BIG CATS OF PAKISTAN
The Leopards in Pakistan are mainly found in the highlands of Baluchistan and Sindh, and the mountain forests of Punjab, N.W.F.P and Azad Kashmir. The leopard is found in the Kirthar Mountain Range of Sind and the Toba Kakar, the Mekran and the Suleiman Range of Baluchistan. In the northern mountainous region, it is found in the Murree Hills, Swat Kohistan, Dir, Chitral, Abbottabad and Lower Gilgit. It is also found in the Kaghan valley and the Margalla Hills. In Azad Kashmir, it is found around the hill ranges of Muzaffarabad and the Neelum Valley. Its survival in the Salt Range in Punjab is not clear, though they still do exist in very small numbers. The leopard sparsely inhabits the Kala Chita hills as well.
Although sharing its name with the common leopard, the snow leopard is not believed to be closely related to the Leopard or the other members of the Panther group and is classified as the sole member of the genus Uncia uncia. Due to the under-development of the fibro-elastic tissue that forms part of the vocal apparatus the snow leopard cannot give a full, deep roar and this along with differences in skull characteristics help to separate it from its fellow ‘big cats’. In appearance, the snow leopard is strikingly different from the common leopard. Although it has similar rosettes and broken-spot markings, they appear less well defined and are spaced further apart. The snow leopard generally inhabits elevations between 2000-4000 meters although it can occasionally be found at lower altitudes to the north of its range and as high as 5500 meters in Himalayan regions. The cat is generally associated with generally rocky terrain such as high valley ridges, rocky outcrops and mountain passes. As summer gives way to winter, the snow leopard will follow its migrating prey down below the tree line to the lowland forests that cover much of its habitat-however the cat is rarely associated with dense forestation.
The Eurasian lynx is the largest of the lynxes. Adult males weigh on average 21.6 kg while females are slightly smaller at 18.1 kg. The Eurasian lynx has relatively long legs, and large feet which provide a “snowshoe effect”, allowing for more efficient travel through deep snow. In winter, the fur grows very densely on the bottom of the feet. The coat is greyish, with tint varying from rusty to yellowish. A bright reddish tint, with profuse spotting, is seen most frequently in the south-western part of the lynx’s range (southern Europe, Asia Minor and the Caucasus. Eurasian lynx have long, prominent black ear tufts, and short black-tipped tails. Lynx activity peaks in the evening and morning hours, with resting mainly around mid-day and midnight. Eurasian Lynx are capable of killing prey 3-4 times the size of their own weight.
The Caracal in appearance resembles the Lynx in having characteristic dark tufts on its large, pointed ears and is indeed often referred to as the African Lynx or Desert Lynx, however, the caracal is not closely related to the true lynx species. Extending the visual comparison, the body of the caracal is slimmer and less stocky, its legs are thinner and it’s tail longer than the Lynx. It can grow up to 3 feet in body length and sport a tail about a third of its body size. Its colouration is generally yellowish-brown to a darker red/brown, with the undersides of the cat, areas around the eyes and under the chin being white. The backs of its ears are black – the name Caracal is derived from the Turkish word ‘karakulak’, meaning ‘black ear’. Melanistic or all-black caracal have also been reported. The cat is found in dry savanna and woodland areas, scrubland and rugged terrain in mountainous regions, where it is known to live up to 3000 meters. Like other cats found in dry, arid or semi-desert locations the caracal can survive for long periods without water, instead of obtaining its requirement from the metabolic moisture of its prey.
The fishing cat, with its stocky, powerful build and short legs, was given its Latin name on account of its rather viverrine or civet-like appearance. Its pelt is olive grey and is patterned with rows of parallel solid black spots which often form stripes along the spine. Its tail is very short for a field, less than half the body length. Females are markedly smaller (6-7 kg) than males (11-12 kg). Despite its fishing habits, the fishing cat does not show marked morphological adaptations to capturing or eating fish. Its claw sheaths are shortened so that the claws are not completely enveloped when retracted. Fishing cats are strongly associated with wetlands. They are typically found in swamps and marshy areas.
