Rigorous population studies on many small carnivores are lacking in India. Presence-absence models with habitat covariates were applied to estimate seasonal occupancy and abundance of nine small-carnivore species from camera-trap data in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (2010 and 2011). We deployed 25 camera-trap stations in the deciduous forest, 21 in the semi-evergreen forest and 26 in the dry thorn forest. In total, 7380 trap-nights yielded 448 photographs of small carnivores: jungle cat (n = 72), leopard cat (n = 6), rusty-spotted cat (n = 11), small Indian civet (n = 89), common palm civet (n = 37), brown palm civet (n = 20), stripe-necked mongoose (n = 66), ruddy mongoose (n = 96) and Indian grey mongoose (n = 51). In the dry season, rusty-spotted cat was the rarest carnivore with an average abundance (λmean) of 0.24 ± 0.26, while ruddy mongoose was the most abundant (λmean = 0.90 ± 0.40). In the wet season, leopard cat was the rarest species (λmean = 0.048 ± 0.041) while grey mongoose was the most abundant (λmean = 0.68 ± 0.35). Abundance of jungle cat, common palm civet, ruddy mongoose and grey mongoose increased in the dry thorn forest whereas in the dry season abundance of small Indian civet decreased in this forest type. Abundance of leopard cat and small Indian civet was not influenced by habitat in the wet season. Deciduous forest was positively associated with abundance of rusty-spotted cat. Deciduous and semi-evergreen forests had a positive effect on abundance of stripe-necked mongoose while the latter was a positive predictor of abundance and occupancy for brown palm civet. Improved modelling approaches can account for the spatio-temporal variation in habitat use of small carnivores occupying specialized niches in heterogeneous tropical forests of southern India.