Flat-headed Cat #5

The Flat-headed cat appears to be found at low population densities, avoids oil palm plantations, and is closely associated with low lying wetland forests. Such wetland habitats have been, and continue to be exposed to some of the highest rates of deforestation in Southeast Asia.This deforestation and the increasing prevalence of vast tracts of oil palm plantations is likely resulting in the fragmentation of habitat and isolation of individual populations.

Over 45% of protected wetlands and 94% of globally significant wetlands in Southeast Asia are considered threatened. Causes include human settlement, draining for agriculture, pollution, and excessive hunting, wood-cutting and fishing. In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the past decade has been rapid. While there have been observations of the Flat-headed Cat in secondary forests there has not been any evidence that the Flat-headed Cat can also live in oil palm plantations.

 

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Flat-headed Cat #4

Flat-headed Cats share one characteristic with the Cheetah and Fishing Cat, in that their claws are not fully retractile, and can be seen at all times. Their toes are more completely webbed than those of the Fishing Cat, and they have long, narrow footpads. Filling the role of a semi-aquatic carnivore, their long, narrow jaws and pointed, backward facing teeth are adaptations to catching and holding slippery prey such as fish and frogs. These cats may well be more deserving of the name ‘fishing cat’ than the species that already has that name.

For more information on this elusive feline, take a look at our Flat-headed Cat fact sheet. We will be happy to update it whenever any new information is received.

 

Flat-headed Cat #3

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About the size of a domestic cat, the Flat-headed cat has an elongated body, short legs with small, rounded paws, and a short tail. The coat is thick, soft and long, reddish brown on top of the head and dark brown on the body, with a fine speckling of grey and buff on the tips. The muzzle, chin and cheeks are white, with short, white stripes at the inner edge and along the lower margins of eyes, and two dark streaks on each cheek. A yellow line runs up from each eye to near the ear. Large, brown eyes are set closely together, and short, rounded ears are set well down the sides of the head. The legs are short and can have some indistinct horizontal markings. The short tail is thickly furred, reddish brown above and yellowish underneath.

Stay tuned for more information on this elusive feline!

Have you ever seen a Flat-headed Cat, either in captivity or in the wild? Please comment below and tell us your experience!

Flat-headed Cat #2

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Very little information is available on the Flat-headed Cat’s ecology and behaviour. It is believed to be a solitary, nocturnal and crepuscular animal. All observations of individuals were made at night or in the early morning. Most sightings have been of them walking on riverbanks. The Flat-headed Cat has also been observed swimming across rivers. Similar to other cats it sprays urine marks, but does so unlike any other cat: it walks forward in a crouching position leaving a trail on the ground.

Stay tuned for more information on this elusive feline!

Have you ever seen a Flat-headed Cat, either in captivity or in the wild? Please comment below and tell us your experience!

Flat-headed Cat #1

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The Flat-headed cat, Prionailurus planiceps, is one of the world’s least known yet most threatened wild cats. Despite being categorized on the IUCN Red List as Endangered since 2008, this cat has received very little scientific and conservation attention anywhere in its range, which includes Sumatra, Borneo and the Malayan Peninsula.

The lack of ecological knowledge about this felid hinders assessment of threats, conservation status and ecological needs. It also undermines efforts to protect this species.

Stay tuned for a lot more information on this elusive feline!

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. 

Found! Fishing cat in coastal Cambodia

fishing catPictures of the Endangered fishing cat – the first in Cambodia for more than a decade – provide welcome evidence that these elusive felines still survive in some parts of the country.

Cambodia’s Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC) continues to make history with a camera trap survey revealing that the Endangered fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) can still be found in some parts of the country.

The camera traps have provided the first official records for the species since 2003, capturing images and footage of three individuals at two different coastal sites.

Researchers from the CBC, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, were thrilled by the findings which have allayed grave fears about the status of these animals in Cambodia.

FFI project leader, Ms Ret Thaung said that the fishing cat’s preference for wetland habitat had led to severe population declines throughout much of its Asian range. “Asian wetland habitats are rapidly disappearing or being modified by human activity, so fishing cat numbers have declined dramatically over the last decade and the remaining population is thought to be small,” she said.

