Even as conservationists have started to fear that the Fishing Cat is extirpated from Indonesia, new footage, though inconclusive, has renewed hope that the species may not yet have vanished from Southeast Asia. The likely last sighting of a wild fishing cat in Java was before 1990. Over the past 15 years, researchers have placed hundreds of camera traps in prime fishing cat habitat in Java, the only place fishing cats occur in Indonesia, with no luck. Here Erwin Wilianto, program coordinator for the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Forum, discusses the response to the video.
On August 2016, Agus Azhari, a wildlife photographer with Surabaya/WPS, managed to capture a short video clip of a wild cat that somewhat resembles the elusive and rare Fishing Cat in a fish pond area near Surabaya City in East Java. The area is part of the Wonorejo mangrove area—which is not a protected area or conservation area. Instead the area over time has been converted into fish farms and settlements, which is similar to the fate of most of Java’s wetland areas.
Early in 2017 I asked the photographer to share his picture with the Fishing Cat Working Group for better identification. Due to the limited angle and quality, we decided that we could not say conclusively whether the cat seen in the video is a Fishing Cat or a Leopard Cat. Some experts in the working group thought that it was a Fishing Cat because of its gait, how it holds its tail and because its body size seems about right. Others thought that the legs are too long and gangly for a Fishing Cat. Unfortunately, the cat was walking away from the camera and we have no additional footage to provide more information.
So we decided to do a collaborative survey involving WPS and Bird Consultant to get a better picture of the feline to confirm the species. Using resources from my Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund grant, I trained a field worker to use and maintain camera traps for the survey. In September 2017, we set five camera traps around the location where the suspected Fishing Cat in the video had been. Within a month (30 camera trap nights), we captured footage of only one wild cat in the area. Again we sent this picture to the Fishing Cat Working Group. Again we were not able to conclusively state the cat in the image is a Fishing Cat, though most of the group thought it is, indeed, a Fishing Cat.
As a result, we need to conduct more comprehensive research to study whether the Fishing Cat still exists in this area, for instance with more camera trap nights and a wider study area. Even the people still doubting what species is in the video and photo agree that this is the closest we’ve come to rediscovering the Fishing Cat in Java since the last photograph of a living Fishing Cat in 2000. Furthermore, if we do rediscover the species in Java, this research will help us map the species’ distribution and population in order to determine the conservation action needed in the future.
For more information, please contact:
- Iwan ‘Londo’ Febrianto (Bird Consultant)
mobile: +62 818 338 433; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Agus Azhari (Wildife Photography Surabaya)
mobile: +62 823 3607 3147; e-mail: email@example.com
- Erwin Wilianto (HarimauKita Forum)
mobile: +62 812 6105 1770; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org