Rusty-spotted cat: 12th cat species discovered in Western Terai of Nepal

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Rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus is the smallest wild cat, believed to be distributed only in India and Sri Lanka. Recently it was discovered from wider areas than previously thought but never recorded from Nepal. During a camera trap survey primarily targeted for tigers Panthera tigris, rusty-spotted cat was photographed multiple times on a single camera trap station in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in January and February 2016. The camera trap location is in dry-deciduous Sal Shoresa robusta forest in core area of the reserve at a distance of approximately 5 km from settlements. This is the first photographic evidence of rusty-spotted cat captured in camera traps in Nepal. Similarly, a photograph of a cat species taken by a park visitor in 2012 from Bardiya National Park was confirmed as rusty-spotted cat. With this record, Nepal has 12 felid species: tiger, common leopard Panthera pardus, snow leopard Panthera uncia, clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa, Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, Asiatic golden cat Catopuma temminckii, fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus, jungle cat Felis chaus, leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata, Pallas's cat Otocolobus manul and rusty-spotted cat.
CATnews 64 Autumn 2016
Rusty-spotted cat: 12th cat
species discovered in Western
Terai of Nepal.
Rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus is the smallest wild cat, believed to be
distributed only in India and Sri Lanka. Recently it was discovered from wider areas
than previously thought but never recorded from Nepal. During a camera trap sur-
vey primarily targeted for tigers Panthera tigris, rusty-spotted cat was photographed
multiple times on a single camera trap station in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in
January and February 2016. The camera trap location is in dry-deciduous Sal Shoresa
robusta forest in core area of the reserve at a distance of approximately 5 km from
settlements. This is the first photographic evidence of rusty-spotted cat captured in
camera traps in Nepal. Similarly, a photograph of a cat species taken by a park visi-
tor in 2012 from Bardiya National Park was confirmed as rusty-spotted cat. With this
record, Nepal has 12 felid species: tiger, common leopard Panthera pardus, snow le-
opard Panthera uncia, clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa, Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx,
Asiatic golden cat Catopuma temminckii, fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus, jungle
cat Felis chaus, leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, marbled cat Pardofelis mar-
morata, Pallas's cat Otocolobus manul and rusty-spotted cat.
The miniature member of the feline fami-
ly, the rusty-spotted cat is one of the lesser
known small carnivore species (Sunquist &
Sunquist 2014, Vyas & Upadhyay 2014). With
an average adult weight of 1.1 kg for females
and 1.6 kg for males (Phillips 1980), respec-
tively, they are about half the weight of a typi-
cal house cat. Historically, it was believed to
be confined to central and southern India and
Sri Lanka (Pocock 1939, Phillips 1980, Khan
& Mukherjee 2008). Nowell & Jackson (1996)
reported an isolated record from Kashmir
without evidence of continuous distribution
in between. But in recent years, it has been
recorded frequently and found widely distri-
buted in India (Anwar et al. 2010, Athreya,
2010) either due to its range expansion or
more likely due to the high probability of de-
tection in the extensive coverage of camera
trap surveys across the region. The species
has recently been recorded in the Indian part
of the transboundary Terai Arc Landscape TAL
from the Pilibhit forest division (now Tiger Re-
serve) and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary
in 2010 and 2012, respectively (Anwar et al.
2010, 2012). Similar habitat exists along the
TAL-Nepal but rusty-spotted cat has never
been recorded in Nepal before.
Rusty-spotted cat is believed to be primarily
nocturnal (Nowell & Jackson 1996). Very little
is known about their diet and habitat prefe-
rence. They might be more common in grass-
lands, scrub, drier and open forests (Phillips
1980, Prater 1980) and apparently not found
in closed forest types (Nowell & Jackson
1996). Multiple records in Sri Lanka and India
show their tolerance to modified habitat such
as denning and breeding in tea plantations
in Sri Lanka (Phillips 1980). They were also
found in attics of houses surrounded by paddy
fields and coconut trees in southern India, old
farm houses in mango plantations in Gujarat,
or on farmlands on the outskirts of Banglore
(Nowell & Jackson 1996). The cat preys on
small mammals and birds (Nowell & Jackson
1996) although we don't know details. They
sometimes also take domestic chickens (Po-
cock 1939, Phillips 1980).
