Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1831
|Rusty-spotted cat range|
The rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) is one of the cat family's smallest members, and is found only in India and Sri Lanka. It has been listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2002 as the total effective population size is estimated at below 10,000 mature individuals, with a declining trend due to habitat loss, and no subpopulation containing more than 1,000 mature breeding individuals.
The rusty-spotted cat rivals the black-footed cat as the world's smallest wild cat. It is 35 to 48 cm (14 to 19 in) in length, with a 15 to 30 cm (5.9 to 11.8 in) tail, and weighs only 0.9 to 1.6 kg (2.0 to 3.5 lb). The short fur is grey over most of the body, with rusty spots over the back and flanks, while the underbelly is white with large dark spots. The darker colored tail is thick and about half the length of the body, and the spots are less distinct. There are six dark streaks on each side of the head, extending over the cheeks and forehead.
Distribution and habitat
Rusty-spotted cats have a relatively restricted distribution. They mainly occur in moist and dry deciduous forests as well as scrub and grassland, but are likely absent from evergreen forest. They prefer dense vegetation and rocky areas.
Distribution of subspecies
Two subspecies are recognized:
- Prionailurus rubiginosus rubiginosus — lives in India
- Prionailurus rubiginosus phillipsi — lives in Sri Lanka
In India, they were long thought to be confined to the south, but records have established that they are found over much of the country. They were observed in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, on India's east coast, and in eastern Gujarat. Camera trapping revealed their presence in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in the Indian Terai and in the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra. In western Maharashtra, there is a breeding population of rusty-spotted cats in a human dominated agricultural landscape, where rodent densities are high. In July and August 2011, camera trap stations recorded the cat also in Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand.
Ecology and behaviour
Very little is known about ecology and behaviour of rusty-spotted cats in the wild. Captive ones are mostly nocturnal but also briefly active during the day. Most wild ones were also recorded after dark. Several individuals were observed hiding in trees and in caves.
They feed mainly on rodents and birds, but may also hunt lizards, frogs, and insects. They hunt primarily on the ground, making rapid, darting movements to catch their prey. They apparently venture into trees to escape larger predators. Captive females and males both scent-mark their home range by spraying urine.
Oestrus lasts five days, and mating is unusually brief. Since the female is likely to be vulnerable during this period, its brevity may be an adaptation to help it avoid larger predators. The female prepares a den in a secluded location, and gives birth to one or two kittens after a gestation of 65–70 days. At birth, the kittens weigh just 60 to 77 g (2.1 to 2.7 oz), and are marked with rows of black spots. They reach sexual maturity at around 68 weeks, by which time they have developed the distinctive adult coat pattern of rusty blotches. Rusty-spotted cats have lived for twelve years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.
Habitat loss and the spread of cultivation are serious problems for wildlife in both India and Sri Lanka. Although there are several records of rusty-spotted cats from cultivated and settled areas, it is not known to what degree cat populations are able to persist in such areas. There have been occasional reports of rusty-spotted cat skins in trade. In some areas, they are hunted for food or as livestock pests.
The Indian population is listed on CITES Appendix I. The Sri Lankan population is included on CITES Appendix II. The species is fully protected over most of its range, with hunting and trade banned in India and Sri Lanka.
As of 2010, the captive population of P. r. phillipsi comprised 56 individuals in eight institutions, of which 11 individuals were kept in the Colombo Zoo and 45 individuals in seven European zoos.
When raised in captivity as a pet, the rusty spotted cat is affectionate, playful, and expressive, and forms strong bonds with its keeper. 
In Sri Lanka, the rusty-spotted cat is known as Handun Diviya or Kola Diviya.
The terms 'Handun Diviya' and 'Kola Diviya' are also used by the local community to refer to the fishing cat. Both animals are nocturnal and elusive, and therefore it is difficult to determine which cat is specifically referred to as 'Handun Diviya'.
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