Pumas in Patagonia

By Sebastian Kennerknecht

puma concolor
Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) female in front of mountains, Torres Del Paine, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

 

Until recently, it was virtually impossible to reliably see and photograph a wild puma. That has all changed in the last five to ten years. I just returned from an eight-day trip to southern Chile, where I had the privilege of seeing twelve different pumas, some as close as ten yards (nine meters) away from me.

 

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Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) female, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

 

Until last fall, I lived in central California for over twenty years. Pumas — also called mountain lions, cougars, catamounts, shadow cats, among many other names — live there as well. Yet in all my time actively looking for these elusive cats I never even glimpsed the tail end of one. It required traveling halfway around the world to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing one of these cats freely walk on this earth.

 

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Mountains reflected in saline lake, Amarga Lagoon, Torres Del Paine, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

 

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Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) mother and six month old cub nuzzling, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

 

The reason for this is simple, conservation. Torres del Paine National Park and the adjacent 6,662 ha Laguna Amarga Ranch provide a large area where pumas are not persecuted. This has led to about fifteen individual animals not being afraid of people. Those same animals are the ones featured in my images, and everyone else who has traveled to most southern part of Chilean Patagonia.

 

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Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) sixteen month old cub, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

 

This was a once in a lifetime experience for me, but being a conservation photographer focused on wild felids, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. During interviews conducted in 2005-2006 Anna Kusler and her colleagues determined that 86% of ranchers surrounding Torres del Paine National Park had a negative perception of pumas, due to pumas predating on their domestic sheep. Additionally, 100% of the interviewees had a negative perception of guanacos, the pumas principal prey, due to their perceived competition with sheep for grass. This outlook does not bode well for any of the wildlife surrounding the park.

 

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Guanaco (Lama guanicoe), Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

 

As Kusler’s paper suggests, there are a few options to create a system that allows for more co-existence between the human population and the local wildlife. This includes using livestock guarding dogs, corralling sheep at night, and of course eco-tourism. The owners of the aforementioned Laguna Amarga Ranch switched from sheep husbandry to puma ecotourism after a harsh winter storm killed many of their animals in 1995. They never looked back. During my trip, there were four different tour companies using their land to reliably see and photograph pumas. The densities of pumas were so high in the area, we almost always had the pumas to ourselves. From a purely economic standpoint, an alive puma was worth more than a dead one. From an emotional standpoint, seeing these animals in the wild are moments I will never forget. I am excited by the idea that this change of thought will happen in the United States as well, sooner than later.

Kusler A., Sarno R., Volkart N., Elbroch M., Grigione M. 2017. Local perceptions of puma-livestock conflict surrounding Torres Del Paine NP, Chile. Cat News 65, 13-16, 2017.

New Sand Cat Info

sand cat felis margaritaWe’ve updated our Sand cat fact sheet with new information on their distribution and conservation threats.

Distribution

Sand cats Felis margarita occur across the Sahara Desert, from Morocco in the west to as far as Egypt and the Sudan in the east. In Asia, they have been recorded in Syria, Iran, east of the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Their presence in Pakistan is unknown. Sand Cats show a scattered distribution across the Arabian Peninsula but their status and distribution are not well known.

The global distribution of the Sand Cat appears to be markedly patchy. It is not clear whether the gaps in known range are due to a lack of records or truly reflect species absence.

Conservation

Habitat degradation and loss are considered to be the major threats to the Sand Cat. Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly converted by human settlement and activity, especially degraded through livestock grazing. Additional threats are the introduction of feral and domestic dogs and cats, creating direct competition for prey, predation and disease transmission. This applies particularly along roads through suitable habitat.

In Iran, Sand Cats are killed by shepherd dogs and trapped in snares set for other species. They also get stuck in fences and are vulnerable to indiscriminate trapping and poisoning of predators.

In the Arabian Peninsula, sand dune habitat continues to decline. Several of the areas have been affected by political strife, and war-like conditions that have accelerated habitat destruction i.e. Syria.

