SPECIES MAY LOSE 75% OF CUR­RENT HABI­TAT IN 10 YEARS

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTMETRO - Badri Chat­ter­jee

MUM­BAI: The Borivli na­tional park has strength­ened ef­forts for its am­bi­tious cap­tive breed­ing pro­gramme for rusty-spot­ted cats – the world’s small­est wild cats. In or­der to train its for­est staff, San­jay Gandhi Na­tional Park (SGNP) has in­vited Neville Buck, head of the small car­ni­vore sec­tion at the Aspinall Foun­da­tion, Port Lympne Wild An­i­mal Park in Kent, United King­dom, to con­duct a train­ing pro­gramme for staff from Jan­uary 28 to 30.

“Our at­tempt is to up­date this breed­ing pro­gramme to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and fol­low Cen­tral Zoo Au­thor­ity guide­lines,” said An­war Ahmed, di­rec­tor and chief con­ser­va­tor of for­est, SGNP

En­demic to In­dia, Sri Lanka and ar­eas along the Indo-nepal bor­der, the rusty-spot­ted cats are the small­est wild cat species in the world pro­tected un­der sched­ule I of the Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act, 1972.

SGNP cur­rently has seven rusty spot­ted cats – four male and three fe­male – kept to­gether in cap­tiv­ity next to the tiger en­clo­sure. Of the seven, three (two fe­males and a male) are twom­onth-old kit­tens res­cued in De­cem­ber after they were aban­doned

WORLD’S SMALL­EST WILD CAT

Com­mon name: Rusty-spot­ted cat

Sci­en­tific name: Pri­on­ail­u­rus ru­big­i­nosus Ap­pear­ance: Re­sem­bles a do­mes­tic cat but can be dis­tin­guished prin­ci­pally by its smaller size

Av­er­age size:

inches (48.2 cm)

Weight: Ranges be­tween

and Char­ac­ter­is­tics: White un­der­side of its neck, four ver­ti­cal stripes on its fore­head, cheeks marked with two streaks of darker rusty coloured fur, small and rounded ears, fawn coat with rusty-brown spots ar­ranged in lines on the back, black paws and a long un­marked tail equalling about half the com­bined length of the head and body

Threat: Lit­tle is known about the ecol­ogy of the cat but its pop­u­la­tion in In­dia is un­der se­vere threat of frag­men­ta­tion and degra­da­tion as sev­eral kit­tens are found dur­ing crop

OB­JEC­TIVES OF BREED­ING PRO­GRAM

Se­lect­ing a site ad­ja­cent to SGNP to house the cap­tive breed­ing fa­cil­ity

Train­ing for­est staff in han­dling, care of in­di­vid­u­als Iden­ti­fy­ing reg­u­lar diet for each in­di­vid­ual based on be­hav­iour

De­sign­ing the en­clo­sure keep­ing in mind wel­fare of the cats and their cap­tive breed­ing ef­forts

Video record the en­tire train­ing ex­er­cise by their mother at a farm near a vil­lage in Mawal area, Pune, and brought to SGNP. The re­main­ing cats are much older, with three males aged 10 and one fe­male aged 11. These cats have a life­span of 12 to 14 years.

EX­PERT SPEAK

“Con­sid­er­ing there is a large age gap be­tween the res­i­dent cats and the ones brought re­cently to SGNP, cap­tive breed­ing ef­forts will bear fruit only after a cou­ple of years. How­ever, such ef­forts to seek tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise from abroad are wel­come as this species is very nar­rowly dis­trib­uted and its pop­u­la­tion is de­clin­ing.”

VB Mathur, di­rec­tor, Wildlife In­sti­tute of In­dia (WII) Dehradun

While all the cubs are healthy, the male kit­ten has a com­pli­ca­tion re­lated to loss of vi­sion and in co­or­di­na­tion due to a nervine dis­or­der, said Dr Shailesh Pethe, vet­eri­nar­ian, SGNP.

“This fresh ex­er­cise to har­vest­ing sea­son. The rea­son be­hind its abil­ity to per­sist in such ex­treme dis­tur­bances to its habi­tat is not known and it is feared the species might lose a large por­tion of its pop­u­la­tion and 75% of its cur­rent habi­tat over the next 10 years Pro­tec­tion sta­tus: Sched­ule I species un­der the Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act-1972, In­dia, in Ap­pen­dix I of CITES (In­dian pop­u­la­tion only) and is listed as ‘Near Threat­ened’ in the IUCN Red List

im­prove cap­tive breed­ing ef­forts will surely help not only for small cats but tiger, leop­ard and lion breed­ing in the fu­ture as Buck has ex­per­tise in this,” said Pethe.

This is not the first time ex­perts from abroad have come to the park to as­sist the for­est depart­ment in their cap­tive breed­ing pro­gramme. Ex­perts from Stuttgart, Ger­many, had vis­ited the park in 2014 and had sug­gested that in­breed­ing prac­tices should be avoided and en­sur­ing the cats were happy was of prime im­por­tance. “How­ever, no ma­jor re­sults were seen at the time. This is prob­a­bly the first such pro­gramme in the coun­try and we need to have pa­tience to see it through,” said Ahmed.

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