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Recent sightings of fishing cats in Thailand

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  • Spatial Informatics Group

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Formerly occurring widely over most of Southeast Asia, fishing cats Prionailurus viverrinus now appear to have the second most restricted range of wild felids in the region. We conducted surveys for fishing cats in four locations in peninsular Thailand between 2003 and 2009. Survey methods consisted of interviews, searches for signs and the use of automated camera traps. We documented fishing cats at Thale Noi Non-hunting Area and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and found no evidence of the species at Klong Saeng and Maenam Pachi Wildlife Sanctuaries. Priority actions for conserving fishing cats include surveying additional areas of potential occurrence and working with communities to disrupt direct persecution of the species.
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CATnews 51 Autumn 2009
26
short communication
PASSANAN CUTTER1 AND PETER CUTTER1
Recent sightings of shing cats
in Thailand
Formerly occurring widely over most of Southeast Asia, fishing cats Prionailurus
viverrinus now appear to have the second most restricted range of wild felids in the
region. We conducted surveys for fishing cats in four locations in peninsular Thailand
between 2003 and 2009. Survey methods consisted of interviews, searches for signs
and the use of automated camera traps. We documented fishing cats at Thale Noi
Non-hunting Area and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and found no evidence of the
species at Klong Saeng and Maenam Pachi Wildlife Sanctuaries. Priority actions for
conserving fishing cats include surveying additional areas of potential occurrence
and working with communities to disrupt direct persecution of the species.
In late 2008 the status of fishing cats was
raised from ’Vulnerable’ to ’Endangered’
on the IUCN Red List. International trade is
controlled and the species is included in Ap-
pendix II of CITES. Frequent development,
land conversion and over-fishing of the cats’
wetland habitats have resulted in extensive
habitat loss and population fragmentation
throughout their range.
A recent comprehensive review of small felids
in Southeast Asia (Povey et al. 2009) conclud-
ed that fishing cats have the second smallest
range among the nine species of small cats.
Range maps show that fishing cats were dis-
tributed from northern Thailand to the Isth-
mus of Kra; fishing cats occurred historically
in southernmost Thailand and peninsular Ma-
laysia. Prior to this study, we could only find
three credible records of fishing cats reported
from Thailand in the last 15 years: from Khao
Yai National Park (T. Redford, pers. comm.),
Thale Noi Non-hunting Area (J. Murray, pers.
comm.), and Kaeng Krachan National Park (D.
Ngoprasert, pers. comm.).
The purpose of this paper is to report on the
results of recent surveys for fishing cats in
Thailand.
Methods
We attempted to determine the presence or
absence of fishing cats at several sites by
conducting semi-structured interviews with
local residents and protected area staff,
searching for signs (i.e., scats and tracks) and
using camera traps.
Interview surveys targeted local farmers,
fishermen, cattle herders and hunters in or-
der to gather general information about the
occurrence of fishing cats, their prey species
and other wildlife.
Sign surveys focused on stream and lake edg-
es, mangrove forest areas, rice paddies and
other sites where fishing cat occurrence was
reported by local residents. Where detected,
tracks thought to be those of fishing cats were
measured and permanently recorded either by
photograph or plaster cast. A representative
number of scats from surveyed areas were
collected and washed, with any discernable
remains being retained for future analysis.
Camera-trap surveys focused on sites where
we found likely signs of fishing cats, where
locals had reported seeing fishing cats, and
on those consistent with published descrip-
tions of fishing cat habitat. Cameras were set
in groups of 1-3, usually directed toward a
staked chicken carcass used as bait. Camera
traps were active from 1700-0800.
Surveys for Fishing Cats: 2003-2005
In 2003 we began a series of surveys with
the objective of documenting fishing cats in
areas where they were likely to occur based
on habitat composition, historical records
and expert opinion (Fig. 1). We started with
surveys in Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary
(9.2°N, 98.7°E) where fishing cats had pre-
viously been recorded on the basis of the
occurrence of tracks (Kanchanasaka 2001).
From December 2003 through April 2004 we
logged 528 camera trap-nights at 24 loca-
tions near the Ratchaprapa reservoir in the
sanctuary. Neither camera traps nor our sign
surveys provided evidence of fishing cats at
Klong Saeng.
From May through September 2005 we car-
ried out another series of surveys in Maenam
Pachi Wildlife Sanctuary where local people
reported fishing cat occurrence. In addition
to extensive interviews and sign surveys, we
walked 60 km of trails and streams searching
for signs and logged 540 camera trap-nights
at four locations. We did not find any evi-
dence of fishing cats in Maenam Pachi.
