About Purr and Roar

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Happy World Wildlife Day!

A fantastical illustrated scene to honor World Wildlife Day, but what are they reading about and why do they look so happy?

“Imagine a scene like this in the not to distant future wildlife gathered reading about how humans decided to finally stop hunting, trapping and killing other species. How humans finally gave up their cruel and destructive ways acknowledging that other species have a right to exist for their own purpose. A nice sentiment to think about on where we are and, how far we must go. It starts with changing our beliefs about wildlife and animals in general then, translating that into action. What side of history will you be on?”

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Imagine a scene like this in the not to distant future wildlife gathered reading about how humans decided to finally stop hunting, trapping & killing other species. That humans finally gave up their cruel & destructive ways acknowledging that other species have a right to exist for their own purpose. A nice sentiment on #worldwildlifeday2019 to think about on where we are & how far we must go. It starts with changing our beliefs about wildlife & animals in general then translating that into action. What side of history will you be on? . . #neverbesilent #betheirvoice #bethechange #bantrapping #bantrophyhunting #makefurhistory #furisnotfashion #savenature #wildlifeconservation #savelions #pumas #mountainlions #savewildlife #animalrights #killingisnotconservation #speciesism #endangeredspecies #extinctionisforever #weowethem #worldwildlifeday

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Let’s Talk About Your Cat

Let's Talk About Your Cat, Cats, Kittens, cat stories, rescue, adoption, Purr and Roar,

Let’s Talk About Your Cat, one of my favorite posts, is back for 2019 and this time it features Media Director of the non-profit charity Global March for Elephants and Rhinos Toronto (or No Ivory Toronto) and full time Registered Early Childhood Educator for the YMCA in Pickering Ontario, Simi Vadgama. Simi took time out of her busy schedule to tell us about her 3 beautiful mini house panthers and how they have changed her life.

Tell us about your cats and how they came into your life

Aragorn aka Aro is a big 5-year-old male who is independent, a little needy (when he is meowing for treats) and very intuitive – he know exactly how to comfort us when we’re sick or sad. Currently Aro lives with my parents and younger sister, about 8 minutes away from where I live with my fiancé Luis, so we visit quite often and arrange weekend play dates with him and our other adopted cats Luna and Stella. Aro loves to be around people, but when he’s alone we often find him cuddled up on the couch, rocking chair or on top of an air vent during the winter.

Growing up my sisters and I always wanted to have a cat companion but our parents would firmly express to us that they didn’t want any pets in the house. For some reason, when we asked them after returning from a trip to India where we had we gone to spread our grandfather’s ashes, they had changed their minds. My younger sister Keya, and my twin sister Siya went with my dad to a shelter where they met and adopted Aro who was just 8 weeks old, my family instantly fell in love with him! We found out that he had been rescued from a home where he had been abused – he had been kicked, frightened by loud noises and cruel people, so it took him a few weeks to adjust to his new surroundings once we got him home.

Black Cats, Adopt don't shop, Cats as family

Baby Aro “Aro’s adoption was a big learning experience for us because we’d never had any animals before – he truly changed our lives forever by bringing us closer together and making our family feel more complete.”

Aro was a great comfort to us all and he especially helped me while I was still grieving and struggling with the loss of my grandfather. My Mom always says he was a blessing to our family. We love him so much!

My fiancé Luis and I adopted Luna next in July 2018 from Pickering Animal Shelter. She was found in Cornwall and brought to the shelter during the wintertime where she had been for over a month, 8 other ginger/grey kittens who came in at the same time had all been adopted within a week. Luna has a dislocated joint on her front left paw which healed incorrectly and a missing claw, that in addition to the stigma of her being a black cat was very likely the reason she had not been adopted. I told Luis that we HAD to rescue her no matter what. So we adopted her and brought her to my parents house to meet Aro. They were both curious about each other but bonded pretty quickly which was amazing to observe.

Black Cats, Adopt don't shop, Cats are family

Aro and Luna when they first met

Black Cats, Adopt don't shop, Cats are family

“Luna lives with Luis and I at our condo. She is very quiet, relaxed, shy and loving. She’s also really independent, but likes to cuddle with Luis more!”

