Leopard cat

Singapore Infopedia


The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small, carnivorous mammal that looks like a domestic cat with a leopard-like coat. It is common in Asia but is considered a rare animal in Singapore, where it is believed to be the only remaining wild cat. It is classified as “critically endangered” in the 2008 edition of The Singapore Red Data Book, which describes the locally threatened flora and fauna.

The size of a leopard cat varies among countries. In Singapore, it can grow up to between 40 cm and 55 cm long, with a tail of up to 29 cm, and can weigh around 2–5 kg in adulthood.1 It has a round head with a short muzzle and large erect ears. Its fur is yellowish or reddish brown on the upper parts and white on the underparts, dotted with black spots all over including the tail. Some of these spots may merge to form bands, especially on the shoulders and back of the neck. It usually has several distinct black stripes on the top of the head and back of the neck, and a white spot on the back of each ear.2

It is a skilful climber and a good swimmer. It is largely nocturnal, spending the daytime in its den, which may be a hole in a tree, a cave or a rock crevice. It is usually solitary but sometimes moves in pairs or small family groups. Females give birth to a litter of one to four kittens after a gestation period of 56–70 days. If the newborns do not survive, they may produce another litter within four to five months. Males may help to rear the young.3

The leopard cat hunts at night, and its diet consists mainly of small vertebrates, including frogs, lizards, rats, birds and small mammals such as bats and rodents.4

The leopard cat lives in forests in Singapore but is found in other habitats, including logged areas, scrubland, grassland and plantations.

This species is the most common small cat in South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. Within Southeast Asia, it can be found in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.5 It can also be found in other parts of Asia, such as China, Siberia, India, Nepal, Japan and Taiwan. Because it swims well, it can move easily to outshore islands.6

In Singapore, sightings have been rare. In fact, it was once feared to be extinct locally until it was discovered on Pulau Ubin in 1997. In March that year, an adult female was found trapped in an abandoned fishing net on the island and later released back into the wild.7 Until then, the last confirmed sighting of this animal in Singapore was in 1968, in the Mandai area on the mainland.8

Leopard cats are now also believed to exist on Pulau Tekong, another island off the northeastern coast of Singapore, the Central Catchment Area and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.9 There have been no recent live sightings on the mainland, but one was found dead on Mandai Road in 200110 and another on Jalan Bahar in 2007,11 probably victims of road accidents.12 The Mandai Road specimen has been preserved at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (now the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum).13

In 2016, no more than 20 leopard cats were estimated to be living on mainland Singapore, and at least 29 leopard cats were recorded on Pulau Tekong, which has the world’s highest population density of leopard cats.14

In Singapore, this species is critically endangered as of 2008. Habitat loss caused by rapid urbanisation of Singapore is the most serious threat facing this species in Singapore. As a carnivore, it requires a much larger area for hunting its prey.15

Another threat is poaching. Illegal animal traps have been found in various forested areas such as on Pulau Ubin.16 While leopard cats may not necessarily be the targets of poachers, they may unwittingly get caught in the traps.17 Elsewhere in Asia, they continue to be hunted for their beautiful fur. It takes around 16 leopard cats to make one fur coat.18 They are also killed for their meat and sold as pets or for use as traditional Chinese medicine.19 Artificial hybridisation of the leopard cat with the domestic cat has given rise to a breed of cats known as the Bengal.20

As part of conservation efforts in 1997, the Singapore Zoo planned to reintroduce 25 leopard cats (among other animals) into the MacRitchie Reservoir area in hopes of repopulating the nature reserve gradually.21 After a 14-month study, this plan was revised, and only eight greater mousedeer were released into the nature reserve in 1999.22

Globally, the leopard is assessed as a species of “least concern”, as it is widespread and relatively common. However, threats vary based on region, such as urbanisation, hunting, poaching and habitat loss, particularly on islands.23 Since 1977, the leopard cat is covered under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),24 which Singapore has been a member of since 1986.

This species is protected in Singapore under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, which requires anyone importing or exporting CITES-listed species to obtain a permit from the National Parks Board (NParks).25 In addition, under the Wildlife Act, it is an offence to feed, release, kill, trap, take or keep wildlife in Singapore without written approval from NParks.26 Under these acts, offenders are liable to prosecution, fines, the forfeiture of the animals, or imprisonment.27 Sting operations have been conducted by authorities to seize leopard cat cubs and other wildlife.28

Variant names
Scientific name: Prionailurus bengalensis (formerly Felis bengalensis tingia29)

Common names:

