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Small Cats of India and their Conservation Status

Pallas’s Cat in India

India stands out for its remarkable variety of feline species. The country is not only the exclusive home to five big cats but it is also famous for its ten different species of small cats, a unique distinction on a global scale. The immense range of landscapes and habitats across the country is the primary factor behind this extraordinary diversity. These Small cats have naturally adapted to their environments and serve a pivotal role in preserving the balance of the ecosystem. Most of them are the flagship and umbrella species for the conservation of that particular ecosystem.

Regardless of their size, cats can be readily identified by their distinctive appearance and way of moving. Their notable features include large forward-facing eyes, a short, flat face, a flexible spine, and retractable claws (excluding Cheetah). Cats also exhibit typical behavioral traits: they are secretive, primarily active at night, prefer solitude (except for lions), and are generally not frequently seen.

This article aims to provide details about the small cat species found in various Indian landscapes, including their information and conservation status.

 

Marbled Cat

Scientific Name: Pardofelis marmorata

Conservation Status: Near Threatened (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Namdapha Tiger Reserve (Arunachal Pradesh)

The Marbled Cat, resembling a miniature version of the Clouded Leopard as both bear the distinctive marbling pattern on their coats, with the combination of large, irregular shaped dark blotches, lined with black. Like the clouded leopard, this species also possesses relatively large upper canines. They are Indigenous to the northeastern regions of India and reside in tropical evergreen and tropical moist deciduous forests. Though they have the preference for primary evergreen forest but they are also reported from secondary forests and even there are some records captured through camera trap in human dominated areas like agriculture field and logged forests. Despite limited knowledge about their behavior, it is believed that they are nocturnal creatures. They display arboreal life, relying primarily on birds for their diet, although they also consume rodents and other small mammals. One of their notable features is their long and bushy tail, aiding in their adaptation to arboreal life.

 

Marbled cat spotted in india

 

Caracal

Scientific Name: Caracal caracal

Conservation Status: Near threatened (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Ranthambore and Sariska Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan)

Elongated and lean, the brick-colored Caracal stands out among cats due to its plain coat, a characteristic it shares with the Golden cat. One of their notable characteristics is their black tufted ears, a feature that inspired their Persian name ‘Siyah Gosh,’ which translates to black ears.

Inhabiting grasslands, semi-arid areas, and scrub forests, this cat relies primarily on its speed and agility, rather than stealth, to capture its prey. Catching a grassland bird in midair by jumping out is the quality of this cat which few predators possess. While they are abundant in the African subcontinent, Indian sightings of these cats are scarce, often captured through remote cameras or camera traps. Their population decline has led to their recent classification in the list of critically endangered animals in India.

 

Caracal in ranthambore national park

 

Asiatic Wild Cat or Desert Cat

Scientific Name: Felis lybica

Conservation Status: Least concern (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Desert National Park (Rajasthan), Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary (Rajasthan), Greater Rann of Katch (Gujrat)

Indian desert cat, also known as the Indian wildcat is an elusive feline species native to the desert, scrub, and semi-arid regions of Western India. these cats are very shy and difficult to spot, making them one of the most elusive cat species. Due to their elusive nature and the challenging environment, they inhabit, there is very limited information available about their behavior and ecology. They are believed to be one of the closest ancestors of domestic cats. Unlike many other cat species that rely heavily on water sources, they favor habitats with scarce water, highlighting their unique characteristic. They have adapted to these environments, meeting their moisture requirements through the prey they hunt. Although most of their hunting occurs on the ground, adult Asiatic wildcats have been observed displaying impressive tree-climbing skills.

 

Asiatic Golden Cat

Scientific Name: Catopuma temminckii

Conservation Status: Near Threatened (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Pakke Tiger Resrve (Arunachal Pradesh), Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary (Arunachal Pradesh)

A creature displaying a wide array of hues, the Asiatic wildcat boasts a coat that ranges from striking golden and dark brown to subtle shades of pale cinnamon, vibrant red, and even shades of grey. Its fur can be consistently colored, yet it is not unusual to find individuals marked with spots and stripes reminiscent of a leopard’s pattern. This elusive feline is primarily a nocturnal predator, preferring to hunt on the ground; however, when circumstances demand, it exhibits remarkable climbing abilities.

Their prey selection includes small deer, which they expertly capture with a decisive bite to the neck. Nonetheless, the bulk of their diet consists of rodents, lizards, birds, and other small mammals. Despite their ability to adapt to various prey, the Asiatic wildcat remains a masterful and opportunistic hunter.

Asian golden cats are known to be territorial and solitary creatures. While earlier observations suggested their nocturnal nature, a recent field study conducted on two radio-collared individuals unveiled irregular activity patterns. Contrary to the previous belief, these cats displayed peaks of activity during both crepuscular (dawn and dusk) and diurnal (daytime) periods, with reduced activity late at night.

Interestingly, their activity levels were notably higher in July compared to March, indicating a seasonal variation in their behavior. These findings shed light on the complex and adaptable nature of these elusive felines.

 

asiatic golden cat india

 

Pallas’s Cat

Scientific Name: Octolobus manul

Conservation Status: least concern (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Hanley or Anley Basin (Ladakh)

Also known as Manul, the Pallas’s cat is a well furred cat of high-altitude desert of Tibetan plateau in India. their major prey species is small mammals like pikas and voles and their population determines the population of this cat. Despite their relatively small size, these cats have surprisingly vast home ranges. They predominantly reside in steppe grasslands, facing an inhospitable environment marked by minimal rainfall, low humidity, and drastic temperature fluctuations. These resilient cats have been documented thriving in cold and arid habitats at elevations reaching up to 4,800 meters.

