Like fleeting shadows between blades of grass, magnificent wild cats like the clouded leopard are elusive and their numbers are threatened by extensive habitat loss and poaching. But there is hope. In the Jeypore-Dehing rainforest in Northeast India, wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati has recorded seven species of wild cats in an area over 500 sq.km. This is the highest number photo-documented anywhere in the world.
The discovery is an encouraging sign amidst the worrisome situation in the Eastern Himalayas. Deforestation, poaching, unsustainable extraction and development projects, including mega hydro-electric projects, threaten the long-term survival of wildlife habitats in this ecologically fragile region. Extraction of crude oil and coal is also a major threat to the forests.
Kakati’s research was supported by the Forest Department, Government of Assam, and funded by the Bank-supported Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a global initiative that provides assistance in safeguarding the earth’s biodiversity hotspots, the Wildlife Conservation Society–India Program and the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, U.K.
The seven species caught on camera are the rare and elusive clouded leopard, marbled cat, golden cat, and four relatively widely distributed species — tiger, leopard, leopard cat, and jungle cat. All seven cats were photographed over a period of two years in the Jeypore-Dehing lowland forests that stretch over 500 sq.km in the state of Assam in northeast India and include the Dehing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.
Photographs Copyright: Kashmira Kakati
Biologist Jim Sanderson of the IUCN’s Cat Specialist Group says “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.”
Marbled cat captured on hidden video camera in the Jeypore Dehing jungle. Video Copyright: Kashmira Kakati
Leopard with its kill at the Jeypore Dehing jungle. Video Copyright: Kashmira Kakati
Twelve additional carnivore species were also recorded in the survey, among them the endangered dhole (wild dog), Malayan sun bear, binturong, mongoose, otter and civets. Also, among the forty-five mammals documented are six species of primates, deer, porcupine, wild pig and rodents, which constitute prey for the rainforest carnivores.
Photographs Copyright: Kashmira Kakati
DID YOU KNOW?
The clouded leopard is the living sabre-tooth? It has the longest canines, relative to size, of any living felid.
Though it looks like a miniature clouded leopard, the marbled cat traces its roots to the stem of panthera (roaring cats) family tree. In fact, this small cat’s chromosomal banding pattern is identical to that of the tiger.
The Thai name for the golden cat is ‘Seua Fai’ or ‘Fire cat’. The Karen tribe believe in the superstition that carrying a single golden cat hair can keep a tiger at bay.
“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.
“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,” says Sarala Khaling, regional coordinator of CEPF in the Eastern Himalayas.
These lesser known species of cats are part of the fragile rainforest ecosystem of Northeast India. To survive, these wild cats need a protected habitat and sustainable management of natural resources believes Kakati. Clearly, an integrated approach that both ensures the livelihood of the local communities and the conservation of the rainforests, augurs well for the future of the wild cats.
CEPF is a joint initiative of the World Bank, Conservation International (CI), l’Agence Française de Développement, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, and the MacArthur Foundation. In the Eastern Himalayas region, WWF leads the regional team responsible for facilitating, coordinating and monitoring grants for CEPF-supported conservation projects. The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) administers the CEPF grants programme in northeast India.
The Eastern Himalayas Region comprises Bhutan, northeastern India, and southern central and eastern Nepal. The region is a biodiversity hotspot and new species continue to be discovered in its remote corners.