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Fishing cats occur in fragmented populations in southeastern Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. They are highly dependent on wetland habitats, which include marshes, ponds, lakes, rivulets and swamps, since their primary diet is freshwater fish. Wetland habitats throughout the fishing cats' range face immense threats due to anthropogenic impacts. In India, increase in shrimp farming, fishing and degradation of mangroves by human activities over the past decade have rapidly reduced fishing cat habitat. On the east coast of India, only a few intact small populations of fishing cats are known to occur, and these are subject to heavy habitat loss, persecution and poaching by humans. Moreover, drainages from human settlements that lead into freshwater habitats are essentially polluting fishing cat habitat. Assessments of fishing cat populations by several biologists show that their populations are declining throughout most of their range (see http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/18150/0). The fishing cat has been listed as endangered by the IUCN since 2008, while in some areas such as northeastern Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, their populations could be critically endangered due to high levels of threats from humans in the form of persecution and conversion of wetlands into shrimp farms (aquaculture).
To date, there have been no extensive surveys on the occurrence of a fishing cat population, their habitat and diet requirements, in the Eastern Ghats and coastal wetlands of southeastern India. Only two published records from the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary mangroves (by Kolipaka 2006, and Mukherjee et al. 2012), and two events (a recently rescued fishing cat from the town of Kakinada, and a dead fishing cat on railway tracks in the district of Srikakulam) published in the local newspaper in late 2013, describe the importance of conserving fishing cats and mitigating threats to their habitat.
Since limited data and few conservation initiatives are in place for this endangered species, our objectives as part of this project are to:
1. Use a camera-trap survey to document the occurrence and activity patterns of fishing cats in the coastal areas of northeastern Andhra Pradesh.
2. Use GIS to map potential habitat for fishing cats, and document severity and extent of anthropogenic threats (habitat loss, persecution, poaching) within (or in close proximity) to the mapped habitat.
3. Build trust/relationships with local people living near fishing cat habitat, provide conservation education, and create a fishing cat focused conservation initiative.
As part of our fishing cat conservation initiative, we will consistently execute the following activities in an adaptive manner during and after our project's completion:
1. Provide training in science-based wildlife monitoring approaches to frontline forest staff and talented conservation-oriented local people employed by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department. At the end of our training workshops, these forest custodians will continue wildlife monitoring questionnaires, camera-trap surveys and forensic investigations (anti-poaching efforts).
2. Provide conservation education to local people and children in villages/towns and major state and district-level schools in close proximity to fishing cat habitat.
Project 13057746 location - India, Asia