Rare, But Not that Rare!
By Risidra Mendis
Ceylon Today Features
They most often go unnoticed due to their size and nocturnal behaviour. For others they don’t exist. But for those of you who are familiar with the smallest wildcat species in the world, spotting a Rusty Spotted Cat could be the experience of a lifetime.
“Big cats have long captured people’s imagination as fast, powerful and efficient hunters. From the tigers of India to the lions of the great African savannahs, big cats are often the apex predators of their ecosystems. However, the big cats, generally considered to be the cats of the genus Panthera, only make up a fraction of the predatory felids of the world,” says Assistant Manager Jetwing Vil Uyana Hotel, Chaminda Jayasekara.
He adds that a vast majority are the smaller, but no less fascinating small wild cats - who are shunted into the shadow of their larger cousins. “In fact, few people realise that Sri Lanka is home to four wild cat species. The leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) - the largest terrestrial predator in the island, and three small cats - the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), and the Rusty Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus).
Three of the four, excluding the leopard, have been recorded at Jetwing Vil Uyana,” Jayasekara explained. He says the Rusty Spotted Cat (Kola diviya) rivals Africa’s Black Footed Cat as the smallest wild cat species in the world and little is known about its behaviour and distribution, owing to its miniature size, nocturnal nature, and arboreal habitat. “The Rusty Spotted Cat is the rarest wild cat species in Sri Lanka.
They have short reddish grey fur over most of the body with rusty spots on the back and flanks. Their size is 35 cm to 48 cm (14 inches to 19 inches) in length, with a 15 cm to 30 cm (5.9 inches to 11.8 inches) tail. Their weight is only 0.9 kg to 1.6 kg and the bushy tail is about half the length of the body,” Jayasekara explained.
Due to a loss of habitat the Rusty Spotted Cat like most other species is losing their territory in the wild. However due to conservation efforts by the staff at Vil Uyana hotel the species has over the years bred and increased in numbers. “The conservation status of the Rusty Spotted Cat is Locally Endangered with its preferred habitats been forest and scrubland.
However, it is an elusive animal that is rarely seen. The Rusty Spotted Cat is a nocturnal hunter, and is very territorial - not much else is known about their behaviour in the wild,” the Assistant Manager said. According to Jayasekara’s observations they mainly feed on rodents and birds, but also prey on lizards, frogs, praying mantis and insects. “They can also catch the Slender Loris. If someone spots these cats, they might misidentify them as domestic cats because of their size.
Jetwing Vil Uyana celebrated their 15th Anniversary on 28 October and during the last 15 years we spotted five individual Rusty Spotted Cats within the hotel premises.
The first sighting was in 2011 and compared to the sightings of the other two wild cat species, the Rusty Spotted Cat sightings are rare and hard to spot,” Jayasekara said. The Assistant Manager has most of time seen them on the trees and because of this reason and also as they are quite small, it is really hard to spot them in the wild. “I haven’t seen the babies yet. But the numbers are increasing.
They are mostly active during the night and there are times that they are active during the day time as well. We have spotted the Fishing Cat, the Jungle Cat, the Rusty Spotted Cat, the Eurasian Otter and the Slender Loris in the same area. That is the uniqueness of Jetwing Vil Uyana,” Jayasekara explained.
Since their discovery, thriving in the vast tracts of undisturbed vegetation that comprise most of its 28 acre land, the area was designated as a conservation site says Jayasekara, and camera traps have been installed to monitor the populations, their movements and their habitat, as well as to observe their behaviour to ensure their survival and conservation, and include them in the hotel’s operations and expansions.
(Pix courtesy Chaminda Jayasekara)