Abstract

Fishing cat populations appear to have declined significantly in recent years due to the loss and fragmentation of inland and coastal wetland habitats. Moreover, there are still large gaps in data on population and density estimates, and threat evaluation, which are vital for conservation assessments. This research aimed to help fill these critical knowledge gaps. Our study is the first density estimate for fishing cat from mainland Southeast Asia. We conducted a camera-trap survey and used a spatially-explicit capture-recapture analytical framework to estimate the abundance of fishing cats in and around Khao Sam Roi Yot area (KSRY), which hosts an isolated, threatened population of the felid in Thailand. We also conducted interviews among adjacent communities to better understand local perspectives toward fishing cats, conflict with local people, and as a consequence of both, anthropogenic threats to the population. Over 6966 trap-days, we identified at least 33 individual adult cats and based on our top model (g0~bk, σ~h2), we estimated fishing cat density to be 18 ± SE 6 individuals/100 km2 (95% CI 10 – 33). Among 80 interviewees, we recorded 25 incidents of conflict, most relating to raids on poultry (n = 18) and damage to fishing gear in pursuit of fish (n = 5). Land use type, land use change, and human activity, did not significantly affect fishing cat density and movements. Our findings further suggest that a proposed tax policy governing land use may force landowners to convert suitable fishing cat habitat to unsuitable areas, resulting in the loss of up to 30% of existing suitable habitat from our study area. We also found that local communities would support either an exemption for landowners not wishing to develop suitable fishing cat habitat, and/or an additional policies that incentivize the maintenance and/or preservation of areas suitable for fishing cats. Finally, we conclude that the official presence of park officers in communities beyond the protected area would be beneficial, as would the implementation of public outreach programming to mitigate negative attitudes toward fishing cats, and provide recommendations on strategies for coexisting with them.

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