Finally there is Stella who we adopted in November 2018 from North Toronto Cat Rescue. She’s about 9 months old so she’s still a kitten and definitely acts like one – rambunctious, very curious and affectionate. It took Stella quite some time to adjust to her new home with Luna as she would hide and loud noises scared her. Stella didn’t like to be picked up at all and would run away when we’d try to come close to her which made me sad because I kept wondering what she’d gone through before she was found. I suspected her behavior was also due to the fact that she had just moved from being surrounded by kittens and playing with them at the rescue, to a completely new home with just one cat.

Black Cats, Adopt don't shop, Cats are family

Stella

Happily, after a few weeks Luna and Stella bonded, and we slowly gained her trust. Now Stella is always near us, constantly sniffing around and stealing our food – she loves to eat! She is also a hoarder and a little kleptomaniac! Luis and I often notice that items around the condo are missing, but we don’t have to look far to see where they are or guess who took them. Stella has stolen sandwiches from our plates, bread bags, makeup items – pretty much anything she can pick up with her teeth. She’s so entertaining!

Black Cats, Adopt don't shop, Cats are family

Luna and Stella Christmas 2018

She’s also a very floppy cat when she wants attention. She flops on the floor and waits for us to rub her and she is like jelly when we pick her up – she LOVES it.  We constantly thank the universe for bringing Luna and Stella into our lives and look forward to seeing them both from the moment we wake up to when we come home from work.

What is your first memory or experience with cats?

I was born and raised in England and lived there for the first 10 years of my life, we had neighbors who had cats and they would often visit our backyard and my sisters and I loved to play with them. We always wanted to adopt a cat growing up, and remember our dad telling us stories about the cat he used to have as his companion when he was growing up in Uganda, in East Africa. I think that’s why he loves cats just like we do. 

Anything else people should know?

I always tell people to adopt, not shop, when they’re looking to care for an animal and also to ignore the stigma around black cats because none of the nonsense and superstitions about them are true! Black cats are magnificent and equally as beautiful as any other cat out there. For those who live in Toronto and surrounding areas I would recommend North Toronto Cat RescuePickering Animal Shelter where we adopted Aro and the girls from, and Toronto Cat Rescue, another great no-kill charity.

If you would like to have your cat/s featured on Let’s Talk About Your Cat, feel free to contact me at purrandroar(at)gmail(dot)com

The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife: Failures of Principle and Policy

The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife by author, and Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Calgary, Dr. Max Foran, takes an in-depth and honest look at wildlife management policies in Canada like no other book has done before and, it is a book that should be mandatory reading for anyone who has an interest in Canadian wildlife. It is for those who wish to better understand our relationship with wildlife, where we went wrong and what needs to be done in order to put an end to our ongoing, often violent, assault on them. If you live outside of Canada, particularly if you live in the U.S., you will find this book worth a read as all of North America shares an almost identical history when it comes to wildlife conservation.

Max has written an extensive list of books focusing on western Canadian urban, rural and cultural topics, but he tells me that The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife is his best and most important book to date. At its core the book is about our disconnected relationship with wildlife and failure as a people and a country to do what is both morally and ethically right. What makes this book so powerful is how it intelligently links the roles that science, culture, religion, philosophy, politics and history play in how we view and deal with wildlife. Finally, in one book we can see how they come together to influence policies, emotion, and ultimately our decisions. The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife is also very accessible which means the reader doesn’t need a background in science, history or wildlife conservation to understand and appreciate its passionate and urgent message. This is a book that we, and wildlife, need now.

We need to get away from wildlife being cute, they are not cute, they are our fellow residents and they are the ones we live with so the sooner we understand them the better we will be able to treat them. There is always going to be incidences, but we must realize that they are independent souls who inhabit the planet with us and the solution is not to kill them.” – Max Foran

Will the outdated anthropocentric views that continue to dominate wildlife management change? Will the fear, paranoia and often exaggerated “frenzied emphasis on human safety” that justifies how we treat wildlife, especially predators like cougars, continue to rule? If we are willing to evolve is society ready to put an end to the destructive and abhorrent practice of trophy hunting? Or as stated in the book, is the price of change too high?

