Identifying Priority Sites and Conservation Actions for the Fishing Cat in Cambodia
Ret Thaung, Vanessa Herranz Muñoz, Jeremy Holden, Daniel Willcox, Nicholas J. Souter
Cambodia has extensive areas of wetland habitats similar to those in other countries where Fishing Cat populations have been documented, e.g. in Thailand by Cutter and Cutter (2009), and in India by Adhya et al. (2011). Cambodian mangrove forests have not suffered the same levels of exploitation as in surrounding countries (Marschke and Nong 2003). Whilst it is certain that the Fishing Cat numbers have declined of over much of its range, very few surveys targeting the cat specifically have been undertaken in Southeast Asia (Duckworth et al. 2014, Willcox et al. 2014). Thus, surveying potentially suitable habitat is a priority for Fishing Cat conservation. (Royan 2009, Rainey and Kong 2010, Duckworth et al. 2014).
To address the paucity of data on the Fishing Cat in Cambodia, we set out to survey four potential areas along the coast: Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS) and Botum Sakor National Park (BSNP) in Koh Kong province, Ream National Park (RNP) and Prey Nup district (PND) in Preah Sihanouk province. In addition, 16 camera-traps were placed within Preak Toal Biosphere Reserve (PTBR) in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) as part of their otter survey.
Firstly, to identify potential sites in the study areas we conducted informal interviews with knowledgeable local people who were likely to come into contact with Fishing Cats, such as fisherfolk, park rangers and community representatives. Then we employed local guides for site scoping along the edge of water bodies for possible Fishing Cat signs like tracks, scat and food remains.
Between January and May 2015 we deployed a total of 13 camera-traps at mangrove, forest and waterhole locations. Bushnell 8MP Trophy Cam HD Hybrid Trail cameras were programmed to take three consecutive photos followed by a 60-second video when the motion sensor was activated. Fresh fish was used as bait on first deployment to attract Fishing Cat.
Data were recovered from 11 cameras over 1,058 camera-trap days. One camera had been stolen and another failed to function for the whole period. We identified two Fishing Cat individuals in PKWS on the basis of distinct spot pattern on their backs. One is a male as its testicles are clearly visible. The other may be a female as no testicles are visible.
They visited the same camera-trapping station in mangrove habitat, both on four separate occasions. In RNP, we obtained one photo of a single Fishing Cat. No Fishing Cat records were obtained from BSNP, PND, or PTBR.
Cameras recorded another 11 wildlife species including IUCN listed: Endangered (EN) Hog Deer Axis porcinus, Vulnerable (VU) Smooth-Coated Otter Lutrogale perspicillata, Large-Spotted Civet Viverra megaspila and Sambar Deer Rusa unicolor as well as Least Concern (LC) Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis, Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, Small Asian Mongoose Herpestes javanicus, Red Muntjac Muntiacus muntjak, Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis and Asian Water Monitor Varanus salvator. Ten of these species were recorded in PKWS, five in Botum Sakor National Park, four in RNP and three in Prey Nup district, making PKWS the the area with the highest species richness and overall number of photo-captures.
Both Fishing Cats and Smooth-coated Otters were recorded repeatedly on a raised platform of land between a waterway (~10 m wide) and dense mangroves at PKWS. The Fishing Cats can be observed in video footage marking the ground, inspecting the other individual’s marks and defecating on the platform:
NB. The timestamp should read ‘2015’ not ‘2014.’
A group of 11 Smooth-coated Otters was recorded grooming and resting on the shaded platform on several consecutive days, approximately every two weeks, in the morning (8 – 9 AM), in the afternoon (1 – 2 PM) or both.
Interestingly, one of the videos showed the otters not hiding when a boat sped passes them. This photo was taken after the boat passed the group:
We interviewed 36 people in four villages, with results indicating that local people catch Fishing Cats opportunistically in illegal snare traps and eat the meat or sell it locally. Most respondents could not distinguish between Fishing Cat and Leopard Cat. Some villagers declared fear of the Fishing Cat because its local Khmer name ‘kla trey’ means ‘tiger fish’. Half of the respondents reported that they would do nothing if a Fishing Cat attacks their livestock or fishing net. Only 12.5% said that they would try to catch and kill the cat. However, shortly after the project finished we were informed that one Fishing Cat was killed in PKWS in retaliation for raiding a fishing net.
We present the first camera-trap records of Fishing Cats in Cambodia since the only previous record in 2003 (Rainey & Kong, 2010). This is also the first confirmed evidence of a Fishing Cat population in the south-western mangroves of Cambodia. Furthermore, individual identification of a male and possibly a female Fishing Cats indicates that there might be a breeding population at PKWS.
Sadly, we were also informed of the killing of a Fishing Cat in retaliation for raiding fishing nets at PWKS. Thus, PKWS might be one of the last remaining Fishing Cat strongholds in Southeast Asia. Urgent conservation actions are needed to ensure the persistence of this newly found population.
This project was generously funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. We thank the Minister and the Head of General Administration of Nature Conservation and Protection of the Ministry of Environment and the Department of Fisheries Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for permitting this research; Rob Overtoom for allowing access to Prey Nup; and local rangers and local authorities who assisted in the field. We also would like to thank Chi Tikea, GIS technical officer at Sustina Green Co. Ltd. for his assistance with GIS.
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