This cat should be called the Chinese steppe cat (an area of flat, unforested grassland). Perhaps the name Chinese desert cat is misleading because it inhabits barren steppe country and mountain brush terrain. It lives in the same general area as the giant Panda. This is a good picture of a wild cat species which we don’t know a lot about; a close cousin of the domestic cat. It is classified within the same group of cats as the domestic cat and the African and European wildcats. There are an estimated 10,000 in existence at 2015 with a decreasing population. They are a vulnerable species.
As mentioned not a lot is known about the species but it was first recorded in 1889 by members of a scientific expedition headed by Prince Henry d’Orleans. It is about twice the size of a domestic cat according to Wildcats of the World but a little bit larger than the domestic cat according to Dr Desmond Morris in his book Cat World (at 13 pounds). The picture shows a cat weighing around 20 pounds in my opinion.
Most of our knowledge about this cat comes from the sale of skins in the fur markets of Szechwan Province. To me this cat looks a bit like a large tabbby cat. It’s quite stocky i.e. cobby to use cat fancy language with a heavily banded tail giving the impression that this is a tabby cat.
The face is very much like that of an unneutered domestic cat. The tufts of hair coming out of the top of the ears (lynx tips) look like those of the Maine Coon cat. The cat looks well able to withstand the cold temperatures where they live. The coat is ‘ticked’, somewhat like the coat of Abyssinian cats, a breed famous for their ticked coat. This is a form of tabby coat.
The guard hairs are dark brown or black. The belly is white with yellowish brown underfur showing through. Long hair grows between the pads of the feet that no doubt help to keep them warm on icy cold ground. The skull looks quite broad and the eyes very alert, indeed fearful in this instance because the cat is in captivity and the photographer has attracted its attention.
The reason why I have published this photograph here is because there are very few photographs of this cat because they are rarely seen. Nearly all the photographs I’ve seen of the cat were taken in captivity. Although there is a video of this cat made in the wild.
Rodents sustain this cat as 90% of its diet is made up of these small mammals. They also prey on birds and pikas. There are very few in captivity. In 1986 the world’s population was believed to consist of four or five animals held in one zoo in China. I presume that this photograph was taken in China.
SOME MORE ON THE SMALL WILD CATS: