A picture from a fishing cat

Awe-inspiring Small Cats

Lions, tigers, jaguars and cheetahs may be the best known and largest of the wild feline species, but there are many species of small wild cats around the world that are just as awe-inspiring: the Borneo Bay Cat, the Manul and the Scottish Wildcat, to name a few. And the vast majority of small cats like these are struggling to keep a claw-hold on their very existence.

Cat species can be loosely grouped as 7 big cats and 33 small cats. Many organizations support conservation efforts for the “big seven,” with all 17 subspecies of big cats benefiting from active conservation and monitoring programs. By contrast, no small cats are the beneficiaries of conservation action across their geographic range – with only one exception, the Andean Cat. And while some small cats have adapted to their changing environments, several species are considered vulnerable or endangered.

Take the Guigna, for example: the smallest cat in the Americas, these 5-pound fluffballs are as elusive as they are adorable. Or the Fishing Cat, found in Asia: resembling miniature leopards, they’re excellent swimmers, using their lightning-fast paws to catch fish. Both of these remarkable felines are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The tendency to support conservation efforts for big cats over small cats is reflected in the imbalance of funding. Fully 98.8% of all wild cat investment goes toward the big seven – with just 1.2% of funding going to the 33 small cat species.

Fishing cat jumping into water for a fish. You can see the partially webbed paws, especially the rear paws. The ears fold closed and the cat leads with its front paws. The fish is secured by the paws then transferred to the mouth. At this age the female is larger & more aggressive than the male.

Wild Facts
Of the 40 species of cats in the world, 33 are small wild cats
Cats are 37 million years old
Wild cats are rarely seen and very difficult to photograph or trap

Reducing Threats for Small Cats

Dr. Jim Sanderson, Global Wildlife’s Program Manager for Wild Cat Conservation, is the founder and director of the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation and a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group Small Cat Conservation Fund.

Sanderson orchestrates a worldwide network of local partners, each committed to identifying and mitigating threats to small wild cats. By continually expanding this unprecedented network – one partnership at a time – he strives to ensure the survival of small cat species and their natural habitats around the world. Sanderson knows that his mission hinges on how small cats are perceived locally. As he puts it, “Cats need just half a chance to survive … they can do the rest. We don’t need to change cats; we must change people’s minds.”

GWC’s small wild cat conservation program includes:

  • Working with the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund to identify small wild cat conservation projects and provide them with small grants.
  • Facilitating the establishment of species working groups to catalyze conservation action, range-wide thinking and partnerships for the species most in need.
  • Helping to provide camera trap software, training and expertise to identify distribution and populations of small wild cat species globally.
  • Working with local partners in range countries to establish ongoing conservation programs and projects to conserve small wild cats and their habitats.
  • Making recommendations and helping to implement threat-reduction programs that address the unique threats to various small cat species.
  • Bringing awareness to the plight of endangered small wild cats to ensure the same level of attention and funding as large cats.
Manul Cat

Manul, photo by: Ben Warren

Species-based approach

In order to directly address the needs of specific small cats, some of which occur in near-isolation, GWC currently takes a species-based conservation approach. Of the 33 small wild cats, priority conservation species include:

  • Flat-headed Cat (Endangered): Lives around wetlands in lowland forest on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Malaysia.
  • Borneo Bay Cat (Endangered): Is endemic to Borneo and is one of the least known and infrequently recorded of the world’s wild cats.
  • Andean Cat (Endangered): Lives in rocky habitats above 3,600 meters in the Central Andes of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
  • Guiña (Vulnerable): Also known as Chilean Cat, is the smallest felid in the Americas and is found primarily in central and southern Chile, as well as southwestern Argentina.
  • Manul (Near Threatened): Also known as Pallas’s Cat, lives in the grasslands and montane steppe of Central Asia.
  • Scottish Wildcat (Least Concern): Although classified as Least Concern globally, it is one of Europe’s most endangered mammals.
  • Fishing Cat (Vulnerable): Widely distributed in South and Southeast Asia from Pakistan in the west to Cambodia in the east, and from the Himalayan foothills in the north to Sri Lanka and peninsular Thailand in the south.


Your generous donation will help to remove threats to small wild cats through:

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Recovering Endangered Species

Implement threat-reduction programs to each of the small wild cat species. These threats and subsequent conservation actions vary by project but examples include implementing road signs in high road-kill areas and setting up goat and chicken banks to support the community while discouraging retaliation to small cat populations that eat goats and chickens to survive.

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Cultivating Leadership

Coordinate work through local partners and associates.

Help raise funding, review proposals, provide access to scholarships, facilitate meetings, push manuscripts through to publication and build the network of teams working collectively toward small cat conservation.

Stay Wild. Stay Connected.