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First pictures of fishing cats in hyper urban landscape Colombo Sri Lanka

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The fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus is a small wild cat that is often associated with water-rich habitats such as wetlands and mangroves. In Colombo, Sri Lanka, the presence of fishing cats in the city’s urban wetlands was confirmed in 2004, but no data was available after that. In this follow-up study, my team and I confirmed the presence of fishing cats within the city proper in 2015 and again in 2017, making this the first photographic record of fishing cats in a hyper urban landscape.
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ISSN 1027-2992
CAT
news
N° 73 | Spring 2021
CATnews 73 Spring 2021
02
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CATnews 73 Spring 2021
19
Fishing cats are a globally Vulnerable (Muk-
herjee et al. 2016) small wild cat associat-
ed with inland and coastal wetlands, and
marshes within its global range in South and
South-east Asia (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002,
Malla et al. 2018). In Sri Lanka the species is
classified as Endangered (Ministry of Environ-
ment Sri Lanka 2012) and has previously been
recorded in montane and dry forests (Thuduga-
la & Ranawana 2015), dry zone habitats (Kittle
& Watson 2018), as well as within the urban
wetlands of Colombo (Balagalla et al. 2007).
The Colombo district is home to 3,608 people/
km2 and spans an area of 699 km2 (Central
Bank of Sri Lanka 2019), making it a densely
populated landscape. Colombo has a rich
network of wetland habitats, which covers
approximately 20% of the city’s total area
(Government of Sri Lanka 2016), and is home
to 277 species of fauna, and 252 species of
flora (Government of Sri Lanka 2015).
In 2013, my team and I began studying the
fishing cat population in Colombo’s urban
wetlands after witnessing rapid development
that followed the end of the thirty-year civil
war in 2009. The aim of our study was to re-
confirm the presence of fishing cats within
these urban wetlands and understand how
the population was coping with this rapid ur-
banisation. Social surveys conducted within
local communities indicated that fishing cats
may be present in the city proper. We had sev-
eral security guards tell us about fishing cats
being seen sunning themselves on roofs dur-
ing the early hours of the morning or walking
along boundary walls late at night, but due to
high levels of species misidentification (small
Indian civets, Viverricula indica, are often
mistaken for fishing cats) we were unable to
confirm these accounts.
In early 2015, we were able to confirm the
presence of fishing cats in Colombo city
with the help of a resident of Colombo 05
(6°53'27.5"N / 79°51'48.6"E), who had set
up a security camera in front of his outdoor
koi pond after several of his prized fish went
missing. What he witnessed was an adole-
scent male fishing cat visiting his pond on a
nightly basis and catching fish. We then set
several cameras on the property and were
able to record the fishing cat walking along
the roof, before climbing down the home’s
boundary wall which the fishpond was built
against. A second fishing cat would accompa-
ny the male. However, it would continue along
the wall until it was off camera. The male that
habitually descended into the garden was la-
ter captured and fitted with a GPS-collar for
a broader ecological study done by our team.
Then in 2017, we rescued a three-week-
old fishing cat kitten from Colombo 08
(6°54'52.6"N / 79°52'50.8"E). This kitten was
dropped by its mother as she ran across a resi-
dential street in front of a car at approximately
19:45 h hrs. The kitten was picked up by the
owner of the car, as there was a significant
amount of vehicular traffic on the road at the
time and she was concerned for its safety. We
were called to rescue it the following morning,
and the kitten was safely handed over to vets
at the Department of Wildlife Conservation’s
Attidiya Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
These observations confirm that Colombo is
home to the only known urban population of
fishing cats, and our team hopes to contin-
ue studying this group to understand what
anthropogenic factors aid in its survival within
this hyper urban landscape, and to help ensure
that they are conserved within the city.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the Mohamed Bin Zayed
Species Conservation Fund, and the Wildlife Con-
servation Network for funding our work during the
ANYA A. W. RATNAYAKA1*
First pictures of fishing cats in
the hyper urban landscape of
Colombo, Sri Lanka
The fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus is a small wild cat that is often associated
with water-rich habitats such as wetlands and mangroves. In Colombo, Sri Lanka,
the presence of fishing cats in the city’s urban wetlands was confirmed in 2004, but
no data was available after that. In this follow-up study, my team and I confirmed the
presence of fishing cats within the city proper in 2015 and again in 2017, making this
the first photographic record of fishing cats in a hyper urban landscape.