Recent Records of Fishing Cat Occur-
rence in Thailand
Starting in May 2006, we conducted a series
of interviews, sign surveys and camera-trap
surveys at the Thale Noi Non-Hunting Area in
peninsular Thailand. Thale Noi (7.71-8.02°N,
100.03-l00.25°E) is part of a large inland es-
tuarine system in Pattalung Province, South-
ern Thailand. The area is approximately 457
km² and includes Thailand’s first RAMSAR
site, Kuan Khi Sian, chartered in 1997. Ex-
tensive freshwater swamp forests surround
the area’s most recognizable feature, a large
open-water lake. ‘Kuans’, small islands that
occur in the swamp forest, provide habitat for
a wide range of wetland species including
fishing cats.
After documenting tracks consistent with
those of fishing cats at several locations in
the southern part of Thale Noi, we record-
ed a single male fishing cat on our camera
traps (7.76°N, 100.16°E; Fig. 2) on 15 Febru-
ary 2007. The animal had swum about 10 m
from shore to a ’shoal’ of mud where we had
placed the camera trap.
In December 2008 we began surveys near the
southern end of Khao Sam Roi Yot National
Park (12.08-12.31°N, 99.87-100.04°E), in
Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. Khao Sam Roi
Yot is a coastal protected area of 98 km2 with
marine and terrestrial components. The park’s
vegetation consists of scrubby mixed deci-
dous forest on karst formations, limited areas
of mangrove and swamp forest, and active
and fallow agricultural areas. Throughout the
Fig. 1. Areas surveyed for fishing cats in
Thailand.
CATnews 51 Autumn 2009
27
recent sightings of fishing cats in Thailand
extensive agricultural areas, more structural-
ly developed patches of palms, tamarinds and
various other tree species appear to serve as
patches of ‘refuge’ habitat for species such
as fishing cats during the day.
On our first visit local residents reported en-
countering fishing cat tracks frequently at
several locations inside and outside the park.
We visited two residences at Kung Tanode vil-
lage where two male fishing cats (reportedly
siblings collected from a local rice field) were
being kept in enclosures. Sign surveys at the
location where the kittens were reportedly
collected revealed copious tracks and scats
of fishing cats left by at least two individuals
(apparently an adult female and her kitten).
After just two nights of camera trapping in
this area, on 6 January 2009 we recorded a
female fishing cat with her kitten (12.11°N,
99.94°E; Fig. 3). Subsequent camera-trap sur-
veys and live captures (carried out as part of a
concurrent study of fishing cat ecology) have
documented at least 16 individuals using this
area and numerous signs of reproduction, in-
cluding the occurrence of young with adults
and signs of current and previous lactation in
females examined during captures.
Threats to Fishing Cats
Local attitudes towards fishing cats in the two
areas with confirmed presence range from
ambivalence to hostility. Fishing cats have
been known to take chickens, which may
be the chief motivation for the direct threats
such as hunting and poisoning that target this
species. Hunting is mainly carried out through
the use of snares along travel routes whereas
poisoning is either intentional (carried out by
poisoning chicken carcasses that cats are
likely to eat around households) or the result
of ingesting pesticides used to control inva-
sive snails in local rice fields. Our interviews
and field observations have revealed that
fishing cats, otters Lutra spp., leopard cats
Prionailurus bengalensis, large Indian civets
Viverra zibetha, and common palm civets
Paradoxurus hermaphroditus are all hunted
for food or captured for the pet trade.
Indirect threats to fishing cats and other car-
nivores in the areas surveyed include habitat
loss and its impact on prey populations. Habi-
tat loss is primarily driven by the extensive
conversion of natural habitat for plantations,
paddies and shrimp-farming ponds. Where
shrimp farming takes place, effluent waste
water from these operations is routinely
pumped into neighboring waterways or open
fields, further disrupting natural systems.
Prey populations are subject to overfishing,
depletion of birds through the extensive use
of mist nets, and indiscriminate snaring of a
wide variety of species. Nylon fishing nets
and mist nets discarded in lakes, waterways,
and agricultural areas pose an additional
threat to the area’s wildlife.
