Join hands to save the Fishing Cat
As part of the World Wetland Day celebrations, we present to you the conservation efforts of a small feline belonging to the wetlands – the Fishing Cat
The Fishing Cat February was started last year by the International Fishing Cat Working Group (https://fishingcat.org/ ) and Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation (https://smallcats.org/ ), a consortium of individuals working on protection and conservation of small wild cats in different countries of the world. The members will be sharing their expertise and knowledge via cartoons, videos and other engaging educational material about the species on social media throughout the month. Lectures and field visits will also be organized at various places to create awareness among the masses.
Last year, the aforementioned groups came together and decided to popularize the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) to gather more support for its conservation. Given the fact, the World Wetland Day falls in February, the month was chosen to be celebrated as Fishing Cat month. It should be noted here, that all small cats combined get just 1% of the funding that the large cats do. As you can see, support is vital to keep the momentum and pace of work.
The little known Fishing cat is a medium sized wild cat species of wetland ecosystems. Earlier this species was found all across south and south-east Asia from Pakistan to Indonesian island of Java. Today, it is believed that India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Sri Lanka contain the core of their population, whereas the distribution from South East Asia still remains to be fully documented.
Wetlands are the prime habitat of the Fishing Cat. But unfortunately development in Asia often happens at the cost of the same wetlands. The political will to conserve wetlands and wetland indicator species like the Fishing Cat is majorly lacking.
However all is not gone, the Fishing cat has got a few dedicated individuals and organizations working for its conservation. In India, a viable population of Fishing Cat persists in the eastern states of West Bengal and Orissa. For instance, The Fishing Cat Project was started in 2010 and is going strong with initiatives like the seed Goat Bank and Know Thy Neighbours started by the project team which are helping change people’s perspective of the Fishing Cat from that of animosity to amicability.
Andhra Pradesh too, has populations of Fishing Cats in Coringa and Krishna mangroves. However, there are no conservation status surveys done in other drier parts of the state where fishing cat live in human-dominated landscapes. Founder of Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society and International Fishing Cat Working Group member, Murthy Kantimahanti’s current project focuses on these neglected landscapes in North Coastal Andhra Pradesh (Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts) by identifying demographically significant sub-populations and assessment of conservation threats for inland fishing cat populations in these unprotected freshwater habitat patches besides exploring any corridor connectivity between two major populations (one in Chilika up north and another in Coringa down south).
Along with Murthy, Giridhar Malla has also been working on Fishing Cats in Coringa for quite some time now and conducted the first population estimate of the cat in Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary which led to the Coringa Forest Department choosing Fishing Cat as its icon species.
Sagar Dahal, co-founder of Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation (SMCRF) and Conservation scientist at Global Wildlife Conservation, rediscovered the population of Fishing Cat outside protected area of Terai in Nepal. Sagar and his team are sensitizing school children and the fishermen community of the area about the plight of the species through awareness programs, posters and booklets. They have also provided predator-proof chicken coops to protect the local people’s livelihood from the Fishing Cat. Based on the results obtained from field work they prepared a policy brief for conserving Fishing cat in human-dominated landscape and submitted it to mayor and Member of Parliament representing the study site. It is also one of their demands to include the Fishing Cat into the list of protected species of Nepal so that the persecutors of the animals could be brought to justice.
An Associate Conservation Scientist at Global Wildlife Conservation, Co-founder of Small Cat Advocacy and Research (SCAR) and Founder Member, Urban Fishing Cat Project, Anya Ratnayaka from Sri Lanka is another crusader of the species. She is working for protection of the Fishing Cats which have made Colombo, the bustling capital of Sri Lanka, their home. She is now busy collaring Fishing Cats in the urbanscape so that she can inform policy makers how to best conserve the cats and their wetland habitat.