Fig. 1. Security camera footage of a fishing cat (UFC2m) fishing for Japanese koi at an
outdoor fishpond in Colombo 05 in 2015 (Photo E. Tudawe).
Fig. 2. Fishing cat kitten rescued from
Colombo 08 (Photo A. Ratnayaka).
short communication
CATnews 73 Spring 2021
20
period of these discoveries (2015–5-2017). We also
extend our gratitude to the Department of Wildlife
Conservation for their support of the Urban Fishing
Cat Conservation Project. Finally, we would like to
thank the individuals who alerted us to these sight-
ings.
References
Balagalla S., Wikramanayake E. D. & Padmalal U.
K. G. K. 2007. The ecology and behaviour of
fishing cats in urban and suburban areas of Sri
Lanka – Progress report: November 2006-–Sep-
tember 2007.
Government of Sri Lanka. 2015. Ecological Status,
Wetland Management Strategy, Technical Re-
port 02. Sri Lanka.
Government of Sri Lanka. 2016. Metro Colombo
Wetland Management Strategy. Sri Lanka.
Kittle A. M. & Watson A. C. 2018. Small wildcats
of Sri Lanka – some recent records. Cat News
68, 9–12.
Malla G., Ray P. & Sivakumar K. 2018. Feeding
behaviour of fishing cat in the Godavaru man-
groves, India. Cat News 67, 30–31.
Ministry of Environment Sri Lanka. 2012. The Na-
tional Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka; Conservation
Status of the Fauna and Flora. Ministry of Envi-
ronment, Sri Lanka.
Mukherjee S., Appel A., Duckworth J. W.,
Sanderson J., Dahal S., Willcox D. H. A.,
… & Rahman H. 2016. Prionailurus viver-
rinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened
Species 2016: e.T18150A50662615.http://
dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-2.RLTS.
T18150A50662615.en. Downloaded on 15
November 2020.
Sunquist M. & Sunquist F. 2002. Fishing Cat. In
Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago
Press, Chicago and London, pp. 241–245.
Thudugala A. N. & Ranawana K. B. 2015. Conserva-
tion and monitoring of fishing cats (Prionailurus
viverrinus) in the hill country of Sri Lanka. Scisc-
itator 2, 22–24.
1 Small Cat Advocacy and Research, 381/14,
Spring Hills Estate, Bowalawatta, Kandy 20024,
Sri Lanka
*<anya@scar.lk>
MUNTASIR AKASH1*, SCOTT TRAGESER2, TANIA ZAKIR1, SHAHRIAR CAESAR RAHMAN2,
FATEMA-TUZ-ZOHORA KHALEQUE MILA3 AND ANIMESH GHOSE4
Detecting the spots: A review
on leopard occurrences in
Bangladesh
The Indian leopard Panthera pardus fusca is Critically Endangered in Bangladesh.
Presence of the country’s second largest cat is based on speculations and its popula-
tion is often considered to be unviable. No specific studies on Bangladesh’s leopard
population have been conducted. Thus, scant empirical data for this range country
exists. Here, we provide a review on leopard occurrences in the country between
2008 and 2020. We searched media reports and peer-reviewed publications, and
compiled verifiable and geo-spatially extrapolatable records. Over the past 13 years,
we documented 21 confirmed incidents; nine of which were outcomes of human-
leopard conflicts. In north-western Bangladesh, seven leopards strayed from North
Bengal, India, a conflict hotspot for the species, into the country. Northern and north-
eastern Bangladesh had one incident each. These regions have forests bordering
the Indian States of Meghalaya and Tripura, which are considered as possible extant
leopard range. We noted five seizure records describing confiscation of three skins
and four live specimens. We found seven encounters in the wild, all from south-
eastern Bangladesh: five from the Chattogram Hill Tracts CHT and two from Cox’s
Bazar-Teknaf Peninsula. We also noted rapid degradation in the peninsular forests
due to the Rohingya refugee crisis. The CHT forests, considered as extant range and
from where the only leopard camera trap image in the country exists, are the best
hope for the leopards in Bangladesh. Comprehensive surveys are recommended for
north-eastern transborder forests, extensions of the Tripura Hills, and the CHT region
in order to better understand and facilitate leopard conservation in the country. We
also suggest a systematic approach to protect wildlife beyond protected areas con-
sidering transient leopard conflicts in the north-western region.
