Is This the World’s Most Elusive Cat?
- Bhakti Kothari
- Published on 8 Feb 2024, 9:00 am IST
- 4 minutes read
- A never-before-seen pale yellow variant of the elusive Rusty-Spotted Cat has been spotted for the first time in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve
- Following the sighting, camera traps have been placed in the area to study the behaviour of the leucistic cat and its normal counterparts
- To ensure the cat's well-being and avoid disturbance, human movement has been restricted in the vicinity of the sighting
A rare cat has been making the rounds of the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh, and news of its sighting has been making waves in the wildlife world. It is the world’s first-ever sighting of a leucistic variant of the Rusty-Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus).
This came to light during an expedition led by a diverse team, including Mr. Ankur Raparia (IRS), Mr. Mayank Jaiswal (Indian Oil), Mr. Takuya Tsumura (President and CEO of Honda Cars India Ltd), and Mr. Mohit Chaturvedi.
Indian Masterminds exclusively spoke with IRS officer Mr. Ankur Rapria to know more about their discovery.
ELUSIVE RUSTY-SPOTTED CAT
The Rusty-Spotted Cat, a captivating feline native to India, has long fascinated researchers and wildlife enthusiasts for its small size and elusive behavior. Despite being distributed in specific regions of India and Sri Lanka, the leucistic variant, characterized by a partial loss of pigmentation resulting in a stunning white appearance, remained an enigma until this landmark discovery.
Distinguished by a ruddy grey coat adorned with rust-colored spots, the Rusty-Spotted Cat boasts unique features, including solid stripes along the back of its head and an unmarked tail comprising about 50% of its head-to-body length. Males typically weigh 1.5-1.6 kg, while females weigh approximately 1.1 kg, highlighting their petite stature within the feline family.
CHALLENGES AND ENCOUNTERS
This nocturnal and tree-dwelling species has posed challenges for researchers attempting to study its remarkable behavior.
The cat was first documented in 2010 during a routine camera trapping exercise for the tiger census by the World-Wide Fund (WWF).
“Due to their petite structure and nocturnal nature, it is very difficult to spot these cats. They are very shy and hardly come out in the open to avoid any contact with other beings. Our driver was the first person to spot it while we were on an expedition to analyze the distribution of wild cats in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve,” Mr. Rapria told Indian Masterminds.
A MILESTONE DISCOVERY
The expedition team documented the first-ever sighting of the leucistic Rusty-Spotted Cat, unveiling its distinctive pale yellow coat. Despite its unique appearance, the leucistic individual exhibited typical cat behavior, showcasing adaptability and agility in its natural habitat.
“Before we could even capture it properly through our lens, it ran away into the woods. Because of tiger movement and high grass patch in the region, it had moved out in the open for typically a couple of minutes, but soon rushed back inside,” the officer said.
IMPLICATIONS FOR CONSERVATION
The significance of this first-ever documented sighting of a leucistic Rusty-Spotted Cat underscores the importance of continued exploration and conservation efforts. As researchers delve deeper into the mysteries of this elusive feline, each discovery contributes to a broader understanding and protection of global biodiversity.
Mr. Rapria spoke with the DFO of the reserve and got camera traps set up in the spot where they had discovered the cat. Human movement has also been halted in the region and the place is currently closed for tourists to avoid scaring away the feline.
“Because of its nature, it has been very difficult to research on the cat. So, we are hoping our camera traps will be able to help researchers from all across the world to study the nature of the cat in a better manner,” shared the 2016 batch IRS officer.
CALL TO ACTION
This revelation not only adds a new dimension to the understanding of the species but also emphasizes the urgency of conservation efforts.
“We want to provide it with the same habitat as the environment that they prefer living in. We do not want to create any hurdles and disturbances around their sighting spots so that it doesn’t get scared and run off from the region. Steps are being taken towards this which will further help in their proper study,” he told Indian Masterminds.
The leucistic variant’s debut on the global stage serves as a testament to the invaluable role played by protected reserves and dedicated individuals in preserving the wonders of our natural world.
The officer gave special thanks to Naveen Khandelwal, Deputy Director, Pilibhit Tiger Reserve, UP (India), and Vikas Nayak, DFO Firozabad, UP (India), for their significant contributions towards conservation.
As we celebrate this historic moment, let it also take it as a call to action for renewed commitment towards safeguarding our planet’s rich and diverse wildlife.
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