A rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginous), one of the smallest endangered feline species found in a few national parks of India and Lanka, has been sighted at Keoladeo National Park (KNP) in Bharatpur recently.
The rare cat was seen carrying her kitten in the mouth in the forest area by two wildlife visitors, who sent their pictures to the Rajasthan Forest Department.
Since 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the rare cat as a “near threatened” species. The global population of the cat is fragmented and affected by the loss and destruction of its prime habitat, deciduous forests.
The distribution of the rusty-spotted cats is relatively limited. They are found mainly in moist and dry deciduous forests as well as scrub and grassland but are likely to be absent in evergreen forests. In India, it was long thought to be confined to the south, but records have established that it is found in many parts of the country with a congenial habitat.
“It is a rare feat for the KNP where the smallest and endangered wild cat has been spotted recently and the wildlife experts are very excited about this find,” Manas Singh, Bharatpur’s deputy conservator of forest, told The Statesman when contacted.
“Given its nocturnal and shy nature, its pictures serve as a strong indicator that the rare cat species is reproducing here in the deciduous park, which was once famous for the migratory Siberian cranes. The little feline found KNP’s healthy vegetation and reservoirs to live. It is a good sign for wildlife research,” Singh said.
Citing his department’s social media interaction, he said, “The beautiful moment of a mother cat shifting its kitten was captured by Dr Olga and Robin Khan (their whereabouts not to be disclosed).”
As per Wikipedia, it is the smallest wild cat in Asia and rivals the black-footed cat as the world’s smallest wild cat. It is 35 to 48 cm (14 to 19 inches) in length, with a 15 to 30 cm (5.9 to 11.8 in) tail and weighs only 0.9 to 1.6 kg (2.0 to 3.5 lb). Its bushy tail is about half the length of the body.
The loss of its habitat to cultivation is a serious threat to wildlife in both India and Sri Lanka. There have been occasional reports of rusty-spotted cat skins in trade. In some areas, it is hunted for food or as livestock pests.