The Asiatic Wildcat – also commonly known as the Indian Desert or Asiatic Steppe Cat – is often thought a closer relation to the African wildcat than to its eastern neighbour the European wildcat. In colouration, the Asiatic cat resembles its African relation in having lighter coloured greyish-yellow fur, although depending on its location it can sometimes take on more of a sandy/red appearance. The markings, which usually consist of small dark brown or muddy red spots, sometimes coalescing into stripes along the back and flanks, are more distinct. In common with other wildcat species, the chin and chest are often white and the tail banded with dark rings and tipped with black. In size, the Asiatic wildcat is similar to the African species, although, in some areas notably to the east of its range, it is often smaller than its relatives. . In common with the African wildcat the Asiatic species depends on rodents to supply the largest proportion of its diet – sand rat and desert gerbil are a common source of prey which is supplemented by Tolai hare, birds such as sand grouse and peafowl Asiatic wildcats are most typically associated with the scrub desert. They range up to 2,000-3,000 m in mountain areas with sufficient dense vegetation. They usually occur in close proximity to water sources but are also able to live year-round in the waterless desert.
The Sand cat is one of the smallest of all the wild cat species. Its body is about the size of a small domestic cat – a male measures up to 57cm and weighs only 3kg. The coat varies in colour from grey to sandy yellow and is marked irregularly with indistinct stripy markings – the legs are often banded with horizontal dark stripes. Characteristic dark reddish/drown markings appear on the cheeks and to the side of the eyes as well as covering the rear of the ears – the chin and throat of the sand cat are white. The sand cat is commonly found in sandy deserts. The sand cat is rare and is only found in the Chagai desert of Baluchistan the Pakistan Sand Cat is considered endangered and will not survive until stronger wildlife laws are put in place to stop its export from Pakistan.
Broadly speaking the leopard cat is a little larger than a big domestic cat and has a base fur colour that ranges from yellow/brown to grey/brown, found mostly in the north of its range. The underparts, chest and lower head are usually white as is a large spot that is commonly found on the back of the otherwise black ears. In varying intensity, depending on the sub-species the leopard cat is covered with medium to large dark brown to black spots which often coalesce into solid stripes on the top of the back and thin stripe markings on the top and side of the head. The Leopard Cat occurs in a broad spectrum of habitats, from tropical rain forest to temperate broadleaf and, marginally, coniferous forest, as well as shrub forest and concessional grasslands. The northern boundaries of its range are limited by snow cover; the leopard cat avoids areas where snow is more than 10 cm deep. It is not found in the cold steppe grasslands, and generally does not occur in arid zones, although there are a few records from relatively dry and treeless areas in Pakistan. Leopard cats usually live in proximity to a water source and can occupy refuge strips of riverine forest in areas. Leopard cats can live close to rural settlements, occasionally raiding poultry.
Peter Pallas, who first described the manual, erroneously suggested that it was the ancestor of the long-haired Persian breeds of domestic cat, because of its long fur, stocky build and flattened face. The hair on its underparts and tail is nearly twice as long as on the top and sides. Like the snow leopard, this presumably helps keep the animal warm when it hunts on snow, cold rock or frozen ground. The background colour of its fur varies from grey in the north of its range to fox-red in some parts of the south although greyish animals are also found in the south. The hairs have white tips, producing a silvery, frosted appearance in all but the reddest specimens. The body is compact, with short legs marked with indistinct black bands, and a thick, short, black-tipped tail. Weight ranges from 2-4.5 kg. The forehead is patterned with small black spots. Its ears are small and rounded and set low on the sides of the head. The auditory bullae are enlarged, similar to those of the sand cat. It is found in stony alpine desert and grassland habitats, but is generally absent from lowland sandy desert basins, although it may penetrate these areas along with river courses. The small southern populations in Baluchistan, isolated from the main population, occur in the montane juniper steppe. This cat is also found in Baltistan, but there is no information about its status there.