“Fishing cats are believed to be extinct in Vietnam, no confirmed records in Lao PDR, and with scarce information about the species in Thailand and Cambodia.

“It is clear that urgent steps are needed to protect these cats from snaring and trapping and to conserve their wetland habitats – but to do this effectively we needed to get a better idea of where they live.” “

Overwhelming discovery

The CBC’s camera trap survey was designed to address some of these knowledge gaps . Following leads gathered during interviews with local villagers, the experts set up 32 cameras at five locations and left them to record what passed by .

Sifting through the images, the team was delighted to discover fishing cats at two sites in southwest Cambodia: Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary (Koh Kong Province) and Ream National Park (Sihanoukville Province).

“This is a remarkable discovery as fishing cats are very vulnerable to human persecution,” Ms Thaung said. “We are especially pleased to see both a male and female cat from Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary. When working with Endangered species, every animal is important and the excitement of such a discovery is overwhelming.”

As both of these sites are protected areas, the resident fishing cats should be afforded some protection.

Conservation challenges ahead

According to Ms Thaung, the CBC and its partners now aim to develop a fishing cat conservation action plan focused on the two sites where the cats were recorded.

“This will primarily involve community education and measures to reduce threats,” she said. “We also plan to continue our research and improve the ability of local rangers to correctly identify fishing cats and help with research and conservation for the species.”

The main challenge at these two sites will be managing conflicts with people, who have been known to kill fishing cats for their meat or in retaliation for damaging fishers’ nets.

An important facet of any conservation work will therefore be to raise awareness about the species and boost local support for its conservation – particularly in light of recent interviews with villagers living near the two sites, which revealed that local people do not see these animals as important.

Sadly, protected area status alone cannot not guarantee the future of a site or its wildlife, as Ms Thaung explains: “Unfortunately, no cats were found in the freshwater wetlands at the Botum Sakor National Park.”

“We are particularly concerned about this, as this area is being devastated by forest clearance and land degradation.”

Above all, the discovery of fishing cats in two new areas (coupled with their notable absence from a place one might reasonably expect to find them) reveals how much we still have to learn about these animals, and how urgent is the need to protect them.

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Fauna & Flora International (FFI) protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and take account of human needs. Operating in more than 40 countries worldwide – mainly in the developing world – FFI saves species from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest established international conservation body and a registered charity.

Zookeeper Travels: Flat-headed Cat

By Ricky Reino

This post is about my most recent trip – a weekend to Thailand to spend time with flat-headed cats!

Flat-headed cats are a little known species, native to some parts of south east Asia, such as the island of Borneo. They are specialised fish hunters and are classed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Around a year and a half ago I saw via the internet that there were a handful of flat-headed cats kept in captivity in Thailand, and so decided to get in contact with these collections.

It took a while of being passed between email addresses, but finally I was put in contact with the animal manager of a well known zoo not too far from Bangkok.

I explained through our conversations about myself and my interest in spending time with the zoo’s flat-headed cats to get a small glimpse at their behaviour and learn how they are managed by their keepers; but also offered to help bring ideas on enrichment etc – this was greatly accepted and we started to discuss things further.

I had to write an official letter, with proof of my professional history, to the director of the zoo, who accepted my request and sent me an official invite which was fantastic, and after that I was able to start planning.

I didn’t have anyone that was able to come with me from the UK, but as it was my cousin was travelling around Thailand with his girlfriend at the time so we all arranged to meet at Bangkok airport upon my arrival and go from there.

September 2014 arrived, and after a very long (not made better by a very loud, drunk man in the seat behind me) flight, I made my way through Bangkok airport, got screened for Ebola, passed through customs and then found my cousin.

The animal manager of the zoo was also waiting at the airport in one of the zoo vehicles, and drove my cousin and I the hour journey to the zoo, passing my massive traffic jams, and little villages, eventually moving into beautiful lush green forest.

