Other Names
chat rougeâtre, chat rubigineux (French)
Rostkatze (German)
gato rubiginosa, gato rojizo (Spanish)
bitari billi (Gujarati: India)
kaadu bekku (Kannada: India)
wal balalla, kolla diviya, handun diviya (Sinhalese: Sri Lanka)
namali pelli (Tamil: India)
kadu poona, verewa puni (Tamil: Sri Lanka)
  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • Description and Behavior
    The rusty-spotted cat is the cat family’s smallest member. Males weigh about 1.5-1.6 kg, and females 1.1 kg (Phillips 1935, Pocock 1939a). The coat is a short, soft fawn-grey with a rufous tinge, patterned with transverse lines of small rusty-brown spots which form solid stripes along the back of the head. The tail, which averages about 50% of head-body length, is faintly marked with dark rings (Pocock 1939a).

    Very little is known of the rusty-spotted cat’s behavior in the wild. They are apparently nocturnal (Chakraborty 1978, Pathak 1990, Anon. 1990c), “lying up during the hours of sunshine in a hollow log, tree or thicket in small woods of heavy timber or in thick scrub-jungles” (Phillips 1935). They climb well (Sterndale 1884), and in the wild are frequently observed in trees (Phillips 1935, Chakraborty 1978, Anon. 1990c). The diet of the rusty-spotted cat has not been properly documented; Phillips (1935) reported without elaboration that it feeds upon small mammals and birds. Local people in both Sri Lanka and India have reported that they are most visible after heavy rain, when they emerge to feed on rodents and frogs (De Alwis 1973, S. Worah in litt. 1993). They are known to prey on domestic poultry (Phillips 1935, Pocock 1939a, J. Zacharias in litt. 1992).

    Length of Estrus (C): 5 days (n=1)

    Gestation (C): 67.6±2.0 days (n=4)

    Litter Size (C): 1.55±0.25 (n=9) (Mellen 1989)

    Habitat and Distribution
    The rusty-spotted cat is found only in India and Sri Lanka. Most records are from southern India (Pocock 1939a), but there are several isolated records from the north of the country which are puzzling (Figure 10). It is difficult to say whether distribution is continuous throughout India because the species’ habitat preferences are poorly understood. In Sri Lanka, Phillips (1935) stated that “it is rarely seen far away from jungles”, while De Alwis (1973) terms it “the ubiquitous wildcat of Ceylon ... equally comfortable in the high montane forests of Horton Plains (2,135 m) or the sizzling sandy wastes of the Hambantota coastline”. In India, Prater (1971) described its habitat as grassland, scrub and forest. However, while its presence has been confirmed in the tropical dry Gir forest (Pathak 1990, Anon. 1990c), it appears to be absent from more closed forest types. According to U. Karanth (in litt. 1993), it is probably not found in the tropical montane rainforest of the western Ghats. Similarly, residents of 45 villages in the Dangs semi-evergreen monsoon forest described its habitat as rocky areas and hill slopes, but not forest edges (Worah 1991).

    Perhaps these seeming inconsistencies can be explained in terms of interspecific competition or ecological separation, although this subject has scarcely been investigated for the small Tropical Asian cats. The closely related leopard cat is found throughout much of India, but is absent from Sri Lanka. It is possible that the rusty-spotted cat is the more common of the two species in the drier, more open vegetation types of India, while the leopard cat predominates in the moist forests. This would explain the concentration of rusty-spotted cat records in southern India, and the infrequent and seemingly isolated reports from more northern regions. In Sri Lanka, on the other hand, the leopard cat is absent but the jungle cat occurs, and is typically found in more open habitats -- grass, scrub, and open forest (Phillips 1935).

    Rusty-spotted cats show some tolerance of modified habitat: females with kittens have been found denning in a tea plantation in Sri Lanka (Phillips 1935), and in the attics of houses in southern India surrounded by paddy fields and coconut plantations (J. Zacharias in litt. 1992). In the latter case, it was noted that the species was virtually unknown to local residents. A rusty-spotted cat was photographed in 1993 in an old farm house in a mango plantation in Bansda National Park in Gujarat (R. Wirth in litt. 1994). According to Karanth (in litt. 1993), rusty-spotted cats can be found on farmland throughout southern India’s Deccan Plateau, and on the outskirts of Bangalore city.

    Population Status
    Global: Category 3
    Regional: Category 2
    IUCN: Insufficiently Known

    It has been described as widespread but nowhere common (Phillips 1935, Pocock 1939a, Worah 1991), as indicated by the patchy and infrequent nature of collections and observations, but this remains speculative until basic natural history studies have been carried out.

    Protection Status
    Indian Population: CITES Appendix I
    Sri Lankan Population: CITES Appendix II

    National Legislation:
    Fully protected over most of its range

    Hunting and Trade Prohibited:
    India, Sri Lanka (domestic trade uncontrolled in Sri Lanka)
    (Nichols et al. 1991)

    Principal Threats
    Deforestation and the spread of cultivation are serious problems for wildlife in both India and Sri Lanka. As far as rusty-spotted cats are concerned, it is not known if populations can persist in cultivated landscapes, and individuals which take poultry are vulnerable to persecution (J. Zacharias in litt. 1992). A long coat made of rusty-spotted cat fur was found for sale in Kathmandu, Nepal (Van Gruisen and Sinclair 1992). Early reports on rusty-spotted cats refer to hybridization with domestic cats as a common occurrence (S. Worah in litt. 1993), but they have not been substantiated.

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union