Pause the YouTube cute cat videos for a moment and ponder this– what if the tabby cat in that video could catch fish… and it was endangered…and it lived in Sri Lanka? Wouldn’t you want to know more? Then read on to learn about the endangered Asian fishing cats of Sri Lanka.
What are Fishing Cats?
The fishing cat is a medium sized wild cat. Some people call them Asian fishing cats (or Southeast Asian fishing cats), but since they only occur in Asia, the reference is somewhat redundant. They weigh about 28 lbs (12.5 kilos) and look like an extra large house cat or a small bobcat. They have a striped tabby-like coat and are often mistaken for civets.
The fishing cat lives in a wide-ranging habit throughout Asia and can be found in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. They live in wetlands where they swim around and catch fish. However, they are opportunistic feeders and also eat small mammals, birds and domestic chickens.
“To a fishing cat, un-caged domestic chickens are like a bucket of KFC”
— Anya Ratnayaka, fishing cat conservationist
Why are Asian Fishing Cats Threatened?
The cats are stressed by human conflict such as road accidents, retaliatory actions from chicken kills and, to a lesser extent, poaching for bush meat. However, habitat loss is the primary cause for concern.
The cats in Colombo are trying to carve out a living in a city with 750,000 humans who sprawl over 14 square miles (23/k). Sri Lanka had a devastating civil war that ended in 2009. The economy has rebounded with a post-war construction boom in Colombo and all of that human housing and commercial activity eats into the prime wetland habitat that the cats call home.
Sri Lanka is only now realizing the value of the urban wetlands for both wildlife conservation and tide water management and the city of Colombo has begun to restore wetlands to bring the environment back into balance.
Enter Anya Ratnayaka
Anya is a firecracker. She is cheerfully building a scrappy conservation program challenged by a chaotic urban environment for a small cat that no one has heard of in a country where all of the conservation and tourist dollars are aimed at the charismatic leopard.
Anya loves leopards too. With her masters in wildlife conservation firmly in hand, she started down on a path to study leopards. But then her friend rescued a 6-month old fishing cat and Anya tilted her windmill to take on the conservation of fishing cats.
Her gregarious nature is perfect for the job. While some wildlife conservationists take a competitive approach to research and grant dollars, Anya is all about cooperation. She has established a cooperative relationship with the fishing cat project in Kandy and actively engages with the Sri Lankan wildlife service to gain support for her work. She is also part of the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation, which supports the conservation of all endangered small cat species.
Even more rare than the fishing cat is the elusive Andean Cat. Find out more about their conservation efforts in South America.
Sri Lankan Fishing Cat Conservation Programs
Little is known about these nocturnal kitties which makes it very difficult to develop effective conservation strategies. And it’s hard to rally support for a cat that is so hard to see. The Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project (UFCCP) is working to remedy that by making the cats more visible.
Cat Collaring & Tracking
UFCCP has a handful of cats outfitted with tracking collars. This allows Anya to establish the cat’s range and track how they are navigating the urban environment. The early data shows that the cats are rather ingenious as they slink through the city at night using gutters and storm drains to avoid the worst of the traffic.
Anya is also using tracking data to see how well the cats respond to relocation out of the urban area and into a more natural landscape.
UFCCP has also set up camera traps in the Thalawatugoda biodiversity park. The park is a reclaimed wetland in southwestern Colombo and it’s prime cat habitat. With the help of Maduranga, a tuktuk driver and part-time conservationist, Anya sets and checks the camera traps and explores the terrain for signs of cat activity.
Public Education & Outreach
The cats seem to have a particular fondness for nice neighborhoods and houses landscaped with fancy fish ponds. When they find a house with delicious fish stock, they will return again and again until the pond stands empty.
UFCCP works with the security guards in those neighborhoods. The guards alert Anya to any cat activity and the guards will share security footage of cats on the hunt.
The program also has an ongoing relationship with Colombo’s wildlife planning and urban development departments. Anya is on hand, advising the city on the benefits of limiting the loss of wetland acreage. UFCCP also hosts outreach and education workshops for students interested in local cat conservation.
Check out this video of the cats in urban Colombo–
3 Ways to See the Fishing Cat
These cats are even more elusive than the leopards so there are no guarantees, but your best chance is to insert yourself directly into their habitat. Here are three suggestions:
- Tell your safari guide that you are interested in the cats. There are pockets of fishing cat habitat throughout Sri Lanka so keep your eyes open while you are also chasing down the elephants and leopards.
- Visit the Thalawathugoda biodiversity park. You can take a boat tour of the wetlands and see prime cat habitat. But call ahead for information.
- Stay at the Vil Uyana in the Golden Triangle. This super lux hotel located near Sigiyra has a resident cat and also some loris. They run a night walk where you can try to spot both. Check out reviews or book on Booking.com.
How to Support the Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project
To say that UFCCP runs on a shoestring would be an understatement. They are doing this conservation work with two people, one tuktuk and a budget of $7,000 per year. But they would like to grow the program, expand their outreach and develop a rehab facility–which they can only do that with your help. Here are a few ways to support UFCCP:
- Donate money to the project via the Wildlife Conservation Network. I donate to this well-respected, fiscally responsible organization and you can too. On their donation page, select the “small cats” project and specify “Urban Fishing Cats Sri Lanka” in the notes field. WCN will make sure that Anya’s project gets the money.
- Follow them on Facebook and/or YouTube and share their posts with your cat-loving friends.
- Buy some fishing cat schwag through Red Bubble.
Learn more about the program by watching Anya’s talk at the Wildlife Conservation Expo.
Plan Your Trip to Sri Lanka
- Check out this complete guide to planning a trip to Sri Lanka.
- Find out which parks are the best for wildlife viewing.
- Explore the top 7 spots for culture and history in Sri Lanka.
- Book a room in one of these top hotels.
- Get the Lonely Planet guide to Sri Lanka.
- Use Skyscanner to find the best fares to Sri Lanka.
Your Parting Shot
Get more Wayfaring Views by subscribing to the newsletter.
Spread the word on Fishing Cat conservation and pin this-