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India pledges to protect cat-crazy rainforest

The Jeypore-Dehing lowland rainforest in Assam, India is home to a record seven wild cat species, more than any other ecosystem on Earth. While it took wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati two years of camera-trapping to document the seven felines, the announcement put this forest on the map—and may very well save it. A year after the record was announced, officials are promising to pursue permanent preservation status for the forest, which is threatened by logging, poaching, oil and coal industries, and big hydroelectric projects.

“I have instructed senior officials from various departments […] to work in tandem and come up with a detailed and comprehensive project which could benefit the local people at Joypur as well as create awareness among the visitors,” Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, said at the close of the a 3-day festival to celebrate the rainforest, which will now be held annually.

Plans include developing eco-lodges for tourists and researchers, as well as providing employment opportunities for locals. A proposal has been sent to upgrade the forest reserve to a national park.

The seven cats (to see photos of all the cats: Photos: highest diversity of cats in the world discovered in threatened forest of India) inhabiting Jeypore-Dehing lowland rainforest include 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).

But the forest is home to more than cats; to date researchers have catalogued 46 mammal species, 70 fish, 71 reptiles and amphibians, 102 orchids, 276 butterflies, and 281 birds in the Jeypore-Dehing rainforest.

A number of the forest’s mammals are considered threatened with extinction. According to the IUCN Red List, the golden cat and leopard are both Near Threatened; the clouded leopard, marbled cat, and Malayan sun bear are each considered Vulnerable; and the tiger and the Asian wild dog, or dhole, are classified as Endangered.

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

(02/18/2010) 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.

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