While the people of South Asia can be justifiably proud of hosting the greatest of cats, the Tiger, few know that they also have the smallest member of the family living in their part of the world. I am speaking about the Rusty Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus). Compared to its hefty cousin, the Rusty Spotted Cat is a midget – between 1 to 2 kg in weight, and reaching a maximum length of 48 cm (of which as much as 25 cm is accounted by its tail). That makes it half the size of an average house cat (Felis catus). Individuals have been found in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. But its stronghold seems to lie in the dry, deciduous forests of southern South Asia. Even there, the Rusty Spotted Cat is not a very commonly seen animal. The total population seems to be small and sparsely distributed, with conservationists categorizing it as a Near Threatened species.

Because of its small size, it is vulnerable to predation by other carnivores, larger canids and felids, something it avoids by climbing into trees or hiding in crevices. Its prey is in keeping with its size – rodents, songbirds, lizards, frogs, and insects. A nocturnal hunter, it is extremely agile, as comfortable on the ground as it is up in the trees. The Rusty Spotted Cat belongs to the genus Prionailurus, an exclusively Asian group containing four other species – the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), the Flat Headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps) and the Javan Leopard Cat (Prionailurus javanensis). They stand out on account of their preference for forest habitats, and distinct coat patterns and skull shapes.

Local names for the Rusty Spotted Cat:

  • Kannada – Kiraba Bekku
  • Tamil – Namali Pilli
  • Sinhalese – Wal Balala

Image Attribution: The image above is an illustration of the Rusty Spotted Cat from ‘The Cat: An Introduction to the Study of Backboned Animals’ by St. George Mivart (1881). It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.