Photos: highest diversity of cats in the world discovered in threatened forest of India

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
February 18, 2010



Using camera traps over a two-year period, wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati has discovered seven species of wild cats living in the same forest: the Jeypore-Dehing lowland forests in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. Yet the cat-crazy ecosystem is currently threatened by deforestation, unsustainable extractive industries, including crude oil and coal, and big hydroelectric projects. Some of the cats are also imperiled by poachers. In light of this discovery, conservationists are calling on the Indian government to protect the vulnerable forest system.

Kakati captured on camera traps (see photos) the jungle cat Felis chaus), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), golden cat (Catopuma temminckii), the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), the leopard (Panthera pardus), and the world's largest cat, the tiger (Panthera tigris).

Other ecosystems support large cat diversity: such as five documented species in Borneo and perhaps six species in parts of Amazonia. But this is first time anyone has ever documented seven.


India's biggest predator, the tiger, pictured here from a camera trap in the Jeypore-Dehing forest. Photo by: Kashmira Kakati.
"The importance of Kakati’s findings cannot be underestimated. To discover what is most likely the maximum number of wild cat species sharing a single area gives us a mere glimpse of what species the Jeypore-Dehing forests hold. That such a place still exists will attract naturalists and scientists alike to make even more discoveries, but only if the Jeypore-Dehing forests receive the protection they so clearly deserve," says Jim Sanderson one of the world's foremost experts on wild cats and a member of the IUCN's Cat Specialist Group.

Only two of the seven cats in the jungle are considered not endangered by the IUCN Red List: the jungle cat and the leopard cat. The golden cat and and the leopard are both considered Near Threatened, while the clouded leopard and marbled cat are classified as Vulnerable. Most famous of these, the tiger is classified as Endangered.

But it's not just the cats that makes the Jeypore-Dehing forests noteworthy. During the two years, Kataki took photos of a dozen additional predators and in total 45 mammals. These include the Endangered Asian wild dog, the dhole, and the Vulnerable Malayan sun bear, as well as six primate species, deer, porcupine, wild pig, civets, otters, mongoose, and a number of rodents.

"Forests such as Jeypore-Dehing are important for biodiversity, as watersheds, and for the livelihood of local communities. The entire forest here should be protected as a single conservation landscape, free of disturbance and connected by wildlife corridors between the disjunct sections," says Ravi Chellam of the Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program.

Sarala Khaling, regional coordinator of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) in the Eastern Himalayas, add that “it is now time for the extractive industries operating in and around the area to give something back by partnering with conservation organizations and local communities to preserve the area’s incredible biodiversity.”

Kakati's camera trap survey was funded in part by CEPF, which is a global initiative to provide funding to the world's biodiversity hotspots. Other fundraisers included the Wildlife Conservation Society–India Program and the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, U.K. The Forest Department for the Government of Assam provided additional support.  




A leopard caught on a camera trap. Photo by: Kashmira Kakati.




Classified as Vulnerable, the clouded leopard in the Jeypore-Dehing forest. Photo by: Kashmira Kakati.




The marbled cat is considered Vulnerable. Photo by: Kashmira Kakati.




The golden cat is considered Near Threatened. Photo by: Kashmira Kakati.




The leopard cat is not endangered. Photo by: Kashmira Kakati.




The jungle cat is not endangered. Photo by: Kashmira Kakati.







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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (February 18, 2010).

Photos: highest diversity of cats in the world discovered in threatened forest of India.

http://news.mongabay.com/2010/0218-hance_catscats.html