The “Fishing Tiger” in the Kingdom of Water

The Fishing Tiger in the Kingdom of Water

The following is an imagined history of Fishing Cat in Cambodia.

Once upon a time Cambodia’s vast wetlands – covering a large part of the country- would have been ideal habitat for the water-loving Fishing Cat, known locally as “Kla Trey” or Fishing Tiger. It’s easy to imagine the Cat stalking the flooded forest around the great Tonle Sap lake and floodplains of the mighty Mekong river- not to mention extensive mangroves up and down the coast where they roam to this day.

As magnificent as these watery landscapes are, they throw up challenges when it comes to conducting scientific surveys – alongside Cambodia’s checkered history- thus species such as Fishing Cat are under-surveyed and often mistaken for their smaller Leopard Cat cousins.

Kingdom of Water

Life in Cambodia has always been intimately connected with water. The Cambodia creation myth is led by the serpent deity or Naga, protector of water. The story goes that Soma, the daughter of the Naga Raja or Naga King married Kaundinya, a Brahmin, who came from India by sea, landing on the banks of the Mekong.

Naga statue

Naga statue

Following the ceremony, the Naga Raja swallowed the waters to reveal the land of Cambodia as a wedding gift to the couple. The Cambodian people sprang from their union and thus it is said that Cambodians are “Born of the Naga”.

The epic Khmer Empire once covered a huge territory, at the heart of which sat Angkor Thom, a mega city that stretched over 1,000 sq km- the most extensive urban complex of the preindustrial world.

The success of the Khmer Empire owes a lot to the Angkorians’ ingenious water management system, dating back to the 9th century. Water was collected from the Kulen hills, stored in massive reservoirs or “barays” connected by vast series of canals used for transportation, irrigation and flood control, with surplus water carried to the Tonle Sap lake to the south.

Fishing Cat set in stone

Despite this taming of the waters – which altered the natural hydrology of the region- Fishing Cats were at home along the waterways. This bas relief on the eastern wall of Bayon Temple leads us to believe that Fishing Cats were a common enough sight to be included in carvings of everyday life.

Fishing Cat on Bayon Temple

Fishing Cat on Bayon Temple

Although not confirmed as Fishing Cat by historians or archaeological experts, we believe it speaks for itself- a cat in the water with short legs, short tail, long body.. what other cat could it be?!

Despite its high sophistication, the hydraulic engineering at Angkor “was not enough to prevent its collapse in the face of extreme environmental conditions,” posits Mary Beth Day, a paleolimnologist at the University of Cambridge.

After the demise of the Empire in the 1400s, we can suppose that habitat in Cambodia may have sustained a healthy population of Fishing Cats for a number of centuries. Perhaps disturbances and conflicts occurred between Fishing Cat and humans living along the same water courses- both were competing for the same food after all! There are no written or visual records of Fishing Cat from the era which followed- to our knowledge.

19th century: Changing habits, changing habitats

More systematic agricultural conversion of wetlands and increase in human population, together with trophy hunting throughout Indochina likely threatened Fishing Cat populations in Cambodia in modern times.

Henri de Monestrol's 1952 book, Chasses et Faune D’Indochine (Hunting and Wildlife of Indochina)

From Henri de Monestrol’s 1952 book, Chasses et Faune D’Indochine (Hunting and Wildlife of Indochina)

20th century: going hungry; going hunting

From the 1960s onwards, hardship and hunger in Cambodia’s Vietnam War and Khmer Rouge era likely increased hunting pressure on Fishing Cats as more people turned to forest resources.

Documentary Portrait Travel Human People Cambodia

21st century

Today, Cambodia is home to one of the largest and diverse freshwater fisheries in the world (So & Touch 2011); the mighty Tonle Sap lake. The flooded forest and freshwater mangroves around the Lake are ideal habitat for Fishing Cats- not to mention the abundant prey! A number of small-scale studies have been conducted but none has yielded evidence of Fishing Cat presence around the Tonle Sap.

Human population density is high in certain areas, and there is considerable pressure upon Tonle Sap fisheries. Cambodia’s wetlands cover over 30% of the country’s land area, with some putting estimates of the Cambodian population who work on seasonally inundated land as high as 80% (WWT).

