Journal of Threatened Taxa | | 26 May 2017 | 9(5): 10242–10245






A photographic record of the Rusty-spotted CatPrionailurus rubiginosus (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) in a forest plantation on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, India


M. Bubesh Guptha 1 & M. Eric Ramanujam 2


1,2 Pitchandikulam Bioresource Centre/ Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants, Auroville, Tamil Nadu 605101, India

1 (corresponding author), 2




doi: | ZooBank:


Editor: Jim Sanderson, Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation, Hartford, USA. Date of publication: 26 May 2017 (online & print)


Manuscript details: Ms # 3279 | Received 29 December 2016 | Final received 08 April 2017 | Finally accepted 27 April 2017


Citation: Guptha, M.B. & M.E. Ramanujam (2017). A photographic record of the Rusty-spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosus (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) in a forest plantation on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 9(5): 10242–10245;


Copyright: © Guptha & Ramanujam 2017. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. JoTT allows unrestricted use of this article in any medium, reproduction and distribution by providing adequate credit to the authors and the source of publication.


Funding: None.


Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests.


Acknowledgements: We are grateful to Pitchandikulam forest, Auroville, specially Mr. Joss Brooks, Director, Pitchandikulam forest for necessary help and encouragement. Our thanks to Karunakaran, M. Azhagappan, Baburaj Marimuthu and Lourde Nadin Epinal for assisting with the survey.



Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1831) mentions the type locality of the Rusty-spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosus as Pondicherry (“bois de lataniers qui couvertune hauteur voisine de Pondicherry”) and this finding was corroborated by Pocock (1939) and at the time of writing there were three skins in the British Museum - from Madras (now Chennai, on the East Coast), Nellore and Khandala. After that the species has been sighted over most of the Indian subcontinent (e.g., Mali & Srinivasulu 2015) but uniquely there have been no recent records of the species from coastal Tamil Nadu-Puducherry area. All records of the occurrence of the species are from the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu (Jayson & Christopher 1996; Pillay 2008; Srinivas et al. 2013; Mukherjee & Koparde 2014) though there is a single sighting along the coast from Andhra Pradesh (Manakandan & Srinivasulu 2006).

Here we present a photographic record of the Rusty-spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosus in a revegetated tract of land 10km north of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) along the coast of Tamil Nadu.

Study area: Pitchandikulam (11059’N & 79049’E) in the Auroville International Township, Tamil Nadu, is a centre for reforestation programmes on a deeply eroded plateau. At that time, before planting started, the land was hardly a welcome scene. It was a barren dry landscape stretching away in every direction and one could view the sea about 3km away. Very few tree species were present along water courses, mostly a few Palmyra Borassus flabblifer and some thorny bushes dotted the landscape. Revegetation programmes began in 1973 with trips to local scrub jungles and sacred groves to gather seeds that were then germinated and planted. A few exotics like Eucalyptus Eucalyptus spp. and Khaya senegalensis as well as a few native species from inland regions like Teak Tectona grandis and Red Sanders Pterocarpus santalinus were planted in the first years; however, the most effort was on the autochthnous coastal vegetation, referred to as the’ tropical dry evergreen forest ‘(Champion & Seth 1968), ‘Albizia amara - Acacia Boiv. community’ (Mehr-Homji 1973; Puri et. al. 1989), ‘mixed dry deciduous scrub jungle’ (Menon 1986) and ‘East Deccan dry evergreen forest’ <>. Whatever term one prefers to use, this forest remains an endangered forest type, which historically existed only as a narrow belt along the East Coast from Vishakapatnam to Point Calimere (Blasco & Legris 1972), which has been systematically eradicated over much of its range due to anthropogenic influences over millenniums. In fact, estimates are that only 4% of the original forest cover remained in the form of sacred groves and reserve forests and its conservation status was assessed as critical (Wikramanayake et. al. 2002). Today secondary succession is well advanced over the 65 acre reforestation site of Pitchandikulam where woody species dominate after the tenth year (Kinhal & Parthasarathy 2008).

Methods: The present study was carried out from 5 August 2016 to 10 September 2016 to estimate the presence and abundance of mammal species in Pitchandikulam. Before starting the camera trap survey, we did a sign survey along all the paths for the presence of indirect evidence like scats, pellets, and footprints. Three camera trap locations were selected based on the frequency of presence of indirect evidence. All camera traps (Spy Point, FL-7) were operational 24 hours, recorded date and time for each camera, and had a 15 second delay between photographs. We placed camera traps on trees 50cm above the ground and aimed the sensors to be parallel to the ground to monitor a conical area approximately 1m in diameter at 5m distance. The total sampling effort accounted for 111 trap nights for 37days.

Results and Discussion: Both Prionailurus rubiginosus (Image 1) and Felis chaus were recorded at the reforestation site. P. rubiginosus was recorded once but F. chaus was captured on 11 occasions. The species is the world’s smallest cat with males weighing 1.6kg and females 1.1kg (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

It was very heartening to record the presence of P. rubiginosus in a man-made forest plantation and this shows the success of reforestation efforts of Auroville in general and the site in particular. The Rusty-spotted Cat is listed as a Schedule I species under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India and is classified as ‘Near Threatened’ under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Kahn & Mukherjee 2008; Nayak et al. 2017). Though the species has been recorded sporadically all over India in recent times (Image 2), this is the only recent record from this region after a gap of 185 years and is only the third record along the East Coast of India—the two earlier records was a skin from Madras (Chennai) in the British Museum reported 77 years ago (Pocock 1939) and a recent record in coastal Andhra Pradesh (Manakandan & Srinivasulu 2006).

Another interesting feature is that P. rubiginosus shares its habitat with Felis chaus and in future it would be interesting to investigate niche patterns of the two felids. Though both species are nocturnal, P. rubiginosus seems to be more arboreal in habits (Nowell & Jackson 1996) and is probably the reason camera traps recorded it only once. Another factor may be that the two species prey on different food sources. Though the diet of P. rubiginosus 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 it is most visible after heavy rain when it emerges to feed on rodents and frogs (deAlwis 1973; Worah 1991). F. chaus is much larger than P. rubiginosus with males weighing 6.1kg and females 4.2kg (Pocock 1939) and hence able to tackle larger prey. They feed primarily on rodents (Johnsingh et al. 1991), including large species weighing up to 7kg (Dal 1954). F. chaus also takes hares, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and the young of large ungulates like deer (Rathore & Thapar 1984). In Sariska 73% of scats had rodent remains and wild ungulates, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and even vegetable matter were also evident (Mukherjee et. al. 2004).

More work is needed to better understand the distribution, abundance, and threats of Rusty-spotted Cats in what remains of this endangered forest type.








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