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| November 13, 2018
How fear makes the smallest wild cat in India into a dangerous leopard.
Many years ago while we were studying the leopard ecology in the agricultural landscape of Akole, W Maharashtra I had many friends coming to help out especially during the camera trapping work. This was a blessing as some were good photographers, some good cooks and some terrible two wheeler drivers. Sachin Rai had come to help and one day while we were returning from our field work, I got a call from the Forest Department saying that they found leopard cubs in a sugarcane field they were harvesting so off we drove off there.
There was a large crowd, with police bandobast and in we went. I came across a forest department person holding a pillow cover with something wriggling inside and that little something was what all these large adults were scared of. I peeped inside the bag and to my biggest surprise it was a kitten of a
rusty spotted cat
, the smallest cat in the world and found only in India and Sri Lanka and no where else. Thought to be rare in past surveys which looked for them only inside forests, this cat was breeding and not uncommon in Akole. We got individuals in our camera traps, carrying away rats in their mouth. And these fields had abundant rodents and probably quite a few rusty spotted cats too.
When I told the people there that this was not a leopard but a small little cat some argued that that was impossible, others heard me out. Finally the senior police officer must have figured I knew my cats and once he took my side then all the tension died off and the people went back to their jobs of cutting sugarcane. As for the little fellow he was put in a tomato crate for the evening and Sachin who is a good photographer took some lovely pictures of the little kitten. The Forest Department then released the kitten in the same place in the night and he most probably found his mom because mothers often come back to the same place to search for their little ones even in the fields.
Written by Dr. Vidya Athreya