Monday, February 02, 2009

Move to save S.E. Asia's smallest wild cats

Published: 31/01/2009 at 12:00 AM

A comprehensive study on the smallest species of wild cats will be conducted at four forests due to the shrinking population and habitat of Southeast Asia's least studied, but most charismatic, creatures.

The four sites include the three wildlife sanctuaries of Huai Kha Khaeng in Uthai Thani, Phu Khiew in Chaiyaphum, Khao Ang Rue Nai in Chachoengsao, and Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima province.

The initiative was unveiled on the final day of a two-day meeting of 50 leading wild cat experts from around the world in Bangkok yesterday.

Organised by Kasetsart University's forestry faculty, the Zoological Park Organisation, and the IUCN, the first-ever gathering of wild cat experts was aimed at developing an effective strategy to protect their populations and habitats in the region.

Naris Bhumpakphan, head of Kasetsart University's forest biology department, the project supervisor, said wild cats were considered elusive and "mysterious creatures" in Southeast Asia as they had previously failed to attract the scientific community's attention.

"Most wildlife researchers pay attention to big cats like tigers, but ignore small cats," Mr Naris told a press conference.

Nine species of wild cats are found in Thailand. They are the marbled cat, the fishing cat, the leopard cat, the flat-headed cat, the jungle cat, the Asian golden cat, the clouded leopard, leopard, and the tiger. The IUCN recently listed the marbled cat and the flat-headed cat on its Red List, which means they are highly at risk of extinction.

Mr Naris was most concerned over a rapid decline in the fishing cat population. In the past, they could be found in many regions of the country, including Bangkok's Bang Khun Thien district.

He said the fishing cat was last spotted in 2001 at Talay Noi in the southern province of Phatthalung.

Jo Gayle Howard, from the US-based Smithsonian Institute, said developing a regional network of wild cat conservationists was a good way to protect the endangered species.

A concrete plan on wild cat conservation was needed, she said.

"We have no figure of wild cats living in Southeast Asia. We have learnt so little about the species," said the scientist.

Small wild cats face various forms of threats. In Indonesia, the species' habitats had been invaded by rapid expansion of oil palm plantations, while wild cat poaching is rampant in Burma, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand.


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