Top Photos: 20 Years Camera-trapping India’s Elusive Carnivores

By Krithi K. Karanth and Arjun Srivathsa

With close to 50 species of wild carnivores, India is a haven for elusive families of cats, dogs, hyaenas, bears, otters, civets and mongooses. The Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program has been camera-trapping critters in India for more than 20 years. This program originally started with pioneering camera trap work on tigers and leopards by Dr. K. Ullas Karanth in the early 1990s and has now grown to become one largest global camera trap datasets.

Owing to the enormous effort invested in such camera trap surveys in the Western Ghats, WCS-India database now has more than 750 uniquely identifiable tigers.

Tiger (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

Along the way, there have been several exciting and unexpected discoveries. Black leopards are not a separate species, but are melanistic (dark colored) variants of the normal leopards. They occur naturally in the wild and may form up to 10% of the total leopard population in the Western Ghats. Perhaps these famous felines are not as uncommon as previously thought.

Picture2_Black Leopard
Black Leopard (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

Among smaller felids are the secretive and nocturnal Rusty Spotted Cat, Leopard Cat and Jungle Cat. The Rusty Spotted cat is one of the smallest cats in the world. It is found only in India and Sri Lanka.

Rusty Spotted Cat (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

With twelve sub-species, leopard cats are sometimes confused with domestic cats!

Leopard Cat (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

Jungle cats, despite their wide distribution and common occurrence, are among the least studied animals in India.

Jungle Cat (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

Our camera traps have also candidly photo-captured several species of civet: Brown Palm civet, Common Palm civet and Small Indian civet. Often mislabeled as “civet cats” because of their cat-like appearance, civets are a separate branch of the family tree from cats, weasels, and others. They are poached indiscriminately for their musk and hunted and used as processors of coffee.

India has seven species of civets including the Brown Palm civet and the nearly mythical Malabar civet, endemic to the Western Ghats.

Brown Palm Civet (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)
Common Palm Civet (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)
Small Indian Civet (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

The Sloth Bear  is an omnivore that feeds on termites, fruits, flowers, and sometimes, wild meat.

Sloth Bears (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

Wild dogs or ‘dholes’ are arguably the most fascinating wild canids. They live in packs and can easily take down quarry that are much bigger than themselves. Although dholes are generally active during the day, nocturnal activity is not uncommon.

Wild Dog (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

Jackals are possibly the most wide-ranging wild canids after foxes. Most jackals inhabit human-dominated areas like agricultural fields, grasslands, scrub, ravines, and villages. They are not primarily forest-dwelling animals, making their photo-captures in the dense forests of Western Ghats a relatively rare occurrence.

Jackal (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

The rarest and most unexpected photo-captures along these forest roads also include otters. Despite their wide range in India, very little is known about the distribution and ecology of all three species of Indian otters.

Otters (Photo by Ullas Karanth/WCS)

A recent paper by Ripple et al. (2014) in Science suggests that carnivores are in trouble, with 75% of species in serious decline and several showing range contractions from over 50% of their habitats. Research by Karanth et al. (2010) in the Proceedings of the Royal Society-B suggests that Indian carnivores have experienced local extinction from 14-96% of their historic range in just 100 years. The outlook for carnivores in India and globally is bleak and needs urgently to be addressed.

Our photographs are valuable because the have begun to unravel many tiny details about these carnivores, but they also call attention to how little we know about these rare, elusive, and enthralling animals.

Fundamental questions—like How do they live? What do they eat? What are their activity patterns? How large are their populations? How do they disperse? How do they interact with other species? What are major threats for their survival, and How adaptable are they?—remain unanswered.

Read More Posts by Krithi Karanth

  • amine dalmont

    salam cv hamd

  • Gerry Bourgeois

    Best not to post many of these pics. sure as hell Asian countries will kill them for medical potions.

  • keerthi kumar

    Thanks to National Geographic and Ullas Karanth for exhibit of all cats in Indian soil.Very good pictures and other details will help to the information.

  • Dr.D.Vijayagovindarajan

    Greatest Effort…..to show us all the other side of our INDIAN WILDLIFE’s true colors!

  • lillian hoereth

    Love the cats! Hate the racists (not naming names – but really, Gerry? Really?)

  • Pramod Viswanath

    Master work by the master!

  • Sanat Kumar Kar

    Thanks to WCS for posting this beautiful animal-treasure of ours. Some of them I have seen in my childhood.
    I enjoyed seeing them again.
    Many thanks to Kirthi, Arjun and Ullas personally.

  • Kristiqn Paziiski




  • dario


  • Vijaya Baskar

    Great work .
    India is home to a variety of wild life -lions,tigers,leopards, jackals ,hyenas,bears ,red pandas,snow leopards,Gaur and many other animals .Hope we can save these animals .

  • Nick menon

    @gerry…surprising even here you don’t leave your racist roots

  • Nura haruna

    I like this good observation for wildlife with clear pictures.

  • Anirban Mukherjee

    Amazing Pictures… I suggest we put camera traps at Jungles in North east India as well. We have rare and amazing flora and fauna in Garo Hills, Megahalya, Manas Sanctuary and many others as well

  • Sameer

    Great Work!!!

  • saiyed shoaib

    Great work .I enjoyed seeing them again.

  • Mithun Sadananda

    Thank you so much Ullas Karanth / WCS for your efforts and National geographic for providing us the platform to views such breath taking pictures of these wild cats.Its sad to know thats carnivores are in trouble, with 75% of species in serious decline.Just hope that the good work is spread across the Indian sub continent in preserving these wild cats!

  • B S Annigeri

    Great Pictures. Good information. Needs more efforts in educating the public in general and Forest Deptt in particular. Thanks for sharing.


    Very,very impressed with the results of hard work persistently .
    Cheers .

  • Swaminathan S.

    Great effort leading to some rare pictures indeed ! Must appreciate the work put in by you members of the WCS !!

  • Syed Nawaz

    India’s wildlife is incredible, hats off for d great job by explorers. I love wild animals and have a great respect on them. In big cats, i love black panther very much so i wanna do d researchers and exploreres to do a document about that ferocious noctural animal. This is my kind request.

  • Syed Nawaz

    Incredible pictures greatest effort by exploreres and researchers. My special thanks for national geographic and ulas, kirthi and arjuna.

  • Lalithaa

    Very nice pictures…much informative too

  • Mahesh Khokhar

    Very nice pictures . .

  • Prof. C.M.S.Dass

    Very rare pictures. I liked them all. First time I knew of these in our forests.

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