Wild leopard cats of Beijing

leopard cat by brian ivon jones.JPG
Leopard Cat in Yanqing; photo by Brian Ivon Jones

The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is small wild cat with spots like a leopard but about the size of a domestic cat. Below is an eye-witness report from experienced bird and game spotter Brian Ivon Jones, who saw a leopard cat on Saturday October 11, 2010 at Ma Chang (Yeyahu Nature Reserve) in Yanqing, Beijing.

Leopard Cat sighting in Yanqing

by Brian Ivon Jones

I had arrived at Ma Chang at 06:00. Ma Chang is the open riding area which adjoins the Yeyahu Nature Reserve but is separated by a boundary fence. I usually walk across this area first as it usually holds the high plains passage birds like Oriental Plover and Pallas's Sand Grouse at the appropriate times of the year. I found one juvenile Oriental Plover this time, my first autumn record for this species in the Beijing area.

I got down to the reedbed, which lies to the north of Ma Chang at about 06:30. I was walking along a track which threads the reedbed down to the water when I spotted the cat, which at first I assumed was a domestic cat, although I have never seen one in over 100 trips I have made to the area.

But I quickly realized its tail was far too thick for a domestic or feral cat and the ear patches on the back of the ears were too distinctive. The cat was about 60 meters ahead of me, walking from side to side along the track at the reed edge obviously looking for amphibians or other quarry. It appeared totally unaware of my presence. It finally disappeared into the reeds as it neared the water's edge.

It is perhaps not surprising as this animal is nocturnal, that I haven't seen it before, but nevertheless I suspect that numbers of leopard cat in the area must be at a low density. This cat was longer-legged than the average large domestic cat and probably weighed around 5 kilograms. I understand that the northern cats from this species are much bigger than their southern counterparts (average weight in the south 2.5 - 3kg and in the north 5 - 7.5kg) and also differ considerably in appearance. The cat I saw was greyish/brown in color with spot markings, striped tail and legs, showing white undersides. I never got a clear look at the head but I did see head stripes.

I have seldom come across mammals in Yayahu Nature Reserve. I only seen Manchurian hares with any regularity there and I once recorded what I am fairly sure was a mountain hare, which has smaller ears and whitish eye-rings. Siberian weasel, red fox and a dead badger are my only other records.

However I regard the area as the premier spot in Beijing for birds. I have recorded over 250 species including several outstanding records for China.

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