Rusty-spot­ted cat

Small stature won’t stop the feisty rustyspot­ted cat from tak­ing over the trees when night falls

World of Animals - - What’s Inside... -

Sav­ing Earth’s small­est fe­line

Catch a glimpse through thick In­dian for­est and you’d think you’d spot­ted a par­tic­u­larly ad­ven­tur­ous house cat look­ing for a meal. Get lucky and see it again and you’d be­gin to re­alise a few things weren’t quite as you ex­pected with this lit­tle hunter: a streaked head, rounded ears and spots all over its body.

This is the rusty-spot­ted cat, Asia’s small­est wildcat and one that ties with the black-footed cat of south­ern Africa for the ti­tle of world’s small­est cat. Barely tip­ping the scales with a max­i­mum weight of just 1.7 kilo­grams (3.7 pounds), this tiny fe­line is only half the weight of the av­er­age do­mes­tic cat.

There are two sub­species of rustyspot­ted cat – one na­tive to In­dia and re­cently ob­served in Nepal, and the other found on the is­land of Sri Lanka. Cats liv­ing in In­dia usu­ally make their homes in de­cid­u­ous forests, scrub­land and grass­land, while mem­bers of the Sri Lankan sub­species tend to stick to forests in and around the moun­tains.

Both sub­species pre­fer ar­eas with dense un­der­growth; these cats are ex­tremely reclu­sive and pri­vate, seek­ing out cover and work­ing hard to avoid be­ing seen. Ag­ile climbers, rusty-spot­ted cats scramble up trees at im­pres­sive speed if some­thing star­tles or threat­ens them

on the ground; thanks to their agility in the trees, they’ve earned the nick­name ‘hum­ming­bird of the cat world’.

A noc­tur­nal life­style helps the rustyspot­ted cat to main­tain its pri­vacy.

Sleep­ing through the day in hol­low logs and caves when many other an­i­mals are awake and wan­der­ing be­tween the trees, the cats can emerge fully rested at sun­set to set off in search for their prey. they’re not fussy; they will pounce on any ro­dent, bird, rep­tile, frog or in­sect small enough to be taken down by their tiny claws. Sneak­ing through the trees with their pat­terned coat and the cover of dark­ness keep­ing them hid­den also al­lows the cats to avoid the at­ten­tion of larger preda­tors in the area.

It’s not just hu­mans and preda­tors that rusty-spot­ted cats avoid; they re­ally don’t like the com­pany of other mem­bers of their species ei­ther. they’re soli­tary and aggressive for the ma­jor­ity of the year, with fe­males only tol­er­at­ing males dur­ing their five-day oestrus. Such an un­usu­ally short oestrus and brief mat­ing pe­riod prob­a­bly evolved for the safety of fe­males, as they’re at much greater risk of pre­da­tion dur­ing breed­ing sea­son.

“It’s not just hu­mans and preda­tors that rusty-spot­ted cats avoid; they don’t like other mem­bers of their species ei­ther”

Once the males have been sent on their way, ex­pec­tant mothers pre­pare dens and give birth to kit­tens – usu­ally one or two – af­ter two months. Kit­tens are born with rows of black spots and don’t de­velop the dis­tinc­tive rusty patches un­til they reach ma­tu­rity at about 68 weeks old. Eye colour changes too; new­borns have blue eyes, but these change to a grey or am­ber hue as they grow.

Since 2016, the rusty-spot­ted cat has been clas­si­fied as Near threat­ened on the IuCN Red List. the main threat to the sur­vival of the species is the de­struc­tion

“there are thought to be fewer than 10,000 wild rusty-spot­ted cats left to­day, but no one can be sure”

and frag­men­ta­tion of its habi­tat. As In­dia and Sri Lanka de­velop and try to pro­vide for grow­ing pop­u­la­tions, large ex­panses of for­est are be­ing logged or cleared for agri­cul­ture. Many of these cats live in al­ready iso­lated moun­tain­ous for­est, so break­ing up ex­panses of veg­e­ta­tion makes it even harder for them to lo­cate mates when they’re ready to breed.

they can also find them­selves in dan­ger if they ven­ture onto farms and steal an­i­mals, and their skins and meat are oc­ca­sion­ally found for sale de­spite hunt­ing and trade be­ing banned.

With in­creased prox­im­ity to hu­man set­tle­ments, there’s also con­cern over in­ter­breed­ing with do­mes­tic cats.

Con­ser­va­tion of this species is dif­fi­cult be­cause of the cats’ elu­sive na­ture. there are thought to be fewer than 10,000 wild rusty-spot­ted cats left to­day, but no one can be sure; since they live in re­mote lo­ca­tions and are so hard to spot it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to give an es­ti­mate of the num­ber re­main­ing in the wild and the num­ber of kit­tens be­ing born each year. Rusty-spot­ted cats are pro­tected by law, but with­out ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about their ranges and move­ments it’s hard to know where to fo­cus con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

Ad­vice is be­ing given to peo­ple who own do­mes­tic cats in ar­eas where rusty-spot­ted cats live to try and re­duce in­ter­breed­ing. In ad­di­tion to a pop­u­la­tion at Sri Lanka’s Colombo Zoo, sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions in Europe now house rusty-spot­ted cats and, while they’re not the eas­i­est an­i­mals to breed, there’s hope that a breed­ing pro­gramme will pro­vide some pro­tec­tion for the fu­ture and the ge­netic in­tegrity of the species.

things look un­cer­tain for this hunter, but or­gan­i­sa­tions are work­ing hard to pre­serve it; hope­fully a lucky few will be catch­ing glimpses of the hum­ming­bird of the cat world for many years to come.

Left With their small bod­ies and pow­er­ful limbs, rusty-spot­ted cats are ag­ile an­i­mals

be­Low Breed­ing pro­grammes have been es­tab­lished to try and pre­serve the species

Above This species Latin name trans­lates roughly as ‘Life: rusted’

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