The rusty-spotted cat is found in the southern parts of India, Gujarat, Jammu, and Kashmir, and in Sri Lanka. Recently, it has also been spotted in central India. The sub-species P. r. rubiginosus is restricted to southern India while P. r. koladivinus and P. r. phillipsi are found in Sri Lanka (Garman,1998; Guggisberg, 1975).
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
- Guggisberg, C. 1975. Wild Cats of the World. New York, New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., Inc..
- Garman, A. 1998. Accessed November 21, 1999 at http://dialspace.dial.pipex.com/agarman.
The Rusty-spotted cat is one of the smallest wild cats (head and body length is 350-450mm). Its tail is about half its body length (150-250mm) and has a dark tip. The species gets its name from the small, rust-colored spots that extend in lines down its grayish-brown upper parts. Its underside and the inside of its limbs are white with blotchy extentions of the spots on its back. Two dark streaks run laterally down its short, rounded head. It has been described as a "'washed-out' version" of its close relative, the leopard cat. There is no sexual dimorphism in adult rusty-spotted cats (Nowak, 1999; The Cyber Zoomobile; Kitchener, 1991).
Range mass: 1 to 2 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Habitat and Ecology
The two separate populations of rusty-spotted cats--one living in southern India and the other living in Sri Lanka--occupy different habitats. In Sri Lanka, these cats are found scattered through dense tropical forests at slightly higher altitudes. They are absent from the northern, dry parts of Sri Lanka. In central India, the rusty-spotty cat is seen mostly scattered throughout dry grasslands, scrubland, and open forests.
It has been suggested that this sort of habitat distribution may be a result of interspecific competition with its close relative, the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) on the Indian mainland and with the jungle cat (Felis chaus) in Sri Lanka. The leopard cat occupies the forest land of Southern India while the jungle cat is found in the open grassland of Sri Lanka. In both cases, these two cats are larger than the rusty-spotted cat and might displace it from their own preferred habitat (Nowak, 1999; Guggisberg, 1975).
Habitat Regions: tropical
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World 6th ed.. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Not much is known about the Rusty-spotted cat's diet and behavior. It is believed to prey on small birds and mammals and often insects and reptiles as well. It has also been seen to emerge after rainfall to feed on small rodents and frogs. Several reports have stated that the rusty-spotted cat also preys on domestic poultry when possible (IUCN, 1996).
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; insects
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Life History and Behavior
Status: captivity: 17.9 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The gestation period of the rusty-spotted cat is 67 days with the offspring usually born in late April. Litter size averages between 1-2 young. Females have been found denning in tea plantations and in the attics of homes. The female period of estrus lasts for approximately 5 days. Little is known about this animal's sexual behavior and courtship habits (The Cat Survival Trust, 1996; IUCN, 1996).
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Average gestation period: 67 days.
Average gestation period: 68 days.
Average number of offspring: 2.5.
Parental Investment: altricial
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Prionailurus rubiginosus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Insufficiently Known(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Insufficiently Known(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
The Indian populations of the rusty-spotted cat are listed in Appendix I, prohibiting hunting and trade. The Sri Lankan populations are placed in Appendix II. This population is therefore open to trade.
The major threats facing these cats are habitat destruction due to deforestation and the increase in cultivation. Their vulnerability to these threats is heightened due to their solitary lifestyle and scattered population distribution (IUCN, 1996; The Cat Survival Trust).
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
It has been reported that, in areas where its habitat approaches villages in Southern India and Sri Lanka, the rusty-spotted cat will feed on the domesticated poultry of local chicken growers (The Cat Survival Trust, 1996).
- September 1996. "The Cat Survival Trust" (On-line). Accessed November 21, 1999 at http://members.aol.com/_ht_b/cattrust/.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
The rusty-spotted cat is often taken in as a pet due to its affectionate nature. Also, this cat's coat is sought after in fur trade (IUCN, 1996). While it may serve to boost local economies, hunting has a negative effect on rusty-spotted cat populations (IUCN, 1996; Guggisberg, 1975).
