Marbled cats range from the Eastern Himalayas to Upper Burma and the Indochinese region. This distribution includes areas of northern India, Nepal, Sikkim, Assam, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. In the Malay area they are rare and confined to the mainland.
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
The map shows range within forest cover (European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2003) to reflect patchiness caused by deforestation upon recommendation of the assessors (IUCN Cats Red List workshop 2007).
Nepal, Southeast Asia, Indonesia
The physical appearance of marbled cats is often compared to that of their close relative, clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa). They are close in size to house cats (Felis catus), but are longer and more slender. Young are mottled brown until they get their adult markings at about 4 months old. The fur is full and soft with widely variable markings. The base color is brownish yellow and the coat is covered in large blotches which are paler in their centers and outlined in black. Large broken blotches occur on the flanks and blackish lines occur on the head, neck, and back. These patterns tend to be smaller than in clouded leopards and they merge together resembling marble (hence the name marbled cat). Interrupted bands run from the corner of each eye over the head. The ears are short and rounded and are black with grey bars marking them. There is a white or buff spot on the back of each ear. The chin and upper lip are also white or buff in color. The tail is spotted and tipped with black, and about three quarters of the body length. Head and body length ranges from 45 to 61 cm. Height at shoulder averages 28 cm and tail length is 35 to 55 cm. Marbled cats have relatively large feet with very large heel pads. They have unmistakably large canines for cats of their size. The skull is high and rounded and wide across the zygomata. The eye socket is surrounded by a complete bony ring, unusual among felids. The occipital area is wide with low crests and the sagittal crest is quite small. The anterior upper pre-molar is absent or vestigial. There are 3 generally recognized subspecies, Pardofelis marmorata marmorata, Pardofelis marmorata charltoni, and Pardofelis marmorata longicaudata.
Range mass: 2.4 to 5 kg.
Average mass: 3.5 kg.
Range length: 45 to 61 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Marbled cats have been recorded in a variety of habitats from sea level to 3,000 meters. Habitats include mixed deciduous-evergreen forest, secondary forest, clearings, six-year-old logged forest, and rocky scrub. Most sources describe this species as primarily arboreal. However many records of marbled cats are single observations and habitat and distribution may be wider than currently recognized.
Range elevation: 0 to 3000 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: riparian
Habitat and Ecology
It has never been studied, although Grassman et al. (2005) made a preliminary home range estimate of 5.3 km² for an adult female who was radio-collared and tracked for one month in Thailand's Phu Khieu National Park. The marbled cat probably preys primarily on rodents, including squirrels (Nowell and Jackson, 1996), and birds.
Marbled cats are thought to prey primarily on birds and arboreal small mammals. Mammal prey includes tree squirrels, tree shrews, rats and mice, small primates, and fruit bats. Birds up to the size of pheasants are thought to be their primary prey. Other prey include lizards, frogs, and insects. In Borneo they may be more terrestrial and forage on the ground.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; insects
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Marbled cats are important predators of birds and small mammals. There is no available information on their ecosystem roles otherwise.
Marbled cats are cryptically colored, extremely wary, and arboreal, helping them to avoid most predation. Marbled cats have exceptionally long canines in relation to other skull dimensions and, when coupled with their fierce demeanor when trapped, these teeth present a formidable defense. There are no observations of predation on marbled cats.
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Similar to domestic cats, marbled cats have been observed purring and their meow has been described as chirping instead of more continuous sound inflection. Marbled cats rely heavily on vision and have good vision in low light. Their shorter, more rounded skull with flattened broad nasals gives them unobscured forward vision. This morphology, in combination with large, amber-colored eyes with large, vertically-oriented elliptical pupils, provides maximum light gathering ability and telescopic vision necessary to navigate in low light conditions.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The lifespan of P. marmorata in the wild may vary, in captivity the longest lifespan was 12 years and 3 months.
Status: captivity: 12.25 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Marbled cats are solitary animals. All observations of P. marmorata have been single animals, except for one in which a pair was observed crossing a salt lick in Thailand. It is suggested that pairs form only for a period of time to allow breeding. Almost no information is available on the mating system of marbled cats.
Rarely seen in the wild, there are currently no accounts of reproductive behavior of Pardofelis marmorata observed in their natural habitat. On a few occasions marbled cats have given birth in captivity, with 2 litters yielding 2 kittens each and another litter of 4 kittens. Estrus occurs monthly, without seasonal variation in captive animals. Once pregnant, gestation lasts from 66 to 82 days in marbled cats. Captive kittens can eat solid food by 59 days of age in captivity, which may indicate the earliest onset of weaning in the wild. In addition to gestation, lactation, and food supplementation, there is likely time involved in teaching kittens to hunt leaving only enough time for a single litter per year. One captive litter began at 4 kittens and was reduced to a single kitten, presumably by maternal infanticide. If infanticide is common in the wild and not just a result of captive stress, or if fertilization can overlap offspring rearing, it may be possible for marbled cats to have more than a single litter per year. Kittens begin walking at around 15 days but increased awareness and athletic movement occurred after 65 days old. Before kittens displayed this capacity to jump and climb it is likely they rely completely on their mother’s protection as well as their cryptic mottled colors for hiding. Marbled cats become sexually mature at around the age of 2 years.
Breeding interval: Breeding interval is not known, but it is likely that there is a maximum of 1 litter per year.
