November 07, 2023 – Mangar Bani, nestled along the Delhi-Haryana border, has been graced by the elusive presence of one of the world’s smallest wild cats, the rusty-spotted cat (prionailurus rubiginosus). This recent sighting is a cause for celebration, as it marks the first appearance of this near-threatened species in Mangar Bani’s forests. The rusty-spotted cat, characterized by its typically grey-red fur and weighing just around a kilogram, has been a rare sight due to its dwindling numbers, primarily attributed to habitat loss.
Before this Mangar Bani sighting, the rusty-spotted cat had been spotted in Rewari, Haryana, last year. These rare cats are a near-threatened species found exclusively in the Indian subcontinent, making their conservation of utmost importance.
The journey to catch a glimpse of this tiny feline isn’t an easy one. Previous sightings of the species in Haryana occurred in 2014 and 2015, both within Yamunanagar’s Kalesar National Park. The latest sighting was made possible through a camera trap installed by wildlife researcher Sunil Harsana on August 20, 2023.
Harsana has initiated a project funded by the Coexistence Consortium, installing nine cameras in and around the Asola Bhati Wildlife Sanctuary, spanning from the Aravalis of Mangar. The camera traps have captured a diverse array of wildlife, including striped hyenas, nilgai, jackals, leopards, and Indian golden jackals.
The significance of the rusty-spotted cat’s presence in Mangar Bani cannot be overstated. According to Aritra Kshettry, a working group member and Harsana’s mentor at the Coexistence Consortium, this sighting is a “positive sign.” These cats typically avoid human-altered habitats, making Mangar Bani a critical and thriving wildlife habitat.
Ecologist Ghazala Shahabuddin, a senior adjunct fellow at ATREE, expressed her excitement over the sighting, noting that despite the Aravalis’ degradation, rare species continue to be discovered within the region. The rusty-spotted cat primarily resides in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, with fewer than 10,000 of these cats remaining in the wild worldwide, as reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Aside from Rewari, the rusty-spotted cat was recently sighted in the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve during the pandemic lockdown and approximately three years ago in the Sariska Tiger Reserve, both located in Rajasthan. These small cats are most commonly found in Gujarat’s Gir National Park and Maharashtra’s Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve.
Mangar Bani appears to be an ideal habitat for the rusty-spotted cat. Spending its days inside hollow logs and tree trunks, this area provides ample prey in the form of birds and small mammals. This rare sighting underscores the positive impact of area conservation efforts, creating a thriving habitat for wildlife. Divisional Forest Officer Raj Kumar of Faridabad expressed his delight at the presence of these rare cats, emphasizing the significance of habitat preservation for wildlife conservation.