobcat marks its territory with faeces, urine, and by clawing on prominent trees.

It has numerous places of rest, usually a main den which smells strongly and several subsidiary shelters on the outskirts of the range, such as hollows of logs, brush patches, thickets or under rocks.


Itís hunted for its striking coat.

The bobcat is able to wait for long periods without food because whenever food is available in plenty, it 'stuffs' itself. It hunts animals of varying sizes usually by stalking its prey and then ambushing it with a chase and a pounce.

It is in the habit of adjusting its hunting techniques to suit the type of prey it's hunting. For instance, when it's hunting small creatures such as rodents, squirrels, birds or fish, it lies, crouches or stands and waits for the victims to come close, then pounces and grabs them with its sharp retractable claws. Larger ones such as rabbits and hare are stalked from cover. It usually waits until they come within 6-10 mts before rushing to attack them.

The bobcat is also known to kill larger prey such as deer, minks, foxes, small dogs and house cats.

The female gives birth to a litter of 2-4 kittens during April or May after a gestation period of about two months. She then raises the young alone and the kittens, which open their eyes by about nine days, are nursed by her until they are two months old and ready to be weaned.

They start to explore their surroundings by four months and travel about with the mother by five months. The kittens are born with fur and the spots already marked. At birth, kittens weigh 280-340g.Bobcats are known to live for about 16 years in the wild.

However, there are records of it living twice that amount in captivity.

****

Clouded leopard

A medium sized cat, the clouded leopard (Neogelis nebulosa) is found in Southern China, Eastern Himalayas, North-East India and South-East Asia. Despite its name, it is not related to the leopard.

However, scientists were initially confused as to whether the Bornean clouded leopard and the clouded leopard were one and the same. But, because of structural differences of the skull, the two were classed as two different species. The Bornean clouded leopard is confined to Sumatra, Borneo and Batu Islands.


Territorial and solitary by nature.

The clouded leopard seemed to be a cross between a big and small cat to scientists, hence they called it NeoFelis nebulosa. Neo means new and felis is small cat. Literally it means new kind of small cat.

The clouded leopard is believed to be a descendant of the Sabre tooth cat in the Ice Age and the only feline with the largest canine teeth. Even though it's found mostly in tropical and sub-tropical forest habitats at altitudes up to above 2,000 metres (6,500 ft), it can also be spotted in mangrove swamps and grasslands at times.

In size, though largely built, it reaches a length of 55-110 cm (2-3.6 ft) and weighs around 15-23 kg. It has a beautiful coat of tan or tawny coloured fur marked with large, irregular shaped, dark-edged ellipses which are shaped like clouds. It derives its name from the coat.

An excellent climber, it is one of two cats that can descend (come down) trees, head first. Its short, flexible legs, large paws, and sharp claws all help to make it sure-footed. It can be seen climbing up trees while hanging up side down on branches.

The long tail aids in balancing. With its squirrel-like agility, similar to that of the margay, the clouded leopard is a tree dweller. It hunts mammals like deer, and also gibbons, macaque, proboscis monkeys, birds and sometimes domestic livestock.

The female gives birth to a litter of 1-5 kittens after a gestation period of 85-93 days and like all feline kittens, the young are born blind. The kittens open their eyes by around the 10th day and are active within five weeks. By the time they reach 10 months, they are independent.

In the wild, their lifespan averages 11 years, but in captivity it is recorded at 17 years. Throughout its range, the clouded leopard has been heavily hunted for its beautiful fur coat and also its teeth and bones, which like the tigers', are commonly used in the preparation of Oriental medicines.

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