I recently spoke to Max about his book, the interview can be heard below, and some of the themes it covers. A few of the major takeaways from my discussion include the fact that our belief system must change first and, the sooner we end the practice of trophy hunting the better. In addition, Canada and elsewhere, must banish the idea that wildlife is a resource. Wildlife agencies must embrace change and start to acknowledge the irrefutable evidence of animal cognition and that wildlife is autonomous. What else is needed? Max tells me education is part of it along with recognizing the proactive measures happening elsewhere, publicizing them and making these narratives the new norm. We must start to “see wildlife as selves” and we must create an evolved and ethical model of conservation that puts animals first. As the book says, “this is the path to our moral evolution”.

The minority who work on behalf of wildlife can do no better than blunt the raw use of power against wild creatures and to try to modify anthropocentric bias. Anything else requires a new belief system. We have a tiny window of hope.” – Max Foran

The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife is part of my Recommended Reading List and can be purchased on Amazon or as an eBook on Kobo.

Happy Holidays!

Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas and Holiday! Sharing one of my favorite Christmas videos from Robert Martinez, aka Parliament of Owls, of a bunch of forest critters meeting Santa. Watch out for the bobcat!

A Haven For Cats

Chachi’s Haven is a cat shelter located in Tel Mond Israel that has been run for over 20 years by animal advocate Gail Joss. It all began when Gail met a stray cat, who she later named Chachi, on a factory grounds in South Africa many years ago. She began feeding Chachi and the other cats at the factory, eventually moving them to a cottage she rented to keep them safe. She had no experience with cats prior to rescuing Chachi and the others but soon learned to care for them and began a life long mission to help stray, abandoned and injured cats. Gail now resides in Tel Mond Israel in a warehouse where she currently cares for approximately 150 cats, most neglected and abused, plus another 300 street cats. The next major step for Gail includes moving from the current warehouse location to a new property that will eventually become a clean and safe shelter for both her and the cats. To find out more about her work, the move and what life is like for street cats in Israel, I reached out to Gail who took time from her extremely busy schedule to answer some questions.

How many cats are currently in your shelter and how many street cats do you care for?
 
There are currently 140 cats in the shelter, which varies as we lose some cats and new ones come in. This years kitten season has been particularly bad with a lot of kittens being dumped on the street to die (sometimes with their mothers, sometimes not). I take in every single one that needs help. Outside the shelter I was feeding about 250-300 street cats in about 28 colonies, however it will be more now because I have 2 new colonies. An elderly man died 10 days ago in Tel Mond and he fed 2 colonies plus an additional 20 cats. I am now feeding them.

What is your daily routine like?

My day generally consists of cleaning, washing, feeding, vets trips (for TNR), treatment of kittens/sick cats. For my street cats the routine is different, for my own and the cats safety, I set off at 2 am with 50kg of dry food, come rain or shine to feed them, and this will increase because of the 2 new colonies I have taken over. Saturday is a religious day in Israel and people cannot drive cars so I walk 17 km carrying the heavy bags of food. The street cats are always there waiting for me as they know I won’t let them down. In 22 years I have only missed feeding the street cats once when I was in hospital. New street cats constantly appear and the colonies get larger as word gets out, sadly I lose a lot of street cats.

There is little time for anything else, including eating, and I tend to go with 3-4 hours sleep a day. With the expenses mounting to cover our day-to-day needs, I have had to borrow money and work outside the shelter to cover the debt.

 

Describe what the general attitude is like towards cats and street cats in Israel

I face a lot of adversity for my work and sadly do not receive support from the community at large. Israel has a massive population of unwanted cats (in the region of 2 million – a large number for such a small country) and the government fails to fund its TNR programme. Generally cats are not regarded highly by the majority of Israeli‘s and are often abandoned, abused, killed and poisoned. People have set their dogs on me, I have even been verbally and physically abused for helping the cats, and the street cats, they will go round after me and throw away food and turn over tubs of water. Some people have even put poison in the food. There are laws to protect cats and street cats in Israel but they are not enforced. The police do NOTHING even when you have photo’s or video’s, so the abuse towards animals and those who care for them continues.

What has been your biggest challenge in gaining support for your work?

