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.”

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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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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For the Wildlife Defenders

3 March is UN World Wildlife Day, dedicated to the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This year’s theme is “Listen to the Young Voices”- stay tuned for forthcoming news from community engagement workshops conducted as part of our first Project field trip- including from Cambodia’s only mobile environmental education unitcoming soon!

Cambodia is located within the of Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, which boosts high levels of fauna and flora endemism, but limited remaining natural habitat; ranked among the top 10 for irreplaceability and top five for threat by the IUCN.

We would therefore like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those committed to defending wildlife in Cambodia, particularly those on the ground working at the forefront of direct protection.

With rapidly rising temperatures, peak tourist season in Cambodia is drawing to a close. Over the last months, we’ve received a few alerts from concerned tourists who report seeing ‘wild cats’ kept in cages -which locals claimed were Fishing Cats- primarily at floating villages around the Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap. 

Keeping/exhibiting wild species is not uncommon in rural areas, especially those which receive tourists but is unlawful in Cambodia (see below)

Long-tailed Macaque chained at Mondulkiri Sanctuary, visited by Project staff in August 2016

Where possible, we recommend not supporting sites and/or individuals which keep wild species captive, (with the exception of wildlife rescue centres/sanctuaries such as Phnom Tamao, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) and the Elephant Valley Project).

See guidance below on what to do should you find yourself in this situation.

We extend our sincere thanks to all those who have sought out the Project to pass on such information- the Fishing Cat is under-studied in the country so such reports may enable us to form more accurate pictures of their range. And after all, it was first-hand sightings from locals which guided our placement of camera-traps in the 2015 CBC survey and enabled us to document the new population in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary!

All captive wildcats from these reports have since been identified as Leopard Cats, which look similar to Fishing Cats and are often mistaken for them. (Watch this space for our forthcoming blog ‘Fishing Cat or Leopard Cat?’)

Thanks to reports…

4 Leopard Cat kittens were rescued and are now in safe hands at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre:

1 kitten from a floating village on the Tonle Sap lake:

 

 

and 3 more from Kampong Speu province, facilitated in part by our own Community Officer, Sothearen Thi who raised the alarm with us and followed up by calling on just the people for the job (see below).

See this video about their progress:

The Suwanna Sunday Show: #4 Phnom Tamao… – Suwanna Gauntlett, Wildlife Alliance

The Suwanna Sunday Show: #4 Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center My morning at our baby nursery: tender moments with Lili , Lola , Tic Tic and Tom Tom, all rescued from the hands of traffickers by Wildlife Alliance. www.wildlifealliance.org #wildlifealliance #phnomtamao #wildlife #hope #animalfriends

They join Leopard Cats which were rescued as kittens and re-located to Phnom Tamao in 2016 & 2015:

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

This is one of two Leopard cat kittens that were rescued from the pet trade earlier in September of this year. It is not only illegal to have a Leopard cat as a pet in Cambodia, but they also become a little “wild” as they grow up!

The right side of the Law

Under Cambodian law, Catching, trapping, poaching, poisoning, collecting eggs, and offsprings of wildlife”, is strictly prohibited and punishable by fines of up to $250,000 (Protected Area Law 2008 Article 58 (see also Articles 43, 59, 60, 61).

Who you gonna call?!

Following a sighting, inform Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) on:

+855 (0)12500094 or via their Facebook page as soon as possible with details of:

  • the exact location (NB. the name of the village rather than the point of departure if possible);
  • date;
  • description of the animal (preferably with photos to enable identification)

The WRRT exist to detect wildlife crime and take action, including confiscating and re-locating wildlife to  Phnom Tamao for rehabilitation and possible re-introduction into the wild from dedicated release stations, including one in the Cardamoms near Koh Kong.

See the heartwarming release of bonded pairs of Endangered Pileated Gibbons here.

Only in a handful of cases where animals have sustained serious injury or sufficiently protected area is lacking do animals remain at Phnom Tamao where they receive the best possible care. For a video overview of the Center see here.

Should I stay or should I go?

We are beginning work on a guide to ethical, ecological tourist sites and attractions around Cambodia to better inform decision making, but in the meantime the South China Morning Post listing, “Six of the best wildlife-spotting locations in South and Southeast Asia“, in which Cambodia features twice, is a good place to start. NB. For visits to the Prek Toal Bird Reserve, we recommend visiting with the Sam Veasna Center, see here for more.

How can I help?

When it comes to choosing your holiday destination wisely, see our above recommendations, with more coming soon in our forthcoming guide.

If you see or hear about Fishing Cat (‘Kla Trey’ in Khmer), please tell us after alerting the WRRT where appropriate. Such reports better inform our conservation work and help wildcats find their way back to the forest.

Male Fishing Cat captured by camera-trap in PKWS sniffing mark(s)

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Asiatic Golden Cat in the Cardamoms

Video

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.

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