Making history

In contemporary times, there was only one camera-trap record of Fishing Cat in Cambodia from 2003 (Rainey & Kong, 2010).

Single camera-trap record of Fishing Cat in Cambodia from  2003 (Rainey & Kong, 2010).

That changed in 2015 when the first targeted survey photographed Fishing Cats at two sites. This was a historic discovery which provided much needed evidence that Fishing Cat were present in the country. 

Fishing cat found in Cambodia

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

This is where the Kla Trey | Cambodian Fishing Cat Project comes in!

The Project is born!

Of the two sites where Fishing Cat presence was recorded, Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS) was selected as the primary site on which to focus research and conservation efforts.

We collaborate with environmental NGOs active in the area, including BirdLife, Naturelife, Conservation International and Flora & Flauna International. Working on the ground to protect the Cardamom Rainforest Landscape are Wildllife Alliance, with whom we share data, particularly on sightings and seizure of illegally held wildlife, which is often transferred to their rescue centre Phnom Tamao for rehabilitation and possible release.

In 2016, Wildlife Alliance’s mobile environmental education unit, Kouprey Express delivered workshops to PKWS communities in partnership with the Cambodian Fishing Cat Project.

These relations mean that if evidence of Fishing Cats elsewhere in Cambodia comes to light, we are the first to know.

Fishing Cats under threat

Sadly, we were notified of the killing of a Fishing Cat in retaliation for raiding fishing nets within PWKS shortly after the 2015 CBC survey.

That’s why we conduct ongoing Natural Resource Management questionnaires; raising awareness of wildlife populations, and striving to enable livelihood diversification within fishing communities, together with all-important training of local wildlife rangers in the use of ecological and law enforcement monitoring technology, SMART.

The search for Fishing Cat continues!

We don’t have evidence of Fishing Cat outside of PKWS and Ream National Park (the secondary site where presence was detected in the CBC 2015 survey) yet – but we won’t rule out the possibility of Fishing Cat persisting elsewhere in Cambodia.

Fishing Cat still prowl PKWS

In February 2017, supported by Panthera, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and Denver Zoo, we placed 26 camera-traps in key mangrove habitat within PKWS.

Now we want to share the exciting results of our survey so far:  captures confirm an extant population in PKWS!

“This is a first glimpse of the fishing cat population in PKWS,” says our Principal Investigator Vanessa Herranz Muñoz, “but our preliminary findings are very promising.”

Fishing Cats caught on camera include an individual at a new site (above) negotiating aerial mangrove roots:

Second Fishing Cat negotiating mangrove roots in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary

This camera-trap video of a Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) was captured at a new site in the mangroves of Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, Koh Kong, south-west Cambodia. The individual cannot be identified from current captures but surveying for Fishing Cat in the area is ongoing.

and the female identified in 2015 at her old haunt (below), a raised platform next to a stream which provides much-needed dry land for marking.

Cameras record her doing just this, part of a “fascinating display of the intimate life of fishing cats in the wild.” See video below:

Female Fishing Cat licking ground in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary

This camera-trap video shows a female Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) licking the ground on a small raised “beach” in the mangroves of Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, Koh Kong, south-west Cambodia.

Female Fishing Cat preparing to mark in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (1 of2)

This camera-trap video (1 of 2) shows a female Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) preparing to mark on a small raised “beach” in the mangroves of Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, Koh Kong, south-west Cambodia.

Female Fishing Cat marking in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (2 of 2)

This camera-trap video shows a female Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) marking on a small raised “beach” in the mangroves of Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, Koh Kong, south-west Cambodia.

“The recapture of the female fishing cat after two years is good news,” says Dr Jan F Kamler, Southeast Asia Leopard Program Coordinator for Panthera, “as it indicates snaring could not have been high in that area.”


Our threat assessment, conducted with local communities, bears this out. Back in 2015, killings of fishing cats in PKWS in retaliation for damaging fishers’ nets was identified as a major conservation challenge, but the cats may no longer be viewed as a threat to livelihoods notes Community Officer Sothearen Thi: “People have no will to hunt or kill fishing cats because there is no perceived conflict.” What’s more, villagers welcomed measures to mitigate future human-fishing cat conflict. Vanessa sees this as a very positive sign and is hopeful that “together we can ensure that fishing cats persist in the Cambodian mangroves.” For other species photo captures see here.