I think it is hard to get help because cats in general are often considered vermin and a nuisance. I desperately need donations, local volunteers to help with the daily running of the shelter, anyone willing to help out with maintenance, repairs of the shelter and with TNR.

Please tell me why you were looking for a new location for you and the cats

The warehouse that I am currently in is ₪3000 (Israeli Shekels) a month, approximately £625/$820 a month, and the place is literally a death trap that is falling down. It has massive cracks down the walls, the electrical is extremely unsafe, the windows and doors don’t shut properly, it’s boiling hot in the summer, it floods when it rains and it’s full of mold – all of these things have had a detrimental effect on myself and the cats health. The cats as a result often have colds, sinus and respiratory problems which all impact my workload and medical expenses.

In addition my current landlord is an uncooperative and can be abusive, he often turns off the water supply, leaves dogs loose outside that terrify me and the cats and, he refuses to fix the problems in the warehouse. The general area outside the shelter is not safe either, we have vipers around and 2 cats Lovey and Doogy have been bitten. Fortunately I was able to act fast and luckily they both survived. 4 other cats, Vivi, Freddy, Bubbly and Elsa were all poisoned while they were inside the shelter and sadly only Elsa survived.

I understand a new location has been found, what is the best way people can help you?

Donations for the move in addition to cover our daily expenses are going to be needed even more now! Currently only a small number of followers donate regularly. The rent in the new location will be double – ₪7000 a month, approximately £1500/$1900 a month. The renovations are ridiculously expensive and are over double what I planned on but I have no choice because the basics such as electricity, plumbing etc…all need to be fixed. Phase one of the renovations are underway and it is going to be a massive improvement with fresh air, lots of space and no mold! Once it is done it will be worth it.

Although the Facebook page has over 14,000 likes and Instagram nearly 2,000 followers it’s getting harder and harder to get the posts visible. As you know posts are restricted because they want people to pay for them to be boosted, but this is something I do not have the money for.

Once the new shelter is ready I will be bringing about 80-100 street cats there, they will be from the Moshav we are on now because they will not be safe once we leave here. Some will be from another ‘religious’ Moshav because they are in the most danger daily.

Is there anything else you would like people to know?

Chachi’s Haven is a registered charity with an accountant and a board that I am accountable to. In addition to TNR and helping the street cats I also campaign to raise awareness for animal welfare in Israel.

How you can help

  • Please share this post and help spread the word about Chachi’s Haven, especially if you have friends or family that are cat lovers – you never know who will be in a position to help, or perhaps know someone who can
  • Donate to Chachi’s Haven directly on a monthly or one time basis to help Gail and the cats in their new location, with food, medical care or supplies
  • Virtually adopt a cat or physically adopt one of the cats from the shelter
  • Volunteer  – especially for those who are in the area. Gail is always looking for and in need of dedicated people to commit to helping her on the ground

Chachi’s Haven can be followed on Facebook and Instagram, please like, donate if you can and spread the word!

Cats in Hats

Whimsical and artistic are words that could be used to describe the work of Japanese photographer Ryo Yamazaki and his wife Hiromi Yamazaki. The cat loving husband and wife team have created a social media sensation with images of their 3 adorable cats wearing hats. These feline fashion accessories are beautifully crafted out of 100% cat hair that is shed naturally in their house. Ryo, also known as rojiman, is in charge of the photography while his talented wife Hiromi makes the actual hats.

Ryo Yamazaki, rojiman, cats in hats, cat hair, Japan, scottish folds

Mugi – Image © rojiman

I absolutely love this Instagram account so I reached out to Ryo who was kind enough to answer a few questions about their work.

Please tell me when you started to photograph your cats in hats?

We got our first cat 11 years ago and he showed us many interesting expressions. So, in order to document his various expressions, I started photography. Basically my wife Hiromi makes the hats and I take the pictures of the cats in hats. I started doing this about 2 years ago.

Ryo Yamazaki, rojiman, cats in hats, cat hair, Japan, scottish folds

Mugi with Pearl – Image © rojiman

How did you and your wife come up with the idea to make hats from cat hair?

