Malaysia Map

Wild Cats of Malaysia

The cats are the most highly developed of the Carnivora and are almost exclusively carnivorous in their diet.  They are specialized for hunting and killing and most of them are nocturnal.  Nearly all except the largest are expert climbers and this has led to their sense of sight becoming predominant over that of smell.  The muzzle is foreshortened to form a 'face' and the eyes directed forwards, giving the binocular vision needed for judging distance.  They also have exceptionally good night vision accompanied by a vertical pupil which is dilated in the dark and narrowed to a slit to protect the eye from the strong light of day.  With one exception, the cheetah, not, of course, found in Malaysia, the claws are fully retractile, that is they can be withdrawn into sheaths so that they are not blunted by contact with the ground but kept sharp for climbing and for use as weapons,  When a cat 'sharpens' its claws on the furniture it is not, of course, sharpening them at all, but stretching or exercising the muscles that control them.  Wild cats of all kinds perform this exercise on tree trunks and branches.  The teeth are specialized for flesh eating, the canines and carnassials being large and the number of cheek teeth reduced to three of four in the upper jaw and three in the lower.

  There are eight species of cats in Malaysia of which three are not found in Borneo and one is confined to that that island.  We will start with the largest of them.

Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris)
© WWF-Malaysia/M.Kavanagh

Recorded measurements of tigers usually include the tail, and the average total length of Malayan tigers is 2.5 to 2.75 metres (8 to 9 feet, the tail being between 1/2 and 2/3 of the head and body; weight up to 225kg or nearly 500 pounds).  The geographical range is from the tropics of Asia to northern China and Siberia and formerly to western Iran, where it is now extinct.  Tigers occur, (or did until recently), in Malaya, Java and Sumatra but not in Borneo.  Those of cold climates are the biggest and a Siberian tiger of nearly 4 metres (13feet) has been recorded.  Their numbers in the wild are now dwindling rapidly over the whole of their range.

  Tigers are solitary animals apart from the temporary bond between the mother and cubs, which number from one to four in a litter.  Their main prey in Malaya is wild pig, but they will eat small animals, even frogs and fish, when hungry.  Domestic animals such as goats and young buffaloes are readily taken.  They do not often attack humans but i cannot be said that they never do so.

  A world without any wild tigers at all would be a sadly diminished place, but to people living in villages in the country tigers are not good neighbors; they are sometimes dangerous and always alarming to meet and they take their toll of valuable domestic beasts.  In the modern world their existence is only acceptable in places set apart for them and not settled by any human population, which is to say in nature reserves.  These must be of large extent and must be protected by law against any sort of development, whether hunting, settlement, timber-felling or mining, and the law must be backed by public sentiment; if not it will be ineffectual.

Leopard or Panther (Panthera pardus)
Black Panther - Wikipedia

An undated handout photo received from the Johor National Parks Corporation via Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Program shows the first image of a spotted leopard in the Endau-Rompin national park in southern Johor state, Malaysia.

 Average length of males, with tail, 2.1 metres (7 feet), females rather less.  A very widespread animal ranging over most of Africa and Asia including Malaya: on the Sunda Islands only in Java.  There are two color forms, one pale tawny with numerous black rosettes, the other also marked with black rosettes but with the ground color so dark that they are hardly visible.  When a 'black panther' skin fades from long exposure to the light that spots show up clearly.  The black form is associated with rain forest and in Malaya by far outnumbers the normal spotted one.  Black and spotted kittens may appear in the same litter and there is no difference in temperament, or any feature other than color between the two.

  Leopards climb well and prey on monkeys, mouse-deer, wild pig and ground-living birds; they are also partial to domestic dogs.  They are dangerous if approached when wounded.  The voice is a regularly repeated coughing roar said to resemble the sound of sawing wood.  One to three kittens are the usual litter.  Like tigers, leopards are decreasing in numbers everywhere, both from destruction of their habitat and from hunting in order to sell the skins, which are still in demand for feminine adornment in spite of propaganda against wearing them.

Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)
Unique breed: A close-up photograph of the Bornean clouded leopard taken in Sabah’s Deramakor Forest Reserve

Head and body up to one metre, tail nearly as long and thickly furred.  The canine teeth are long and blade-like.  Color and pattern as in photo: this is one of the most beautifully marked of al lthe cats.  Its home is in the forests of eastern Asia, Malaya, Sumatra and Borneo.

  In size it is between the 'great cats' (tiger and panther) and the small ones and it is largely arboreal, spending more time in the trees than on the ground.  Its hunting habits are similar to those to the leopard but with the emphasis on smaller game.  Is has no reputation of being dangerous to man.  Clouded leopards are nowhere common and are more strictly confined to forest than the tiger and panther.

Leopard Cat (Felis bengalensis)
Source : Wikipedia

Length 44-55cm, tail less than half length.  Widespread from India and the Himalayas to eastern Asia, the Sunda Islands and the Philippines, inhabiting a wide climatic range.  Its color is tawny with a conspicuous pattern of round black spots which tend to be elongate on the fore legs and shoulders; face vertically striped; back of the ear black with a white spot 

  This is the only one of the small cats that is at all common in Malaysia.  It inhabits all kinds of country, forest, plantations and even suburban areas, and is notorious as a chicken thief.  Its natural prey consists of small mammals and birds, lizards and frogs,  It mews harshly and purrs when pleased but is difficult to tame; kittens taken very young sometimes become docile.

The other four Malaysian small cats are all rare.  Two are found in both Malaya and Borneo, The Marbled Cat (Felis marmorata) and the Flat-Headed Cat (Felis planiceps).  The former has a pattern rather like that of a clouded leopard, but is of course much smaller.  The tail is as long as the head and body, a feature that immediately distinguishes it from the leopard cat.  It is found in the warmer parts of Asia eastwards from the Himalayas.  The Flat-Headed Cat has a more restricted range from southern Thailand and Malaya to Sumatra and Borneo.  Is is dark or grayish-brown above, paler below, with a speckled or grizzled appearance.  The fur is short and the tail very short, a litter over a quarter of the body length.  The kittens are gray.
A Marbled cat in Danum Valley, Borneo - Wikipedia

Flat-headed Cat camera-trapped in Tangkulap Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia in March 2009 - Wikipedia

  The Golden Cat (Felis temminckii) is a little larger than the others and is a beautiful animal, plain golden brown all over except for the face which has an elegant pattern of dark and white stripes.  It ranges from the mainland into Malaya and Sumatra.  In Borneo, and confined to the island, lives the Bay Cat (Felis badia) which is plain yellowish brown or chestnut without any spots or stripes,  the only marking being a white patch on the underside of the tail.  It is a rare forest animal about which little is known.

A rare Asian golden cat in Southern Selangor State on November 6, 2010. Malaysian wildlife authorities said on November 10, 2010 they rescued a rare Asian golden cat, which was caught in a snare and destined for the cooking pot. - source:

Elusive feline: The mysterious Borneo bay cat. — Photo courtesy of Joanna Ross and Andrew Hearn of Oxford University’s WildCRU

Text source: Malaysian Nature Handbooks-Mammals of Malaysia (M.W.F. Tweedie)