Local community members show off the Fishing Cat poster which they will keep at the community for display


Protecting what’s precious

Globally, the feline faces a multitude of threats, from habitat destruction to active persecution, which have led to a steep decline in its numbers- suspected to be 30% or more over the last 15 years- culminating in the declaration in the latest IUCN Redlist assessment that the fishing cat “faces a high risk of extinction throughout its range.” Nowhere is that risk more acute than in Southeast Asia where it is believed to be amongst the most vulnerable of the small and medium sized cats.

Research on the species was initiated only in 2009 but already it is believed extinct in Vietnam with no confirmed records in Laos PDR and scarce information about the species in Java, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.

Fishing Cat range adapted from IUCN Redlist 2016 assessment

Our results follow closely on the heels of sad news from Java: a recent extensive survey targeting Fishing Cat yielded no records. “Nevertheless, fishing cats still exist across a wide range,” Dr Frédéric Launay, Director-General of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (MbZ) told Cat Watch, “and our focus should be on assessing population health and reducing threats elsewhere.”

In light of this, just such an assessment yielding evidence of an extant population can only be a good thing. On the other hand, our findings indicate that individuals in PKWS may be restricted to the largest islet of the protected area. Could this be another remnant population such as those in Central and South Thailand, highly localized and restricted to a small area? Only further surveying will tell.

So far as suitable (and safe) habitat in Cambodia goes, the population inhabits a protected area whose zoning- approved in 2011- is seen as an important pilot for the rest of the country.

This red marker indicates core zone

What’s more, 60% of PKWS falls within the Koh Kapik and Associated Islets Ramsar Site– where the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper was recently recorded– which should afford the sanctuary additional protection.

PKWS population in the clear?

As leader of the 2015 survey and Project Research Consultant Ret Thaung notes, Fishing Cat numbers have declined dramatically as Asian wetland habitats rapidly disappear or are modified by human activity. Since the 1970s, industrial shrimp farms have accounted for a large part of this habitat loss in Southeast Asia. In PKWS, however, shrimp farming fizzled out in the early 2000s- today it is virtually absent, and much of the mangrove destroyed has been restored.

One of few small-scale fish farms in PKWS

Furthermore, communities report that hunting is infrequent in the area, thus Fishing Cat in PKWS may be relatively safe from the snaring crisis which is sweeping Asian forests, according to a group of scientists (including Wildlife Alliance director of science and global development Dr Thomas Gray) writing recently in Science. Dr Jan F Kamler notes that snares are “a major issue for most wildlife in Cambodia and other areas of Southeast Asia,” which, as the authors acknowledge, kill and maim indiscriminately “any individual that encounters them.”

This being the case, Fishing Cat are also vulnerable to snaring, infrequent as it might be in the area – one man informed us that a Fishing Cat was killed in a snare set for Water Monitor in late 2016 and supplied a photograph:

As in 2015, communities are highly dependent upon fisheries in PKWS but “think they don’t use illegal methods for fishing activities,” Sothearan noted following interviews with villagers.

In order to further reduce threats to Fishing Cats, Kla Trey is collaborating with the leading organization for direct protection of threatened habitat and species in the country, Wildlife Alliance. Their mobile environmental education unit conducted awareness raising workshops alongside Kla Trey staff.

After collaborating in PKWS, thanks to Wildlife Alliance, awareness to protect fishing cats will reach communities throughout Cambodia!

Posted by Cambodian Fishing Cat Project on Friday, 24 March 2017


We will work together closely to promote the “importance of coastal zone conservation in the Cardamom Landscape – something for which the Fishing Cat is an important flagship,” Wildlife Alliance director of science and global development Dr Thomas Gray told local press in January. Herranz Muñoz has since joined him in neighboring Botum Sakor National Park to deliver training to wildlife rangers on camera-trapping targeting Fishing Cats as part of continuing research on their distribution within the Cardamom Landscape.