Bangladesh is one of the range countries
of the Indian leopard. Although the leopard
holds the widest distribution of all felids
(Jacobson et al. 2016), it is globally vulne-
rable with four of its nine subspecies con-
sidered to be Critically Endangered (Stein et
al. 2020).
Across the range, P. p. fusca is Near Threat-
ened (Menon 2014). India, Nepal, and Bhutan
hold nearly the entire known population of the
Indian leopard. India has an estimated leopard
population of 12,000-13,500 individuals (Bhat-
tacharya 2015, Jhala et al. 2020), however,
sampling inadequacies to count leopards are
mentioned by Jhala et al. (2020) for West Ben-
gal and North-east India. Nonetheless being
one of the two most widespread leopard sub-
species, P. p. fusca has lost 70-72 percent of
its entire historic range (Jacobson et al. 2016).
In Bangladesh, the Indian leopard is Critically
Endangered (IUCN Bangladesh 2015). Except
for the Sundarbans mangrove, it once roamed
throughout the country (Kabir et al. 2010,
IUCN Bangladesh 2015). There are extensive
descriptions on the hunting of leopards dating
back to the 1950s and from places like Dhaka,
the capital of Bangladesh (Kabir et al. 2010).
By the 1980s, the extirpation of leopards in
Bangladesh westward of 90° east longitude,
and their steady decline and patchy presence
in north-east and south-east hilly forests was
noted (Gittins & Akonda 1982, Khan 1986,
Green 1987). Since then, the Indian leopard
has become extremely rare in Bangladesh al-
though included in CITES Appendix I and pro-
tected under the Wildlife (Conservation and
Security) Act, 2012 (IUCN Bangladesh 2015).
The leopard is the only other big cat in the
country besides the Bengal tiger Panthera
tig-ris tigris. For decades, Bangladesh is said
to have no viable leopard population (Khan
1986, Green 1987). It is the only leopard range
country with no exclusive work conducted on
leopards. To date, the presence of leopards in
Bangladesh is based solely on educated spe-
culations (IUCN Bangladesh 2015, Khan 2018).
There is only a single peer-reviewed sighting
record (Kabir et al. 2017). Other recent evi-
original contribution
... These are consistent with studies that point to decreasing home range size in anthropogenically disturbed areas in numerous vertebrate taxa (O'Donnell and delBarco-Trillo 2020), and is likely driven by the increased availability of anthropogenic sources of food and shelter (Lombardi et al. 2017;Young et al. 2019). Fishing cats are adept at killing large ornamental fish from outdoor garden fishponds, synanthropic birds, and urban rodents (Ratnayaka 2021;A. A. W. Ratnayaka, personal observation). ...
... Colombo is home to the only known urban population of fishing cats throughout their global range (Ratnayaka 2021), and based on our findings, it is possible that other urban populations exist within the species' range. While the ability of Colombo's fishing cats to survive without functioning wetlands in urban environments may provide optimism for their conservation, urban areas may also prove to be ecological traps (Battin 2004), where wildlife are more likely to be exposed to pesticides (Rodríguez-Estival and Mateo 2019) and disease (Bradley and Altizer 2006). ...
