The Rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus is one rare cat which we occasionally encounter at JAWAI. Also called the ‘humming bird’ of the cat world, not just for its small size — at just over a foot, it’s about half the size of the domestic cat — but also because it is extremely agile and active. They have been described as abundant in some parts of India, and have been observed close to and within villages.
These tiny cats are contenders for the world’s smallest wild cat species. Adults could possibly weigh just 1-1.6 kg (3-4 lbs), and their total length, including the tail, is only 50-73 cm (20-29″).
Rusty-spotted cats occupy moist and dry deciduous forest as well as scrub and grassland. While dense vegetation and rocky areas are preferred, these small cats have been found in the midst of agricultural and settled areas.
JAWAI is a perfect place for these cats, as the area is surrounded by granite kopjes with plenty of caves and crevices in them that these cats can use to hide during the day. As per me, taking advantage of their size these cats also use the massive Euphorbia cactus for shelter. These cats are known to be arboreal and at JAWAI we have mostly observed them at night, suggesting that they are nocturnal.
Vedant’s Field Notes from the Land of the Leopards:
- On one chilly morning, while with guests I was driving around Dev Giri hill when I came across a rusty spotted cat just at a opening of a cave. The cat sat there calmly and was continuously staring at the ceiling of the cave. On closer observation, I realised that there was a Little Swift’s nest which the cat had her eyes locked on. As we observed the cat, possibly upon noticing some movement in the nest, the cat slowly crouched down into a position from which it could pounce on the bird flying out of the nest. We waited in anticipation of some action to take place for at least 15 minutes, after which one swift flew out but the cat did not move a muscle and just a few seconds after that another swift flew out at which the cat jumped and tried to bring it down with her claw. We just saw a few feathers fly and the cat land on the ground on its fours and giving us a frustrated look, moved back into the cave without a successful kill.
- The Leafless Milk Hedge (Euphorbia caducifolia), also locally known as Thor provides shelter for multiple smaller mammals, rodents, insects and birds. It is a layed out buffet for nocturnal predators and especially the rusty spotted cat.
On two occasions, I have observed a rusty spotted cat at the base of the cactus, climbing up onto the branches avoiding thorns and foraging for some insects, rodents or birds.
- Another occasion when I was driving around alone in Silent Valley trying to track a leopard which we had lost track of for about a week. It was about 1900 hours when I spotted a eye shining in my flashlight on a Acacia tree. On closer inspection through the thorny branches I was convinced that it was a rusty spotted cat. I sat there just staring at what the cat was up to. The cat seemed to be sitting there in a ambush position. As time passed the suspense grew and the cat got restless too. Using the binoculars I could see the cat move slightly just to relax its tensed muscles and stretch. After waiting for almost 40 minutes, I heard a flutter in the bush not more than 5 feet away from the cat.
Possibly taking the opportunity of the prey being distracted by something else, the cat quickly pounced into the thicket and all I heard was wings flap a few twigs break! Just a few seconds later the tiny cat appeared mid air gripping a dove almost the same size as him and came crashing down on the ground literally 6 feet away and scrambled into a bush not far away. The cat had got an incredible grip around the doves neck; it was a breathtaking experience in the wilderness.