Additionally, we will continue to work with local authorities, the IUCN and others to build capacity and enhance local knowledge of protected area management, facilitating alternative sustainable livelihood options for PKWS communities where possible.

Fishing Cat status in Southeast Asia

While it’s true that our results, including those from our threat assessment, allay fears about the population in PKWS, globally Fishing Cat status remains grave. It is important to note that the change in its IUCN Redlist status from Endangered in 2010 to Vulnerable in 2016 is a “non-genuine change reflecting the very recent increase in information quality; it does not indicate an improved conservation status for the species since the last assessment,” in the view of the assessors, including our Principal Investigator Vanessa.

We remain hopeful however that forthcoming surveys in Myanmar, mounted by world recognized small cat expert and fellow Fishing Cat Working Group member Dr Jim Sanderson in concert with local conservationists, reveal populations there.

The Future for Fishing Cats in PKWS

Suffice to say, we have considerable work ahead of us to further assess and survey suitable habitat within PKWS, which offers one of the most formidable landscapes in Cambodia in addition to some of the largest and densest mangrove forests in Southeast Asia.

360º panorama around camera-trap station to inform habitat assessment

Much of this forest is intact however, and the fact that mangroves are notoriously inaccessible, thus consistently under-surveyed, cannot be overstated – recent research suggests that they provide an important refuge for threatened species, especially primates and felids.

We cannot help but agree with fellow Fishing Cat Working Group member Sri Lankan researcher Anya Ratnayaka that the Fishing Cat is the “most charismatic focal species to be found [in the world’s] wetlands.” Our Project to preserve and protect them in the mangroves of Cambodia is just beginning.



Our sincere thanks to the following for making these preliminary results possible!

The Ministry of Environment (MOE) of the Royal Government of Cambodia for granting us permission to conduct research in PKWS.

Koh Kapik Commune chief Khun Vanna

Koh Srolao Community Chief Tuy Vaeng

MOE rangers Mr Tan Menghour and Mr Bros

Boat drivers Mr Rath and Mr Veng

The Wildlife Alliance Kouprey Express team for their superb workshops with communities raising awareness of multiple aspects of wildlife in Cambodia, especially law & protection, welfare and their importance within the ecosystem as a whole.

Emilio Virgós (carnivore specialist at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos Madrid, Spain), PhD Supervisor to our Principal Investigator Vanessa Herranz Muñoz- for kindly donating White Flash cameras x6 and arranging for their transport to Cambodia from Spain.

Jeremy Holden, photographer and field biologist whose advice on placing camera-traps in the 2015 CBC Fishing Cat survey continues to inform activities in the field.

In Praise of Mangroves

Today is World Wetlands Day, which commemorates the day in 1971 that the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar (hence the List of Wetlands of International Importance or Ramsar sites), which to this day remains the only international treaty devoted to a single ecosystem type. Through the Ramsar Convention, over 476,000 acres of wetland have been protected.1 Since 1997, February 2 has been devoted to raising awareness of the importance of wetlands.

As all the wetlands at our research site, Peam Krasoap Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS) are coastal mangroves, we’re focusing on their importance and role in the wider biome to mark the day.

Mangroves: an overview

“The value of mangroves has been hugely overlooked. Mangroves are incredibly valuable, left standing,” the words of senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy and lead author of the UNEP commissioned World Atlas of Mangroves, Mark Spalding.

As Earth Watch observes: “the stilt-like mangrove is an unlikely superhero.” But as we shall see, mangroves have a vital role to play in maintaining coastal ecological health,2 as well as in reduction of disaster risk3, which is the theme of World Wetlands Day 2017 (WWD17). “WWD17 will focus on how wetlands can be protected, restored, and managed effectively to help absorb the shocks of natural disasters,”4 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports. This follows a UN Water estimate that 90% of all natural hazards are water-related.5

This animation from the Mangrove Action Project illustrates the growing importance of mangroves to the health of the planet:

The Mangrove Action Project – Mangrove Forest Restoration & Conservation

The animation illustrates the growing importance of mangroves to the health of the planet; storing in some cases 5x more carbon than inland rainforests, being an integral link between land and ocean, adapting to sea level rise, protecting and producing for coastal communities, and helping to mitigate climate change.

What’s a Mangrove?

