SPECIES MAY LOSE 75% OF CURRENT HABITAT IN 10 YEARS
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
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.
“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.