Rare Rusty-spotted cat sighted in Punjab jungle (India) for the first time

The rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), world’s rarest and smallest cats, was recently sighted in Punjab for the first time. The cat was captured in a camera trap set up in Takhni-Rehmapur wildlife sanctuary in Hoshiarpur by a joint team of Punjab wildlife department and WWF-India to document the biodiversity of the sanctuary. There are no records of the rusty-spotted cat’s presence in the foothills of Shivalik range in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh before this.

Sighting of this rare species of cat has also been published in the latest edition of Cat News of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Endemic to India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, rusty-spotted cat is legally protected in India under schedule 1 of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The feline has been declared a near threatened species by the IUCN — international organisation working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

The species has been mostly reported from peninsular India up to Rajasthan with few isolated records from Northern India.

These isolated records include Jhajjar Kotli, Jammu and Kashmir, in 1979; Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, in 2010; Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand in 2011, and Kalesar National Park, Haryana, in 2016.

Principal Chief Conservator of forests (Wildlife), Punjab Kuldip Kumar Lomis said the wildlife department, Punjab initiated a camera trap study in July 2019 to document and capture biodiversity with a special focus on the mammals of Takhni-Rehmapur wildlife sanctuary.

“It’s heartening to document the presence of rusty-spotted cat in the wildlife sanctuary situated in the Hoshiarpur district. This finding will significantly fill in the gaps among the isolated records of rusty-spotted cat in northern parts of India,” he added.

Gitanjali Kanwar (coordinator-WWF-India), who was part of the team and identified the cat, said the rusty-spotted cat was photographed at different camera trap stations of the sanctuary. Kanwar further said that the cat was identified by its fawn-coloured coat with linear arrangements of rusty spots, two distinct vertical lines on its forehead almost meeting the eyes that are encircled by white. “Future studies focused on this cat species will generate more information about its ecology and will be helpful for formulating a long-term conservation strategy,” she said.

Takhni-Rehmapur wildlife sanctuary is spread over 386.8 ha and lies in the intersection between plains of Punjab and mountains of Himachal Pradesh. It provides a habitat suitable for supporting biodiversity from both the adjacent areas.

World’s Smallest Cat

The Rusty-Spotted Cat wins the title for the world’s smallest wild cat weighing a mere 1.8-3.5 lbs (0.8-1.6 kg) and is 14 to 19 inches (35 to 48 cm) in length (not counting the tail which is half the size of the body). This feline has short grey fur over most of its body with rusty spots over its back and flanks from where it derives its name. Their underbellies are white with large dark spots and they have six dark streaks on each side of their heads, extending over their cheeks and forehead.

The Rusty-Spotted Cat, known as the “hummingbird of the cat family”. There are estimated 10,000 Rusty-Spotted Cats in the wild. Like other wild cats, the Rusty-Spotted Cat is on the decline mostly due to habitat loss and hunting pressures (for their coat and even for food in some parts of their range). There are reports of their domestication due to their size and affectionate nature. In fact, Rusty-Spotted Cats are quite active and playful.

This cat prefers dense vegetation and rocky areas and inhabits deciduous forests as well as scrub and grasslands. An arboreal and nocturnal feline, the Rusty-Spotted Cat, unsurprisingly, preys on small animals such as frogs, rodents, insects, small birds and reptiles. They have also has been known to prey on domestic poultry sometimes leading to human-wildlife conflicts. (Indian Daily Mail)