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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.