Animal Spotlight: Marbled Cat

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  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Pardofelis
  • Species: marmorata
  • Average Weight: 4.5-11 lbs (2-5 kg)
  • Average Body Length: 18-25 in (45-62 cm)
  • Average Tail Length: 14-22 in (36-55 cm)
  • Longest Captivity: 12 years

A rare and little-known marbled cat possesses an unusual mixture of small and big cat characteristics. It is primarily thought to be an inhabitant of moist tropical forest but its specific habitat requirements are poorly known, with only anecdotal information available. It has been reported in mixed deciduous-evergreen forests and secondary forests as well as other habitats from sea level up to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level.

Reports have shown that the marbled cat’s range can be from northern India and Nepal, through south-eastern Asia, to Borneo and Sumatra. 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.

Physical Appearance:

Although it is about the size of a domestic cat, this species resembles to the much larger clouded leopard with its broad feet, enlarged canines, and strikingly similar blotched coat pattern. The marbled cat’s thick, soft, brownish-yellow (or yellow to reddish-brown) fur is covered on the back and sides in large, mottled, irregular-shaped blotches margined with black. However, unlike the clouded leopard’s, the marbled cat’s markings are less well-defined, tending to appear more broken and marbled, hence the name. Furthermore, the black spots on the limbs are more numerous. The underside and the proximal aspect of the inner leg are a pale buff color.

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Its bushy tail is also similarly marked with black spots and rings and is extremely long, almost as long as the length of the body. Prominent black lines occur on the head, neck and back, starting as dark, interrupted bands running from the corner of each eye up and over the forehead. Distinctive dark stripes also mark the cheeks, while the chin, upper lip, cheeks and patches around the eyes are contrasting white or buff in color.

The marbled cat has a more rounded head than most other felids with a broad face. Its eyes are amber or golden, and the ears are short, rounded and black, with a conspicuous white to buff spot on the back.

Lastly, the foot structure, relatively short legs and the long tail imply the arboreal adaptations of this small cat and it is well-adapted to the tree-climbing lifestyle.


There have been no diet studies conducted for marbled cats. However, it is thought that birds constitute a major part of its diet. There have also been records of tree squirrels, fruit bats, and rodents such as rats and mice being consumed. It is presumed that marbled cats also eat insects, reptiles, and amphibians. There have also been several documented instances of the feline preying on primate species.


Just like everything else, very little is known about the biology and behavior of the marbled cat except for what has been observed in captivity. It is believed that they are primarily nocturnal  and more arboreal than most other cats, preferring to stay up in the trees, which would help explain its relative obscurity. However, recent studies have shown activity during both the day and night.

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Marbled cats are solitary animals. All observations have been of 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.

What is known of this cat’s reproductive behavior comes from observations of just a few captive individuals. There have no known breeding season but there are records of two litters yielding two kittens each and another of four kittens. Gestation is estimated to last somewhere between 66 and 82 days.

Kittens are born helpless, unable to unfold their head until 5 days after birth and their eyes open by 14 days. They will begin to walk soon after but increased awareness and athletic movement occurs after 65 days. Before the 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.

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. It isn’t until the kittens reach approximately two years of age that they become sexual mature.

Conservation and Threats:

Their natural rarity and reclusive nature makes accurate estimates hard to calculate but it is thought that there are around 10,000 individuals left. Because of the lack of knowledge and its rarity, the marbled cat is classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN’s Red List and listed on Appendix I of CITES.

Despite having a beautiful coat, the marbled cat is seldom found in the illegal wildlife trade in Asia. Hunting of this species is prohibited in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China (Yunnan only), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand.However, countries like Laos and Singapore permit regulated hunting and some like Bhutan and Brunei offer no protection outside of designated parks.

The major threat to this cat is believed to be the widespread destruction of its forest habitat throughout Southeast Asia, which has one of the highest and fastest deforestation rates. These cats are sensitive to any human disturbance and readily abandon areas with humans. Therefore, they are extremely dependent on intact forest habitats, making them vulnerable to destruction caused from logging, agriculture, and development.

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Indiscriminate snaring is a large problem and is thought to be occurring throughout much of the marbled cat’s range.

Marbled cats are rarely seen in zoos and breed poorly in captivity. Further investigation into the status of the marbled cat in the wild, and the degree to which it can tolerate loss and disturbance of its forest habitat, is urgently needed.

Interesting Facts

  • It was once thought that the marbled cat was a close relative to the clouded leopard because of their many morphological similarities. However, genetic analyses have indicated it is more closely related to the Asiatic golden cat and the Boreno bay cat. Even more recent analyses indicate a possible distinction between the Indochinese and the Sundaic marbled cat populations on a species level. Basically, the marbled cat’s evolutionary history is somewhat of a taxonomic puzzle and further research is needed.
  • A marbled cat’s vocalizations is comparable to that of our friend, the domestic cat.
  • It was first photographed in the wild at the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand in 1994 once camera trap use in the field became more prevalent.
  • Unlike most felids, the marbled cat’s eye socket is surrounded by a complete bony ring.
  • There are 3 generally recognized subspecies, Pardofelis marmorata marmorata, Pardofelis marmorata charltoni, and Pardofelis marmorata longicaudata.
  • It’s arboreal adaptations suggest that it is probably the Old World ecological equivalent of the Margay.
  • While walking, the marbled cat holds its tail stretched out horizontally and does not drag it on the ground.

Featured Image

References + For More Reading

Marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata)

The Wild Cat Trade in Myanmar

Marbled Cat Facts

Elusive Marbled Cats Secretly Photographed in Borneo

CatSG: Marbled cat

Marbled Cat

Animal Info – Marbled Cat

Wild Cat Conservation: Marbled Cat

Pardofelis marmorata

IUCN: Pardofelis marmorata (Marbled Cat)


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