Our project began when the hashtag #trumpyourcat started trending on the photo-sharing app Instagram during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. We just imitated his hair style using the cats hair and I posted the picture on my Instagram.

Where does your inspiration come from?

It comes from many places like the TV news, online web news, movies etc…

Ryo Yamazaki, rojiman, cats in hats, cat hair, Japan, scottish folds

Maru Princess Leia – Image © rojiman

What is your favorite hat?

I really love the Japanese robot anime, Gudam’s hat series.

How do you make the hats?

We have an instructional video on our Instagram that shows how they are made.

Are the hats art or fashion?

It is cat fashion, by the cats, for the cats.

Ryo Yamazaki, rojiman, cats in hats, cat hair, Japan, scottish folds

Nya in top hat and tie – Image © rojiman

Do your cats enjoy wearing the hats?

Yes, when they are relaxing, that’s the best time to take pictures.

Please tell me about your cats Nya, Mugi and Maru

All of my cats are Scottish Fold boys. Nya is an 11-year-old blue tabby pampered boy, Maru is a White 9-year-old glutton and, Mugi the red tabby is a hyperactive 4-year-old who loves his two big brothers.

Ryo Yamazaki, rojiman, cats in hats, cat hair, Japan, scottish folds

Left to right Mugi, Maru and Nya – Image © rojiman

What do you love most about cats?

They live at their own pace. They are what we call in Japan Tsundere, meaning they are sometimes cold but sometimes lovey-dovey.

Ryo Yamazaki, rojiman, cats in hats, cat hair, Japan, scottish folds

Mugi Rabbit ears – Image © rojiman

Is there anything else you would like to tell people about your work?

Please try making fur hats for your own cats!

If you would like to see more of their cats and fantastic hats, there is a 2019 calendar coming out, however if you need an immediate fix be sure to follow Ryo and his wife Hiromi on Instagram.

 

The Mighty Coastal Cat

Small but mighty, the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a wetland-dependent feline that for the most part, still remains a mystery to researchers. Distributed discontinuously through south and southeast Asia, the fishing cat is considered “Vulnerable” and is declining rapidly throughout most its range. Larger than your average domestic cat, their long stocky body, short legs and tail, broad head and extremely dense water proof fur make them perfectly adapted for living in and around water based habitats.

Fishing Cat, Prionailurus viverrinus,Small Cats, Wildcats, Asia, Southeast Asia, endangered species, wetland species, water cats, mangroves, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, aquaculture, shirmp farming, wetland loss, mangroves, swamp cats

Contrary to belief, fishing cats do not have specially webbed claws for catching fish, in fact their feet are no more webbed than any of the other cats.
Image – Fishing cat at water’s edge

To find out more about what makes these small cats so remarkable Dr. Anthony J. Giordano, founder and director of S.P.E.C.I.E.S., is back to discuss his organization’s work with the fishing cat and explain why more emphasis needs to be put on this unique species that calls the wetlands of Asia home.

Why highlight the fishing cat?

I have always been personally interested in the ecology of the fishing cat for many of the same reasons as you or your readers are – simply put, there wasn’t a lot of information on them. To address this back in 2008 we began a fishing cat project in Bangladesh, right before they were listed as “Endangered” by the IUCN. This status change occurred mostly because fishing cats were not showing up in survey areas where many thought they should have been and, because there were few records or pictures – it was like an alarm bell going off for researchers. Since S.P.E.C.I.E.S. was already well positioned to lead fishing cat research efforts this change in status allowed us to make a stronger argument for funding the work.

Unfortunately it is frequently difficult to make an argument to protect a species and gather critical information about it unless it is threatened or endangered. This often leads to smaller samples due to the animal’s rarity and this often happens at the expense of being able to do good science. I do think these type of shortcomings underscore the need for greater financial investment, as there are only a handful of funding options out there to support work like this in conservation research. In particular, better funding is needed to support information-gathering on potentially declining species before they’re officially on the radar as a threatened species and, to support the proper development of an effective conservation strategy.

