Protected areas mostly lacking for small wild cats

Protected areas mostly lacking for rare, small wild cats

While India focuses on the habitat losses of large mammals, some smaller wildlife may be slipping through the cracks in protection programmes. A new study has found that only a minuscule percentage of the habitat of four species of small and rare wild cats are protected.

The study, by researchers at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Uppsala University in Sweden, and the University of Lisbon in Portugal, found that on an average, the protected habitat of these creatures amounts to only 6-11% of their total habitat. 

Small, elusive and rare species are often those in most need of protection, but a lack of data hinders understanding on how much of the habitat of these species are protected.

Lead author of the study André P Silva said the study may serve as a warning for wider implications. 

“Some of these species, like the fishing cat, are quite rare to find and are likely to need protection to survive in the long term. The fact that the most suitable habitats of only a very small percentage of these species are protected is an alert that the protected area network in the Indian subcontinent may need to be reassessed. Species like the rusty-spotted cat only exist in this region, so it is critical not to risk losing them."

The emphasis placed on India’s protected land is rooted in the diverse habitats it offers to these cat species, explained Shomita Mukherjee, the second author.

“India is a stronghold for the cat family as a whole and especially, for small cats. Despite a large number of protected areas in the country, the proportion of land coverage under protected areas is small. Consequently, a large population of small cat species reside outside protected areas where their survival is uncertain due to various threats such as habitat destruction, poaching and road kills, among others."

“There is a strong need for developing species-specific conservation strategies to enable small cats to persist in future."  

The study also found that different species tend to respond differently to environmental change even if they are closely related. 

NCBS said this suggests that future implementation of protected areas will need to cover a larger extent and wider variety of habitats to increase coverage of prime habitats for these species. This is particularly important in the Indian subcontinent as the region is a global hotspot for wild cat species.   

The study was published recently in Scientific Reports.