The Cat that Loves Water:
Determined scientists and photographers finally capture images of the rare and elusive fishing cat
by Morgan Heim
WE KNEW OUR INTENTION TO PHOTOGRAPH FISHING CATS in the wilds of Southeast Asia wouldn’t be easily accomplished. Other than National Geographic Society filmmakers Belinda Wright and Stanley Breeden, who took a few pictures of the cats in the 1990s, few people had seen, let alone photographed, the animals in the wild. In fact, since 2003, Thai biologist Passanan Cutter, founder of the Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project, has observed only one free-roaming cat.
Science knows little about the fishing cat, which embraces a rather unfeline affinity for water. The animal lives in Southeast Asian swamps, where it swims and hunts fish. Weighing up to 30 pounds, it has adapted to its aquatic environment: It has webbed feet, short legs, tiny ears, spotted, almost water-resistant fur and a muscular tail it uses as a rudder.
Jim Sanderson, a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group and founder of the Small Cat Conservation Alliance, believes the species numbers no more than 3,000 individuals, scattered mostly throughout Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Rampant habitat destruction, persecution and the bush-meat trade have caused an estimated decline in the cat’s numbers of more than 50 percent since those photos taken by Breeden and Wright in the 1990s…
(read more: National Wildlife Federation)
photos by Morgan Heim
Cee4life notified me last night that the Indian authorities have decided to continue to care for Machli until she dies. I have to give a lot of credit to Sybelle, the director of Cee4life, for her resilience in this matter as she faced a lot of criticism and even got death threats for going against the petition to let Machli die. Sybelle cancelled her trip to India, however, everyone who donated to this cause was contacted and given a chance to have their donations refunded.
For those of you who don’t know, Cee4life is currently doing work at the Surabaya Zoo in Indonesia, providing healthcare and resources as well as an International Education program. You can read more about that or donate here.
There is currently a debate going on about whether or not the forestry department in Ranthambhore should stop providing food for Machli. Apparently, they were ordered to stop in March by the NTCA, and that Machli has been surviving on her own ever since. For those of you who don’t know, Machli is nearly 18 years old, and has lost all of her canine teeth. Despite her ability to still hunt small animals, lizards and birds, she has, for the past four years, occasionally been provided with carcasses.
I agree that they should never have started feeding her in the first place, but that is in the past and not the problem at hand. In saying that, I don’t blame them for what they did, Machli is not an animal I could’ve just left for dead either. It’s now being argued that she’s taking up space, and that it’s inhumane to put her through old age. Whilst she does still live in Ranthambhore, she no longer holds prime territory and has been confined to the very outskirts of the park by males and breeding females. Food is still able to sustain and nourish her, to the point where she can still hunt for herself. Obviously we can’t keep on feeding her forever, but cutting her off completely and leaving her to die does seem a bit drastic.
Machli will die one day, but it absolutely cannot be by our own doing. I’m very open about this subject, but I think exceptions are needed because of her history. Machli does not always feed on the food she is supplemented with, which still suggests stable independence on her part. I know the park is becoming increasingly productive with the populations beginning to rise, but Machli will never become redundant, especially to those who love and admire her.
Valkmik is being opposed by a non-profit organisation called Cee4life. They’re heading over to India in a week’s time, and you can donate via PayPal to their cause if you agree with them. I really do hope that all the pros and cons are weighed and that they can come to a decision that serves her best interests. Machli is a national icon, and is dubbed as one of the greatest tigers to ever walk the planet. Her resilience, unique power and beauty has generated over 500 million dollars to India’s tourism, and she’s provided the park with numerous lineages for the continuation of her species. Towards the end of their lives, B2 and Charger of Bandhavgarh National Park, were cared for in different ways by the forestry department, so Machli should also be given the same kind of chances to live out the rest of her life peacefully.
Three orphaned Amur tigers, two males and one female were successfully released to the wild in the Russian Far East last week, in further attempts to save the species and to reclaim tiger habitat. Underlining the importance of the event, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin also attended the release. Two more tigers, a male and female, are scheduled for release in early June, making it the largest release of rehabilitated Amur tigers ever.
"The tigers were prepared to go back to the wild; they are in good physical shape, successfully stalking and hunting their natural prey and avoid human beings," explains Dr. Viatcheslav Rozhnov, Deputy-Director of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution.
During the rehabilitation process, all contact with humans was eliminated. Monitoring the tigers was done through remotely-operated video cameras.