Fishing Cat, Prionailurus viverrinus,Small Cats, Wildcats, Asia, Southeast Asia, endangered species, wetland species, water cats, mangroves, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, aquaculture, shirmp farming, wetland loss, mangroves, swamp cats

“It’s now commonly understood that fishing cats are the only true wetland-dependent species of felid, and in this case by wetland I mean lakes and ponds, as well as mangroves and coastal estuaries…” – Anthony J. Giordano – Image female fishing cat

What are the projects S.P.E.C.I.E.S. has worked on?

A few years ago we finished a project in eastern Bangladesh where we conducted the first region wide surveys among an interesting region known as Sylhet. Bangladesh hosts the world’s largest Delta and Sylhet has some interesting geology which permits the formation of seasonal lakes or wetlands called haors (pronounced how-er), which can grow large after the region’s seasonal monsoons and then quickly dry up later in the year. We verified the presence of fishing cats at several haors and, in some places fishing cats were relatively common making it possible to observe them in the open where they seemed indifferent to our presence. In other areas where they occur, fishing cats were elusive and sometimes near impossible to find.

Another important aspect of our work was trying to understand how local people interacted with fishing cats. There is a major protected wetland sanctuary near one of the haors where local residents manage commercial tilapia ponds and their fish were frequently reported as being taken by fishing cats. In other areas fishing cats were killing people’s ducks, so overall most of these areas were experiencing some kind of conflict or coexistence issue with fishing cats.

We quickly learned there wasn’t a lot of regard for fishing cats in eastern Bangladesh. In fact, the local people also remarked that the cats had a very strong scent. I finally got wind of one at one point – imagine a musky, wet cat that also smells of sun-bleached fish! It is possible that their habitats, in and around urban areas of south Asia, could contribute to that smell or maybe it is a combination of that and their quick drying, insulating hairs which also help them to do well in the colder parts of their range.

After completing some pretty extensive surveys we concluded that fishing cats were broadly-distributed in that region. I even found fishing cat sign near a national park not very far north of Dhaka, the country’s capital and another overpopulated south Asian urban center, that is an extremely degraded secondary forest. This suggests a certain amount of adaptability by fishing cats in these regions.

Fishing Cat, Prionailurus viverrinus,Small Cats, Wildcats, Asia, Southeast Asia, endangered species, wetland species, water cats, mangroves, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, aquaculture, shirmp farming, wetland loss, mangroves, swamp cats,

“Most tilapia from this region makes its way to the U.S. as frozen white fish, so people should be aware of where their tilapia comes from”. – Anthony J. Giordano – Image – Fishing cat catching fish

In the seasonal forests of Sri Lanka’s hill country S.P.E.C.I.E.S. has a multi-species carnivore project in full partnership with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. In contrast to Bangladesh, it took us over a year to verify the presence of fishing cats at this study site. This central north part of the country is seasonally dry and has no natural lakes instead, it has man-made reservoirs that date back to ancient kingdoms. Survey after survey we found leopard tracks and the occasional rusty-spotted cat track, the smallest of the world’s cats, but we found NO evidence of fishing cats. Even with camera-traps inside and outside the nearest protected area no photos of fishing cats even as photos of everything else poured in and yet, we were collecting convincing reports that fishing cats were killing people’s chickens.

The first physical evidence the project we had for fishing cats in the area came more than a year into the project when a friend of the project was driving home one day late at night and they saw some movement at the side of the road. They started filming with their cell phone camera and sure enough it was a fishing cat which proceeded to run across the road right in front of the car! However, more time would elapse before we got our first official photo of a fishing cat on a camera-trap. In these environments the seasonal contraction and expansion of water bodies drive a lot of the challenges in conducting surveys for fishing cats so it is incredibly interesting to see how populations adapt to these ecosystems. At the other end of the spectrum fishing cats frequent coastal habitats on the edge of the city of Colombo, another of the most densely populated cities in southeast Asia, and they are not particularly secretive there either. I don’t know another cat where regional populations can be so different in this regard.

Usually, one can get a feel for the ecology and behavior of species across its range and what you might expect from it, but with fishing cats each population is a bit unpredictable and so that only adds to the mystery.

