Rusty spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus is the world’s smallest wild cat. The entire body length including the tail is just over 2 feet on average of an adult individual. The average weight of adult male is around 1.5 Kg and female’s is just over a one Kg; now if we compare this data between captive Rusty spotted cat and well handed or fed house cat, the Rusty spotted cat is almost half the size of the house cat. But if we look differences between wild Rusty spotted cat and feral cat of USA or Europe, sometimes it looks like that Rusty spotted cat is just 35-40% in size. So yes the Rusty spotted cat is the smallest of all cats in the world!!!!
The Rusty spotted cat has so far not been the focus of a dedicated research program except our sincere efforts since 2004 in the western and central parts of India. Until today, only few observations are available on its distribution across the entire known distribution range of this cat in India apart from our exclusive research. These observations have revealed that the most of the populations of this cat survive out side the protected area network (specifically designed for the wildlife conservation). At the same time unfortunately this cat has been rarely studied under any dedicated population estimation based research program, the population status of this cat in the wild is still unknown, which put this cat in great danger in the face of the fast phase of the forest-habitat destruction and alteration. Unconfirmed reports from other sources have revealed the decline of not just the Rusty spotted cat but all the other 14 species of cats of India, once they were common.
The Rusty spotted cat is an endemic cat species of the Indian Sub-continent and found in two subspecies only in India and Sri Lanka. But until today, this cat has not been sighted from all the corners of its distribution range from both the countries.
As I have already discussed above that this cat has not been studied under any dedicated research hence the overall scenario about its population estimation and trend is still unknown. But on the based of the broad general hypothesis forest destruction and habitat alteration have been emerged as the all time greatest amongst threats. Due to these factors forest corridor connectivity is being cut day by day and this impacts on the gene pool of the available breeding individuals and at the same time in the absence of adequate mates it has been observed unhealthy population which is likely unfit to survive in the wild. Habitat alteration has also led to threats like road kills due to over urbanization, diseases due to domesticated stray animals, ever increasing use of pesticides, contamination through other chemical hazards, exposure to predation (due to its small size and chiefly arboreal habits) due to insufficient cover and very rarely but surely observed poaching of this cat in very few parts of this cat’s distribution in India.
Despite Rusty spotted cat’s wide distribution range in India, until today, it is only rarely sighted and reported from its distribution range. Due to its unknown status and rarity the Rusty spotted cat is included in the schedule (I) of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), as amendment (2006), India and termed as “Vulnerable” in the IUCN Red Data List (2007). So legally this cat has been protected with the highest ranked priority just as tigers are being protected. But in India unfortunately over 90% population of this cat is outside of the protected area network (wildlife sanctuaries or national parks), where wildlife conservation is not the top most of the priorities. For the present it is regret to admit that no specific conservation program has been specifically designed not only for the Rusty spotted cat but also for the other 10 species of small to medium sized cats.
Our on going research based conservation programme (since 2004) in the Eastern Gujarat of the Western India have indicated the relatively high population abundance of the Rusty spotted cat in the entire known distribution range across India. It was October 2004 when this cat was sighted for the first time in the history of its distribution range outside the protected forests. After the 5 years of hard work since its first record we could just derived the Encountered rate as 0.07 cat/Km driven for this cat. Results also indicated that the species was wide spread resident and also did not seem to be a habitat specialist. Besides these we could know nothing due to its elusiveness and nocturnal habits and also unlike larger cats, these smallest wild cats do not travel on set trails as well as don’t leave their faeces exposed; precluding applications of camera trapping, scat collections and spoor tracking, the best known non-invasive methods.
Radio Telemetry has been selected as the most suitable and only available tool to study the smallest secretive and arboreal amongst all wild cats to evaluate the first of its kind of the conservation program focusing the Indian sub continent.