Rusty- spotted cat, one of the smallest wild cat species which was once believed to be found only in Srilanka & India, has been recently discovered in Nepal. Although the species was first discovered in Bardia National Park (BNP) in 2012, it was only confirmed in 2016 when other evident photos of the species were captured in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (SWR). Since then, the species has been gaining attention from researchers & conservationists in Nepal. Till date, the species is confirmed to be found in these two protected areas.
The name ‘Rusty-spotted cat’ says it all! Its body has rusty brown spots with a pale grey coat. It has distinct four stripes extending above the eyes back to the ears along the shoulders. The species is about half the weight of a house cat. A fully grown rusty cat only weighs between 0.9 to 1.8 kilograms with a body length between 30 to 50 centimeters. It rivals the black-footed cat and kodkod for the title of ‘the world’s smallest cat’.
This tiny little cute cat is actually a brutal hunter. Although there is very little information on its feeding behavior, the cat is considered to be capable of hunting prey bigger than its size. It commonly preys upon small mammals & birds. The cat is nocturnal and has six times more powerful eyes than us. Moreover, the species has been found to share similar habitat space with tigers.
The species is listed under ‘Near Threatened’ globally, yet regionally it is considered ‘Data Deficient’ due to little information. In Nepal, the first-ever study was conducted in SWR by Babu Ram Lamichhane & his team in 2016. Camera traps captured twelve photographs of the animal; however, only two male individuals were confirmed. Bhuwan Singh Bista also captured three photographs of animals in similar location as an earlier study in SWR.
Earlier the species was believed to inhabit only in moist forest but with more research in recent years, it is now evident that the species inhabits diverse habitats like dry deciduous forest, scrublands, wooded grasslands, agricultural fields, rocky high slopes & even abandoned houses. Also in Nepal, the species was photo captured in open dry deciduous forest inside protected areas.
In 2018, a rusty spotted cat was killed by a vehicle near Arjuni Phanta in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (SWR). This incident reminds us that the species is under threats which we are not aware of. Although the species is recently found to be widely distributed in its native range, yet all three native countries have little information making the species more threatened.
Discovery of this new feline species in western Terai plains is in itself a great achievement for Nepal; still, this cat needs more attention. Further extensive researches are needed to gather information on species population status, distribution & ecology for its conservation in Nepal.