Mangroves are salt-water tolerant shrubs and trees that grow in shallow, tropical coastal waters,” states one official World Wetlands Day document.

‘Mangrove’ can refer to the mangrove habitat, just as the term ‘rainforest’ is a designation based on plant types. The habitat may also be called a ‘tidal forest’ or a ‘mangrove forest’.6

Go inside a mangrove forest with this video from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, a “non-profit environmental science organization and ocean research foundation established to help preserve, protect and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources through researcheducation, and outreach.”

Inside the Mangrove Forest

Welcome to the mangrove forest, where the daily rhythm of the tides sets the pace. These coastal wetlands create a sanctuary for an extraordinary range of creatures, 3/4 of all tropical fish are born here and countless reptiles and birds call this ecosystem home.

Where are mangroves found?

Forming dense forests, they are found along many tropical and subtropical coasts, from South America to Asia, from Africa to New Zealand, in 123 countries and territories in total, with an estimated cover of over 150,000km² globally.7

Global mangrove distribution map taken from Mangrove Watch Ltd. (2013)

Mangrove species are divided into two global hemispheres: the Atlantic East Pacific (AEP) covering west Africa and the Americas, and the Indo West Pacific (IWP), which covers east Africa and the Asia-Pacific, which contains the most diverse mangrove flora.8

Cambodia’s mangroves are concentrated in the Indo-Malesia subregion of the IWP.

What makes mangroves special?

Amongst the planet’s most complex ecosystems, mangrove forests “flourish where most plants perish”, growing in conditions of searing heat, low-oxygen soils and frequent saltwater inundation.9

The loss of natural wetland area (estimated to be in excess of 64% since 190010) has resulted in a loss of many of the benefits associated with wetlands (see below). Estimates of the value of these lost services stand at around $7.2 trillion per year for tidal marshes and mangroves.11

Despite their priceless biodiversity and valuable ecosystem services, mangroves are in rapid decline, threatened with drainage for agriculture, degradation, pollution, and destruction at an alarming pace,” according to a World Wetlands Day media release by the IUCN.

For an infographic on the multiple values of mangroves see here.

Why are mangroves important?

See a short summary video from the Mangrove Action Project below:

Importance of Mangrove Forests

Read more here – More people are realizing the importance of mangrove forests, yet these habitats are still disappearing at an astonishing rate.


Wetlands are some of the most productive habitats on the planet, which often support high densities of animals, including mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates.12

The nutrients available from mangrove leaves and roots nourish plankton, algae, fish and shellfish, with mangrove forests’ stilt and prop root systems acting as nurseries.

Mangroves at Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary where we work are no exception (see a brief video of PKWS here).

Water Filtration and Purification

The UNEP’s Coastal Ecosystem-Based Adaptation page for Mangrove Conservation and Restoration lists that, amongst additional benefits for biodiversity which may result from mangrove conservation and restoration, “mangroves filter and trap sediment from run-off and river water before it reaches adjacent ecosystems, reducing the turbidity of the water and allowing essential light to reach ecosystems.” Concluding that, “mangroves therefore contribute to the survival of these adjacent ecosystems and the species they support.”13 The World Atlas of Mangroves estimates that mangrove related species in Southeast Asia support 30% of fish catch, rising to almost 100% for shrimp catch.14

Mangroves filter catchment runoff, prompting some to dub them the “kidneys” of the coast. This filtration helps to reduce shoreline erosion. For a brief explanation of how mangroves filter coastal water, see this video below:

Into the Mangrove Forest | UnderH2O | PBS Digital Studios

The mangrove forest is a place of amazement both above and below the waterline. Mangroves have the unique ability to live in salt water, and they use their highly specialized roots to filter salt, inhale oxygen, and extract nutrients from an environment that other trees can not tolerate.

Urban centres near mangroves benefit from this in practical ways; according to the WWF, some cities have made savings of $3-8 billion in new wastewater treatment plants by purchasing and preserving $1.5 billion in wetlands around reservoirs.

Organizations such as the Biomimicry Institute, which “empowers people to create nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet” are supporting efforts to research, recreate and harness mangrove-like technology to transform salty water into potable water. For more on biomimicry of mangroves’ filtration, see our technology section here.

