Kyrgyzstan’s Cats

February 22nd, 2013 Sections: Animals

Ilbirs - the Snow leopard ... a candidate for the title "felisKyrgyzstanus"?

It’s not an official holiday, but in Japan 22nd February is commemorated as Cat Day., and so it seemed an appropriate occasion to look at felis Kyrgyzstanus.  (I suppose that I had better own up and admit that I made that up … there is no such breed.)

I am well known for my cats – typical domestic animals which I have referred to occasionally in my postcards – for example when I described their gymnastic abilities or when Garfield went for a walk on the wild side.

Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan’s cats have sometimes been featured in the world’s media, like when the Don Sphynx won a local Cat Show and was awarded the title the World’s Scariest Cat by several newspapers who picked up on the photos from a news agency, or by when  it was announced that stray dogs and cats were to be shot on Bishkek’s streets.

If there was a cat that deserved the title then presumably it would be Ilbirs – the snow leopard … the only example of the “Big Cats” that is still to be found in Kyrgyzstan; (at one time Tigers and Cheetahs roamed through the forests of Kyrgyzstan but although Wikipedia lists them both amongst the mammals of Kyrgyzstan … they have long since disappeared).

For the record: It seems that cats are not indigenous to Japan; it is believed that they were introduced from China sometime about the 6th century, (in the Nara period).   They were taken onto ships as working animals, to protect the valuable ships stores, and sacred Buddhist books), from mice.   During the Heian period, (794-1192), cats began to be depicted in pictures, for example in books.  Subsequently, over the centuries, they settled throughout Japan and evolved, resulting in the well-known Japanese breed, Japanese Bobtail – with its characteristic round muzzle and short tail.

The reason that 22nd February has been designated as Cat Day is an example of Japanese humour  … it seems that the word for two in Japanese is “ni” (or “nee”), but it is often pronounced as “nyan”.  If the Brits associate the sound made by cats with the onomatopoeic “meow”, it seems that in Japan they associate it with “nyan” … “nyan, nyan, nyan”, or “2 2 2 ” and the date February 22nd is written as “22/2”.


As well as the snow leopard, however, cats indigenous to Kyrgyzstan include:

The Eurasian Lynx, (lynx lynx – also called the Turkestan Lynx), is a subspecies which has not been greatly studied.  A long-legged, short-tailed, cat which can grow to just over a meter in length.  Its fur changes colour according to the season: yellow-brown in the summer, but paler in the winter months, with dark spots on the underbelly.  The tail has a dark tip and the ears have long tufts of hair which can be as long as 3cm.

It is found throughout the central mountain belt … and prefers wooded areas


The Eurasian Lynx


Pallas's Cat

The Manal, (felis manul – also known asPallas’s cat), is a small, (50-60cm long), cat with a stout body and short legs, and a long tail which can be half of its body length.  It has long hair on the side of the head which seem to form whiskers.  The ears are short and barely discernible from the head.  The fur is usually yellow grey with brown stripes, and light brown on the underbelly.It is found mainly in the upland zones of the Kemin valley and parts of the Eastern Issyk Kul hollow, although there is no reliable recent reports of its occurrence. 
The Old World Wildcat, (Felis silvestrius although usually referred to locally asfelis libyca), is distributed throughout most of Africa Europe and much of Asia – including Kyrgyzstan.  A small cat that reminds people of the domestic cat although it is longer and has a shorter neck.  Typically it sports a long tail and four black stripes on its head .  The body fur is often has incomplete stripes and the tail looks as if it is ringed.  It’s a nocturnal animal and lives in low lying forests or  amongst the bushes and reeds of marshy swampland, up to about 2000 meters.It is found along the floodplains of the Chui and Talas rivers and the shores of Lake Issyk Kul in the North … and along the Kara Darya in the Osh oblast.   

Felis silvestrius - the wildcat


In addition, there is the Jungle Cat, (felis chaus), grows to about 85cm in length and is covered by a yellow, brown and grey fur.  It has a short tail and high shoulders.  The Jungle Cat inhabits lowland areas amongst reeds in marshland and along lake shores in desert areas.  Hoewever, there is some doubt if it really occurs in this area – although there were some identifications in the early part of the twentieth century, its normal distribution is outside this region.

All of these animals are listed in the Red Data Book of endangered species.

Incidentally, Although you could be forgiven for thinking that the Marbled Polecat, is another … it’s actually a weasel and takes its name due to its distinctive colouring: a mottled yellow and brown on the top part of the body, with a band around its face and eyes; a dark brown underside, short legs and ears which are tipped with white and a yellow tail.  Although generally a nocturnal animal, it can be active during the daytime.  It eats mainly small rodents but is also known to eat lizards and large insects.  When it feels it threatened, it raises its tail hair, arching the tail over its back and emits a foul smell to ward of the attacker.

The polecat used to live on the dry foothills of the steppes and low lying valleys … all areas which are now occupied by man and used for agriculture thus robbing it of its natural habitat.  As a consequence, it is no longer encountered in the Chui, Talas and Ferghana valleys – and seems to be restricted to the undeveloped regions of Djalal Abad oblast – and, interestingly, on the Kazakh side of the Chui river.


Tags: , , ,
Comment closed.