Rusty-spotted cat has never been described
from Nepal but other eleven felid species
have been previously recorded. Ten felid
species (tiger, common leopard, snow leo-
pard, clouded leopard, lynx, Asian golden
cat, marbled cat, jungle cat, fishing cat, leo-
pard cat) are well documented (Baral & Shah
2008, Jnawali et al. 2011, Thapa 2014) and
a new species i.e. Pallas's cat was discove-
red in 2013 from the Nepalese Himalayas
(Shrestha et al. 2014). Here we report the
photographic evidence of the rusty-spotted
cat, the 12th cat species of Nepal, from two
protected areas of western Terai, Shukla-
phanta Wildlife Reserve SWR and Bardiya
National Park BNP in Nepal.
Materials and methods
Study area
This study was conducted in an area of
305 km2 of SWR in a single dry season (Ja-
nuary-March 2016) and in BNP. SWR & BNP
are located in the western region of the Terai
Arc Landscape TAL, Nepal, which stretches
over nearly 23,000 km2 of alluvial flood-
plains and Churia hills (Wikramanayake et
al. 2004). SWR lies in the south-western
corner of Nepal. The reserve is bordered by
Mahakali river in the west, settlements in
the north, India in the south and Syali river
in the east. It is connected to Pilibhit and
Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in India through the
Laggabagga corridor in the south (India)
and the Laljhadi corridor in the east (Nepal),
respectively. An opportunistic sighting of a
rusty-spotted cat was reported from BNP
original contribution
Fig. 1. Western Teria Arc Landscape showing rusty-spotted cat captured locations
in Bardiya National Park (Nepal), Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (Nepal), Katarniaghat
Wildlife Sanctuary (India) and Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (India) along with other protected
areas and forest corridors.
CATnews 64 Autumn 2016
(968 km2), from the Karnali River floodplain,
stretching ca. 100 km2 in the south-western
part of BNP (Wegge et al. 2009). BNP is
connected to Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanc-
tuary in India through the 'Khata' corridor
(Wikramanayake et al. 2004). Both BNP &
SWR have sub-tropical monsoonal climate
with three distinct seasons: monsoon (July-
October), cool-dry (November-February) and
hot-dry (March-June).
Camera trap survey
As a part of tiger monitoring programme
in the Western Terai Landscape, a camera
trapping survey was carried out covering the
entire SWR in two blocks between 27 Janu-
ary and 2 March 2016. Camera traps were
placed systematically by super-imposing a
grid of 2 x 2 km2 (Fig. 1) and deploying a pair
of camera traps (Reconyx 550 & Bushnell
trophy cam) in each grid cell over a standard
sampling duration of 15 days. Habitat type
and site parameters were collected at each
camera location. Camera trap locations wi-
th-in each grid cell were selected following
intensive sign surveys for tigers to maximise
the chance of photo-captures (Dhakal et al.
2014). Camera trap pairs were placed 8-10 m
apart facing each other at 45-60 cm above
the ground. As the primary target species of
the study was tiger, site selection, distance
between paired cameras and camera height
might have affected the optimum capture
of rusty-spotted cat. All the photographic
data were downloaded, photos were sor-
ted per species and individuals were iden-
tified whenever possible. Photo capture of
a species within a 30 minute interval was
termed as 'independent event'. Capture rate
(number of independent events per 100 trap
nights) was calculated as an abundance in-
dex of rusty-spotted cat (Thapa et al. 2013).
Spatial calculations were done using Arc-
GIS 10.0.
