2016 Oct 24
by Aanisha Cuttilan
Are you aware that more than 70% of research and conservation funding is dedicated to Big Cats such as Lions, Tigers and Leopards? The Leopard may be the only Big Cat that can be found in Sri Lanka, but of the 33 species of Small Cats found worldwide, 3 of them call Sri Lanka home!
Did you know that there could be an endangered Small Cat species living in your own backyard?
On the 20th of October 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society’s monthly lecture. This month’s lecture was dedicated to the Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project headed by the ever passionate and delightful Anya Ratnayaka who reached out to the community to talk about this locally endangered, amphibious cat who quacks like a duck! (no joke, this kitty got no meows). But before we get to that, the three Small Cats found in Sri Lanka are:
Named the Kola Diviya natively, this cute little guy weighs 1 – 1.8 Kilos as an adult and 30 – 40 grams as a new-born (that’s the weight of an egg!) Unfortunately, Rusty is on the list of endangered species in Sri Lanka and could really use your help. Characterised by its 2 dark cheek streaks, 4 forehead streaks that elongate down its back and its very small frame, he is known as the Hummingbird of the cat family. If you were to spot one, it would be a great idea to contact the Sri Lanka Rusty Conservation Project by emailing Chandika Jayaratne on email@example.com.
This majestic creature once reared by Egyptian Pharaohs is now a near threatened species in Sri Lanka. Locally named the Val Balala, he is characterized by the distinct arm bands on his front legs and light banding on his tail. He also has very hairy ears that are pointier than his fellow Small Cats. The adult Jungle Cat who weighs between 4 – 16 kilos is known as the Jackal of the Cat species due to its high adaptability to environments and has a home range from Egypt, all the way to Vietnam. He faces multiple issues such as habitat loss and road kill and is a very poorly studied species in general. Although there are no local conservation teams dedicated to this sleek beauty as of yet, the reputed likes of Sriyani Miththapalahave began research and conservation plans within the country.
Coming to the star of the evening, the Handun Diviya is locally endangered, weighs 5 – 16 kilos as an adult and is known as the Cat on Steroids resulting from its stocky and very muscular build. This little body builder is characterised by its 3 cheek streaks, 4 forehead streaks and short, course, olive-grey fur. His legs and tail have faint black rings, he has partially webbed front feet and a short, stumpy tail.
This beauty hunts by diving into waters to chase after fish, fully submerged! (did someone say hellacool?) Unfortunately, the number of reported road kills of Fishing Cats is a staggering 68 deaths over the past 36 months, and this is not considering all the unreported hit-and-runs. Agriculture and accidental/intentional snaring are also major threats to their survival.
What You Can Do
Some of the Urban Wetland areas where fishing cats have been found include Boralasgamuwa, Thalawathugoda, Madiwela, Biyagama, Wadduwa and (surprise!) Thimbirigasyaya, so if you see a collared cat, you’re looking at Anya’s progressive work and if you see an uncollared cat that fits any of the above descriptions, do make an effort to notify the right people. Even though you may think it’s no big deal, calling someone about a possibly endangered Small Cat or road kill is a huge help!
• “Save Fishing Cats” headed by Ashan Thudugala can be found at savefishingcats.org or notified on at firstname.lastname@example.org and the “Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project” headed by Anya Ratnayaka can be found at fishingcats.lk and notified on at email@example.com
• Taking a picture of a Small Wild cat will also support the cause, don’t forget to note down the location, date, time and suspected species!
• Snapshot Serengeti is a cool way to get involved in the ongoing Citizen Science projects worldwide. This is a project where the public gets involved by sorting out camera-trap pictures set up in Tanzania. So the next time you want to avoid assignments but still want to be productive, you know where to go!
• Small Cats need your attention! So talk talk talk about them!
• 33 species of Small Cats means we definitely need big funding – donating to the cause is greatly appreciated
So go out there and make a difference, Kittens! The Small Cats need you!