Locally, Sand Cats may be threatened by the pet trade. There are occasional reports of Sand Cats being shot in Saudi Arabia.

In Algeria, they are not considered a threat to poultry, or trapped to sell as pets. Toubou nomads living northwest of Lake Chad consider Sand Cats frequent chicken thieves which readily enter their camp in the evenings. They do not generally retaliate, due to traditional religious respect for these small cats as tradition holds that they were the companions of the Prophet Mohammed and his daughter.

The development of reliable survey methods is urgently needed to assess the population. Furthermore, studies on the behaviour and ecology of the Sand Cat are crucial to apply appropriate conservation measures.

You can help the Sand Cats in Morocco

Read the full Sand Cat fact sheet here

2017 Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship

geoffroy's catThe Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship from the Wild Felid Research and Management Association (WFA) provides financial aid to a graduate-level university student conducting research on wild felids in the Americas. The scholarship is awarded in early summer. The recipient(s) receive $1,000 and are recognized in the WFA’s newsletter, the Wild Felid Monitor. Applications are evaluated based on: demonstrated need for financial aid; participation in a research project that aims to improve our understanding of wild felid biology, management and/or conservation; and undergraduate and graduate GPA.

We will begin accepting applications for the 2017 scholarship January 15, 2017. All application materials must be received by the Scholarship Chairperson by MARCH 30, 2017. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

More details and to apply see http://www.wildfelid.org/legacy.php

$19000 Reward for info on killing of Canada Lynx in Maine

posted in: Cats in the wild | 1

Wildlife advocates are offering an $8,000 reward for information leading to convictions for the shootings of two protected Canada lynx last month in Maine, bringing the total reward offered to $19,000 from nonprofit, state and federal sources. The additional reward money includes $5,000 from the Center for Biological Diversity, $1,000 from the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and $2,000 from the Animal Welfare Institute.

The two Canada lynx were shot and killed in mid-November, according to a Friday announcement by Maine wildlife officials. Wardens believe one was shot sometime around Nov. 15 with a rifle on a logging road in western Maine, near Aziscohos Lake in northern Oxford County. That lynx was wearing a GPS collar attached in 2015 by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The other endangered cat was found shot dead on Nov. 17 in a legally set foothold trap along a logging road in Aroostook County. No suspects have been identified in either case.

“The disturbing killings of these two beautiful, wild cats illustrate why we sued for changes to Maine’s harmful trapping program,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center. “The common-sense protective measures we’re seeking could have prevented the trapping of the lynx in Aroostook County. I’m hopeful the court will recognize that more changes are needed to protect lynx from cruel traps.”

In November a federal court in Bangor, Maine, heard oral arguments on the wildlife advocates’ challenge to the trapping permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Maine. The lawsuit argues that the permit violates both the Endangered Species Act, which requires that harm to lynx be minimized and mitigated, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a proper analysis of environmental impacts. The wildlife advocates are represented by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.

“With this latest evidence of the dangers faced by lynx in the Maine woods, we’re concerned with how many other lynx have been killed and not discovered,” said Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine. “These unnecessary deaths are troubling and frustrating to those of us working for stronger lynx protections.”

“Doing what is necessary to protect threatened and endangered species must be the number one priority,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. “Those responsible for these heinous and illegal killings must be brought to justice and be subject to the full complement of penalties under the law.”

Canada lynx are protected as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act, and these illegal killings can result in fines up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison.

Background
Each year Maine trappers targeting bobcat, coyotes, foxes, mink and other animals unintentionally kill and seriously injure Canada lynx, among the rarest cats in the United States. Because lynx are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the state cannot authorize such “incidental” harm to lynx without an “incidental take permit” issued by the Service. The lawsuit brought by wildlife advocates challenges the Service’s permit covering the state’s trapping programs.

That permit allows for the killing of just three lynx in legally set traps over a 15-year period. In 2014, within a few weeks of the federal permit being granted to the state, two lynx died in conibear traps set on leaning poles. With Friday’s announcement that another lynx died in a legally set trap, the wildlife advocates are considering additional legal action.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

Sand Cats of Morocco – Update From the Field

The sand cat Felis margarita is widespread over large parts of the North African Sahara, but there have been few specimens collected or reliable sightings documented since the mid 1970’s.

However, over the last decade there have been regular sightings in the Moroccan Sahara, especially along a stretch of road running southeast from the coastal city of Dakhla.

In the spring of 2013, Dr. Alex Sliwa and Gregory Breton conducted a self-funded field excursion to look for sand cats in this region. In three days, they identified three different sand cats – one male and two females. The results encouraged the researchers to apply for permits to do a telemetry study on the sand cat in its westermost distribution in Africa.

They returned to the area for two weeks in December 2015. During nocturnal drives, four sand cats were seen, two males and two females, and fitted with radio collars. These were the first sand cats ever radio-collared and tracked in the Sahara. They were followed for several days and nights. Hunting sequences were observed, high quality photographs taken and preliminary results on home ranges and behaviour were established. The researchers plan to make two further trips to Morocco during the winter of 2016-2017.

Female F2 hidden in perennial shrub
Female F2 hidden in perennial shrub.

 

Male M2 with a captured lesser gerbil.
Male M2 with a captured lesser gerbil.

Methods

While sitting on the roof rack of a Landrover, which was driven at 20-30 km/hr, a 100W spotlight was moved in a sweeping motion covering both sides of the road. Upon detecting carnivore eyeshine reflection, the animal was followed off road.

When caught in headlights or spotlamp, sand cats either flatten themselves on the ground or hide in sparse vegetation. Once settled, the cat was captured using two hand nets. They were then anaesthitized and weighed, tooth wear was measured, fur and physical condition were examined. Radio collars weighing 27 grams, 42 grams or 55 grams, depending on the size of the cat, were attached. All cats were closely monitored and ran away when fully awake.

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Results

  • Age of the cats was estimated based on the condition of their teeth, general body size, fur condition and head marks. Female F1 was estimated at 1-1.5 years; F2 est 7-10 months; M1 est 1.5-2 years; M2 est 3-4 years.
  • The four cats caught in 2015 were all in good physical condition, although all carried fleas and one had a tick. The male M2 had a more bleached fur than the others.
  • During the night, the older male M2 was located in six locations, and the younger female F2 in two locations. Both cats were found to move together, sniffing each other and playing between 02:45 to 03:00.
  • During the daytime, M2 was located at six independent locations and F2 at four. On all occasions, both cats were found hidden inside a perennial shrub, or at the base of large perennial grass.
  • M2 was observed hunting for three consecutive hours at night and made three successful kills.
  • The younger male Ml, was located an hour after sunset three days after collaring, 8 km south of his original place of capture. About 30 hours later, he was found 6.3 km north of the place of capture and 14 km from the previous observation. 14 km in a straight line in less than 30 hours is one of the longest distances ever reported for this species.
  • Researchers could not relocate the older captured female Fl despite intensive searching every night.
  • Home range sizes were estimated as follows: M1 at 35 sq. km, M2 at 22 sq km and F2 at 13 sq km.
  • Weights and measurements were consistent with other pooled data available for the species.
  • The older male M2 was tracked and observed more often than the others. He was found twice within 24 hours because he moved shorter distances, leading researchers to believe he was the resident male.
  • The young female F2 was tracked regularly at first and researchers discovered her positions overlapped some of those of M2. Since the two cats were found together one night, researchers suspect a relationship between them: either father/daughter or a breeding pair.
  • From the captive population, it is known female sand cats start breeding at 11 months. F1 was estimated to be 7-10 months so may not have been sexually mature at the time of collaring.
  • M1 and F1 were both considered to be subadults, and may be from the same litter. They may have travelled such long distances looking for a suitable territory, or they already had one and were in search of breeding partners.
  • It was suspected some of the four cats may be related and DNA tests will be carried out on hair samples.
M2 hidden under perennial grass.
M2 hidden under perennial grass.

 

Camera trap of M2 moving from his resting location.
Camera trap of M2 moving from his resting location.

 

This short-term tracking data falls into a similar pattern to data collected in Israel and Saudi Arabia, where the cats did not use dens at any time. However, a study in Uzbekistan directly observed sand cats entering and exiting dens in the ground. The lack of dens in the Sahara could be related to a lower number of species that excavate holes than in other regions. There could be seasonal changes with Saharan sand cats using dens only in the hotter period of the year (June-December). It could also be a consequence of the low number of sand cat predators in this region.

Studying additional individuals in the same location is crucial to understanding the social organization, reproduction patterns and dispersal habits of the species in the region. Researchers would like to extend telemetry work to additional sand cats and intensify the camera trapping in future years.

See also Sand Cats of Morocco 

Young lynx kittens video too adorable!

posted in: Cats of Europe | 2

This spectacular video of a mother Eurasian Lynx and her two young kittens relaxing at Langedrag Wildlife Park in Norway will melt your heart.  We thank Johan Naesje for sending us this touching footage, guaranteed to make any cat lover weak with the extreme cuteness.

Jaguarundi photographed in southern Argentina

By Mauro Lucherini

The jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi is a widely distributed small cat in Latin America. However, its natural history, including its distribution, is still very little understood.

This rare photo, obtained by the GECM (Grupo de Ecología Comportamental de Mamíferos, Universidad Nacional del Sur, Argentina) in southern Buenos Aires province, central Argentina, confirm that jaguarundis are still present, in the southernmost limit of the species geographic distribution range. It is important to mention that this is the only photo of this cat obtained in 384 camera trap stations, which indicates that the jaguarundi is the rarest felid species in the region (where the Geoffroy’s cat, Pampas cat, and puma also occur) and confirms the need for more detailed studies to better assess the conservation status of the species in central Argentina and throughout its range.

GECM jaguarundi

 

See also

Giordano, A. J. (2016) Ecology and status of the jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi: a synthesis of existing knowledgeMammal Review, 46(1), 30-43

Mystery cat requires more conservation and research

Jaguarundi fact sheet

 

Characterization and mitigation of puma-livestock conflicts in central Argentina

posted in: Cats of South America | 0

Estela Luengos Vidal, M. Guerisoli, N. Caruso, M. Franchini, Z. McDonald, and M. Lucherini

The puma (Puma concolor) is the most widespread top predator and one of the most controversial carnivores in Argentina. It occurs from the high-altitude deserts of the Andes to tropical and subtropical forests, and from the Pampas grasslands to the Patagonian steppe (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The natural prey base of Argentinean puma populations formerly included vicuña, guanaco, Patagonian huemul, taruca, Pampas deer, Marsh deer, rheas, Plain viscachas, Mountain viscachas, Patagonian hare, and capybaras. In the southernmost part of the country large native prey still comprise the bulk of puma diets (Zanón et al. 2012); however, during the last two centuries, hunting of wild prey and conversion of natural habitat into ranches and farms increased conflicts with humans and predation on livestock (Novaro et al. 2000, Walker and Novaro 2010).

This is the case in the southern Espinal where we have been working on carnivore-human conflicts since 2008. Dense shrublands and grasslands of this region have been transformed to create space for livestock. The initial habitat modeling that we performed, based on camera trapping records, show most of the landscape is no longer suitable for pumas (Caruso et al. 2015). A comparison with other carnivores occurring in the region revealed that pumas use sites with moderate fragmentation, but that they prefer preserved areas and avoid sites with significant human presence (Caruso et al. 2016).