Opportunistic sighting of rusty-spotted cat
A local nature guide (Mr. Ramjan Chaudha-
ry) provided a photo of a cat species to one
of the authors (Rabin Kadariya) to check if it
was a fishing cat. The photo was taken by a
park visitor on 28 March 2012 during a jeep
safari in Karnali floodplain of BNP. In con-
sultation with small carnivore experts it was
identified as rusty-spotted cat. Later, the lo-
cation of sighting and other details were also
recorded. Similarly, a rusty spotted cat was
sighted by the first author during a jeep safari
in SWR on 20 April 2016.
Results and discussion
We recorded 22 photographs of rusty spotted
with total search effort of 1,317 trap nights
from 85 camera trap grids in SWR. The spe-
cies was identified based on body structure,
pattern on the body (black spots on pale grey
background), white belly with black lines and
dark unmarked bushy tail. Photographs were
obtained from six independent events on five
different dates. The rusty-spotted cat was
captured only in a single location with mul-
tiple recaptures (n = 6). The encounter rate
of rusty-spotted cat within the core area of
SWR was 0.46/100 trap nights. All the cap-
tures were made between 20:29 h in the eve-
ning and 04:54 h in the morning. Photographs
from two events (28 January and 3 February
20:29 h) with similar position of the animal
allowed us to confirm at least two individu-
al males (Fig. 2). For the rest of the events,
we were not able to confirm their individual
identity. The location of the rusty-spotted cat
records was in relatively open and dry Sal fo-
rest (Supporting Online Material SOM Figure
F1) in the core area of the reserve with mini-
mal human disturbance, about 4.6 km from
the nearest forest edge. We also recorded
additional eight mammal species, including
six carnivores, in the same location where
the rusty-spotted cat was captured (Table 1).
Both tiger and rusty-spotted cat were also
captured in a single trap night on 28 January
2016 (Fig. 3).
In addition to the camera trap, opportunistic
sighting of a rusty-spotted cat was also re-
corded by the first author in SWR at 20:05 h
of April 20, 2016 during ca. 50 km long jeep
drive. The cat was found walking on the
forest road, at the edge of the relatively
open dry deciduous sal forest. The location
(28°56'35.34'' N / 80°10'20.7588'' E, elevati-
on 216 m) is very close (< 100 m) to the settle-
ments and 13.8 km north-west of the camera
trapped location.
In Bardiya, a rusty-spotted cat was recorded
in the evening (ca. 18:00 h) of 28 March 2012
during a ca.15 km long opportunistic jungle
safari in the Karnali floodplain. The cat was
sitting on a log lying on the ground in a Sal
forest and was photographed by a park visitor
(Fig. 2a). Looking at its position, the cat was
probably ambushing prey. Conspicuous small
head structure, forehead stripes and pale grey
coat with rusty spots enabled a confident
identification as rusty-spotted cat. The sigh-
ting location lies within a dry deciduous Sal
forest ca. 700 m from the nearest forest edge.
All the records of rusty-spotted cat were from
a forested area. But it was recorded from
fringe (<1 km) to deep inside the core areas.
Similar observations were done along the
TAL-India (Anwar et al. 2010, 2012). In TAL-
India, all records were recent and the species
was not recorded earlier in regular camera
trapping surveys (Anwar et al. 2012, Jhala et
al. 2008). Comparable to our camera trap sur-
rusty-spotted cat in Western Terai of Nepal
Fig. 2. (a) Photograph of rusty-spotted cat taken by a tourist (Ms. A. Clifford) in Bardiya
NP during a jeep safari, (b) first camera trap picture of rusty-spotted cat captured in Ne-
pal from Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, (c) two different individuals of rusty-spotted cat
identified from their stripe pattern (inner side of left hind limb) and tail.
CATnews 64 Autumn 2016
vey findings, captures of the rusty-spotted cat
were made during the night (20:29 h-04:54 h)
across TAL. However, the direct sighting re-
cords were made during the evening 18:00 h,
19:35 h and 20:05 h (Anwar et al. 2012 and
present study).
