At one with the Wind

Compacted sand dunes were held together by clumps of grass. Thorn trees threaded through them. This scrubland battleground was pitted with holes which hid mongoose, jirds, gerbils, rats, foxes and cats. We chanced upon a small cat sitting in the open. I’d barely taken one photo when another jeep appeared. It could take one jeep in the neighbourhood. But the second one sent it streaking for its burrow.

The desert is full of these secretive middle sized predators, and one common thread runs through their different behaviour. They avoid humans. There’s no doubt that this is why they survive when their larger and faster cousins, the tigers and the cheetah, were hunted to extinction a mere century ago. When I saw the cat I was a hunter with my camera, continuing to edge up on it to improve my shot, as it sat in a burrow, ready to dive. Only now, as I look at those photos do I realize that it must have been terrified.

There is much confusion on what to call this species. Desert cat or Asiatic wildcat? And the binomial is equally confused: Felis lybica to go with the Asiatic wildcat, or Felis lybica ornata, to distinguish the population which lives in the desert of Rajasthan, disconnected (as far as we know) from the other Asiatic populations? There is even confusion about whether the Asiatic population is a subspecies of the African, which should then be called Felis lybica. Or whether the European population, which is usually called Felist silvestris, should be distinguished. Or does the familiar house cat, Felis catus, interbreed with these often enough that they are all one widespread species. In this deep confusion are added new photographic records of the desert cat far to the east, in the protected forests of central and eastern Madhya Pradesh.

The desert cat has complex markings on its back, and we slowly circled trying to see its back. But the cat kept turning to keep an eye on us. Its long and tufted ears twitched, it raised its head to sniff the wind, and it blinked the eyes with the characteristic vertical slits. We never got to see its back. So eventually, although I think it is a desert cat that we saw, do we really know what it is?


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. It was only after reading one of your earlier posts that we did some research and learned there were so many types of cats living in the wild. Like Margaret21, I would not have been able to tell this one from a domesticated cat. But I did recognize the twitches and movements in your video as seen before in other cats alert to danger — or, though not in this case, prey.

    Liked by 1 person

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