Cat (bidal) a mammalian group of the family Felidae, order Carnivora, comprising about 34 species of typically solitary, flesh-eating predator. Most cats fall into one of two categories, the big cats (lion, tiger, leopard, etc) and the small cats (jungle cat, fishing cat, etc). The closest living relatives of cats are hyenas and civets. The name 'cat' is often applied to other mammals that are more or less catlike in appearance or behaviour. For instance, in Australia the dasyures, small weasellike marsupials, are called 'native cats'; in the US, the spotted skink, a mustelid, is often called the 'civet cat', and the cacomistle, a member of the racoon family, is commonly called the 'ring-tailed cat'.

The history of the cat family can be traced back through the fossil record about 40 million years into the Lower Oligocene times. Typical cats first appeared in the Lower Pliocene, about 10 million years ago, and have continued almost unchanged into modern times.

1. Leopard cat, 2. Jungle cat, 3. Fishing cat

Many of the extinct forms were very large, including the fearsome sabre-toothed cats. Though lions live in prides, cats are generally solitary animals, hunting their prey by stealth and overwhelming their victims in a short, quick rush or leap. The largest living cat is the tiger and the smallest is the jungle cat. Bangladesh has both the species.

The most characteristic and specialised features of cat are their teeth and claws. The teeth are for stabbing and cutting, and the claws to grip the prey. Cats feed on a variety of small to large vertebrates, mostly mammals and birds. They are good climbers and very agile. Cats walk on their toes, and their feet are well-haired around the pads, allowing silent stalking of prey. They have large eyes set at the front of the head, giving good binocular vision and visual acuity essential for judging distances when running and pouncing. Cats see well in daylight, but their eyes are also highly adapted for night vision. They also have an acute sense of hearing, with large mobile ears and an ability to detect high-frequency sounds. Their senses of taste and smell are well-developed, although not to the same degree as in dogs. The long, stiff facial whiskers are sensitive to touch and particularly useful when a cat is active at night. The ability to purr is a characteristic of the small cats, although lacking this ability, the big cats are able to advertise their presence by roaring.

Table  Status and distribution of wild cats (class: Mammalia) of Bangladesh.

Order Family Scientific name English name Local name Distribution
Carnivora Felidae Felis chaus Jungle Cat/Swamp Cat Ban Bidal/ Wab W
Catopuma temmincki [Felis temmincki] Golden Cat/ Temminck’s Cat/ Asian Golden Cat/ Asiatic Golden Cat Sonali Bidal SE
Neofelis nebulosa Clouded Leopard Gechho Bagh/ Lam Chita MEF
Panthera pardus Leopard/Panther Chita Bagh MEF
Panthera tigris Tiger/Bengal Tiger/ Royal Bengal Tiger Bagh SB
Pardofelis marmorata [Felis marmorata] Marbled Cat -- SE
Prionailurus bengalensis [Felis bengalensis] Leopard Cat Chita Bidal W
Prionailurus viverrinus [Felis viverrina] Fishing Cat Mechho Bidal/ Mechho Bagh W

Distribution code: W - Wide, SE - Southeast, MEF - Mixed Evergreen Forest, SB - Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. NB: Previous names are given in square brackets.

The domestic cat is a domesticated form of the African wildcat, Felis libyca, which is still widely distributed over Africa and southwestern Asia and interbreeds freely with the modern domestic cat. From Egypt the domestic cat spread slowly into the rest of the world. The cat has long played a role in religion and witchcraft. The Egyptians had a cat-headed goddess, named Bast. Thousands of cat mummies have been discovered in Egypt. Black cats have long been regarded as having occult powers. The cat is a familiar figure in nursery rhymes and stories. In Hindu religion the cat is regarded as a sacred animal, and if it is killed one has to atone for the act by offering the gold image of a cat.

There are 34 species of cats spread throughout the world except in the Australian region, Madagascar, and the oceanic islands. The greatest concentration of cats species is in southeastern Asia where there may be as many as seven species living together in one area. Seven species are native to the US, four are native to Europe. Bangladesh has eight species of cats, of which six face different kinds of threats, while two could not be evaluated due to paucity of data (table). Of the six threatened species, the golden cat, clouded leopard, leopard, and tiger are considered to be critically endangered, and the jungle cat and fishing cat are held to be endangered. [Md Anwarul Islam]