Camera traps images of Spotted Linsang at Murlen National Park in Mizoram
Credit- Amit Kumar Bal

Guwahati: The elusive spotted linsang has been captured on camera for the first time at Murlen National Park in Mizoram.

The spotted linsang (Prionodon pardicolor) is an elusive and infrequently recorded small carnivore believed to be distributed widely throughout southern-southeastern Asia. This is the first confirmation of this species from Murlen National Park, which is a protected area with tracts of subtropical evergreen forest and less than 30 km from the western Myanmar border. 

“These records are also the first to confirm the occurrence of the species in the southern portion of northeastern India. Although we could distinguish several individuals despite low camera-trap sampling effort, this population may be threatened by opportunistic and intentional hunting using projectiles and snares meant to kill small game for wildmeat,” Amit Kumar Bal, who is doing his PhD at Mizoram University, told EastMojo.

Credit- Amit Kumar Bal

“It is mostly nocturnal and arboreal and very difficult to get it on the camera,” he said.

The study was published in the current edition of the Journal of Threatened Taxa. 

The spotted linsang (Prionodon pardicolor) is a small, nocturnal carnivoran native to southeastern Asia and parts of eastern southern Asia. Based on what little is known of this elusive species, linsangs are solitary and partially arboreal. However, very little is known about their behaviour.

Previously classified as part of the Viverridae, linsangs are now classified in their own family, the Prionodontidae, which is considered a sister taxonomic group to the Felidae.

Spotted linsangs inhibit dense moist tropical forests, particularly lowland dipterocarp forests and some grasslands, throughout southeastern Asia. Although information are lacking on their distribution ranges, they are known to occur in eastern Nepal, northeastern India, Bhutan, northern and central Myanmar, northern and central Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, most of Vietnam, and central to southern China.

Credit- Amit Kumar Bal

Murlen National Park (MNP)  is located in the Champhai district of Mizoram and is part of the Indo-Burman Biodiversity Hotspot. This protected area covers 100 sq km and the recorded peak elevation is 1,929 m within the park.

The predominant forest types occurring in the park are tropical and subtropical mixed evergreen forests, which are distributed across undulating hills and mountainous terrain. Several ongoing human activities, such as logging, encroachment of livestock inside the park, widespread Jhum cultivation, and illegal hunting using firearms, snares, and other projectiles, have severely threatened the wildlife diversity of MNP. 

The exploratory survey was done between November 2019 and May 2022.  Camera traps were enabled to take three photos in rapid succession every time the motion sensor was triggered. Each camera trap was installed for 40 days with a trap night of 400 days.  Individuals of certain carnivores, including spotted linsangs, were identified from their unique pelage markings and patterns in photographs.

Six images of spotted linsangs were got from six camera-trap stations over 400 trap nights in and around MNP. The first individual was captured on February 20, 2020, at an elevation of 1,563 m, and the last was photographed on March 26, 2022, at an elevation of 1,800 m. 

“These are the first-ever confirmed photographic records of this species from Mizoram, validating a previously suspected range extension further south into northeastern India and the Myanmar border,” the study says.

In India, the species has been recorded in  Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya. Despite its rarity in northeastern India and the infrequency with which it is generally detected range-wide, the spotted linsang is listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, it is considered a CITES Appendix I species and a Schedule I species by the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act (1972).

Credit- Amit Kumar Bal

“Recently, there have been no direct efforts to research spotted linsangs in northeastern India, as only some opportunistic records exist. This report is part of a larger study to assess the diversity of and threats to small carnivores, with particular reference to felids and their relatives, in eastern Mizoram, a biodiversity hotspot of the Indo-Burma region,” he said.

“Possibly due to their arboreal, nocturnal nature and ambush predatory tactics, there are only a handful of camera-trap records of spotted linsangs across their range. Despite their ‘Least Concern’ status, this may be cause for concern, as habitat loss and degradation, hunting, and trade all remain important threats to the species. Although the risk of linsangs being killed by hunters or poachers may be lower relative to other more terrestrial, diurnal, and gregarious mammals, the observation we report here still suggests they are vulnerable to local opportunistic hunters,” Bal said.

Amit Kumar Bal, who had stayed at Murlen for the past couple of years for the study, said he has created awareness among the local tribal community.  “I have told them it is very rare,” he said.

In the Lower Subansiri district of western Arunachal Pradesh, indiscriminate noose-traps (i.e., snares) kill spotted linsangs, and scientists suggested they are also killed for ornamental purposes (i.e., their skins & pelts for display), and in retribution for killing poultry. 

“These threats suggest that diverse threats from opportunistic hunting still persist in some parts of the linsang range. To better understand the ecology and potential threats of this little-known species, more additional range-wide surveys and local studies, specifically targeting linsangs and their behaviour highlighting its proper global conservation context, are required,” he said.

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