Wild Cat Week

By Hannah Schardt

You know lions and tigers and cheetahs. And if you have a pet cat, you know Felis catus—the house cat—very well, indeed! But did you know there are more than 30 other species of cats? Some are spotted; some are striped. Some weigh more than a person; others are smaller than a house cat. You really ought to meet them all. But to get you started, here are seven—one for every day of the week!

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This big-eyed, long-tailed cat is on a branch high up in a tree. But don’t call the fire department for a rescue! The margay is a great climber. In fact, it spends most of its life off the ground in trees in Central and South American forests. It chases prey, including birds and monkeys, from branch to branch. And it’s one of only two kinds of cats that can clamber headfirst down a tree.

This serious-looking kitty has the densest fur of any cat. That fluffy coat—plus a round, flat face—makes the manul look large and sturdy. But it weighs only about as much as a house cat! All that fur keeps it warm during the freezing winters in Central Asia, where it lives. Now look closely at those yellow eyes. Notice something unusual? The pupils are circles, like a lion’s, rather than slits, like those of most small cats.

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If you’ve ever tried to give a pet cat a bath, you know many cats hate water. Not this one! The fishing cat lives in the wetlands of South and Southeast Asia. It hangs out near the water’s edge, waiting to scoop a fish out of the water with its big, webbed paws. If the fish is out of reach, this expert fisher will dive right into the water!

That cute, flat face makes this small cat look like a harmless kitten. But the sand cat is a fierce hunter. Look closely at its meal—that’s a deadly viper under its paw! In the hot, dry parts of Africa and Asia where it lives, the sand cat may not find a drink of water for weeks at a time. But it gets all the moisture it needs from the food it eats.

With its long body, short legs, and round ears, this cat looks more like a giant weasel! Unlike many cats, the jaguarondi (jag-wuh-RUN-dee) is mostly diurnal—it hunts and prowls during the day. And it’s practically our neighbor: It lives in many parts of the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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Thousands of years ago, people in parts of Asia and Africa trained the caracal (KAIR-uhkal) to hunt birds. And no wonder: This graceful, athletic cat can leap 10 feet into the air to catch a bird in flight. In ancient Egypt, caracals were so beloved that, when they died, some people turned them into mummies and buried them in tombs.

Even when fully grown, a black-footed cat may weigh as little as three pounds. And though most cats have skin that matches their striped or spotted fur, the black-footed cat’s skin is pink! In the wild, the rarely seen cat is found only in southern Africa. But this black-footed kitten was born at a zoo in England.


“EVERY DAY IS CATURDAY” originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.

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