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material
The rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) is the cat family's smallest member and found only in India and Sri Lanka. It has been listed as Vulnerable by IUCN in 2002 as the total effective population size is below 10,000 mature individuals, with a declining trend due to habitat loss, and no subpopulation containing more than 1,000 mature breeding individuals.
The rusty-spotted cat rivals the black-footed cat as the world's smallest wild cat. It is 35 to 48 cm (14 to 19 in) in length, with a 15 to 30 cm (5.9 to 11.8 in) tail, and weighs only 0.9 to 1.6 kg (2.0 to 3.5 lb). The short fur is grey over most of the body, with rusty spots over the back and flanks, while the underbelly is white with large dark spots. The darker colored tail is thick and about half the length of the body, and the spots are less distinct. There are six dark streaks on each side of the head, extending over the cheeks and forehead.
Distribution and habitat
Rusty-spotted cats have a relatively restricted distribution. They mainly occur in moist and dry deciduous forests as well as scrub and grassland, but are likely absent from evergreen forest. They prefer dense vegetation and rocky areas.
Distribution of subspecies
Two subspecies are recognized:
- Prionailurus rubiginosus rubiginosus — lives in India
- Prionailurus rubiginosus phillipsi — lives Sri Lanka
In India, they were long thought to be confined to the south, but records have established that they are found over much of the country. They were observed in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, on India's east coast, and in eastern Gujurat. Camera trapping revealed their presence in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in the Indian Terai and in the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharastra. In western Maharashtra, there is a breeding population of rusty-spotted cats in a human dominated agricultural landscape, where rodent densities are high. In July and August 2011, camera trap stations recorded the feline also in Corbett Tiger reserve in Uttarakhand.
Ecology and behaviour
The rusty-spotted cat is nocturnal and partly arboreal, spending the day sleeping in dense cover or shelter such as hollow logs. It feeds mainly on rodents and birds, but may also take lizards, frogs, or insects. They hunt primarily on the ground, making rapid, darting movements to catch their prey; they apparently venture into the trees primarily to escape larger predators rather than for food. As with other cats, they mark their territory by spraying urine.
Oestrus lasts five days, and mating is unusually brief. Since the cat is likely to be vulnerable during this period, its brevity may be an adaptation to help it avoid larger predators. The mother prepares a den in a secluded location, and gives birth to one or two kittens after a 65-70 day gestation. At birth, the kittens weigh just 60 to 77 g (2.1 to 2.7 oz), and are marked with rows of black spots. The cat reaches sexual maturity at around 68 weeks, by which time it has developed the distinctive adult coat pattern of rusty blotches. Rusty-spotted cats have lived for twelve years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.
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 persist in such areas. There have been occasional reports of rusty-spotted cat skins in trade. In some areas, they are hunted for food or as livestock pests.
The Indian population is listed on CITES Appendix I. The Sri Lankan population is included on CITES Appendix II. The species is fully protected over most of its range, with hunting and trade banned in India and Sri Lanka.
As of 2010, the captive population of P. r. phillipsi comprised 56 individuals in eight institutions, of which 11 individuals were kept in the Colombo Zoo and 45 individuals in seven European zoos.
When raised in captivity as a pet, the rusty spotted cat is affectionate, playful, and expressive, and forms strong bonds with its keeper. 
In Sri Lanka, the rusty-spotted cat is known as Handun Diviya (හඳුන් දිවියා) or Kola Diviya (කොල දිවියා).
The terms 'Handun Diviya' and 'Kola Diviya' are also used by the local community to refer to the fishing cat. Both animals are nocturnal and elusive, and therefore it is difficult to determine which cat is specifically referred to as 'Handun Diviya'.
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- Patel, K. (2010) New distribution record data for rusty-spotted cat from Central India. Cat News 53
- Athreya, V. (2010) Rusty-spotted cat more common than we think? Cat News 53
- Indo-Asian News Service (2011). "Highly endangered cat species spotted in Corbett". Zee News Limited, 12 August 2011.
- Deraniyagala, P. E. P. (1956) A new subspecies of rusty spotted cat from Ceylon. Spolia Zeylanica 28: 113
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- Animal Diversity Web Prionailurus rubiginosus