Conservation of a newly recorded population of Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) at Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, southwest Cambodia.
Categorised as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) had only been recorded through camera-trapping once in Cambodia in 2003.
Fishing Cats have declined sharply across Southeast Asia where, according to the Fishing Cat Working Group, populations are severely understudied and could be approaching extinction. In 2015, our team from the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC – a capacity building initiative from Flora and Fauna International and the Royal University of Phnom Penh) recorded Fishing Cats at two sites with no previous records in southwest Cambodia: Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS) and Ream National Park (RNP). We photo-captured two individuals at PKWS, one of the largest mangrove areas in Southeast Asia. The CBC were also informed of the killing of a Fishing Cat at PKWS soon after the study was completed in retaliation for raiding fishing nets.
This project seeks to estimate population abundance and status in PKWS, assess threats and work with all the relevant stakeholders to develop conservation measures to protect this newly found Fishing Cat population.
At the last meeting of the Fishing Cat Working Group it became apparent that the Southeast Asian population is very poorly understood, even regarding its distribution (Duckworth 2016). One of the objectives of the Fishing Cat Conservation Strategy developed at the meeting is “to close information gaps on conservation status”. The project will undertake several of the activities described in the Strategy and help achieve this objective for the Cambodian population.
Fishing Cats are declining in Thailand and there is no confirmation of their presence in Vietnam and Lao (Johnsingh and Nguyen 1995; Cutter 2009; Duckworth et al. 2010). In Cambodia, they had been previously photo-captured only once in 2003 at Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary (Rainey and Kong 2010). Other records of the species come from captive animals, most of them confiscated (Duckworth et al. 2005), although the hunting of Fishing Cats is prohibited in Cambodia. Seized animals have been recovered from the Tonle Sap floodplain (1999-2002) and from a village close to Botum Sakor National Park in southwest Cambodia in 2008 (Royan 2009). Fishing Cats were believed to have been hunted for food by local villagers in the Tonle Sap area in 2010 (Jim Sanderson, pers comm). The Wildlife Alliance Rapid rescue team seized two Fishing Cat kittens, one from Prey Nop district, the other from Koh Kong province in 2014 (Gauntlett, pers comm). In October 2015 FFI found a Fishing Cat pelt at Teuk Thlak village (Samlout district, Battambang province) on the northernmost tip of Phnom Samkoh Wildlife Sanctuary (north Cardamom Mountains).
Interview data gathered during the course of the CBC project indicated that the Fishing Cat is not a direct target of hunting activities. However, soon after the project finished we were informed of the killing of a Fishing Cat at PKWS in retaliation for raiding fishing nets. PKWS may have sufficient area, resources and protective measures on paper to potentially sustain a healthy Fishing Cat population, but immediate actions are needed to manage human-Fishing Cat conflicts and control overexploitation of resources.
PKWS is situated in Koh Kong province near the border with Thailand and comprises some of the largest and densest mangrove forests in Southeast Asia. (Marschke and Nong 2003). Mangroves play a critical role in the provision of nutrients for coastal fisheries, serve as nursery and feeding ground for invertebrate species, and protect the estuary against erosion and soil damage. (Kathiresan 2012). Furthermore, mangrove areas can be an important refuge for rare and threatened species, particularly primates and felines but have received relatively little animal research attention due to the difficult survey conditions they present (Nowak, 2013).
Covering an area of just under 26,000 hectares, PKWS was one of 23 protected areas declared under Royal Decree in 1993. Additionally, 60% is part of the Kok Kapik Ramsar and Associated Islets site. It holds large areas of mangrove and evergreen forests, and is rich in biodiversity (PMMR team and Marschke 2000), providing habitat for 24 mammal, at least 28 bird and a large number of marine species including Critically Endangered Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica), Dhole (Cuon alpinus) and Pileated Gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) both Endangered (Dara et al. 2009).
Mangroves in PKWS are being restored and it is also the first protected area in Cambodia to have been officially assigned management zones (IUCN 2009) (see study area map) approved by a Royal Sub-Decree in 2011 according to the IUCN. It is considered a pilot area for the implementation of zoning best practice (Dara et al. 2009; IUCN 2009). The IUCN zoning report (IUCN 2009) acknowledges the lack of data on globally threatened species including the Fishing Cat, and calls for further research to be carried out by taxon specialists to create species conservation plans.
10,000 people also call PKWS home, according to PKWD Director and Director of Department of Environment in Koh Kong. The population is heavily dependent upon fisheries: fishing, crabbing, harvesting seafood and seafood processing for their livelihoods (IUCN 2009), along with some agriculture. The practice of shrimp farming, initiated in 1995, was abandoned some time ago (IUCN and MoE 2012).
Overexploitation of wildlife and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), land clearance for agriculture, illegal hunting and sand-dredging of waterways are major threats to this ecosystem (Dara et al. 2009; Kastl et al. n.d).
To investigate Fishing Cat population status and threats at PKWS and implement conservation actions to prevent and mitigate human-Fishing Cat conflicts.
1. To estimate Fishing Cat population density, status and habitat use in PKWS.
2. To identify threats to Fishing Cat population preservation in PKWS.
3. To research and implement human-Fishing Cat conflict prevention and mitigation measures.
4. To collaborate with PKWS authorities, NGOs and local communities in creating an integrated wildlife conservation program for the area.
The project will combine ecological and social approaches. Ecological data on Fishing Cat population will be gathered through camera-trapping and radio-collaring in future stages. Social data will be collected through interviews and workshops. Based on the threat information gathered though social research awareness actions will be undertaken. Measures to prevent and mitigate human-Fishing Cat conflict will be designed and tested. Whole project results will be uses to provide recommendations for an integrated wildlife conservation program at PKWS.
1. Fishing Cat population status and habitat ecology
Twenty camera-traps will be deployed in a grid design and moved sequentially between suitable sampling areas allowing for analysis through spacially-explicit capture-recapture (SECR) methods.
Micro-habitat variables will be collected on 25m buffer areas around the cameras and along transects in the study area. Fish and crab biomonitoring will be carried out through stratified sampling (Hirzel and Guisan 2002) to investigate resource levels and compare resource abundance and habitat use. Micro-habitat selection will be analysed based on both vegetation structure and resource base through generalized linear models (Barbet‐Massin et al. 2012).
2. Threat assessment
A series of workshops will be held to assess threats and local attitudes towards the Fishing Cat. Workshops and interviews will also be held with PKWS authorities and rangers to raise awareness of Fishing Cat conservation issues. Social data will be applied to develop education actions, conflict prevention and mitigation measures and assess potential alternative livelihood activities.
3. Threat mitigation
Conflict prevention techniques will be investigated, including testing both on captive Fishing Cats and in-situ. Prevention and mitigation techniques will be tested and applied at PKWS.
4. Creating an integrated wildlife conservation program for the area
The project will function in continuous collaboration with PKWS authorities and NGOs already working in the area. Ecological and social research results will be used to provide recommendations for an integrated conservation program. Rangers accompany researchers during field work, which will provide opportunities to train them in Fishing Cat research. Conservation program recommendations will include adaptive community-based management and evaluation procedures as well as ecosystem enhancement recommendations.
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