It’s very funny how things sometimes work out. I had absolutely no plans whatsoever to cover cats at Tet Zoo this week. Then, on Friday, I watched the documentary that featured the pogeyan* and, obviously, decided that it was worth covering. And, during the County Museum visit on Saturday, my encounter with the Hayling Island Jungle cat was totally fortuitous: I’d forgotten that it was there, and probably would have missed it were it not for the fact that Chris Palmer got it out of its cabinet. Yesterday, I received some very interesting photos from Ryan Norris at the University of Vermont. As you can see, these photos feature a cat. A very, very weird cat. So, for the third time this week, here’s yet another mystery cat… Maybe I should go the whole hog and make this ‘mystery cat’ week…
* For those who missed it, note that Sandesh Kadur himself visited Tet Zoo the other day and left a comment.
Apparently this animal was photographed in south-eastern Yemen where it was frequenting a building site. The photos were taken by Jim Larsen. He reported that the cat wasn’t just hanging around the site, it was also chewing on cables; so much so that they had to take measures to stop the cables getting damaged further. That sounds pretty unlikely to me. In fact, it has that urban-myth quality about it, but what the hell.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the animal in the photos is for real. Though no obvious scale is evident, it looks larger than a domestic cat. It appears quite tall at the hips in the photo above, but this is an optical illusion caused by the sloping angle of the shot (I just measured hip height vs shoulder height, and they’re the same). Its short, bobbed tail is evident. And its wide, rounded jowls give the back of its head a strangely broad, spherical look. Its strange, tatty little ears look damaged or pathological.
What is this animal? Of the cat species that occur at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, it lacks the striping characteristic of the African wild cat Felis lybica, and of course looks nothing at all like a Sand cat F. margarita. Apparently there’s been some suggestion that it might be a Caracal Caracal caracal, but it doesn’t look much like one at all. In fact, if its fat, rounded face and bob-tail are natural features it doesn’t match any known species.
But are they natural features? The battered, asymmetrical ears and scars – combined with the fact that the animal regularly visits a building site and seems relatively unafraid of people – indicate that it’s a feral domestic cat, and presumably a battered, and perhaps diseased, male. What do you think?