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. 

Pampas Cat video from northern Peru

These Pampas cat videos were captured by camera traps set in two different wetlands of the Sechura desert in northwestern Perú. They are part of a research project by Alvaro Garcia Olaechea and Cindy Hurtado, entitled “Human-small cat conflict and distribution of the Pampas cat Leopardus colocolo in northwestern Peru and southwestern Ecuador”.

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For more information about the project go to Species Conservation.org.

Thank you Alvaro for keeping us updated!

Read more about the Pampas Cat on our fact sheet.

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 

Zookeeper Travels: African Golden Cat

By Ricky Reino

With this post I’m going to tell you about my ‘Weekend to Africa’ to spend time with an African golden cat!

African golden cats are most definitely the least known of all the African cat species, and there haven’t been many recorded in captivity, with the last known ones passing away many years ago.

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In 2014 after some months of communication (having had to majorly brush up on my French), I was invited to a private sanctuary in Central Africa by a lady who happened to keep what I think may be the only captive African golden cat. I booked my flights for March, and asked my dad to come along too as Central Africa wasn’t a place that I wanted to go to alone.

One long and bumpy plane journey later we arrived safely and were taken to the sanctuary, which was through the local village, down a dirt track and behind a big set of metal gates. Despite being extremely tired from the journey and the shock to the system of being in such a high humidity area (after coming from a very rainy London) I was itching to see the cat, but it was 2am so everything was in darkness.

Once we had had the chance to catch up on sleep the owner showed us around the grounds and explained why she had the various animals there. Animals such as the golden cat, some mangabey monkeys, mongoose, civets, various small hoofed animals and a 4 year old gorilla were all victims of wildlife crime and as the owner worked for the government, she took them in to her sanctuary.

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Having grown up with western zoos, enclosures here weren’t to the standards that I was used to, but the owner and her staff showed as much passion and enthusiasm for the animals as any keeper that I have worked with. I was shown plans for a brand new ‘semi-wild’ site that was being created deep in the forest that the animals would move to so they weren’t near to people, and was asked to design a better enclosure for the African golden cat, with the ability to hold more than one in case others were to be rescued. I felt privileged to be asked this and got on with designs straight away.

RRgoldencatMy weekend at the sanctuary was mostly spent sat by the side of the African golden cat enclosure, completely mesmerised by how stunning it was.

It was a 4 year old male that the owner took in at a young age, due to villagers finding him on his own at the edge of a forest who then handed him over to police.

He was a solidly built cat, a little bigger than a caracal (which it is closely related to genetically) with a reddish/grey coat, a white underside and faint markings along his sides & belly. He had huge feet, long back legs, a shorter tail and amazing crystal blue eyes.

Despite having been in a captive environment from a young age, he showed lots of interest and natural stalking behaviour in the various hoof stock species roaming freely in the area next to his enclosure. He would also readily leap up the branches in the enclosure to try and catch wild birds that landed on his roof.

He wasn’t as aggressive as I had expected him to be, although he would hiss if I shuffled position (mainly due to the ants that were climbing into my shorts!) He was actually quite interested in what I was doing, and I have a lot of great pictures of his big pink nose, where he would put his face up to the camera just as the photo was taken!

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With the keeper, I went in to the enclosure to clean up his mess and any food left overs, and although the cat was confident when there was a fence between us, he stayed out of our way when we were cleaning up, though we did have a broom at hand to keep him at distance if we needed to.

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Whilst in the enclosure I took the opportunity to spray some of the owner’s perfume on a tree stump, as a bit of sensory enrichment, which is something that we do quite often in western zoos to keep our captive animals stimulated. As soon as we left the enclosure the golden cat investigated the new smell and displayed lots of similar behaviours to other cats that I have done this enrichment with – lots of head and body rubbing around the stump and then spraying over it and walking round his territory, spraying and calling.

Although it was a very quick trip, I absolutely loved having the opportunity to study and do a bit of enrichment with the African golden cat; and hope to go back once the new semi-wild site & enclosure complex is completed, to help with moving the animals.

