Camera Trapping In Assam Rainforest Reveal World’s Largest Cat Species Diversity

A Camera-trapped Leopard
Kashmira Kakati / WCS
Seven cats including the leopard featured here were camera-trapped in the Jeypore-Dehing forests of Assam.

Conservation groups announced today the discovery of seven cat species living in a single rainforest in northeast India – the highest diversity ever recorded. The cats were documented with remote camera traps by wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati during a two-year survey.

The seven species caught on camera include the rare and elusive clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), and golden cat (Catopuma temminckii), and four relatively widely distributed species — tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), and jungle cat (Felis chaus). All seven cats were photographed in the Jeypore-Dehing lowland forests that stretch over 500 in the state of Assam in northeast India and include the Dehing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. The announcement was made by the 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. all of which fund Kakati’s research; along with the Forest Department, Government of Assam, who supported her research.

The discovery comes as 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.

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.”

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.

“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.

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