As soon as we got there I was shown to my very own apartment (they were really taking care of me!) where I had time to freshen up then we were taken to meet the director. Both myself and my cousin were given the warmest of welcomes and also gifted a lovely book all about the animals kept at the zoo with some incredible pictures in it.

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I was itching to see the zoo, so the animal manager drove us round taking us to see lots of animals such as the elephants, and the clouded leopards – which are another species of small cat, and an incredibly beautiful one at that! The zoo has a great breeding program for this species, working with other zoos globally to move on youngsters to spread the genes. I was privileged enough to be given the opportunity to interact with some young hand reared clouded leopards after meeting with the head keeper of these cats, which was fantastic. They were so full of life and so so agile running around and jumping out of the trees, running along the ground, bouncing off my shoulders then leaping back into the trees.

We were shown around the rest of the cat section, but as it was getting late we didn’t have much time so were taken back to the apartment and then taken for dinner at a beautiful wooden tower overlooking the forest about 20 minutes away from the zoo.

Unfortunately that night I became VERY ill, and had to rearrange plans and flights to come home as soon as possible. I was really glad that my cousin was there as he made sure I was OK and kept me hydrated etc.

fhrrNext morning, I forced myself to get up to do what I had travelled all the way to Thailand to do, even if it was just for the day rather than for a week as planned. I met the head cat keeper and was taken to the enclosure where the flat-headed cats were.

The first thing that struck me was the smell (which didn’t help when I wasn’t feeling great!) – lots of small cats have a strong smell, but this was a very different & strong smell. The zoo kept two males, one of which was hand reared. The cats clearly didn’t have much interaction with their keepers as they both stayed in their hollowed out log shelter, just watching what we were doing.

I went around the enclosure cleaning up the cats’ mess, raked their substrate and scrubbed out & refilled their pond as we were going to put their food ( a fish each) in there later that day. One of the cats came out of the resting place and walked over to the freshly cleaned pond once I had moved away from it, and interestingly I noticed that as he walked around, he was constantly letting out a very fine stream of urine, as a way of spreading his scent – this is probably why the smell in the enclosure was so strong!

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It was interesting to really see the physique of this species when the cat was up and about.. a very short, round shape with a short and flattened tail. wide, webbed paws with claws that stuck out, just like those of the very closely related fishing cat. This species mainly hunts fish, so these physical adaptations help it hunt in and around the water. It was interesting to see just how flat the top of this cats’ head was too.. the reason why it is called the ‘flat-headed cat’.

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Due to my changed flight schedule, I had to leave the flat-headed cats and the zoo, despite not having spent as much time there as I would have liked. I travelled back to the airport and said goodbye to my cousin and his girlfriend so that I could catch my flight home.

I keep in contact with the animal manager, and am very thankful at being given the opportunity to spend some time, however short it was, with one of the most endangered cat species on the planet. The opportunity for me to back to the zoo to spend time learning more is there, and I will definitely be going back in the future.

Thanks for reading!

Ricky

See also Flat-headed Cat 

Act Now to Protect Small Wild Felines

Wild cats are in danger of disappearing all over the world. We need to learn more about the lives of small wild cats in their native habitat in order to protect them from such threats as habitat loss, persecution, poaching, illegal trade and human interference. There are many questions that must be answered before these threats can be addressed and conservation plans put in motion. Where are the cats located? What kind of habitat do they need? What do they eat? How large is the population?

Without all the ecological information gathered by field researchers, it is impossible to form conservation programs for small wild cats. Before the biologists can start their studies however, they must obtain funding for camera traps, radio-collars, salaries for local people and a host of other expenses. This rather specialized funding is getting increasingly hard to find, and many worthwhile projects are not able to be undertaken.

Join our growing list of small wild cat heroes. Please donate today.

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One small wild cat species in need of your support is the Borneo Bay Cat Pardofelis badia. It is the mystery member of the cat family. Nothing is known about their habits, behaviour, ecology or reproductive biology. Previously thought to be a small island form of the Asiatic Golden Cat Pardofelis temminckii, genetic testing has revealed the Bay Cat is a unique species, and therefore a highly endangered one.  Learn more

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