The Rusty-spotted cat is another small cat about which not much is known. They are smaller than a house cat and have a slender body. Described as a ‘washed-out’ smaller version of the leopard cat, their more rusty colored tail measures about half the length of their body, and is thick with less distinct spots. Their faces feature two dark streaks and there are also four dark streaks that run from their nape to the top of their head. The eyes of this cat are quite large and their irises are amber to grayish brown. Their ears are rounded and short and, with rufous gray on the backs and with spots of light colored basal.
The Rusty-spotted cat in found only in Sri Lanka and India and earlier was thought to occur only in moist forests, but recent records demonstrate that it also inhabits dry deciduous forests, bamboo forests, wooded grasslands, arid scrubland and rocky hill slopes. They favor rocky areas and dense vegetation, and probably do not occur in evergreen forests.
Rusty-spotted cats are solitary, living alone in forests, more recently in agricultural areas dominated by humans. They are considered terrestrial, with arboreal tendencies. They are apparently mainly nocturnal, spending their days inside a hollow log, forest or tree thicket. Being a capable climber, this cat is thought to hunt on the ground at night, and climb to escape from predators and hide in trees. Like other cats, Rusty-spotted cats mark their territory with urine. In India, in Eastern Gujarat, these cats have been seen in caves, and sheltering in the gaps of big boulders. These animals hunt by ambushing their prey in bamboo thickets and in grass, or from big tree branches, jumping directly onto the ground on top of their prey.
Rusty-spotted cats eat birds and small mammals, sometimes domestic ducks and poultry, and locals report after heavy rains these elusive cats emerge to feed on the frogs and rodents that surface.
It is thought that Rusty-spotted cats may be polygynous. However, males in zoos have been permitted to stay with mates after mating and the birth of kittens. In the West Berlin Zoo, it was recorded that a male brought meat to his kittens and protected them from zoo keepers, suggesting that they may have a monogamous mating system. Rusty-spotted cats will mate year-round. The gestation period is about 67 days, and one or two kittens are born in a secluded den, like a shallow cave. Young begin to venture forth from the den at around 28 to 32 days. At 35 to 42 days old, young are able to climb down from steep branches head-first. Most of the interactions between a mother and her kittens are play oriented. From 35 to 42 days weaning starts and it is completed within 60 days.
The biggest and most serious threat to the Rusty-spotted cat in both Sri Lanka and India has been deforestation and cultivation, causing large-scale habitat loss. There is still some trade in the cat’s skin. Rusty-spotted cats are also hunted for food in some areas, and are often killed because they take domestic livestock, especially chickens.
According to the IUCN Red List, Rusty-spotted cats appears to be rare almost wherever it occurs. The total population size of the rusty-spotted cat is suspected to be below 10,000 mature individuals. Overall, this species’ numbers are decreasing today and it is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.
Rusty-spotted cats have a role in controlling small vertebrate populations as prey.