Reduction of disaster risk (for a summary see here)

Mangrove roots bind the shoreline, and prevent coastal erosion.15 Forests act as bulwarks to storm winds and incoming waves16 17 associated with extreme weather events, the frequency of which is expected to increase due to human-induced climate change.

A 2014 review of all existing research into the role of mangroves in coastal protection described how a 100 metre wide belt of mangrove can reduce wave heights by 13-66%, and up to 100% where mangroves reach 500 metres or more in width.18

According to the Ramsar Convention, Each kilometer of mangrove forest can reduce a storm surge by 50cm, blunting the impact of cyclones/hurricanes and tsunamis,” Healthy wetlands can absorb some of the shock caused by extreme weather events, cushioning the damage in local communities. Evidence points to mangroves having mitigated the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by reducing the destructive energy of water which flowed inland.19

The island town of Silonay in the Philippines provides an even more dramatic example. In 2009, the town was identified by scientists from Conservation International as among the areas most vulnerable to climate change impacts within the Verde Island passage.20 “But the scientists also explained that the town’s residents also had an unprecedented opportunity: to protect its serendipitous mangroves to help protect themselves.”

Silonay Mangrove Conservation Area Overflight

Silonay, situated in the eastern portion of Calapan, has been losing its mangrove forest due to rampant cutting of trees by residents to sell for firewood making it highly vulnerable to storm surges. With its natural protective barrier diminished, more than 100 houses were wiped out during a past typhoon.

They were proved right: when Typhoon Haiyan (the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall anywhere in the world) passed over Silonay in 2013, the mangroves kept Haiyan’s waves at bay; the town didn’t flood, unlike elsewhere in the Philipines where Haiyan devastated communities, claiming 6,000 lives, and displacing 4 million people.21

The short documentary below shows the island of Koh Klang in the Krabi river estuary in Southern Thailand, where mangroves have depleted greatly in the last 50 years, how people have been affected, and  what is being done to restore these habitats to secure a more sustainable future.

Mangroves : Reducing the Risk of Disaster through Nature-Based Solutions

The coastal mangrove forest is the buffer between land and sea, playing the critical role of protecting the land and coastal communities from storms, wind and erosion. The short documentary takes us to an island in Southern Thailand illustrating how mangroves have depleted greatly in the last 50 years, how people have been affected, and shows what is being done to restore these habitats to secure a more sustainable future.

There is also evidence that mangroves support soil stabilization and sediment capture, and further, that they are able to build up soil levels vertically (accrete) through formation of layers of peat.22

This in turn means that under the right conditions, mangroves may keep up with sea level rise.23 Additional evidence has found that mangroves act as a refuge for corals from ocean acidification.24

Absorbing excess water from floods, dispersing tidal surges associated with these events and storing water during droughts,25 mangroves can help strengthen people and nature’s resilience to disaster impacts.26

To see how mangroves can  contribute to risk reduction in different settings see here.

Climate change

Mangroves’ ability to trap organic sediment and thus store carbon explains why mangroves are increasingly referred to as ‘blue carbon’ sinks. Moreover, as mangroves age, they store proportionally more carbon in their biomass because of higher productivity.30 Where data is available, they have been shown to capture up to six times more carbon per hectare than undisturbed rainforests.31

Mangrove forests are the ultimate illustration of why humans need nature,” says Mark Spalding, lead author of the World Atlas of Mangroves and senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy. He continues that the importance of mangroves’ “natural coastal defenses… will only grow as sea level rise becomes a reality around the world.”32

Threats to Mangroves

Mangroves and tidal saltmarshes are amongst the most endangered marine wetland habitats worldwide.” That’s according to Mangrove Watch, a monitoring program which partners mangrove scientists and community participants the world over. These wetlands are disappearing at up to 2% a year on average,33 with destruction occurring up to four times faster than within the world’s land-based forests, according to the World Atlas of Mangroves report. Consequently, there has been a dramatic loss of ecosystem services from mangroves with vast losses in area and function as remnant patches progressively deteriorate.34

Mangroves in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS)


Koh Kapik and Associated Islets, (KKAI) is made up of alluvial islands immediately off the mainland of Koh Kong province.

