Cats, big or small are enigmatic and elegant, capable of tantalizing anyone’s heart. Where ever they are, they dominate all most all kinds of terrestrial habitats on earth as a predator. Unanimously it is accepted that there are 37 cat species belonging to 23 genera in the family Felidae. The genetic evidence tells that all living cats evolved from a pantherlike predator that roamed the southeast Asia 10.8 million years back. With the geographical changes and rise and fall sea level of over the time the cats migrated to different continents and on isolation evolved into new species. DNA studies grouped 37 species into eight distinct clusters or lineage. The eight lineages are Panthera, Bay cat, Caracal, Ocelot, Lynx, Puma, Asian leopard cat and Domestic cat (1).
Medium to large sized cats (15 to 350 kg) found throughout the world. They are the top predators in the habitat, in which they live. Lion (Panthera leo), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Jaguar (Panthera once), Tiger (Panthera tigris), Snow leopard (Panthera uncia), Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosi), Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) belong to Panthera lineages. All except the clouded leopards have incomplete ossified hyoid, allowing them to roar. Clouded leopards do not roar.
In India the Panthera lineage is represented by lion, tiger, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard.
Small to medium sized cats (two to 16 kg). These cats are restricted to forested habitats in tropical Southeast Asia. Asian golden cat (Pardofelis temmincki), Bornean bay cat (Pardofelis badia) and Marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata) represents this lineage.
Asian golden cat and Marbled cat are representing Bay cat lineage in India.
Medium sized cats (ﬁve to 25 kilograms). Caracals are restricted to Africa and south west Asia. Three species Caracal (Caracal caracal), African golden cat (Caracal aurata) and Serval (Caracal serval) are included in this lineage.
Only Caracal of this lineage is found in India.
Small to medium-size cats (1.5 to 16 kilograms). Live in throughout the central and south America. Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi), Kodkod (Leopardus guigna), Tigrina (Leopardus tigrinus), Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita), Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo), Margay (Leopardus wiedii) and Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) are included in this lineage.
No species of Ocelot lineage is found in India.
Medium sized cats (six to 20 kilograms). Lynx have short tails and pointed ears. Lynx are found in temperate climates of North America and Eurasia. The Lynx lineage is represented by Iberian lynx (Lynx pardina), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), Bobcat (Lynx rufus).
Only Eurasian lynx belonging to this lineage is found in Himalayan region of India.
Diverse sized cats, ranging from small to large (three to 65 kilograms). Found in Asia, Africa and in north America. Puma (Puma concolor), Jaguarundi (Puma yaguarondi) and Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) belong to this lineage.
No species of Ocelot lineage is found in India at present. Cheetah was once found in India but got extinct in early 20th century.
Asian leopard cat
Small sized cats (two to 12 kilograms). Found in wide variety of habitats in Asia, from mangrove forest to Mongolian steppe. The Asian leopard cat is the smallest cat in Asia. Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrina), Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul) are members of this lineage.
Asian leopard cat, Fishing cat, Rusty-spotted cat and Pallas’s cat are the species representing the Asial leopard cat lineage are found in India.
Small sized cats (one to 10 kilograms). Except the domestic cat (world-wide) all are of African and Eurasian distribution. Domestic cat (Felis catus), Asian wildcat (Felis silvestris), Sand cat (Felis margarita), Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) and Jungle cat (Felis chaus).
The domestication of cat (Felis catus) started around 8000 to 10,000 years ago in the Asia and north Africa. Cats probably attained full domestication in Ancient Egypt about 4000 years ago (2) .
Domestic cat, Asian wildcat and Jungle cat of this lineage are found in India.
A total of 15 cat species belonging six lineages of cats are extant in the Indian territory including the domestic cat.