Article
Urbanisation and habitat loss are major threats to wildlife populations globally. Understanding how species respond to anthropogenic changes is therefore crucial to mitigating threats and developing conservation management strategies. We examined the habitat use of five fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, a densely urbanised landscape with a mosaic of wetland habitats, cultivated areas, and altered open spaces. We investigated: (1) to what extent all five cats used human-impacted versus natural wetland habitat; (2) whether there were behavioural shifts to avoid human activity throughout the diel cycle; (3) the home range sizes of two resident females and one resident male, and the extent of the area used by the two translocated males; (4) whether the two translocated males would survive introduction to a new urban environment. We monitored the fishing cats for 637 days (mean = 127) and collected a total of 2278 GPS (5-h interval) collar locations. We found that all five individuals used highly urbanised areas more than we expected. Home range sizes of the three residents were smaller than fishing cat home ranges in less disturbed landscapes. Though our sample size was small, our findings suggest that fishing cats use urbanised areas in Colombo, particularly at night, likely to avoid daytime human activity. Further comprehensive ecological study is needed to explore the aspects of fishing cat ecology that facilitate their persistence, and aid in their conservation across increasingly urbanised areas.
... In Thailand, Cutter (2015) reported extensive use of paddy fields by fishing cats. In Sri Lanka, fishing cats also occur in peri-urban areas of Colombo (Ratnayaka, 2021). In Nepal Terai, fisheries are expanding at the expense of agricultural areas, creating both opportunities (additional wetland habitats with abundant fish) and challenges (risks of retaliatory killing in the fish ponds) . ...
Article
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The fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus is a wetland specialist species endemic to South and Southeast Asia. Nepal represents the northern limit of its biogeographic range, but comprehensive information on fishing cat distribution in Nepal is lacking. To as�sess their distribution, we compiled fishing cat occurrence records (n = 154) from Nepal, available in published literature and unpublished data (2009–2020). Bioclimatic and environmental variables associated with their occurrence were used to predict the fishing cat habitat suitability using MaxEnt modeling. Fishing cat habitat suitability was associated with elevation (152–302 m), precipitation of the warmest quarter, i.e., April–June (668–1014 mm), precipitation of the driest month (4–7 mm), and land cover (forest/grassland and wetland). The model predicted an area of 4.4% (6679 km2 ) of Nepal as potential habitat for the fishing cat. About two-thirds of the predicted poten�tially suitable habitat lies outside protected areas; however, a large part of the highly suitable habitat (67%) falls within protected areas. The predicted habitat suitability map serves as a reference for future investigation into fishing cat distribution as well as formulating and implementing effective conservation programs in Nepal. Fishing cat conservation initiatives should include habitats inside and outside the protected areas to ensure long-term survival. We recommend conservation of wetland sites, surveys of fishing cats in the identified potential habitats, and studying their genetic connectivity and population status
Article
Full-text available
We observed a rare feeding behaviour of a fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus on a dog-faced water snake Cerberus rynchops and pond heron Ardeola grayii in the mangroves of the Godavari delta in India. Since fishing cats are threatened due to various levels of anthropogenic pressure, these observations giving insight into their behaviour highlight the need to study these elusive cats.
Ecological Status, Wetland Management Strategy, Technical Report 02. Sri Lanka. Government of Sri Lanka
  • S Balagalla
  • E D Wikramanayake
  • U K G K Padmalal
Balagalla S., Wikramanayake E. D. & Padmalal U. K. G. K. 2007. The ecology and behaviour of fishing cats in urban and suburban areas of Sri Lanka -Progress report: November 2006--September 2007. Government of Sri Lanka. 2015. Ecological Status, Wetland Management Strategy, Technical Report 02. Sri Lanka. Government of Sri Lanka. 2016. Metro Colombo Wetland Management Strategy. Sri Lanka.
The National Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka; Conservation Status of the Fauna and Flora. Ministry of Environment
  • Ministry Of Environment Sri
  • Lanka
Ministry of Environment Sri Lanka. 2012. The National Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka; Conservation Status of the Fauna and Flora. Ministry of Environment, Sri Lanka.
Fishing Cat. In Wild Cats of the World
  • M Sunquist
  • F Sunquist
Sunquist M. & Sunquist F. 2002. Fishing Cat. In Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, pp. 241-245.
Conservation and monitoring of fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) in the hill country of Sri Lanka
  • A N Thudugala
  • K B Ranawana
Thudugala A. N. & Ranawana K. B. 2015. Conservation and monitoring of fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) in the hill country of Sri Lanka. Sciscitator 2, 22-24.