This study presents the conclusive record
for the presence of the rusty-spotted cat in
Nepal and brings the total number of cats
in the country to 12 (SOM T1). According to
the National Red List of Nepal (Jnawali et
al. 2011), two felid species i.e. marbled cat
(whose photographic evidence has not been
found in recent years) and Asiatic golden cat
are listed in Data Deficit DD category. Two
new species (Pallas’s cat and rusty-spotted
cat) discovered after 2013 have not been
assessed in the National Red List. The dis-
covery of two new cat species in Nepal also
highlights the importance of research on sta-
tus, distribution and ecology for their conser-
vation in the country.
We are thankful to Department of National Parks
& Wildlife Conservation and Shuklaphanta Wildlife
Reserve Office for the support to conduct camera
trap surveys in SWR. We highly acknowledge
technical and financial support from National Trust
for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and WWF Nepal.
Special thanks to Mr. Ramjan Chaudhary (nature
guide from Bardiya) and Anne Clifford (park visitor)
for providing photographs. We thank Shomita Muk-
herjee, Prof. Hans de Iong and Prof. C. J. M. Mu-
sters for their support with species identification.
Many thanks to Mr. Anil Prasai, Mr. Hemanta Ku-
mar Yadav and Mr. Gopal Ghimre for their support
with this study. We thank Mr. Suman Malla, Mr.
Nithesh Singh and all the field staff of NTNC, SWR
and Nepal Army for their tireless effort to complete
the camera trap surveys and data management.
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Location ID SWR 42
GPS 28.82346° N /
80.21171° E
Elevation 192 m
No. of independent
events 6
No. of photos 22
Duration of Camera
Trap Jan 28 to Feb 12, 2016
Photo Captured
dates Time (in 24 hrs)
28 Jan 2016 22:42 h
31 Jan 2016 20:31 h
02 Feb 2016 19:54 h
03 Feb 2016 04:54 h
03 Feb 2016 20:29 h
08 Feb 2016 22:31 h
Terrain flat
Camera location forest road
Habitat type sal forest
Nearest distance to
village (km) 4.6
Other mammal
species captured
in the same camera
trap station
tiger, common
palm civet, small
Indian civet, honey
badger, bengal fox,
Himalayan crestless
porcupine, chital,
muntjac, Indian hare
Table 1. Details of camera trap location
where rusty-spotted cat was captured in
Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, Nepal.
CATnews 64 Autumn 2016
Fig. 3. Temporal pattern of mammal species capture in camera trap station (CT 042)
where rusty-spotted cat was captured in Shuklaphant Wildlife Reserve, Nepal.
National Park, Nepal. Biological Conservation
142, 189-202.
Wikramanayake E., McKnight M., Dinerstein E.,
Joshi A., Gurung B. & Smith D. 2004. Designing
a conservation landscape for tigers in human
dominated environments. Conservation Biolo-
gy 18, 839-844.
Supporting Online Material SOM Figure F1 and
Table T1 are available at
1 National Trust for Nature Conservation, Khumal-
tar, POB 3712, Lalitpur, Nepal
2 Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Deve-
lopment Sociology, Faculty of Social and Be-
havioral Sciences, Leiden University, Leiden,
The Netherlands
3 Evolutionary Ecology Group, Faculty of Sci-
ences, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
4 Laboratory of Wildlife Biology and Medicine,
Graduate School of Veterinary Medicine, Hok-
kaido University, Sapporo, Japan
original contribution
Stability of tigers in Chitwan
National Park, Nepal
Tiger Panthera tigris monitoring using radio-telemetry, pugmark tracking and came-
ra trapping was conducted for four decades in an area of approximately 100 km² in
the western part of Chitwan National Park, Nepal. The aim was to record the life
history, longevity and reproductive status of the resident breeding tigers. From 1985
to 2015, the data shows a density of six breeding females / 100 km² and considera-
ble disparity in reproductive success for male and female tigers. Seven long-lived
females (12-17 years) produced a mean of 5.14 litters, yielding an average litter size
of 2.89. Nearly 60 percent of the cubs survived up to the age of dispersal. Such high
reproductive success and constant number of breeding females are the contributing
factors in the stability of the Chitwan tiger population.
