In a significant catch, five caracals and a leopard cat, both rare and infrequently sighted members of the cat family, were rescued from trafficker in Uttar Pradesh's Mirzapur district, forest officials said on Monday.
The animals, kept in medium-sized cages, well-wrapped up but with netted cloth to avoid suffocation, were being taken from Bihar to Hyderabad.
Police rescued them on Sunday evening after a tip-off after intercepting a vehicle in which Mohammad Arif of Hyderabad was transporting them, Mirzapur's District Forest Officer K.K. Pandey told IANS.
The cats, which appear to be as young as a year old, were healthy but scared, he added.
The forest officials gave the animals some food and water and moved them to Lucknow zoo for better care.
The intention of trafficking could not be known.
According to Shekhar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network in alliance with the WWF, it is a first such case where so many caracals were caught being trafficked.
"It is a very rare and unusual incident. In India, a caracal sighting is very rare and they are now threatened. Such demand of caracals might be for a private zoo," he said.
Caracals are large-sized, brick-coloured cats, unique for their look and pointed ears, found only in arid regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat, with some distribution also in Punjab and Haryana. Besides India, they are also found in Africa.
Caracals figure in the Red List (Endangered) of the IUCN and are protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, which gives them same protection as that of tigers and leopards.