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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.