Camera traps reveal secret lives of rarely studied small cats

Photo credit: SACON Eaglenest Small Cat team  

We know camera traps can help count tigers. Now, a team has used this technology to estimate activity patterns of some, rarely studied small cats of northeast India. Their findings suggest that factors other than inter-species competition could explain why some of these wild cats occur in the same area together.

Northeast India is home to nine wild cats, including the ‘standard four’: the clouded leopard, Asiatic golden cat, marbled cat and leopard cat. However, very little is known about these cats in this region at present, such as what times of the day they are most active or how they do not out-compete each other for resources despite living in the same ecosystem.

Standard four

A collaborative study by 14 researchers led by principal scientist Shomita Mukherjee (Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore) compiled information from ten independent camera trap studies to estimate the activity patterns of the ‘standard four’ in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram. The team obtained 783 photo captures from around 27,500 trap nights (the total number of nights the camera traps were deployed) between 2013 and 2018. Based on the time that each photo was captured, they analysed their activity patterns.

Habits: Leopard cats are mostly nocturnal.

Habits: Leopard cats are mostly nocturnal.   | Photo Credit: Rohan Pandit


Their results, published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, reveal that all four cats occurred together only in three of the 10 sites surveyed. Analyses of activity patterns showed that Asiatic golden cats and marbled cats were strongly diurnal, the clouded leopard largely crepuscular and nocturnal, and the leopard cat mostly nocturnal. Like others across southeast Asia, this study also found that the activity times of the marbled cat and leopard cat did not overlap much, in areas where they occurred together and otherwise.

According to the authors, this suggests something other than inter-species competition could be at work here. Both cats could be utilising different niches (marbled cats have long tails that suggest arboreality so they could be catching arboreal prey, while leopard cats are known to feed primarily on ground prey, especially rodents), said Dr. Mukherjee.

“However, more detailed studies of several aspects including diet and activity would be required to confirm this,” she said. The study also shows how data from already conducted camera trap studies can be used to learn more about other less-known species, she added.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 10:35:33 PM |

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