Taken from Ramsar Sites Information Service document

Spanning a total of 12,000ha, of which 60% is located within PKWS (see below), the area was designated as a Ramsar site in mid-1999.

The area is characterized by “substantial tracts of intact mangrove forest”, much of it inundated during the spring tides only. The relatively-intact mangroves mean that the area contributes significantly in the stabilization of the coast against coastal erosion from storm and tidal bore, and furthermore the mangroves are said to have assumed increased importance in providing nursery and feeding grounds for various invertebrate species since the substantial removal of mangrove forests in nearby Thailand.35


The inflow from two major rivers, Prek Koh Pao in the North, and Prek Khlang Yai/Stung Kep in the South is essential for maintenance of the site’s brackish-water character, which supports an assemblage of brackish-water plankton and fish populations, the food base for the majority of birds which use the site. The estuary-mangrove system plays a critical role as a nursery ground and nutrient resort for the adjacent coastal fish populations, supporting very valuable fisheries which provide the main income for coastal fishermen communities.36

Species in PKWS mangroves


Criteria applied to the designation of KKAI as a Ramsar site included its special value to endemic plant or animal species.


Of the eight IUCN red-listed mammal species identified by locals in 2009 village surveys, (in An Dara et al 2009), three were recorded within PKWS during the brief 2015 CBC Fishing Cat survey, in addition to: Hog Deer, Asian Water Monitor, Leopard Cat, Large-Spotted Civet, Asian Mongoose, Smooth-Coated Otters and of course, Fishing Cat!37

The following significant birds species have been recorded in Koh Kapik and Associated Islets : Nordmann’s or Spotted Greenshank, Green Peafowl, both Endangered, and Sarus Crane, now listed Vulnerable.


Of over 50 mangrove species found in Asia, 37 species are present in Cambodia. PWKS represents a mangrove ecosystem of: Brownlowia tersa, Sonneratia ovata, which are both Near Threatened; Rhizophora stylosa, Rhizophora mucronata, Rhizophora apiculata, all Least Concern, backed by Lumnitzera littorea, Lumnitzera racemosa, both Least Concern and Phoenix paludosa, (Mangrove Date Palm), which is Near Threatened. The current population trends of all these species are decreasing across their geographic range.

Within PKWS, local Cambodian coral experts have identified 56 different types of hard and soft corals38 amongst the 600 hectares around Koh Kong province.

The below video explains the symbiotic relationship between coral reefs and coastal mangroves:

Mangrove management

As World Atlas of Mangroves author Mark Spalding points out, mangroves can be restored.39 Although mangrove management requires a degree of specialised knowledge and equipment, as the UNEP’s page on Coastal Ecosystem-Based Adaptation states,“many aspects of conservation and restoration can be implemented at the community level40, for example in re-planting activities.”

In the below video Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology at the University of Hull, UK, Dr Magnus Johnson explains how mangrove seedlings naturally establish themselves:

Mangrove Lecture

Video Lecture pilot recorded in a Mangrove swamp on the island of Hoga, Indonesia during the Scarborough Campus Expedition. Presented by Scarborough Campus Lecturer Dr Magnus Johnson.

“Why are mangroves so important? How are they under threat? And what can we do to help protect them? This short video  sets out to answer those questions, using photographs from all around the tropics, encouraging participation and help spread awareness of the mangrove forest.” – Mangrove Action Project

The national World Wetlands Day event in 2013 included the planting of over 200 kg of grass and more than 500 mangrove seedlings in PKWS and Peam Krasop beach where erosion was reported.

The event drew in 650 participants, including national and provincial government ministers, representatives from the Ministry of Environment and IUCN Cambodia office, University students from Phnom Penh, local students from nearby primary and secondary schools and members of communities.

