A happy ending for a tiny feline
The Rusty spotted cat (Prionailurusrubiginosus), one of the smallest of the feline family, is found only in India, Sri Lanka and the terai region of Nepal. It is listed as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red list.
A growing population, expanding farmland and depleting forests have pushed the margins of human habitations closer to the existing forest areas in India. This has led to a parallel existence of wild animals in close proximity to the villages and a manifold increase in man-animal conflicts, particularly in the state of Maharashtra. With wild cats residing near human inhabited regions, the reported numbers of such cases have been on a surge.
Offering easy access to water and shelter, the tall sugarcane stalks provide a safe cover for wild cats to breed in and nurture their young, until they are prepared to fend for themselves. Consequently, with the onset of harvest season, farmers find themselves in rather unusual situations. As they gather the yield they are often exposed to young cubs amidst the tall sugarcane fields.
In a recent incident, sugarcane farmers from Walki village, Ahmednagar district stumbled upon a tiny wild-cat, while returning home from a day out in the fields. The kitten was so small, it could easily fit in the palm of one’s hand! Worried for its well-being, they contacted the Forest department, who in turn alerted the Wildlife SOS team based out of Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, in Junnar. Wildlife SOS, a wildlife conservation NGO is dedicating their efforts to protect and conserve the wild cat population in Maharashtra.
It wasn’t long before a four-member rescue team rushed to the aid of the helpless young cat. The team carried out a thorough medical examination that revealed that it was in fact an approx. 14 day old, male Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurusrubiginosus). These rare and elusive wild cats are one of the smallest members of the cat family and are historically found in India and Sri Lanka. It is also recorded to be Asia’s smallest wild cat and is listed as ‘Near-Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List.
The rusty-spotted cat is nocturnal and feeds mainly on rodents, birds, lizards, frogs and insects. After a gestation of approximately 67 days, females produce a litter of 1-3 kittens. Common threats to this species include deforestation, habitat modification, poaching and hunting. They are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Wildlife SOS Paraveterinary officer, Mahendra Dhore confirmed that the cub was healthy and fit to return to the wild, where it belongs. To ensure its safe return, it was crucial to reunite the kitten with his mother. The rescue team placed a safe box in the same location the feline was initially found, while they monitored the situation from a safe distance. After several hours, the mother was spotted near the field. At first, she was scared of approaching the safe box and retreated into the field much to everyone’s disappointment. However, the team wasn’t ready to give up just yet and attempted another shot at reuniting them the following day. With bated breath, they waited while the female cat returned for her missing kitten. After scrutinizing her baby, the content mother gently picked him up by the scruff of the neck and disappeared into the dense forest. We could only imagine the relief that grasped her on finding her young one safe and sound!
With the harvest season on, rescue calls are on a rise for the Wildlife SOS team who take painstaking efforts to try and ensure young wild cats are reunited with their mothers, so they can get a second change at growing up and surviving in their natural habitat.