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176 fishing cats discovered during a survey at Chilika Lake, making it the world’s first fishing Cat Census

For wildlife observers and experts, the fishing cat census in Chilika has some hopeful news. In Chilika, the total number of feline species was discovered to be 176, with a range of 131-237 individuals. This was the first time a population estimate of the fishing cat was undertaken outside of a protected area network anywhere in the globe. The Chilika Development Authority (CDA) collaborated with The Fishing Cat Project to undertake the estimating study (TFCP).

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About the Survey:

  • A total of 150 camera traps were placed for roughly 30 days throughout the two-phase study in 2021 and 2022.
  • The Spatially Explicit Capture-Recapture (SECR) approach was used to analyse the data. In 2021, Phase I was done in a 115-square-kilometer wetland in Chilika’s north and north-eastern sections, as well as its adjacent districts.
  • In 2022, Phase II was done on the Parikuda side, as well as the Chilika coastline islands.

The Marsh’s Original Fishermen:

  • The fishing cat, which is twice the size of a house cat, is exactly what its name implies: a cat with excellent fishing skills and, as a result, an agile swimmer.
  • It has black markings — spots and stripes — all over its body, and its paws are somewhat webbed to help propel it through water and for prowling on muddy, rocky terrain.
  • Its principal food source is, once again, fish. They are, however, not picky eaters.
  • They are referred to as ‘generalists’ by wildlife experts since they graze on whatever is available. So anything available nearby, including fish, small animals, water insects, shellfish, amphibians, and even lizards, is on the menu.

About Fishing Cat:

  • The fishing cat can be found in two types of habitats inside a wetland in India (and elsewhere): mangroves like the Sundarbans and Pichavaram, and marshes.
  • They’ve also been found in the Western Ghats and the foothills of the Himalayas, near the Ganga and Brahmaputra river valleys. Outside of India, they’ve been found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia, however the scope of the problem is unknown.
  • Outside of India, they’ve been found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia, however the extent of their range and distribution has remained a bit of a mystery.

They may appear lovely, but they are horribly bashful. In the face of a threat, the nocturnal fishers, on the other hand, remain firm — even if the one in front of them is a person. However, their nocturnal, lonely, and evasive lives have contributed to their demise. Their lives and habits make them difficult to see in the wild, making them one of the world’s least well-known wild cats.

Why are they in danger?

  • For starters, their homes are practically demolished. According to the Ramsar Convention, an international agreement on wetland conservation, India has 42 sites that are deemed wetlands of international importance due to their biodiversity.
  • Despite this, wetlands are being destroyed at an alarming rate in the name of development.
  • Even in the remaining wetlands, fishing cats are inevitably at odds with humans over food. The wetlands support lakhs of people – fisherfolk, farmers, and indigenous populations — both directly and indirectly.
  • The confrontation is unavoidable, and in the past, it has resulted in human retaliation. However, through time, consciousness has grown, and their tormentors are now turning into saviors.
  • They are also hunted for their fur, which is identical to that of a leopard. The penalty, on the other hand, might not be worth the theft.
  • They are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act in India, the same classification as the country’s national animal, the tiger.
  • The IUCN Red List classifies the species as ‘Endangered,’ indicating that it stands a high risk of extinction in the wild.

The fishing cat is included in Appendix II of Article IV of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which governs international trade in this species. Appendix II contains a list of animals whose trade must be regulated to prevent their use that is harmful to their survival.

  • More than anything, though, there needs to be a greater awareness of the animal. We don’t see what we don’t understand, so we don’t perceive the need to safeguard and conserve what we don’t see. Fishing cats are proof of this.

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176 fishing cats discovered during a survey at Chilika Lake, making it the world's first fishing Cat Census_40.1

176 fishing cats discovered during a survey at Chilika Lake, making it the world's first fishing Cat Census_50.1

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