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I would love to create a bit more awareness for the existence of this beautiful but little known species, and help direct attention to the great studies being carried out by scientists and conservation organisations right now.

Thanks for reading

Ricky

See also African Golden Cat

Zookeeper travels the world to work with small wild cats

posted in: Endangered Cats, Zoo cats | 1

We are happy to welcome to a new blog writer for the small cats. This determined man has an amazing life working with small wild cats around the world, and he’ll be sharing his adventures with us on a regular basis.

clouded leopardHello to all my fellow Felid lovers reading this blog My name is Ricky and I am a Zoologist & Zoo Keeper from London, UK.

I have had a huge passion for wild cats from a very young age and have been privileged to have been working alongside them and many other animals in Zoological collections for the past 10 years through work experience, voluntary, seasonal and now permanent work.

My specialism is cats both big and small, but it’s the smaller, lesser known species that really get me excited. Theres so much to find out about them!!

My goal is to become a captive cat specialist one day, and part of that goal is my wish to spend time working with/observing captive individuals of as many cat species as possible. This means that I do a lot of travelling far and wide to see and spend time with some amazing species which unfortunately not much is known about.

The way that I am able to go on these trips is because I save up what I earn at work… I’m a very determined person and when I hear of a species at a collection I put myself in contact with that collection and go from there.

I have been very lucky (and persistent) and have been able so far to have spent some amount of time working with 31 out of the 37 known wild cat species and have been invited to various collections across the world to spend time with 3 more!

I am going to be telling you about a few of my recent trips across the world to spend time with rare small cats in future blog posts.

I hope you enjoy,

Ricky Reino

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#helpBFC – Updates from the field

We’ve just received an update from Beryl Wilson, Project Manager of the BFCWG – they’ve captured the first black-footed cat of the trip! 

Researchers are currently in the field in South Africa changing radio-collars and searching for uncollared cats. The information from these tiny collars gives researchers huge amounts of data on the daily lives of the black-footed cats.

Hundreds of kilograms of equipment, a 2 ton truck and 7 people and all for several tiny 1-2 kg cats! From a cold and rainy De Aar study site!

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The team tracking Stan on foot in a Karoo landscape.  He was successfully captured and his tracking collar replaced.

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Group photo after catching the first cat of the trip.  Stan was collared for the first time in Nov 2013.  Following heavy rains over the past few days, he was resting above ground.  After a short chase on foot in the late afternoon, he was recovered from a shallow den and his collar replaced.  

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Dr. Alex Sliwa fitting Stan’s new collar. 

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This is your chance to help us make a difference for these smallest of wild cats, and we ask for your support. Even if you’re not in a position to make a donation, please help us spread the word. Tell your friends, tell your family, share it on your social media, shout it from the rooftops, hire a skywriter… OK maybe not the last one, but you get the idea. Pass it on, and encourage your friends to do the same!

Please share this campaign and let everyone know you stand as a voice for the smallest of wild cats. Together, we CAN make a difference!

Help  Save Africa’s Smallest Wild 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.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

100% of donations received go directly to wild cats

 

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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

Thank you for your support!

Help Save Small Wild Cats

Did you know the smallest wild cat species in the world weighs just 1.2 kg (2 pounds?) Like their big cousins, the small felines are under threat – habitat loss, illegal hunting for food and fur, persecution – these are just a few of the dangers facing them. ISEC Canada was formed in 1990 to help the 28 small cat species. You can help by making a donation.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

100% of donations go to the cats!

 Our programs support scientific field research learning about the cats in their native countries. For instance, research may help determine the actual number of Caracals in the wild which at present is unknown.

CARACAL

 

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The word Caracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish. Large, tapering ears with five cm erect tufts of black hair, used for communication, are the most unique feature of this cat. Black-backed ears, dark spots on both sides of the muzzle, black spots above the eyes and a black stripe from the eye to the nose break up an otherwise uniform tawny-brown to brick-red colouring. Learn more

Thank you for your support!

 

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