This year, #EndangeredSpeciesDay coincided beautifully with #FishingCatFriday. And I asked our followers on Instagram if,
Fishing cats are:
A: Locally Vulnerable + Globally Endangered (12 votes)
B: Locally Endangered + Globally Vulnerable (30 votes)
C: Locally Endangered + Globally Endangered (21 votes)
D: Locally Vulnerable + Globally Vulnerable (8 votes)
*locally indicates Sri Lanka… Since this is a project based in Sri Lanka.
The numbers fluctuated throughout the 24 hour story and we held our breath as we watched the polls. Of course as soon as a vote was cast the answer was revealed to the voter, and boy did we get some DM’s from followers with statements dripping with shock and horror “Oh man! ; Dammit ; Nooooo” after choosing what they thought was the correct answer.
But for those of you who didn’t participate, the correct answer is… Drumroll please… B! Fishing cats are, locally (remember, we are talking about Sri Lanka here) Endangered and globally Vulnerable.
Before diving into the specifics, here is a little bit of background. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has several Categories and Criteria that are used to classify different species that are at risk of global extinction.
Each species gets placed into a category depending on various factors that come into play during a very vigorous evaluation process. But generally speaking according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria Version 3.1 Second Edition, “The categorization process should only be applied to wild populations inside their natural range, and to populations resulting from benign introductions. The latter are defined in the IUCN Guidelines for Re-introductions (IUCN 1998) as ‘…an attempt to establish a species, for the purpose of conservation, outside its recorded distribution, but within an appropriate habitat and eco-geographical area.”
In 2015, I was a part of the latest assessment for the fishing cat which was published in June 2016. Along with the members of the Fishing Cat Working Group, I spent a week in Chitwan, Nepal, freezing my butt off as we collectively gave our thoughts and opinions on the current status of fishing cats from our respective range countries. This, was the first time the species had been evaluated in such detail, due to the sheer amount (at that time at least) of information that was brought forth by each one of us. By the end of the week it was decided.
The fishing cat, would be globally downgraded to Vulnerable, meaning that it faced a high risk of going extinct in the wild.
Of course this didn’t change the status of the species within the different range countries. In Sri Lanka, the fishing cat is still listed as Endangered in The National Red List 2012, indicating that it is at a very high risk of going extinct in the wild within the country.
Endangered. Vulnerable. They both mean the same thing. The fishing cat’s population trend is decreasing. In other words, it is suspected that over the past 15 years there has been a 30% decrease in the fishing cat’s global population, and if threats such as habitat loss (wetlands, mangroves and other water rich habitats), development and urbanisation, agriculture and aquaculture, retaliatory and accidental killing, and vehicular strikes are not controlled, there will be a further 30% decrease within the next 15 years (that’s roughly three generations of fishing cats). The Red Lists assessment goes on to say that the future population decrease will most likely be caused by “Irreversible losses of around 10% of Fishing Cat habitat in Sri Lanka, 10% in the Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands ecoregion of India and Nepal and 30% in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta are likely in the next 15 years.”
All this sounds dark and grim. Believe me, these things keep me up at night. But my team and I, along with the rest of the Fishing Cat Working Group are hard at work raising the species profile amongst our respective governments and the general public, and fighting even harder to ensure that fishing cats along with their habitats are protected for future generations.
If you would like to help us protect Colombo’s fishing cat population, please consider donating a small amount, or you could show your support by purchasing some of our merch!
IUCN. (2012). IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition.
Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN. iv + 32pp.
MOE 2012. The National Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka; Conservation Status of the Fauna
and Flora. Ministry of Environment, Colombo, Sri Lanka. viii + 476pp
Mukherjee, S., Appel, A., Duckworth, J.W., Sanderson, J., Dahal, S., Willcox, D.H.A., Herranz Muñoz, V., Malla, G., Ratnayaka, A., Kantimahanti, M., Thudugala, A., Thaung, R. & Rahman, H. 2016. Prionailurus viverrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T18150A50662615. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-2.RLTS.T18150A50662615.en.