Rusty-spotted cat

The rusty-spotted cat is one of the world’s smallest cat species. Weighing about the same as a couple of bags of sugar at a mere 2-4 lbs (1-2 kilograms), this feline is only found in India, Sri Lanka, and was recently discovered in Nepal.

One of the world’s smallest felines, the rusty-spotted cat, is about half the size of a domestic cat. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar/ Flickr CC

It gets its name from the rusty colored spots that cover its grey coat, while its undersides are white with dark spots. This small feline dines on critters in the trees, including rodents, frogs, insects, small birds and reptiles. The rusty-spotted cat also has a limited range, but its habitat is quite diverse. For example, in Sri Lanka the rusty-spotted cat is found in the rain forest and mountain forest, and in India it is found in dense grassland. This elusive cat uses the forest and vegetation to stay unseen, as it is extremely shy making it a rare sight indeed. This has made researching and monitoring it an almost impossible task.

As this species is so rare, it is hard to estimate the population size and the threats it faces. It is however known that land fragmentation and heavy agriculture have impacted this species the most. According to the IUCN Red List of threatened species, these threats have pushed this species from Near Threatened in 2015 to now Vulnerable.

A rusty-spotted cat leaping. For more images of this rare cat see Arkive.org.

The rusty-spotted cat is protected in its range in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal where hunting and trade is illegal. In order to truly help the future of this species, increasing research and monitoring is the only way to understand the threats to this mysterious wild cat. While it is no larger than a house cat, its role in its ecosystem is much larger and to save it in the wild we must understand it better and protect its forest home.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S. is undertaking a conservation programme in Sri Lanka with our partner Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. Learn more about this project here.

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Snow Leopard

Native to the high mountains of Central Asia, the snow leopard is as elusive as it is beautiful. Its white-grey and spotted coat blends perfectly with the snowy environment it calls home. Built with powerful hind legs, snow leopards can leap six-times the length of its body and traverse its steep landscape easily.

Globally there are only around 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild. These enigmatic cats are frequently killed in retribution for attacks on wildlife. Their habitat used to be filled with their natural prey; including bharal, blue sheep, ibex and marmots. But competition with agriculture has led to declines of their prey. Because of this, snow leopards now prey on domestic livestock, and in some areas domestic animals make up 60% of their diet.

Between 200 and 450 are lost due to retaliatory killings every year. Other threats to their survival include hunting for the wildlife trade, where their furs are highly sought after and their bones, teeth and claws are used for traditional medicine.

Snow leopards are found in 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Conservation efforts are underway across their range but a lack of cross-border cooperation is cited as a hurdle to ensuring the species’ survival.

In Nepal, snow leopards inhabit an area approximately 13,000km2 in size. The Api Nampa Conservation Area, in the west of the country, may provide an important location for conserving the species as the area acts as a corridor, connecting populations in India and Southern China.

Currently little is known about the Api Nampa population and filling this knowledge gap is essential to understanding the threats snow leopards are facing. To this end, S.P.E.C.I.E.S. and the Biodiversity Conservancy Nepal are planning to launch a project in the region to study the Api Nampa population.

Gaining critical information about the Api Nampa population will allow high human-leopard conflict areas to be mapped and conservation strategies developed to reduce this conflict. You can help us conserve this crucial snow leopard population by making a donation today.

Learn more about our Api Nampa Snow Leopard Conservation Project.

Asiatic Wild Dog

Asiatic wild dogs (Cuon alpinus), or Dholes, have a bit of a reputation. They suffer a fate similar to that of wolves in North America; they’re often hunted due to the perception that they are livestock killers. Along with the loss of their natural habitat and disease transmission from domesticated animals, this bad reputation leaves the dhole endangered in the wild.

A dhole rests in the sunshine. Photo by Ozzy Delaney, Flickr CC.

Despite their diminutive size, dholes are smaller than medium-sized dogs, they can take down prey that is up to 50 times their weight, such as samba deer or boar. They are pack animals and hunt prey in groups of five to ten, although their numbers were said to reach beyond 50 in the past.

Adults’ coats are a reddish-brown colour with a bushy, black tail while their pups are born a dusty black colour, taking the colour of their parents once they are three months old.

Living in places that are inhabited by bigger, stronger predators such as tigers and leopards, the dhole has come to hunt effectively as a pack. Scouts will lead the way while the main pack follows up and takes down the prey. Dholes do not suffocate their prey with a vice-like grip like tigers do, rather they take bites, bring it down and begin eating immediately, often while their prey is still alive.

In this video you can watch as a tiger attacks a pack of dholes. Tiny in comparison to the tiger, the dholes skip lithely away and appear to come back to pester it. Dholes are sometimes killed by tigers, and historical reports suggest that tigers have been killed by dholes, although this has never been confirmed.

There are between 4,500 – 10,500 dholes in the wild; only around 2,000 of these are mature individuals capable of breeding. They are understudied and largely unknown, even in the conservation world. But they are known to use a lot of different ways of communicating and make use of a highly distinctive whistle as a way of gathering their pack in the forest areas they call home.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S., through its Western Ghats Conservation Project, is working to conserve the dhole in India. The project aims to identify the main threats to their survival in the Western Ghats, along with tiger and leopard populations. Once these threats are identified, conservation action will be taken through community-awareness and human-wildlife conflict mitigation efforts.

The Javan Fishing Cat

In 2008, the fishing cat was declared “Endangered” by the IUCN. This was due in part to the extreme lack of records for the species despite wildlife surveys across much of its purported distribution. It is also due to the rapid disappearance of sensitive freshwater and coastal habitats across south Asia. Fishing cats are distributed unevenly across their range, with many populations isolated. Most isolated are those on Java, where the only recognized subspecies of fishing cat occurs more than 2000 km away from the next nearest population .

In the mid-1990’s a survey of otters on Java  recorded signs of fishing cats at a number of locations along the western part of the island. Although the findings of this survey characterized the status of the Javan Fishing Cat as “critically endangered”, this urgent call for action has been met with silence over the past 20 years, as no specific strategy for protecting the cat has ever emerged.

Given that during this time Java’s coastal ecosystems and wetlands have suffered dramatic changes due to intensive development and a soaring human population, it is imperative that the status of the Javan Fishing Cat be re-assessed. Its unique genetic and evolutionary context relative to other fishing cats, and the serious threats it faces, likely makes this cat the most endangered on earth.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S plans to conduct the first thorough assessment of the status of the Javan fishing cat, which is probably the most endangered cat in the world.

The first objective is to conduct semi-structured interviews in seven human communities across western Java to assess familiarity with fishing cats and document records. We will also distribute educational brochures to promote public awareness about the uniqueness of Java’s fishing cat, and how to report observations. Based on the results of these interviews, we will conduct sign surveys in potentially suitable habitat to record further evidence of fishing cat presence. We will also identify threats to areas where evidence suggests cats are present, and propose a strategy for their mitigation. Our primary goal is to use the information we collect to assess the Javan fishing cat’s status, and inform the Indonesian government and conservation community as to immediate conservation actions needed.

 

Rarest cat in the world? Assessing the Status of the Javan Fishing Cat from Experiment on Vimeo.