As for the fishing cat in Java, the last time it was seen was in 1930 and it is believed to be extinct. An expedition in the 1990’s was able to record fishing cat sign in a handful of locations in western Java, but there is no conclusive evidence that they still exist there.  There are rumors and reports that still persist to this day and to know for sure I am hoping to launch an expedition that will retrace the steps of an earlier expedition. If it is still alive it would probably be the rarest cat in the world.

Fishing Cat, Prionailurus viverrinus,Small Cats, Wildcats, Asia, Southeast Asia, endangered species, wetland species, water cats, mangroves, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, aquaculture, shirmp farming, wetland loss, mangroves, swamp cats

IUCN Map of fishing cat range

Wetlands and the fishing cat go hand in hand

The evolution of the fishing cat was more or less to specialize in foraging among wetlands and coastal areas, and this is what makes them unique among modern cats. They are not shy about swimming completely submerged underwater when they want or need to, head and all. They are known to sit by the water’s edge and scoop out a fish or dash in after one as well as swim up underneath waterfowl resting on the water’s surface. One could argue that the fishing cat is a top predator in these Asian ecosystems which are not particularly suitable habitat for other larger carnivore species.

What is their connection to shrimp farming?

In many ways the conservation challenges that fishing cats are enduring make it the face of wetland conservation in south Asia. Whether through development, agriculture, or aquaculture, south and southeast Asia’s unique wetlands and mangroves are disappearing more rapidly that its rain forests if you can believe that? In southern Thailand for example, shrimp farming is displacing natural wetland habitat that would normally be suitable habitat for fishing cats, otters, numerous birds, reptiles, amphibians, and of course freshwater fish that would be found nowhere else.

Much of that shrimp is largely exported to western markets including the U.S., which unfortunately loves it cheap frozen shrimp. The average person should be aware of what they purchase and from where and maybe consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program as each choice we make can have an impact, whether negative or positive. A mindful consumer is the best weapon against wanton environmental degradation and I always say that if it costs a little more to compensate someone, or an industry for that matter, for doing the right thing, wouldn’t it be worth it?

What is so unique about the distribution of fishing cats? 

Today fishing cat distribution likely represents what the distribution of water bodies were like tens of thousands of years ago perhaps when that particular part of the earth was wetter and when lakes and rivers were more contiguous with one another. Since that time the distribution of these active watersheds changed which means the fishing cat’s range has also become fragmented with many populations becoming isolated from one another.

This is consistent with the idea that the habitat in between these populations does little to facilitate cat movement or dispersal. Tropical forests might be incredibly important overall for supporting biodiversity but a conservation strategy for fishing cats must include wetlands and mangroves in places like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Nepal where we’ve just begun a brand new initiative focused on fishing cats. More importantly one cannot assume anything about a local population that hasn’t previously been studied as their ecology might be very different from that of the next closest population.

What would surprise people most about the fishing Cat?

They are tough and scrappy! Wild individuals don’t particularly care for people and have a generally bad attitude particularly large males, the females weigh about 15-18 lbs and are generally only about half the size of the males. They actually might be even tougher than a bobcat! One account that interested me from around the turn of the 20th century was of a male fishing cat, caught during a collecting expedition in India, that had managed to kill a female leopard through a cage placed near its own. Not a cat you want to mess with!

 

With expanding human settlement in south and southeast Asia is the fishing cat on the decline due to habitat loss?

Overall, yes it most certainly is. The global trend is downward. However, local populations differ in their adaptability and for some, some degree of human development might be something they can adapt well to. Whereas others might be negatively impacted rather quickly. As I said Colombo has a fishing cat population on its coast, but who is to say that this coastal region might not be further eroded, developed or paved over in the near future assuming that process hasn’t already begun? No fishing cat population, no matter how adaptable, can survive that.

With the expanding human population comes greater settlement in more remote areas and more roads which means more fishing cats are getting killed on roads, something we’re starting to see in Sri Lanka, India and other areas. In addition to this there is the previously mentioned more general but widespread rapid pace of wetland and coastal development. Although our organization consistently communicates the importance of protecting tropical forests, particularly in Asia, we are trying our best to tell the stories of wetlands and mangroves considering they are the lungs of the ocean and the nurseries that supply the ocean’s creatures and us with food. They are critical to how a lot of ocean life begins so it’s no surprise that fishing cats have also come to depend on them. Therefore when we protect those fragile ecosystems, we are also protecting fishing cat populations.

