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Farmers spot the world's tiniest kitten in a sugar cane field just in time

If ever there was a sweet spot for wild animals, it may just be the vast sugar cane fields of central India.

Maharashtra state in particular, is flush with tall sheltering stalks that offer natural cover for animals to raise their young in safety, with water always close at hand.

That is, until harvest season. As farmers hew stalks as tall as 14 feet, an entire breeding ground disappears. The birds and big cats that settle there are often sent scrambling, separated from families before they’re big enough to fend for themselves.

“A growing population, expanding farmland and depleting forests have pushed the margins of human habitations closer to the existing forest areas,” conservation group Wildlife SOS notes in a press release sent to MNN.

Sugar cane field being harvested in India. Sugar cane fields are a tempting place to raise a family — at least until harvest time. (Photo: Maksimilian/Shutterstock.com)

Lives, too, are reaped during harvest season. This month, farmers near the village of Ahmednagar, managed to spot a kitten in a harvested sugar cane field.

It couldn’t have been easy. The kitten was a rusty-spotted cat — a rare and elusive animal considered the tiniest wildcat on Earth. It’s also listed as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List.

These nocturnal cats, which might weigh three pounds when fully grown, are particularly vulnerable to human encroachment. Their diminutive size makes them nearly invisible in a field.

Imagine then how hard it must have been to spot a 14-day-old kitten among the sugar canes.

And yet this tiny, mewling kitten caught someone’s eye. The farmers contacted local forestry officials, who in turn, made a call to Wildlife SOS. The organization, which runs the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre in nearby Junnar, immediately sent a team to the village.

But the the rusty-spotted kitten posed a unique problem for the group. Being without a mother at such a tender age — and being entirely tiny to begin with — didn’t bode well for its chances of ever being back in the wild again.

A veterinarian holds a rusty-spotted kitten. Veterinarians found the kitten healthy, although seemingly orphaned. (Photo: Wildlife SOS)

“It was extremely important for us to safely reunite the kitten with the mother and ensure its safe return to its natural habitat,” notes Wildlife SOS CEO Kartick Satyanarayan in the release.

Was the mother still out there? And if so, how do you catch one of the most secretive cats on Earth?

It turned out the most powerful lure was also the oldest and most universal one: The bond between mother and child.

A man holds a rusty-spotted kitten. Experts decided the best lure for a mother was her baby. (Photo: Wildlife SOS)

The team simply left the kitten in a safe box in a field and monitored it from nearby. It didn’t take long for the mother to show up. But, wary of the box, she shied away at first.

“The mother was initially scared of approaching the safe box,” explains Ajay Deshmukh, senior veterinarian at the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre. “But the following day at around noon, she came back for her young kitten.”

The safe box closed automatically — and a family was reunited.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t get any images of them together as in her excitement to find her kitten, the mother toppled over our camera trap while rushing towards the safe box,” Wildlife SOS press officer Arinita Sandilya tells MNN.

This tiny twosome will spend some time at the rehabilitation center before they’re ready to return to the big world again.

“We could imagine her relief on finding her young one safe,” Deshmukh adds. “Rescues like this, hold a very special place in our hearts as it is immensely rewarding for us to know that this cub will now continue being raised in the wild.”

Farmers spot the world’s tiniest kitten in a sugar cane field just in time

A 14-day-old rusted spotted cat is reunited with its mother after getting lost in a sugar cane field in India.

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