A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
Reintroduction & Fishing Cats
December 22, 2011Posted by on
Earlier this month our blog featured some adorable baby fishing cat photos. The post was a real hit with our readers, and we received an intriguing comment on it:
What will become these baby fishing cats when they’re adults ? Will they be reintroduced in their natural habitat or will they have to live in captivity their whole lives ?
This is a question we are often asked, particularly when we feature pictures wild cats in zoos, and it gives us a chance to clarify a few things. Thank you David, for asking.
Consider the situation in the Fishing Cats’ native habitat.
These cats are widely distributed but concentrated in wetland habitats, which are increasingly being settled, degraded and converted. Over 94% of globally significant wetlands in Southeast Asia are considered threatened by human settlement, draining for agriculture, pollution, wood-cutting and fishing. In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the past decade has been rapid. The depletion of fish stocks from over-fishing is prevalent and is likely to be a significant threat.
Indiscriminate trapping, snaring and poisoning are also taking a toll. Fishing Cats are considered a food item in many areas of their range, and are also persecuted for taking domestic stock. They can often be seen for sale in street markets. The scarcity of recent records throughout their range suggests that over the past decade, they have undergone a serious and significant population decline. In 2008, they were moved from Vulnerable Status to Endangered.
Would cats living in zoos, with meals brought to them on a regular basis, warm shelter and protection from predators want to be put into a world like this?
Before any reintroduction program can happen, four elements must be firmly in place:
- Field research must be done on the species in any area proposed for reintroduction. Is the species already found there, how big are their territories, are there enough prey animals and what dangers would they face are just a few of the questions that must be answered.
- The people living nearby and government officials must be made aware of the cats, and their importance to the health of the ecosystem. Without these education programs, the hunting and killing will continue.
- Captive breeding programs must provide genetically variant offspring – most of the small wild cats are not well represented in zoos, meaning there are not enough animals to produce animals for reintroduction.
- Habitat must be preserved. Without implementing or strengthening laws already in place, the rapid destruction of ecosystems all over the world will continue.
None of these elements are in place for the Fishing Cats. We would all like to see wild animals living where they belong, but the unfortunate truth is that the wild is rapidly disappearing. For the Fishing Cats, wetlands are being drained at so rapid a pace the cats are on an accelerated slide towards extinction. Like the tiger, their only hope of survival may be the zoo population.
If we don’t like that answer, it’s up to all of us to reverse the trend – for wild cats and the rest of the world’s wildlife.