Do you see poaching as a major threat to the species?

Hunting and trapping is an issue more in the context of ongoing conflict over the killing of poultry, the taking of fish, etc… than for commercial purposes. I see these problems as two different things – one is about solving a problem that has nothing to do with the cat’s value, and so doesn’t warrant necessarily the killing of the cat, the other is about valuing a dead animal for its parts. Perhaps the smell from the musk and oils plays a role in discouraging commercial trade or maybe the skins are not as gaudy as those of other Asian felids. I have seen skins locally yes, but likely the result of local conflict and opportunistic killings. This doesn’t mean that there is no commercial poaching occurring, rather it means that currently our understanding is that among the many threats fishing cats face it is likely not in the top three which are: wetland/coastal development and degradation, persecution from conflict and roadkill.

What would be the best ways to get local communities involved in saving the fishing cat?

It is all going to depend on what the local issues or threats are – they vary considerably so custom strategies might be warranted for each region. Most local people in most areas I’d argue currently don’t see the value in protecting fishing cats like they might inherently see for other species. In Bangladesh for example tigers inspire awe in many people, and are the national animal, this despite the fact they’ve been eradicated from much of the country. In contrast, fishing cats are considered nothing but pests. If people better understood how important their local population was or learned about how the rest of the world valued fishing cats, many might be at least open to non-lethal strategies for co-existing with fishing cats. In some parts of Bangladesh fishing cats are persecuted directly, whereas in other areas local communities have cited their Islamic faith as a reason they won’t or shouldn’t kill fishing cats. This is similar to some Sri Lankan communities, which cite their Buddhist philosophy for non-lethal practices. I would say that across their range local people don’t necessarily have to be excited about fishing cats, but maybe they would be more proactive about reducing conflict or avoiding lethal retribution and just let fishing cats be. This would be a very positive change for some local fishing cat populations, one we are leading the fight to make to happen.

Do you see zoos playing a role in helping the species?

I think most modern zoos are extremely committed to animal health and well-being, and are doing more and more for the conservation of wild populations. S.P.E.C.I.E.S. owes a tremendous amount of gratitude to zoos that have supported us financially to so that we are able to do conservation in the wild. We’ve even gotten some support for our fishing cat work from zoos. For example, support from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo was critical to helping us launch the Bangladesh Fishing Cat Project years ago while most recently, we are indebted to the Phoenix Zoo for their support of our latest fishing cat initiative in Nepal.  In addition to zoos supporting conservation some zoos are where the wonder happens and it is sometimes the very first place for us that it does. How many of today’s conservation professionals, ecologists, naturalists owe their passion and inspiration to early experiences they had or observations they made at zoos? Would I really care about protecting fishing cats today, for example, if I’d only seen a video about them via my smart phone? Zoos invoke more than a “click to care” response, their presence helps lead to the next generation of professionals that work hard to protect the world’s endangered species.

What are your final thoughts on fishing cat conservation?

One of the things about protecting small cats is the potential to communicate their stories to the public. There is a certain familiarity or connection one can make to their own small cat sitting on their couch, purring on their lap, or hiding under the bed. Like the fishing cat, many of the world’s small cats have their own interesting tales to tell and I think there has largely been a missed opportunity to connect more people with their stories.

Fishing Cat, Prionailurus viverrinus,Small Cats, Wildcats, Asia, Southeast Asia, endangered species, wetland species, water cats, mangroves, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, aquaculture, shirmp farming, wetland loss, mangroves, swamp cats,

“Even today we’re still trying to map their basic distribution and understand their ecology so they remain an enigma like few other cat’s” – Anthony J. Giordano – Image – Kelinahandbasket (Fishing Cat) Wikimedia commons

The fishing cat’s story lies in its dependence of fragile wetland and coastal ecosystems and no other cat’s story is so tied to these places. There is at once a lot that is unknown about the fishing cat, but a lot that is familiar. It’s that juxtaposition, and the fact they are such bad ass cats, that make them so intriguing. Hopefully this, along with the support of people locally and elsewhere, will keep us leading the charge to protect fishing cats!