Conservation Implications
The apparent absence of fishing cats from the
two inland areas surveyed is consistent with
a growing body of anecdotal evidence of local
extinctions in areas where the species once
occurrred. It is alarming that a great amount
of general carnivore survey effort over the
last 15 years has yielded only a handful of
confirmed records of fishing cats. However,
the occurrences reported here are encourag-
ing in that they demonstrate that fishing cats
appear to be capable of persisting in areas
of high human activity and impact. We are
hopeful that surveys in the near future will
confirm the occurrence of fishing cats in simi-
lar coastal landscapes.
While resources for suppressing threats to
fishing cats are limited, the fact that fishing
cat home ranges can be relatively small (2-4
km2 in this area; Passanan Cutter, unpubl.
data) means that targeted efforts over rela-
tively small areas may result in measurable
benefits for local subpopulations.
Acknowledgements
Support for this project was provided by the Smith-
sonian’s National Zoological Park, the Cincinnati
Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Minnesota Zoo, the
Rufford Small Grant Foundation, the Wildlife Con-
servation Society and the Panthera Small Cat Con-
servation Fund. We are grateful to the Thailand
Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant
Conservation for their support of the project and
to Dr. Theerapat Prayurasidhi for suggesting closer
evaluation of the Khao Sam Roi Yot site. Drs. Wil-
liam Swanson, David Smith, and Francesca Cuth-
bert provided helpful comments on earlier drafts of
this manuscript.
References
Kanchanasaka B. 2001. Diversity and distribution
of carnivores in Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctu-
ary. Wildlife Research Division Annual Report.
Povey K., Howard J. G., Sunarto, Ngoprasert J. G.,
Reed D., Wilting A., Lynam A., Haidai I., Long
B., Johnson A., Cheyne S., Breitenmoser C.,
Holzer L. & Byers O. 2009. Clouded Leopard
and Small Felid Conservation Summit Final
Report. IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Spe-
cialist Group, Apple Valley, MN.
1 University of Minnesota, Conservation Biology
Graduate Program, Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A.
<namfon@conservationasia.org>
Fig. 2. Male fishing cat captured in Thale Noi Non-Hunting Area
on 15 February 2007 (Photo P. Cutter).
Fig. 3. Female fishing cat with a cub captured south of Khao Sam Roi
Yot National Park on 6 January 2009 (Photo P. Cutter).
... Thailand may be one of the important strongholds for Fishing Cat and a regional priority range country for its conservation-it has few degraded habitats, at least those that are potentially suitable for Fishing Cat, e.g., in coastal mangroves, within large protected areas with a high protection level and law enforcement measures, and populations of ecologically similar species like otters. Nevertheless, between 1996 and 2011, there were only a few targeted surveys for Fishing Cat that yielded confirmed records and these were mainly in and around Khao Sam Roi Yot (SRY) and Thale Noi Non-hunting Area (Cutter & Cutter 2009;Tantipisanuh et al. 2014; Fig. 1). Results of radio telemetry research on 23 radio-collared Fishing Cats in an area of approximately 35km 2 suggested that SRY was a stronghold for the Fishing Cat in Thailand (Cutter & Cutter 2009;Cutter 2015;Patumrattanathan 2015). ...
... Nevertheless, between 1996 and 2011, there were only a few targeted surveys for Fishing Cat that yielded confirmed records and these were mainly in and around Khao Sam Roi Yot (SRY) and Thale Noi Non-hunting Area (Cutter & Cutter 2009;Tantipisanuh et al. 2014; Fig. 1). Results of radio telemetry research on 23 radio-collared Fishing Cats in an area of approximately 35km 2 suggested that SRY was a stronghold for the Fishing Cat in Thailand (Cutter & Cutter 2009;Cutter 2015;Patumrattanathan 2015). In the same area, however, negative interaction with people on livestock-raiding led to retribution killings of at least five out of 16 Fishing Cats monitored during this study (Cutter 2015). ...
... In a review of the status of small cats in Thailand , Fishing Cat rarely occurred in protected areas with no significant wetland habitats where most of camera trap surveys were conducted, although none of these surveys had specifically targeted Fishing Cat, except that of Cutter & Cutter (2009). Wetland habitats such as mangrove and peat swamp which were largely under-surveyed may still hold some remaining Fishing Cat populations and other threatened small carnivores and therefore require immediate attention for surveys ). ...
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Diversity and distribution of carnivores in Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary
  • B Kanchanasaka
Kanchanasaka B. 2001. Diversity and distribution of carnivores in Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Wildlife Research Division Annual Report.