They should be. Small cats are lean feats of evolution, high-performance predators that hit their stride millions of years ago and have changed little ever since. What they lack in stature, they make up for in grit. The black-footed cat, for example, is the smallest cat in Africa, weighing less than five pounds. But it’s nicknamed the anthill tiger because it lives in abandoned termite mounds and fights tooth and claw if threatened, even jumping in the face of the much larger jackal. The resourceful fishing cat of South Asia is a denizen of swamps and wetlands but can scratch out a living wherever fish are found. Cameras in downtown Colombo, Sri Lanka, once caught a fishing cat stealing koi from an office fishpond.
Small wildcats have adopted other clever ways to coexist. In Suriname, Sanderson and his colleagues photographed five cat species living in the same rain forest: jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi. They do this by “dividing space and time,” he says. Each animal has its niche, whether it’s hunting on the ground during the day, like the jaguarundi, or hunting in the trees at night, like the margay.