Field Trip with a Twist

We’ve  just returned from an extra special field trip – not only could all our team make it out to PKWS to check camera-traps and conduct workshops with communities, but we were joined by 2 volunteers:  seasoned tracker extraordinaire Abel Ferrer from Spain and Biology graduate Alba Maya all the way from Mexico!

They joined  our Community and Research teams to deliver training to PKWS  rangers on tracking using materials developed by Vanessa, supplemented by existing materials from Wildlife Alliance:

Excerpt from the Khmer translation of the tracking training document

Footprint identification document: Wildlife Alliance

Training PKWS rangers

This was just a small part of the 2 days’ training our team conducted, which opened with a plenary for rangers to share their views, experience  and perceptions of wildlife within their patrol area. This allowed for insight into rangers’ knowledge, passion and motivation for the job.

Day 1: Theory

We also screened photo and video captures from our camera-traps- to enable greater understanding of our scope of work- and invited comments from rangers.

The team facilitated interactive mapping of the area, with rangers contributing local names of streams, plus indicating where and how often they patrol, what they see at each location etc – these insights will inform future camera-trap placements.

Also on the agenda was discussion of a wildlife data collection system, including implementation of a user-friendly system to train on SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) in future.

By the end of the day, we had jointly identified key sites to visit on Day 2.

Day 2: Practice

A group of 12, we set out on boats to check out the sites and replace a camera-trap at a since discovered good site for Fishing Cat.

Vanessa demonstrates camera-trap operation

Along the way, we talked wildlife in the area and trained rangers in setting up camera-traps.

Sothearen explains camera trap set-up

Our hope is that this immersive engagement can form the basis of future collaboration and knowledge-sharing with PKWS rangers.

Most exciting of all, together we searched for a spot to deploy a new camera-trap.

The sign of a good day: new camera-trap set and ready to go!

This is just the first step – on upcoming field trips we aim to deepen this knowledge base, build capacity and contribute resources to make the work of rangers in the area more impactful and gather more detailed data about wildlife in the area- watch this space!

We would like to thank our donor Panthera for their continued support in this endeavour.

 

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Looking back on 2017

The Cambodian Fishing Cat Project is 1 year old! Our first year was eventful and exciting for the Fishing Cat team! We caught more Fishing Cats (and other species!) on camera, kept our ears to the ground for new data on threats, asked communities the right questions, braved the hardcore mangrove conditions and forged new relationships and initiatives to improve biodiversity.

Here’s our Round up of February 2017- February 2018:

Caught on camera

Since February 2017, we have deployed camera-traps at over 50 sites within PKWS and the adjoining Ramsar site Koh Kapik and Associated Islets, and Botum Sakor National Park.

Fishing Cat

In the five months from August 2017 to January 2018 alone, we obtained 17 more Fishing Cat records at one new area of Koh Kapik island and four other areas where they were previously recorded, on a total of seven cameras.

Some of the photos and videos were of sufficient quality to be added to individual identification analyses. The Fishing Cat Working Group agree that one of the photos possibly shows a young Fishing Cat, which supports our initial hypothesis that there is a breeding population in Koh Kapik island.

Juvenile Fishing Cat , as tentatively confirmed by The Fishing Cat Working Group

Perhaps even more excitingly, diurnal Fishing Cat activity was recorded at sites regularly visited by people, suggesting low levels of disturbance and threat within the mangroves. Check out these videos:

Fishing Cat early morning stroll

A Fishing Cat takes an early morning stroll past our cameras down to the water’s edge. Although the spot is popular with otters, macaques and civets, this is the first Fishing Cat capture since this camera was placed.

Fishing Cat early morning stroll Pt 2

After walking off-camera, this Fishing Cat completes its walk back towards the trees. Perhaps the cat paused to do a quick spot of fishing in those few intervening minutes?

Other species

Endangered Hairy-nosed Otter and Large-spotted Civet

One suspected record of Hairy-nosed Otter obtained in early 2017 was corroborated by the IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

We also obtained records of Large-spotted Civet.

We will continue to focus on these two species and include them in our training, awareness and threat prevention activities.

New Data on Threats to the Fishing Cat

Countrywide

Over the course of the year, we were made aware of potential threats:

  • Communities (including floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap Province and within Ream National Park, Sihanoukville) keeping “Fishing Cats” in cages, intended to attract tourists and/or sell for meat

  • Sale of wild meat, especially along major roads leaving capital Phnom Penh, which vendors described to customers as “Fishing Cat.”

In all cases, the cats transpired as the less rare Leopard Cat but such incidents may drive demand for Fishing Cat.

Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS)

Interviews with villagers early in 2017 suggested that Fishing Cats which had raided and damaged fishing nets had been targeted in retaliatory killings. Later interviews indicate a change for the better: villagers no longer perceive fishing cats as a threat to their livelihoods, and showed increased awareness of their importance after we provided information and materials.

It has come to our attention that harvest of crabs and shellfish might not be sustainable in the long-term and do not provide sufficient income for some households, in addition to scarce access to drinking water, which can drive illegal activities such as cutting trees and snaring.

To address this, we will strive to facilitate access to fresh water as well as direct, higher value chains for mangrove products, including crabs, shellfish, shrimp, squid and honey from rafter beekeeping while connecting initiatives to conservation agreements which set lower harvesting quotas and reduce illegal activities.

Community engagement

We continued learning from and listening to communities throughout the year but the highlight has to be sharing our findings with villagers! In January 2018, we held an exhibition of photos of Fishing Cats, as well as people, with those featured encouraged to take photos home, with the first to claim them receiving branded Project refillable water bottles as a gift.

Later we held a screening of camera-trap videos featuring our activities, and different species captured, with project facilitators sharing insights on their natural history. We also screened “Cambodia’s Forgotten Wildlife,” a film by Cambodian wildlife photographer Senglim SUY focused on raising awareness of the importance of Cambodian wildlife.

Responses were positive at both villages but the community team reports perceiving a more active interest and participation at Koh Kapik village than at Koh Sralao village.

Community officers had a one to one interview with PKWS director, which indicated his interest in the Project providing training to rangers on species identification and natural history, species monitoring and use of technologies such as SMART. He also detailed their budget constrains and suggested possibilities for financial support of their activities, which we will follow up on into 2018.

Mangrove adventures

Every field trip has its difficulties, but the salinity, humidity and ever-changing tides in mangroves proved to be tough on us and our cameras!

In June, we were fortunate to be joined by German filmmaker Ryan Anderson who tracked our movements through the mangroves with interest, and was a great sport when the boat he was in got stuck in a creek at low tide, taking the opportunity to admire beauty and stillness of the scene. We are delighted with the results of his hard work, which you can see on our YouTube channel.

Introducing the Kla Trey | Cambodian Fishing Cat Project

Meet team Kla Trey- we study the Fishing Cat, a wild cat species which faces “high risk of extinction throughout its range.” We push deep into remote areas of mangrove in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS), southwest Cambodia which are virtually unexplored by science to further survey what could be one of the last strongholds for Fishing Cat in Southeast Asia.

 

The day after Ryan left, one of our Research Assistants Sarady got a huge surprise: seeing a Fishing Cat in broad daylight! Seeing wild cats is always unexpected – the nocturnal and rare Fishing Cat is no exception! Sarady was quick on his feet and snapped this photo on his phone.

In October 2017, we were joined in the field by a TV crew from Channel News Asia who were visiting our new collaborators, 4 Rivers Floating Lodge for lifestyle series on Glamping, In Pursuit of Magic.