 

Pallas’s Cat in India

 

Eurasian Lynx

Scientific Name: Lynx lynx

Conservation Status: Endangered (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Nubra River Valley (Ladakh)

The Eurasian Lynx, a medium-sized feline weighing between 18-21 Kg, is native to various regions, with India marking its southernmost habitat. Sporting a sandy grey or buff coat adorned with abundant spots, it can be identified by its long black ear tufts, setting it apart from other mountain cats. Its large, padded paws, resembling “snow shoes,” facilitate easy movement across deep snow. In India, these Lynxes are predominantly found in the cold desert and alpine areas of the northern Himalayas.

These Lynxes exhibit crepuscular behavior, showing heightened activity during the evening and morning hours. Their primary prey consists of mountain ungulates; however, they resort to smaller prey when larger options are scarce.

 

Eurasian Lynx cat in India

 

Jungle Cat

Scientific Name: Felis chaus

Conservation Status: Data deficient (IUCN), Schedule II (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Kanha Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh), Kaziranga Tiger Reserve (Assam)

The jungle cat stands as the most prevalent wild cat species in the Indian subcontinent. Unlike other species, it boasts a more widespread distribution, extending across various regions. In India, jungle cats can be found in diverse vegetation types and biogeographic zones. Unfortunately, the scarcity of adequate research and documentation has resulted in limited knowledge about their ecology and behavior.

Jungle cats exhibit a preference for areas with water access and ample vegetation cover. Surprisingly, even agricultural fields can provide suitable cover, especially when accompanied by a rich prey base, making such habitats favorable. However, areas frequently disturbed by human activity and those lacking substantial vegetation adversely impact their well-being. Their primary prey consists of rodents followed by birds, with occasional findings suggesting the inclusion of scorpions in their diet based on scat analysis. The jungle cat’s gestation period is relatively short, lasting between 63-68 days. Their peak breeding season occurs during the summer when females enter estrus, and males emit mating calls in search of potential mates.

 

Rusty Spotted Cat

Scientific Name: Prionailurus rubiginosus

Conservation Status: Near threatened (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Satpura Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh), Gir National Park (Gujrat)

They represent the smallest member of the cat family, weighing merely 1-2 kg. Their fur typically showcases a ruddy grey hue adorned with rust-colored spots on the body and stripes on the forehead and legs. Unlike the fishing cat, they have an unmarked tail, a distinctive feature setting them apart.

These cats are endemic to South Asia and found only in India and Sri Lanka. Their habitat ranges from rocky outcrops to dry deciduous forests and areas surrounding human settlements. The Rusty Spotted Cat is arboreal and nocturnal, primarily preying on small mammals and birds. Their gestation period lasts for 66-68 days.

 

Rusty Spotted Cat

 

Fishing Cat

Scientific Name: Prionailurus viverrinus

Conservation Status: Vulnerable (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Rajasthan), Sundarbans Tiger Reserve (West Bengal)

The Fishing cat, a significantly larger medium-sized felid weighing between 6-12 kg, is closely related to the Rusty Spotted Cat. This robustly built animal exudes power, boasting a distinct olive-grey coat adorned with conspicuous spots. Its short tail and legs, coupled with webbed feet for efficient water movement, characterize its physique. Unlike many other felines, its claws are not fully retractable. Primarily nocturnal, their activity patterns vary across different regions.

Found in South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia, these cats thrive in wetland environments like swamps, reed beds, tidal creeks, and mangroves, all abundant in dense vegetation. As their name implies, their diet predominantly consists of fish, although they also consume rodents and birds. There are even reports of them preying on small ungulates such as Chital fawns and wild piglets.

 

fishing cat catching fish from pond in India

 

Leopard Cat

Scientific Name: Prionailurus bengalensis

Conservation Status: Least concern (IUCN), Schedule I (Wildlife Protection Act)

Best Place to See: Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand)

Another closely related species to the Rusty Spotted Cat, the Leopard Cat, is distinguished by its profuse markings of spots and rosettes, reminiscent of the larger leopard, hence its common name. The color of its coat varies, appearing yellowish brown in tropical regions and grey in the northern parts of its habitat. Among its genus, they possess the widest distribution and rank as the most common small cat, trailing only behind the jungle cat. They are found throughout the country, except in the dry and arid regions of western India.

Leopard cats typically favor moist forested areas but can also be spotted in agricultural fields near human settlements. Access to a water source is crucial for their habitat choice. These cats exhibit some arboreal behavior and are primarily nocturnal. Their diet primarily comprises rodents, birds, reptiles, insects, carrion, and young ungulates. The breeding season varies across different locations, occurring year-round in some regions and limited to winter in others. Their gestation period is relatively short, lasting for 57-60 days.

 

Leopard Cat in india

 

Conclusion: The majority of cats are specialized in their ecological niche, relying on specific food sources and habitats. Without these essential elements, they become vulnerable to various threats. Cats, in general, play a crucial role in the ecosystem as they help control the population of species like rodents. This indirectly benefits humans. Preserving their populations is not only vital for the ecosystem’s balance but also for our well-being.

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