Survey shows fishing cat still on the prowl

Mark Tilly / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
The fishing cat.Supplied

Researchers have found evidence the rare Cambodian fishing cat is surviving in the mangroves of the Pream Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary in Koh Kong province.

A month-long survey was undertaken this year by the Kla Trey Cambodian Fishing Cat Project, the first of its kind dedicated to conserving what is believed to be one of the most vulnerable small to medium-sized cats in Southeast Asia.

“This is a first glimpse of the fishing cat population in the sanctuary but our preliminary findings are very promising,” project leader Vanessa Herranz Munoz said yesterday. 

Fishing cat numbers have plummeted by more than 30 percent in the last 15 years according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, largely because of human activity.

This has included the destruction of the cat’s wetland habitat to make way for shrimp farms, says Ret Thaung, who led a 2015 survey on the cat with the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation.

“Asian wetland habitats are rapidly disappearing or being modified by human activity,” he said.  

With the cat believed to be extinct in Vietnam, no recording of the animal in Laos, and only scarce information about the animal in Java, Myanmar and Thailand, the sanctuary  could be one of the last strongholds for the feline in the region. 

By placing 26 camera traps in key habitat sites around PKWS, researchers were able to identify an undiscovered specimen at a new site, as well as a female previously identified during the 2015 CBC survey. 

The camera traps also spotted other threatened species, including the large-spotted civet and smooth-coated otter, listed as endangered and vulnerable respectively by the ICUN.

Jan F Kamler, Southeast Asia leopard programme coordinator for global wild cat conservation organisation Panthera, said it was a positive sign that the female had been able to survive in peace since it was last spotted.

“The recapture of the female fishing cat after two years is good news, as it indicates snaring could not have been high in that area,” he said.

Snare trapping is a common form of hunting in Southeast Asia, which scientists note as a major issue for most wildlife in the region.

In the 2015 survey, there was also evidence to suggest that fishing cats had been killed by local fisherman in retaliation after the cats raided their nets.
However those threats have now abated, according to community officer Sothearan Thi. 

“People have no will to hunt or kill fishing cats because there is no perceived conflict,” he said.

Kla Trey have been working with animal and habitat protection group Wildlife Alliance and its mobile environmental education unit to conduct awareness raising workshops for local residents, as well training wildlife rangers in camera trapping as part of continued research on the illusive species.

“With a supportive local community, together we can ensure that fishing cats persist in the Cambodian mangroves,” Ms Herranz Munoz said.

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