International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Featured Feline: Rusty-spotted Cat

Rusty-spotted Cat by P. Cromer ISEC Canada

The Rusty-spotted cat is found only in India and Sri Lanka. They have been described as abundant in some parts of India and Sri Lanka, and have been observed close to and within villages.

These tiny cats are contenders for the world’s smallest wild cat species. Adults 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.

They are highly arboreal and there have been observations of cats pouncing down from tree branches when hunting prey. Most observations have been at night, suggesting they are nocturnal  One cat was seen hunting frogs, but small rodents were the main prey reported from a series of observations – seeking out such prey is likely why the cats venture into cultivated areas.

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 survive in such areas. Some villagers say Rusty-spotted cats, unlike jungle cats, “keep to the forest” and do not prey on domestic fowl. There have been occasional reports of Rusty-spotted cat skins in trade, and of their being killed for food or as livestock pests.

Like so many of the small wild cats, education may be the key to the survival of the Rusty-spotted cat. Because of their tiny size, these cats are more likely to go after mice than chickens, which should endear them to villagers. If villagers are made aware of just how many mice and rats are eaten by these cats, they will be favorably inclined to co-exist with them, instead of killing them on sght.

One Rusty-spotted cat has was observed mating with a domestic cat and researchers also saw a potential hybrid (“being slightly larger in size, with long legs and exhibiting unusual markings on a paler background”). Feral domestic cats are a threat to many of the small wild cats, as inbreeding with them deletes the gene pool and reduces already endangered populations.

Rusty-spotted cats are one of the least known members of the Felidae family, and even pictures of them are scarce. Terry Whittaker, a nature photographer in Britian, has released a wonderful video of these cats in action, as well as some outstanding photos.


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