The Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary in Cornwall, England, has announced the birth of two cubs belonging to the smallest species of cat in the world. Two rusty-spotted cat cubs have joined the park’s residents, and at just two months old have begun exploring their environment with adorable results.
The sanctuary is predominantly a home for unwanted or surplus animals and as such breeding isn’t common within the park. However, in 2019 a spare enclosure at Porfell led to them being offered a pair of rusty-spotted cats (Prionailurus rubiginosus). The sanctuary reports that, to their knowledge, their rusty-spotted cats were two of just 40 individuals in captivity across the world, and so the opportunity seemed too good to turn down. The keepers decided to let nature take its course and in early 2020 welcomed two new cubs to the tiny clowder.
At almost two months old, the cubs have just begun to explore their new home with their mother. The park isn't yet sure of their sexes as they report that mum has been keeping such a close eye on them that they haven’t been able to get close enough to check. At birth, rusty-spotted cats are estimated to weigh just 60 to 77 g (2.1 to 2.7 oz), and have a coat made up of rows of black spots. They’re not much bigger than mice when born but by adulthood will reach around 35 to 45 centimeters (13 to 18 inches).
As the smallest felines in the world, rusty-spotted cats are quite elusive in the wild owing to their tiny size and preference for nocturnal exploration. They’re endemic to the forests of India and Sri Lanka but their wild populations are currently under threat due to habitat loss. Although they have been spotted in cultivated and settled areas, it's not thought they can actually inhabit such areas and are likely simply passing through. As a result, it's believed their habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented as both India and Sri Lanked are afflicted by widespread loss and destruction of the cat's preferred habitats. Rusty-spotted cats are also under threat from hunting as food or for their skin, and are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
With eyes six times more powerful than a human’s, in the wild these tiny animals are efficient hunters feeding mainly on rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, and insects. They hunt on the ground, using their small size to their advantage as they make rapid, darting movements through the undergrowth to catch their prey. They’re also proficient climbers and have been documented fleeing into trees when larger predators approach. The clip below shows how, in the wild, these predatory but undeniably adorable hunters compare in size to forest floor foliage.