  • English – Leopard Cat
  • Malay – Kucing batu30
  • Chinese – 金钱猫 (jin qian mao)31 (“Money cat”)
  • Dutch – Chinese Bengaalse kat
  • French – Chat de ChineChat-léopard de ChineChat-léopard du Bengale
  • Spanish – Gato bengalíGato de BengalaGato leopardo chino
  • Swedish – bengalisk kattdvärgtigerdvärgtigerkattkattamurkattleopardkatt32

Valerie Chew

1. Chris R. Shepherd and Loretta Ann Shepherd, A Naturalist's Guide to the Mammals of Southeast Asia: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam (Oxford: John Beaufoy Publishing, 2018), 86 (Call no. RSEA 599.0959 SHE); Charles M. Francis, Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 87. (Call no. RSEA 599.0959 FRA)
2. Charles M. Francis, Mammals of South-East Asia (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 87 (Call no. RSING 599.0959 FRA); John Harrison, An Introduction to the Mammals of Singapore and Malaya (Singapore: Malayan Nature Society, 1966), 238–39. (Call no. RSING 599.095957 HAR)
3. Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy Cranbrook, The Wild Mammals of Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) and Singapore (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 99. (Call no. RSING 599.09595 MED)
4. Francis, Mammals of South-East Asia, 87.
5. Francis, Field Guide to the Mammals, 87.
6. Francis, Mammals of South-East Asia, 87.
7. Dominic Nathan, “Leopard Cat Found Recently on Pulau Ubin,” Straits Times, 1 April 1997, 44. (From NewspaperSG)
8. P.K.L. Ng and Y.C. Wee, eds., The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore (Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore), 1994), 265. (Call no. RSING 574.529095957 SIN)
9. Peter K.L. Ng et al. eds.,  A Guide to the Threatened Animals of Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Science Centre, 1995), 153. (Call no. RSING 591.529095957 GUI);
10. “Leopard-Cat Find May Shed Light on Species,” Straits Times, 22 July 2001, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Species,” Straits Times, 17 November 2007, 80. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Nick Baker and Kelvin K.P. Lim, Wild Animals of Singapore: A Photographic Guide to Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians and Freshwater Fishes (Singapore: Draco Pub. and Distribution: Nature Society (Singapore), 2008), 151. (Call no. RSING 591.95957 WIL)
13. “Leopard-Cat Find May Shed Light on Species”; Peter K.L. Ng, Richard T. Corlett and Hugh T.W. Tan, eds., Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011), 184. (Call no. RSING 333.95095957 SIN)
14. Audrey Tan, “S’pore’s Last Remaining Wild Cat Species,” Straits Times, 5 February 2016, 9 (From NewspaperSG); Marcus A. H. Chua, N. Sivasothi and Rudolf Meier, “Population Density, Spatiotemporal Use and Diet of the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in a Human-Modified Succession Forest Landscape of Singapore,” Mammal Research 61, no. 2  (January 2016), 102.
15. Ng and Wee, eds., Singapore Red Data Book, 265.
16. G.W.H. Davison, P.K.L. Ng and H.C. Ho, eds., The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore (Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore), 2008), 201. (Call no. RSING 591.68095957 SIN)
17. Sumathi V. Selvaretnam, “Illegal Animal Traps Found on Ubin,” Straits Times, 19 December 2007, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Tan, “S’pore’s Last Remaining Wild Cat Species.” 
19. Ng et al., Guide to the Threatened Animals of Singapore, 153.
20. Davison, Ng and Ho, eds., Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore, 201.
21. Koh Boon Pin, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” Straits Times, 29 October 1997, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Dominic Nathan, “Mousedeer to Be Released into Reserves,” Straits Times, 6 April 1999, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Prionailurus Bengalensis,” International Union for Conservation of Nature, accessed 17 March 2022.
24. UNEP-WCMC, Checklist of CITES Species, accessed 17 March 2022.
25. “Illegal Wildlife Trade,” National Parks Board, accessed 17 March 2022.
26. “Laws Administered by NParks,” National Parks Board, accessed 17 March 2022.
27Wildlife Act 1965, Cap 351, Singapore Statues Online, rev. ed., 2020.
28. Samantha Boh, “Exotic Animals Sold Illegally as Pets,” Straits Times, 22 December 2015, 2; Zaihan Mohamad Yusof, “Hunting Down Illegal Wildlife Owners,” Straits Times, 13 August 2017, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Ng et al., Guide to the Threatened Animals of Singapore, 153.
30. Cranbrook, Wild Mammals of Malaya, 99.
31. May Lok, A Field Guide to Night Safari (Singapore: Night Safari, 2000), 69. (Call no. RSING 590.735957 FIE)
32. “Prionailurus Bengalensis,” UNEP-WCMC, accessed 17 March 2022.

The information in this article is valid as at March 2022 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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