Amazing Cats: The Mysterious Marbled Cat

Dear readers, before you think this is a joke entry about Bud, let me emphasize we’re talking about the marbled cat, not the well-marbled cat.

“I am NOT chubby, I am meowscular!”

“I’ve never heard of a marbled cat,” you might be thinking, and there’s a good reason for that.

These little guys are incredibly elusive, live far from most humans and are found only in Asia. They’re extremely difficult to track and locate in the wild and haven’t been the subject of any comprehensive field study, granting them an air of mystery in an era when you can find almost anything you want to know about almost any animal with a few clicks.

There’s a whole lot we don’t know about marbled cats, including their behavior in the wild, how long they gestate, what they eat and how they’ve successfully adapted to so many varied habitats.

Credit: Wildcats Magazine

The singular species is semi-arboreal. Almost all cats can climb trees. The problem is getting down afterward, which is why so many domestic cats get stuck in trees. They can’t descend head-first and they’re wary of descending tail-first, which makes them vulnerable. Marbled cats have unusually flexible claws that enable them to descend head-first with ease, so they don’t balk at climbing. Their large paws keep them sure-footed on tree limbs and they’re confident off the ground.

In 2011, a trail camera in Indonesia was tripped by a marbled cat, finally giving us a close-up view:

The striking felines are sometimes called “miniature clouded leopards,” and you can clearly see why.

The species is native to the eastern Himalayas, mostly in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and tiny corners of China and India, as well as countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. They’re extremely adaptable and live in a variety of habitats, from the forests of high-elevation mountain slopes to the humid jungles of Indonesia’s Borneo and Sumatra.

Marbled cats are about the same size as domestic cats, but they’ve got incredibly big, fluffy tails that are longer than their own bodies, which serve as formidable counter-weights for their tree-hopping. Their ears are a bit more round than the ears of their domestic cousins. They tend to have larger paws, and they have unique clouded coat patterns that are unlike any breed of domestic feline or close wildcat relatives.

Despite their relatively large natural habitat and the difficulty in pinning down population numbers, conservationists estimate there are fewer than 10,000 marbled cats. They’re threatened by the same deforestation by the palm oil industry that has devastated orangutan and clouded leopard habitats, although their strongholds in steep, high-elevation forests are safe for now. Marbled cats are listed as endangered by some authorities and as near-threatened by others, though like all wildlife their numbers are in decline.

Top image credit Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

A marbled cat at Novosibirsk Zoo in Russia. Credit: Zoo Institutes

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