Fig2 Map WF monitor

Nico y Maria_Salitral

To buttress our previous results and understand the variables affecting habitat use by pumas, we carried out a more intensive camera trapping survey over the last 24 months in two adjacent areas that differed in anthropogenic impact. Capture rates were 67.9% of 28 trapping stations in the area farther from the main road with more natural habitats, while pumas were recorded in 28% of 25 stations located closer to the road, where croplands and pastures prevail.

Interview data (2008-2015) show that sheep were the most predated livestock (7.4 head / year), followed by lambs (2.6 head / year), calves (6 head/year), and foals (0.3 head/year). Based on average prices, the economic losses caused by pumas per ranch per year (USD) were $393 for sheep (range $59-$4713) and $431 for cattle (range $70-$5953). Since sheep provide the primary income in the region, damage caused by pumas is a legitimate concern, so we scrutinized effects of puma predation in more detail. Comparing losses caused by pumas with the numbers of livestock owned, we found that pumas killed 2.2% and 3.9% of the total cattle and sheep, though the proportion individual ranches varied from 2% to 17.8%. We obtained a record of confirmed predation events in a 484-km2 area and found that during 16 months, pumas killed 33 sheep and 4 calves ( 2.23/month or 6.8/ 100 km2).

In the same period, ranchers killed 13 pumas (0.79 pumas / month or 2.7 pumas / 100 km2). This intensity of hunting is not justified by the economic impact of puma predation, and a puma population in the Espinal cannot sustain such a high mortality. The conflicts between pumas and local people are exacerbated by poor response by the government, which does not provide compensation to ranchers affected by puma predation nor provide a forum for their complaints. Predictably, local people see puma hunting as the only solution.

Fig3 workshop WF Monitor

In 2015, we began participatory workshops to further quantify livestock losses and share this information with ranchers, hear ranchers’ positions on the causes of puma predation, and identify, with their help, effective mitigation measures. Analyses of data from the first four workshops indicates that ranchers perceive a widespread intensification in puma predation, and believe that diminished human presence in rural areas is the major cause. Other causes mentioned included presence of shrub land, laws forbidding puma hunting, and poor livestock management.

However, we found that only two of the 12 participants had changed their husbandry, whereas nine (75%) tried to kill pumas. Yet only 3 of the participants killed pumas in the previous year (averaging 3.3 puma per person). Of the 7 ranchers who applied mitigation measures, 6 corralled their livestock at night, 1 used donkeys as guardian animals and 1 reinforced their enclosures. Most participants would try mitigation but requested expert advice, because past attempts had failed or proved uneconomical.

We now plan to test the efficacy of Conditioned Taste Aversion to reduce livestock losses. We will start by testing two substances that have proven effective with other carnivores (Massei et al. 2004; Nielsen et al. 2015). We have started collecting puma tissue and fecal samples to investigate genetic differentiation and gene flow in a meta-population framework.

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Although puma-livestock conflicts are common throughout Argentina, this is the first attempt to assess their true impact on ranching and the effects of retaliatory killing on puma populations. Our project will provide a baseline without which meaningful management cannot occur. We expect that this project will serve as a pilot experience to reduce livestock predation by pumas and thus provide sound recommendations to mitigate conflict in other areas.

Spectacular Andean Cat Video!

posted in: Cats in the wild | 3

New record on the Andean cat in the province of Jujuy obtained by a group of mammalogists (R. Gonzalez, P. Ortiz, S. d ‘ Hiriart , and P. Jayat ) studying the community of small mammals and highlands in Puno PICT under a project funded by the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Promotion .

Gato andino en la provincia de Jujuy

Nuevo registro sobre el gato andino en la provincia de Jujuy obtenido por un grupo de mastozoólogos (R. González, P. Ortíz, S. d’ Hiriart, y P. Jayat) que estudiaban la comunidad de pequeños mamíferos de zonas puneñas y altoandinas en el marco de un proyecto PICT financiado por la Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica.

