About the classification of the wild cat species (taxonomy). Note: Although it does make things less clear and more complicated, it is worth noting from the outset that there is still disagreement on the number of species of wild cats. Thirty-six is the most widely recognised figure. At Sept. 2012, the Wikipedia authors list 40 wild cats. A recent reclassification (Nov 2017) lists 41 species.
The difference is because they have added these cats: (a) a species of the leopard cat, the Iriomote Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis) which is referred to by me as a subspecies (b) Pantanal Cat (Leopardus braccatus) and Colocolo (Leopardus colocolo) which are treated by me as the pampas cat. I have 37 separate species listed because I have the Chinese desert cat as a separate species of wildcat and not a subspecies. I may change this in due course. Complicated? Yes, but whenever you write about or study the wild cats you have to face that problem. At present you can’t say with complete conviction that there are 36 different wild cats.
My advice is that if you are writing about the wild cats you should start with something like this (if you want to, feel free to use this):
“At [put date], there is still disagreement by scientists on the number of wild cat species. The majority agree that there are 36 wild cats. I will proceed on the basis that there are 36 species of wild cat based on the work of the Sunquists in their definitive work: The Wild Cats Of The World, while being alert to changes due to the evolving science of taxonomy…..”
The classification of wild cat species is work in progress. Taxonomy is an evolving science. There have been marked changes in classification over the preceding 100 years. Currently (at 2011) there are 36 species of wild cat according to the premier book on wild cats: Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist. They follow CITES classification, World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) and Wild Cats Status Survey and Conservation Plan. The book was published 2002. The situation can change. DNA testing has changed things. I have listed the Sunda clouded leopard as a separate species but written about it within the clouded leopard page.
The number of species of wild cat varies from 36 to 40 (Wikipedia). The variations are probably due to subspecies being classified as species. There is still disagreement (lion taxonomy). This is because all the cats have a very similar morphology (the form, structure and features of an animal). All cats, except the cheetah, behave in a similar way too. All the wild cats evolved from eight lineages it is currently believed.
It is surprising to note that there are a number of species that are little known. Yet we are still destroying their habitat. It is probably a case of out of sight and out of mind. These are secretive small wildcats living in dense forest avoiding people.
Except for Jim Sanderson Ph.D., creative commons licenses granted by the photographers have permitted me to create derivatives of the originals. Thank you.
Wild cat at top of page – by ingirogiro
African golden cat – copyright Terry Whittaker.
Andean mountain cat – Believed Jim Sanderson Ph.D.
Asiatic golden cat – Karen Stout.
Bay cat – Jim Sanderson Ph.D.
Black-footed cat – Unknown, public domain.
Bobcat – ForestGladesiWander (Flickr).
Caracal – prb10111—awol (Flickr).
Cheetah – tom raftery (Flickr)
Chinese desert cat – Believed Jim Sanderson Ph.D.
Clouded leopard – cliff1066 (Flickr).
Fishing cat – cliff1066 (Flickr).
Flat-headed cat – Jim Sanderson Ph.D.
Geoffroy’s cat – MrGuilt
Jaguar – Eric Kilby
Jaguarundi – law_keven
Jungle cat – Dr Tarak N Khan
Kodkod – Jim Sanderson Ph.D.
Leopard – npmeijer
1. Wild Cats Of The World – by Mel and Fiona Sunquist. Recognized as the best book on the wild cats.
2. Occasionally Wikipedia.
3. Great Cats – Majestic Creatures of the Wild – edited by Dr. John Seidensticker and Sr. Susan Lumpkin. Best wild cat photographs.
4. Wild Cats of the World – by David Alderton
5. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™
6. Various miscellaneous websites on an ad hoc basis.
Note all photos are licensed for derivates under the relevant creative commons license. Jim Sanderson’s photos are not licensed for derivatives. I have taken a liberty in making derivatives for this page. Although in return I promote his work and the conservation of the small cats.