With 15 percent its total area made of urban wetlands, Colombo is an accredited Ramsar Wetland city. The process of urbanization has most affected the wetland specialist species here. The Fishing Cat was arguably more protected during the period of civil war from 1980s to 2000 in Sri Lanka as insurgent activities hampered the development processes and the wetlands remained relatively safe for the feline. Since the war is over the city is growing and galloping its wetlands with unprecedented speed. Ratnayaka is trying her best to protect the remnant ones through awareness, education and research in her country.
Along with running training programs for undergrad students (Youth Camp) and engaging with local communities, Ashan Thudugala, another co-founder of SCAR and founder of Save Fishing Cats from Sri Lanka, runs a rehabilitation centre for Fishing Cats. His team is also working with government bodies like Road Development Authority to install road signs at crucial fishing cat roadkill points.
In Cambodia, Fishing Cat is called Kla Trey meaning Tiger Fish. What is even more interesting is that the ancient temple of Angkor Vat has the Fishing Cat sculpted into its remains along with fish and muggers! Kla Trey – Cambodian Fishing Cat Project which was launched in 2015, focuses on the study and protection of the species and its habitats in Cambodia, with particular emphasis on the population found at one of the largest and densest mangrove forests of Southeast Asia, Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, near the border with Thailand. The main threat to fishing cat survival in this area is poaching. The project team is collaborating with local rangers providing training and equipment to improve effectiveness of law enforcement. During Fishing Cat February the project team will join hands with internationally acclaimed Cambodian artist Dina Chhan, her students and a researcher of wildlife in the Khmer arts for a presentation and art exhibition intended to motivate young people to take inspiration in Nature, express themselves through art and feel proud of their cultural and natural heritage. Whether it is Colombo, Cambodia or Kolkata the situation is not very different. Most of the Fishing Cat habitats have been encroached upon by humans and the prey base of the species has also been depleted. Hence forced by the situation, it occasionally preys on poultry and small mammals like goat. Though studies show that the actual loss is far less than the perceived one, a large number of Fishing Cats are killed in retaliation by humans.
The vulnerable habitat
The greatest challenge in conservation of Fishing Cat is the vulnerability of its habitat. Wetlands are nutrient, water and carbon sinks and hence vital for sustenance of life on Earth. Besides, wetlands are an integral part in the lives of several local communities as a source of livelihood and identity. But unfortunately they are often treated as wastelands by both public and policy makers. Recent change in government policy on wetland in India reaffirms the fact. India’s revised Wetland Policy in 2017 excludes several manmade wetlands like irrigation tanks, tanks made for drinking water and recreation as well as salt pans from the very definition of wetland. This is going to be a serious blow to wetland conservation and a desired boon to the developers in the country. The government has also made many other changes in the new policy, many of which were being opposed by the environmentalists. The Fishing Cat stands little chance of survival if the government fails to protect its habitat. Therefore, it is essential to work with the government as well people.
Support the effort
Members of Fishing Cat Working Group are planning several activities in the month of February in the range countries. Last year The Fishing Cat Project held youth camp and street graffiti in Kolkata to spread awareness whereas conservationists from Urban Fishing Cat Project, Sri Lanka, held mini-expos. This time Sri Lankan team is taking city people from Colombo into wetland parks to get them acquainted to Fishing Cats which live in their backyards therefore garnering support for their conservation. The Fishing Cat Project in India will impart training programs to forest department officials in Orissa as well as interested members in the community to increase local workforce in their participatory science programs.
The Fishing Cat Working Group members are dedicating a lot of time to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram etc to spread the message of Fishing Cat February as far and wide in the globe as possible. As common citizens we can follow their accounts/individual projects and learn how we can participate and support Fishing Cat conservation nationally and globally.
Visit the following pages to know more about the Fishing Cat Project
Instagram account: @fishingcatwg
( Article based on inputs from Fishing Cat Working Group and Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation)
Cover photo: Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) in Dudhwa | By: Partha Dey, The Fishing Cat Project
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