Kong Kim Sreng (whose 2003 survey yielded the only camera-trap photo of a Fishing Cat in Cambodia previous to the 2015 CBC Fishing Cat survey), then Senior Programme coordinator for IUCN Cambodia, now Director of Terrestrial Protected Area Conservation at the Ministry of Environment, reiterated the importance of wetlands and water, speaking of water as analogous to the body’s blood and wetlands to blood vessels.41

International Organisations working to restore mangroves

The Mangrove Action Project partners with “mangrove forest communities, grassroots NGOs, researchers, and local governments to conserve and restore mangrove forests and related coastal ecosystems, while promoting community-based sustainable management of coastal resources.” See a summary of their activities here and a video about their award winning Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR) model below:

Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration

Our award winning Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR) model focuses on understanding the site and correcting the problems that caused the mangrove loss in the first place ensuring a more successful restoration. This well-considered model directly engages local community participation, resulting in a successful, cost effective long-term protection of the restored sites.

For more on mangrove recovery and restoration see here.

Mangroves and the Cambodian Fishing Cat Project

The success of community-led vegetation planting depends on local commitment; awareness-raising campaigns may assist in promoting local efforts to protect mangroves.42 In time, it’s likely that the Project’s activities will include habitat restoration and re-wilding, which we hope may instill a sense of community ownership and responsibility for natural resource management.

Want to help?

Aside from work on the ground, or supporting organisations which work to protect mangroves, one of the single most important things you can do to help mangroves as an individual is by being an ecologically responsible consumer: choose your seafood wisely. Although no longer widely practiced in PKWS, elsewhere in the world huge tracts of mangrove forest have been lost to shrimp aquaculture. This video from the Mangrove Action Project explains:

Question Your Shrimp

For more information please visit – or The Question Your Shrimp campaign is currently working to gather support from restaurants, chefs, retailers, & consumers who are pledging not to serve or buy unhealthy imported shrimp. By raising awareness & changing consumer demand in the U.S.

In this video people in southern Thailand’s Trang Province explain why they won’t raise shrimp, but will instead continue to conserve their mangroves as they have done since 1984.

You can help the cause of Fishing Cats and their mangrove habitat in Cambodia by donating to the Project here.


Or donate to the cause of other species in the mangroves, for example, consider making a donation to our newest partner, Wildlife Alliance, especially to their campaign to provide an enrichment waterfall within their Otter enclosure at their wildlife rescue centre, Phnom Tamao.

They currently have a lively family of Smooth-coated Otters and Pursat, the only Hairy-nosed Otter in captivity in the world.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

To lighten up your Friday, here is Pursat the Hairy-nosed Otter fetching his dinner and checking out his new rope toy! He is likely the only one in captivity in the world and it is wonderful to watch his movement in the water!

If suitable habitat is found with sufficient protections, these otters may one day be released back into the wild.

Stay tuned for forthcoming blogs about Wildlife Alliance and all the superb work that they do.


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Asiatic Golden Cat in the Cardamoms


Asiatic Golden Cat by Karen Stout (CC by SA 2.0)

We were thrilled to see recent camera-trap captures from Wildlife Alliance of an Asiatic Golden Cat in a remote corner of the Cardamom mountains. One of Cambodia’s seven wild cat species and listed as Near-threatened, these captures show a Golden Cat individual living in its natural habitat.

Why is the Golden Cat at risk?

The species is threatened by habitat loss and poaching; in October 2014, Wildlife Alliance confiscated two pelts which were destined for the international market from a trader in Phnom Penh. Read more about the Asiatic Golden Cat here.

Wildlife Alliance in the Cardamoms

One of several environmental NGOs active in the Cardamoms landscape, Wildlife Alliance strives to ensure effective law enforcement to protect biodiversity of the southern Cardamoms where it works.

Major success stories include maintaining 2 million acres of critical wildlife corridor, and providing habitat protection for 26 at-risk species, including Asian elephants. They recently celebrated a decade of zero elephant poaching in the Cardamoms.

Good neighbours to have

We feel extremely fortunate to have such effective and fervent champions of biodiversity working in the area neighbouring PKWS. We look forward to collaborating with Wildlife Alliance on small cat conservation in future.

More about Wildlife Alliance

Since their arrival in the country back in 2000, Wildlife Alliance have time and time again proven to be a formidable force in the struggle against habitat destruction, illegal hunting and the wildlife trade in Cambodia.

Their Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) have rescued over 60,000 live animals and arrested 3,100 traffickers over the last decade, winning them the United Nations award for best wildlife law enforcement in Asia in 2015.