The Indian subcontinent is a hotspot for wild cats. A new study led by Uppsala University now shows that only 6–11 percent of regions with three rare species of cats are protected. Lack of knowledge about these species was an obstacle to understanding their needs for the reserves. The research is presented in the journal Scientific Reports.
More than a third of the world’s cat species live in the Indian subcontinent. In the new study, researchers explored the case of the Prionailurus genus. They include the rusty cat (P. rubiginosus), found in this region alone, and which appears to thrive best in broad-leaved forests. Hunting cat (P. viverrinus), a species mainly associated with wetlands, mangrove swamps, and coastal areas; The leopard cat (P. bengalensis), which is observed mainly in tropical and subtropical forest regions.
“This study is important because it shows that many small, rare and elusive cats in the Indian subcontinent do not receive as much attention as the more adorable big cats. However, the need to protect them is no less urgent, so the number and size of protected areas must be increased to include more The biological environments that contain these species, “says Mats Bjorklund, emeritus professor of zoology at Uppsala University.
Using the geographical coordinates of the locations where different species have been seen over the years, and more recent information gathered from camera trap surveys, scientists have been able to develop specialized environmental models. These can then be used to individually select areas with environmental conditions that suit these species to a high degree. These models also enable researchers to gain a better understanding of environmental factors, such as climate, land cover, and land use, that restrict or favor the occurrence of species – information of paramount importance for future conservation measures.
Scientists have also been able to see that the more serious threats differ for the different species included in the study. The leopard cat, for example, is more vulnerable to being threatened by warmer climates because parts of its range, such as the mountain regions of the Western and Eastern Ghats, are clearly beginning to develop temperatures higher than this species can tolerate. On the other hand, a rusty cat is limited by human cultivation of the land, especially in areas of intensive irrigation. This is of particular concern as the proportion of agricultural land in the region is on the rise. The hunting cat appears to be a Prionailurus subfamily which has so far enjoyed minimal protection from its habitat.
Young, shy, and rare cats are the ones most in need of protection. The results of this study show that although the studied species are closely related, they respond differently to environmental change. Accordingly, to cover their major biomes, future protection must cover larger areas and more habitats that these species can access.
Some of these species, such as the hunting cat, are extremely rare and may need protection for long-term survival. The fact that only a very small percentage of the habitats most suitable for this species are protected is a warning sign that the network of protected areas in the Indian subcontinent needs revision. André B. Silva, a PhD student in the Department of Ecology and Genetics at Uppsala University, says species like the rusty spotted cat are only found in this area, so to ensure we don’t lose them, it is imperative to create more protected areas. And lead author of the study.
While working on the study, Silva was a visiting student researcher at the Salim Ali Center for Ornithology and Natural History and the National Center for Biological Sciences in India.