mestic livestock grazing was controlled. The
result was that deer numbers rose and the
tiger numbers followed suit. However, very
little was known about tiger biology, beha-
viour, reproduction, dispersal, movement/ac-
tivity pattern, and habitat requirements that
could assist the park management for better
protection. To address this lack of know-
ledge, the Smithsonian Nepal Tiger Ecology
Project began in 1973 and continued through
1980. For the first time, radio-telemetry was
used on tigers to monitor the movement and
activities of individual tigers. One of the ma-
jor findings of the project was that breeding
tigers maintain exclusive home ranges de-
fined as territories (Sunquist 1981). Females
compete for resources to establish exclusive
territories to maintain themselves and to
raise their offspring. Males compete for re-
productive females, with successful ones es-
tablishing territories that monopolise several
females (Sunquist 1981).
In 1980, McDougal was made a Smithsonian
Research Associate to conduct a long term
tiger monitoring LTTM project as a follow
up to the earlier Smithsonian Studies in the
1970s. The objective was to gain a long-term
perspective on the population dynamics, life
histories, and reproduction, including cub
survival to age of dispersal. In this paper, we
analyse the data collected during this project
to determine the life histories of the resident
Chitwan National Park CNP, a UNESCO World
Heritage Site, was established in 1973 largely
to protect two iconic endangered species, the
greater one horned rhinoceros Rhinoceros uni-
cornis and the Bengal tiger Panthera tigris ti-
gris. Prior to the park’s establishment, most of
the area was a Rhinoceros Sanctuary, which
was created in 1962. A force of armed guards,
called the Gaida Gusti (Rhino Patrol), manned
a series of guard-posts throughout the area to
prevent poaching. However, nothing was done
to curtail the overgrazing by large numbers of
domestic cattle and buffaloes. Large livestock
numbers simply compensated for decline in
deer numbers. With less natural prey availa-
ble, tiger numbers were also down.
When the park was created, one of the first
priorities was the control of illegal domestic
livestock grazing. This task was tackled en-
ergetically by Tirtha Man Maskey, the first
Chief Warden of CNP. Additionally, in 1975, a
contingent of the Nepal Army was stationed
inside the Park to protect rhinoceros and ti-
gers but also to deter illegal human activities
within the park. Livestock were rounded up
and kept in enclosures at the guard posts un-
til the owners paid a fine for their release. It
took almost three years, but eventually do-
5 Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve Office, Majhgaon,
Kanchanpur, Nepal
6 Department of National Parks and Wildlife Con-
servation, Babarmahal, Kathmandu, Nepal
7 WWF Nepal, Baluwatar, Kathmandu, Nepal
8 Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Sing-
hadurbar, Kathmandu, Nepal
*<>, <>
Lamichhane B. R., Kadariya R., Subedi N., Dhakal B. K., Dhakal M., Thapa K. & Acharya K. P.
2016. Rusty-spotted cat: 12th cat species discovered in Western Terai of Nepal. Cat News
64, 30-33. Supporting Online Material
SOM F1. Camera trap location where rusty-spotted cat was captured in Shuklaphanta Wildlife
Reserve. The location was at typical forest road in Sal forest (visible on the background of photo).
SOM T1. Natural history of felid species recorded in Nepal.
Scientific name
Common name
Asian Golden Cat
Ghimirey &
Pal 2009
Felis chaus
Jungle Cat
Karki 2011
Lynx lynx
Eurasian lynx
Thapa 2014
Clouded Leopard
Lamichhane et
al. 2014
pardus fusca
Thapa et al.
Panthera tigris
Bengal Tiger
Dhakal et al.
Panthera uncia
Snow Leopard
Jackson 1996
Marbled Cat
Jnawali et al.
Leopard Cat
Karki 2011
Rusty-spotted cat
This study
Fishing Cat
Mishra 2012
Pallas's cat
Shrestha et al.
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