Bhubaneswar: Chilika Development Authority (CDA) will begin phase II of the Fishing Cat population estimation in Chilika from the 2nd week of March 2022. Chilika Wildlife Division and the Fishing Cat Project, partner to Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance (FCCA), will collaborate with CDA in this estimation.. “This is the first time in the world that this globally endangered species’ population is being estimated completely outside the purview of protected areas which required the involvement of local fishermen, local wildlife protection committees as well as student volunteers from national universities,” says Jim Sanderson, IUCN Cat Specialist Group member.
Phase I of the population estimation was conducted in the north-eastern sector of Chilika. Their abundancewas established to be 119 individuals from 230 sq km of the study area comprising of 115 sq km of marshland and the rest comprising of other lands. Phase II of the exercise will be conducted in the islands along the coastal strip of Chilika lake, in between Bay of Bengal and the lagoon.This area has a matrix of mangrove associated species like Pandanus or Keya, ponds along with cashew plantations and hamlets.The total abundance of Fishing Cats in Chilika will be analyzed from the combined result of both phases.
CDA had declared the Fishing Cat to be Chilika’s ambassador species in 2020. This led to the initiation of the population estimation exercise in 2021 and 2022. “ We want to regularize Fishing Cat monitoring in Chilika just like we monitor birds and dolphins regularly,” says Susanta Nanda, Chief Executive Officer, Chilika Development Authority. In each phase, camera traps are deployed in Chilika with the traps staying at each location for 30 days.
In 2021, The Fishing Cat Project and CDA started a year-long patrolling and monitoring initiative on the Fishing Cat by engaging local residents.“During such events, worked with local fishermen to reduce incidents of reed fires which are a threat to native bird populations as well as otter pups and Fishing Cat cubs which are 2-3 months old when incidents of reed fires occur. In addition, we conducted rallies and awareness programs to make people aware about the importance of conserving the Fishing Cat,” says Adhya.
“CDA in association with The Fishing Cat Project will design a Fishing Cat Action Plan in Chilika this year. Just like the Tiger’s presence indicates the health of a jungle, the Fishing Cat’s presence tells us how a wetland’s health is doing. The action plan will be socio-ecological in nature preventing reed fires and introducing small scale wetland tourism .