Breeding season: Breeding seasonality has not been reported, it may vary regionally.
Range number of offspring: 2 to 4.
Range gestation period: 66 to 82 days.
Average weaning age: 59 days.
Average time to independence: 121 minutes.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 21 to 22 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 21 to 22 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 85 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Information on parental investment in marbled cats is not reported in the literature. However, like most small cats, marbled cat females invest heavily in offspring through gestation and lactation, and probably also engage in significant post-weaning care and teaching. Less than 100 g when born, kittens develop quickly and have a full set of teeth. A kitten's eyes will be fully opened by 16 days and it will be able to walk by about 22 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Populations of marbled cats are thought to be around 10,000 individuals. Their natural rarity and reclusive nature makes accurate estimates hard to calculate. Because marbled cats are rare they are not common in fur or meat markets. There are countries where regulated hunting is permitted (Laos and Singapore) and countries that offer no protection outside of designated parks (Bhutan and Brunei). These cats are sensitive to any human disturbance and readily abandon areas with humans. They depend on intact forest habitats, making them vulnerable to habitat destruction from logging, agriculture, and development.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Indeterminate(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Indeterminate(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Indeterminate(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Pardofelis marmorata, see its USFWS Species Profile
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Marbled cats are reclusive animals that avoid humans and are not known for having any negative impacts. There is one account of a marbled cat caught raiding a fowl pen. However, this kind of interaction is likely only where humans are invading and modifying native marbled cat habitat.
Marbled cats are charismatic and appealing animals. This makes them useful in winning popular support and funding for conservation efforts focused on their vulnerable ecosystems.
Positive Impacts: research and education
The marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata) is a small wild cat of South and Southeast Asia. Since 2002, it has been listed as Vulnerable by IUCN, as it occurs at low densities, and its total effective population size is suspected to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with no single population numbering more than 1,000.
The marbled cat was once considered to belong to the pantherine lineage of "big cats". Genetic analysis has shown it to be closely related to the Asian golden cat and the bay cat, all of which diverged from the other felids about 9.4 million years ago.
The marbled cat is similar in size to a domestic cat, with a more thickly furred tail (which may be longer than the body), showing adaptation to its arboreal lifestyle, where the tail is used as a counterbalance. Marbled cats range from 45 to 62 cm (18 to 24 in) in head-body length, with a 35- to 55-cm tail. Recorded weights vary between 2 and 5 kg (4.4 and 11.0 lb). The coat is thick and soft, and varies in background color from dark grey-brown through yellowish grey to red-brown. Spots on the forehead and crown merge into narrow longitudinal stripes on the neck, and irregular stripes on the back. The back and flanks are marked with dark, irregular dark-edged blotches. The legs and underparts are patterned with black dots, and the tail is marked with black spots proximally and rings distally. In addition to its long tail, the marbled cat can also be distinguished by its large feet. It also possesses unusually large canine teeth, resembling those of the big cats, although these appear to be the result of parallel evolution.
When standing or resting, marbled cats assume a characteristic position with their backs arched.
Distribution and habitat
Marbled cats are found in tropical Indomalaya westward along the Himalayan foothills westward into Nepal and eastward into southwest China, and on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. They are primarily associated with moist and mixed deciduous-evergreen tropical forests.
- P. m. marmorata described by William Charles Linnaeus Martin in 1836 — lives in Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo northward to Myanmar
- P. m. charltoni described by John Edward Gray in 1846 — occurs in northern Myanmar, Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Nepal
Ecology and behavior
In May 2000, a female marbled cat was trapped along an animal trail in a hill evergreen bamboo mixed forest in Thailand's Phu Khieu Wildlife Sanctuary. This first-ever radio-tracked marbled cat had an overall home range of 5.8 km2 (2.2 sq mi) at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,200 m (3,300 to 3,900 ft) and was active primarily during nocturnal and crepuscular time periods.
Forest canopies probably provide the marbled cat with much of its prey: birds, squirrels and other rodents, and reptiles. In the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a marbled cat was observed in a dense forest patch in an area also used by siamang.
A few marbled cats have been bred in captivity, with gestation estimated to be 66 to 82 days. In the few recorded instances, two kittens were born in each litter, and weighed from 61 to 85 g (2.2 to 3.0 oz). The eyes open at around 12 days, and the kittens begin to take solid food at two months, around the time that they begin actively climbing. Marbled cats reach sexual maturity at 21 or 22 months of age, and have lived for up to 12 years in captivity.
Indiscriminate snaring is prevalent throughout much of its range, and likely poses a major threat. It is valued for its skin, meat, and bones, but infrequently observed in the illegal Asian wildlife trade. During a survey in the Lower Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh, a marbled cat was encountered that had been killed by a local hunter for a festival celebrated by the indigenous Apatani community in March and April every year. The dead cat was used in a ceremony, and its blood was sacrificed to the deity for goodwill of their family and for ensuring a good harvest, protection from wildlife, disease and pest. Deforestation is a further threat to the marbled cat.
Pardofelis marmorata is included in CITES Appendix I and protected over parts of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Yunnan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, and Thailand. Hunting is regulated in Lao PDR and Singapore. In Bhutan and Brunei, the marbled cat is not legally protected outside protected areas. No information about protection status is available from Cambodia and Vietnam.
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