Daughter of legendary tigress Machali, and now ruler of the largest territory in Ranthambhore, T-19 aka Krishna was spotted on the 24th of March with her three new cubs, believed to be about six weeks old.
The cubs appear to be in good health, and their birth has increased the number of tigers in the park to 58.
Sansar Chand is believed to have been the biggest wildlife poacher in India, being responsible for more tiger and leopard deaths than anybody else. Diaries seized from Sansar Chand’s family by the Rajasthan Police in 2004 allegedly showed transactions of 40 tiger skins and 400 leopard skins in a period of just 11 months from October 2003 to September 2004. During interrogation by the CBI in 2006, Sansar Chand apparently admitted to selling 470 tiger skins and 2,130 leopard skins to just four clients from Nepal and Tibet.
He was facing several charges related to the killing of wild cats in Sariska Tiger Reserve, but was admitted to hospital last week, suffering from cancer. According to doctors, he had tumors in his brain, lungs and spinal cord.
Five hours ago, a new article came out about how wildlife lovers feel about her disappearance. Most people have already labeled her as dead, despite the fact that fresh pug marks were found a few days ago. Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch said that ‘She was old and was of no ecological use. The effort that the forest department used to maintain her can be better used to take care of the many sub-adults in the forest now.” For some years now, a vehicle and separate fund were allocated just for feeding Machli, as she could no longer hunt efficiently by herself.
But it is not the absence of Machli that is stirring up wildlife enthusiasts against the forest department as is the use of the term “missing” in cases when tigers are not sighted even for long period of time. It has been six months since Machli’s daughter Sundari or T-17 was last sighted but the forest department still refers to her as ‘missing.’
In fact, there are at least 10 tigers including T-21, T-27, T-40, two cubs of T-13, T-31 and T-29 which have not been sighted for reasonable period of time but are referred to as ‘missing’ by the forest department.
Nepal’s Himalayas host as many as one-fifth of the world’s total snow leopard population. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are only 12 countries, including Nepal, where the last remaining 5,000 snow leopards are surviving. Studies show that these wild cats are disappearing rapidly from the planet.
As part of the action plan, the governments have shared a common goal to intensify conservation efforts in the large landscapes required for snow leopard survival by identifying and designating critical habitats of key snow leopard populations as no-go areas for destructive land uses, maintaining their integrity and connectivity through natural corridors, and strengthening their protection on the ground. The global action plan also aims to control illegal trade of wildlife body parts.
Incredibly Rare Siberian Tiger Release (by ckoenen)Siberian Tiger Release - IFAW by Michael Booth Meet Zolushka, the luckiest tiger in the world. This orphaned Siberian tigress was left to fend for herself when she was only a few months old — her mother likely killed by poachers. Less than 400 of these rare creatures exist in the wild - the survival of the species literally hangs in the balance with each individual animal. IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare worked with partners in far east Russia to rescue and rehabilitate this amazing animal. Watch as this incredibly rare tiger is released and returned to its wild habitat. For more info, visit http://ifaw.org
Wonderful, wonderful! A great release, and just check out how these tigers are built. They’re pure power!
Nepal says it will present a seven-point plan on better conservation of snow leopards at an upcoming Global Snow Leopard Conservation conference in Kyrgyzstan. The conference in October will focus on increasing the number of snow leopards in the 12 countries where the big cat is found.
Nepal’s involvement in the conference will center on reforming its existing policies on conservation of the animal, improving its habitat, reducing poaching and conflicts with human beings, and providing proper training to people involved in conservation efforts.
Of the 12 countries participating in the conference, China has the largest number of snow leopards, with an estimated 2,500. India has around 600, while Mongolia has 100.
Very pleased to announce that Kaitlyn, a Sumatran tiger at Australia Zoo is pregnant! This is the first litter for the five year old, and she’s expected to give birth in late August.
Kaitlyn is considered one of the most genetically valuable individuals in the world, as she was born to a wild mother and captive father. With less than 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, the pregnancy is a significant win for the future of the species.
Investigations have begun by forest rangers, in Corbett Tiger Reserve after three dead tigers were found over a week. Officials suspect the tigers had been poisoned by poachers, however, this is yet to be confirmed via autopsy.
Shrinking habitats due to the growth of urban areas in India and increasing deforestation have brought the cats into conflict with farmers who live near tiger reserves.
Despite conservation efforts, tiger numbers in India have declined due to rampant poaching of the cats for their valuable pelts and body parts that are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine.