Local fishermen, wildlife activists and officials are said to operate 100 camera traps and enumerate the population of the species

The first investigation of the elusive fishing cat in and around Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon, Lake Chilika in Odisha, began on March 1, 2021, officials said.

The animal population enumeration survey is conducted by the Chilika Development Authority (CDA), the regulator for the lake, in partnership with the nonprofit Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance (FCCA).

Local fishermen, along with wildlife activists, will support the CDA in this first-ever maiden survey. “Up to 100 camera traps have been installed on the lakeshore and in some nearby areas. Fisher cats used to be seen in the areas where the hidden cameras were installed, ”said CDA Managing Director Sushanta Nanda.

In the past two days, several fishing cats have been captured by the hidden cameras, he said. The exact number of fish cats in the lake was not estimated earlier, although they have been spotted frequently in different areas of the vast lake.

The fishing cat is listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The CDA, which falls under the government of Odisha, named the fisher cat as the ambassador of Chilika during the celebration of Wildlife Week in 2020.

The CDA, in collaboration with the FCCA, also launched the fishing cat project after finding the globally endangered species in the blue lagoon, which spread to three districts – Ganjam, Puri and Khorda – covering an area of ​​around 1,100 km².

A fishing cat caught in a camera trap at night. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

The project will create awareness for the protection of the animal among locals and fishermen, official sources said.

The State Forestry Office had already launched a two-year project to conserve the fishing cat in the Bhitarkanika National Park in 2020.

“It is a welcome step to raise awareness of conservation measures when this highly endangered species is threatened from multiple sources,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Odisha, a nonprofit that works to protect wildlife.

Habitat loss from wetland destruction is a major threat to the fishing cat. In addition, the animal is also being killed by humans under the false assumption that it is a juvenile tiger and therefore dangerous, he said.

Fish cats are almost twice the size of the house cat. They are generally found in the swampy wetlands of north and east India and the east coast mangroves, a wildlife activist said.

In 2016, the IUCN Red List, a critical indicator of global biodiversity health, identified the fishing cat as an “endangered” species.