The very first photographic evidence of the elusive ratel or honey badger in Karnataka has emerged from camera-traps set in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in MM Hills.
In Southern India in particular, there are few records on the status and distribution of this mammal, which is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 as a protected species. These findings were published in the latest edition of the Small Carnivore Conservation journal.
The survey, conducted during January-March 2014, was in fact a part of a study to estimate leopard density.
Around 70 pairs of infrared camera traps were set up over an area of 961 sq km, mostly along forest roads.
In total, 41 images were captured by 31 camera trap stations and on seven occasions the ratels appeared in pairs.
Lead author Sanjay Gubbi of Nature Conservation Foundation said that images of ratels were captured almost always at night. They were found in different habitats, from scrub vegetation to dry deciduous and riverine ecosystems. Based on their findings, Mr. Gubbi and co-authors have argued that there was a strong likelihood of ratels sightings in areas such as MM Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and BRT Tiger Reserve.
Given the similarity of habitats, they may also be found in Satyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu.
Besides ratels, the team also photo-documented eight of the 17 small carnivore species sighted in Karnataka.
While the ratel sightings were considered rare in the past, the frequency of their appearance in the camera-trap images indicates that they may not be that uncommon after all, the authors say.