A revised taxonomy of the Felidae

The IUCN Cat Specialist Group has just published its long-awaited  review of Felidae taxonomy as a special 79 page issue of Cat News. I haven’t had time to read through it yet but the key points of interest are that:

  • They recognise 41 species and 77 sub-species including Domestic Cat.
  • Felis bieti (Chinese mountain cat) is still recognised as a full species based on ‘its restricted distribution and distinct morphology’ but it is acknowledged that further research is required.
  • Felis lybica (‘African’ Wildcat) is recognised as being distinct from Felis silvestris (European Wildcat) with three sub-species being recognised lybica, cafra and ornata (the form often known as Indian desert cat).
  • Oncilla is split into two species Leopardus guttulus (Southern tigrina) and L. tigrinus (Northern tigrina).
  • Leopard Cat is split into two species Prionailurus bengalensis (Mainland leopard cat)from mainland Asia, Taiwan and Iriomote, and P.javanensis (Sunda leopard cat) from Java, Bali, Borneo, Sumatra, Philippines and possibly the Malay peninsula.

It also lists priorities for further taxonomic research including:

  • The need to determine bieti’s relationship with lybica and sylvestris.
  • Whether F. lybica is actually three species.
  • Whether there is actually more than one species of Marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata.
  • Whether Leopardus colocola (Pampas cat) is actually more than one species.
  • Whether tigrinus is actually more than one species.
  • To determine the boundary between the ranges of the two leopard cats.

The report also includes range maps showing the ranges of the recognised sub-species and also corrects errors in previously published maps most notably it does not include Sumatra in the range of Fishing cat.

From a personal viewpoint it increases my list by two but adds one additional species to the remaining ones I need.



  • Hamman Prinsloo

    Hi there!

    Where can one download the document? Would love to read it!



      Hamman, as far as I’m aware it’s only available in hard copy at the moment to IUCN Cat Group supporters.

      If I find an online copy I will let you know.


  • Yeye

    I have also got the latest issue so there is plenty to read during the Easter.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Perhaps someone could do our community a great service and scan it? Or loan me a copy so I could scan it?

  • Nayer Youakim

    A short summary list of the proposed taxa within the family is provided here:


    Some surprises in that list alone, so I look forward to reading the full document!

  • Vladimir Dinets

    That list is a bad joke. Just two subspecies of tiger and two subspecies of bobcat? Iriomote cat not a valid subspecies? Seriously?

  • Jon Hall

    I have not given this much thought but I am surprised that the Asian Lion doesn’t seem to warrant a subspecies either?

    What do people think about F. libyca and silvestris being split .. again… does anyone object to that?

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Jon: you have the full text. Do they provide any justification for splitting silvestris? In Transcaucasia there is an obvious intergradation zone between the two.

    • Jon Hall

      No I don’t sorry .. I haven’t seen it. I understand that there are some copyright concerns about sharing it as its received by those who pay to subscribe. I hope we see a copy somewhere soon.


    Sorry about the long post but I thought I would try to answer some of the queries raised to date. I must emphasise that these are my interpretation of the paper. I hope that some of you find it helpful.
    As Jon says the publication is copyrighted by IUCN and subscribers pay a significant sum for it. That coupled with the fact that it’s 79 pages makes scanning impractical but hopefully it will be available on line in time.

    The review was carried out by 22 eminent cat or taxonomic specialists, a core group of seven chaired Andrew Kitchener, an expert group of ten and a review group of six. The core group established the principles for the review, the experts provided scientific and critical advice on species, subspecies, morphology, genetics and bio-geographical areas to support the core group, and the review group completed ‘a robust peer review of the proposed cat classification’ alongside members of the core and expert groups.

    In simple terms to determine specific and sub-specific status a traffic-light system was adopted. This takes into consideration morphological, genetic and bio-geographical criteria while acknowledging that behavioural, ecological and reproductive criteria may also be useful as supporting evidence. Although I’m not a scientist to my mind this is a refreshing approach given the current obsession with defining species purely on a phylogenetic basis (PSC). In some ways it mirrors the multi-faceted approach to bird taxonomy as proposed by Joe Tobias, Nigel Collar et al and controversially adopted by BirdLife International in the face of much criticism from the PSC brigade.

    It does raise an interesting question regarding competitive mammal listing. Are mammalwatching readers more interested in morphologically distinct forms, or in morphologically identical forms that are only identifiable under a microscope? Maybe one for a separate thread.

    Under each criteria they assessed whether there was clear evidence / some evidence or inference / no evidence of distinction. In some cases the criteria had never been investigated. Where there was clear evidence under all three criteria a taxon was attributed specific status. I don’t have time to give a detailed breakdown of how sub-specific status was determined.

    In terms of specific species raised in postings and sorry but pasting this summary in has lost all the italics etc.

    Iriomote wildcat is included within the euptilurus subspecies of Mainland leopard cat alongside Amur leopard cat etc. but it is noted that further research is required to determine its true status.

    Under Bobcat it is considered that L. r. escuinapae and oaxacensis require further research but that all other forms fall within either L. r. rufus or L. r. fasciatus (a distinctive western genetic clade).

    The decisions on Tigers seem to be largely based on the findings of Wilting et al 2015. Planning tiger recovery: Understanding intra-specific variation for effective conservation. This can be viewed at http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400175.

    In terms of Asiatic lion they quote a number of recent papers that have placed Asiatic lion in with lions from central and West Africa e.g.
    Bertola LD, van Hooft WF, Vrieling K, Uit de Weerd DR, York DS, Bauer H, Prins HHT, Funston PJ, Udo de Haes HA, Leirs H et al. 2011. Genetic diversity, evolutionary history and implications for conservation of the lion (Panthera leo) in West and Central Africa. Journal of Biogeography. 38(7):1356-1367. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02500.x
    Bertola LD, Jongbloed H, van der Gaag KJ, de Knijff P, Yamaguchi N, Hooghiemstra H, Bauer H, Henschel P, White PA, Driscoll CA et al. 2016. Phylogeographic patterns in Africa and high resolution delineation of genetic clades in the lion (Panthera leo). Scientific Reports. 6:30807. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/srep30807

    Sorry but it would take me too long to try to fully summarise the conclusions regarding Chinese mountain cat, European and African wildcats although it is acknowledged that further research is required in these areas. Chinese mountain cat is in part recognised as a distinct species because it is morphologically distinct from, but apparently occurs sympatrically alongside Felis lybica ornata although this is just scratching the surface of this.

    Hope this helps and don’t shoot the messenger.


  • Yeye

    I am reading the paper at the moment but I haven´t finished it yet but from Richard´s post sums the first part really well. I am going to read the parts on the big cats more in detail as they are the ones I want to know more about before I photograph them (I hope)

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Thanks a lot!
    A huge work almost entirely based on mtDNA analysis, a method already known to be deeply flawed.

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