Like in most of Maharashtra, spotting a leopard in Chincholi village located in the Ambegaon division of Pune, is a common occurrence. Displaced by habitat encroachment, rapid urbanization, and other anthropogenic pressures, leopards come into conflict with humans as they venture out of their natural habitat in search of shelter and prey. These majestic felines are often considered pests by people due to the damage they concur by hunting cattle or crop raiding.
So, when a farmer in Chincholi village discovered two-spotted cubs in his sugarcane field, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that they were tiny leopards. Panicked by even the thought of leopards meandering around the fields and homes of Chincholi, the farmer immediately contacted the Maharashtra Forest Department, who in turn alerted the Wildlife SOS team operating out of the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre (MLRC).
With a plethora of experience rescuing leopards and their cubs, personnel from the forest department and the Wildlife SOS team were prompt to respond to the distress call. Yet, in a surprising turn of events, Dr. Nikhil Bangar, Veterinary Officer at Wildlife SOS, found the two cubs were not leopards but rusty-spotted cats! Merely 45 days old, one male and one female, the kittens lay huddled together, searching for any sign of their mother.
Rusty Spotted Cats are one of the smallest cat species in the world. Kittens of this elusive species are often mistaken as leopard cubs due to their similar appearance. Yet, the two are vastly different species, merely co-existing in the scrub forests of Maharashtra. These small cats grow up to weigh a mere 2 pounds. They are nocturnal felines that mainly feed on rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, and insects. Despite their small stature, rusty-spotted cats are incredibly agile and are referred to as the “hummingbird of the cat family.”
Unfortunately, due to poaching, hunting, deforestation, etc., the numbers of rusty-spotted cats are dwindling. Their total population size is approximately below 10,000 and is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ in the IUCN Red List. This species is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Aware of the rusty-spotted cat’s nearly threatened and rare status, the Wildlife SOS team and the forest department knew that the kittens had to be safeguarded and subsequently reunited with their mother. Dr. Nikhil Bangar carried out an onsite medical examination of the kittens as the entire team waited for any sign of the mother.
Kittens of rusty-spotted cats are commonly found in sugarcane fields as they provide easy access to water and the tall sugar cane stalks provide adequate shelter. The mother thus feels safe enough to leave her kittens as she ventures out to hunt. Wildlife SOS has rescued multiple such rusty-spotted cat kittens and reunited a total of 26 rusty-spotted kittens with their mothers through 18 reunion events between 2014 and 2019.
Through their years of experience, the Wildlife SOS team has found that reducing the time of separation between mother and kittens plays a crucial role in having a successful reunion. Thus, the team refused to move from the location, hoping to reunite the cubs the same day. With some luck on their side, the team received reports of a Rusty-spotted cat prowling the peripheries of the location the kitten was rescued from. Hoping that this was the mother looking for her little ones, the team placed the kittens in a safe box and watched from a distance. Sensing their mother, the kittens leaped out of the box, disappearing into the forest.
Our hearts are full of joy every time we are able to reunite a baby animal with its mother. We thank you for your constant support in allowing us to rescue animals in distress throughout the nation!