 

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International conservationists develop a Conservation Strategy for the Fishing Cat

In November 2015, the First International Fishing Cat Conservation Symposium was held in Nepal, hosted in association with the NGOs Himalayan Nature and Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation. Participants included representatives from Fishing Cat range countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Bangladesh, as well as conservationists from USA, UK, Spain and Germany.

fishing catThe endangered Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus is at home near water bodies. This unique cat has been known to science since the early 19th century. However, its recent discovery in mangroves along the east coast of India and in Cambodia reveals that still little is known about its distribution and ecological needs. In Asia, wetlands are rapidly being devastated, which results in declining Fishing Cat populations in all range countries.

Furthermore, they are threatened by killings in retaliation, poaching and traffic. Their status in Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Java is largely unknown. They may have declined dramatically over the last decades.

“This dire perspective across their range motivated us to form the Fishing Cat Working Group in 2011. Our symposium was a huge success. We are the first Working Group who developed a conservation strategy for an Asian small wild cat. Fishing Cats need more targeted conservation efforts to ensure their continued survival in the wild. Our vision is that wild Fishing Cat populations become viable again across their native range, are valued globally and live in harmony with humankind.” said Angie Appel, co-founder and coordinator of the Fishing Cat Working Group.

“In India, they are included in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1 972, along with the tiger, and thus deserve protection measures of the highest accord. Nevertheless, their most important habitats are destroyed by the filling up of wetlands for airports, residential areas and highways due to policy contradictions.” said Tiasa Adhya. She has been engaged in conserving Fishing Cats in West Bengal. Because of her successful efforts she was recently nominated for the Future for Nature award. Giridhar Malla from the Wildlife Institute of India added “A viable population of Fishing Cats was recently recorded in mangroves of Andhra Pradesh. However, oil refineries and expansion of road network pose a huge threat to this population.”

“In Nepal, Fishing Cats have been recorded in protected areas and recently also in human dominated landscapes in the Terai. However, we still don’t know all the specific sites where Fishing Cats are present. Furthermore, they are not listed as a priority protected species in the country.” said Sagar Dahal of the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation.

“Ecological studies on Fishing Cats are scarce even though they live throughout coastal wetlands and hill forests of Sri Lanka.” said Anya Ratnayaka. She radio-collared the first Fishing Cat in suburban Colombo to understand their ecological adaptions to novel urban habitats. “In Sri Lanka, more than 50 individuals died in road accidents during the past two years.” added Ashan Thudugala. In response he installed road signs in the country’s central hills to minimize road accidents involving Fishing Cats.

“In Cambodia, Fishing Cats are poorly studied. Our recent discovery of a Fishing Cat population in mangroves is spectacular. This is not only the first record since 2003, but also in a previously undocumented site.” said Ret Thaung of the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC) of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “We are very excited about this discovery because it gives us new hope for the recovery of Fishing Cats in Southeast Asia.” said Vanessa Herranz Muñoz who collaborates with CBC.

“Conservationists in Fishing Cat range countries need to be better linked with the international zoological community for exchange of knowledge. We can increase awareness about the plight of Fishing Cats in the wild and support conservation efforts through fund raising activities.” said Neville Buck of the Aspinall Foundation, UK.

fishing cat clawsThe objectives of the first Conservation Strategy Plan revolve around three major themes, namely ecological, socio-cultural and policy issues. Participants pledged to implement planned activities within the next five years. They will collaborate in developing manuals for policy makers and researchers as well as comprehensive habitat and distribution maps. They will continue to work with local communities and address Fishing Cat conservation needs through advocacy networks. Information material will be created to raise awareness amongst global stakeholders, both young and old.

The symposium was supported by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Fishing Cat Fund and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Nepal. It was held at Park River View Resort in Nawalparasi close to Chitwan National Park.

Information taken from the Proceedings Of the First International Fishing Cat Conservation Symposium  held in Nepal last year. 

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