Wildlife: Jungle cats
The most common of the many species and subspecies of wild cats is felis chaus or the ‘jungle cat’, which is fairly numerous throughout Punjab and Sindh, including in the deserts of Cholistan and Thal and much less so in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where, if it is seen, it is in the lowlands only.
Larger than some of the other indigenous species of wild cat, a male can weigh in at as much as a very big nine kg and measure 40 inches from nose to the tip of its tail. The jungle cat is also found right across Central Asia, in Africa and also in India and adjoining regions. Called a ‘swamp cat’ or ‘reed cat’ in Africa and Central Asia, it does indeed appear to have a distinct preference for life close to water where, presumably, hunting is easier than in the desert regions of Pakistan where it is also very much at home.
With longer legs and longer ears than some other wild cats, the jungle cat wears a harsh, reddish brown coat in the summer months and a thicker, softer, slightly darker coat during the colder months of winter although it has been recorded that specimens observed in the Punjab tend to be more dark grey in colour than the red of their Sindhi relations. This could well be due to red tones blending in more with desert terrain than grey ones do as animals do evolve to meet their personal requirements of survival.
Unlike domestic cats and feral cats which are domestic cats, gone wild; jungle cats often dig underground burrows in which to give birth to their kittens. These burrows, although they will make use of a convenient cave if there happens to be one in the vicinity, usually have at least two escape tunnels but in areas, such as riverine valleys, where there is plenty of undergrowth and natural cover, they make their lair in dense bushes and scrub and, preferably slightly above ground level, they make this cosy with their own hair and perhaps some dried grasses too.
They are known to have kittens just twice a year, sometime between autumn and mid-spring but not during the heat of the summer months and, on average, just two or three kittens are born in each litter.
Outside of the mating season, jungle cats are pretty solitary creatures and can be on the prowl both day and night depending on the time of year as, strangely enough, they seem to prefer cold weather to hot. They live on a diet of rodents, lizards, birds, eggs and small snakes and much prefer to keep away from human habitations, unless times are hard and they are either hungry or thirsty when, after dark, they may decide to sneak around houses and farms to see what they can find.