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Density estimation of the globally threatened fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus through a participatory science approach in the Chilika lagoon, eastern India

Tiasa Adhya,;*, Soumya Banerjee, Partha Dey, Susanta Nanda, Soumyadip Santra, Iptishamun Nesha

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus is an Indo-Malayan wetland dependent felid which is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List. Its main prey, fish, has low energetic demands and is abundant in productive aquatic habitats. This facilitates high piscivore densities and potentially alters expected scaling patterns that link population density to the body mass of small cats. We estimated the density of the fishing cat in Chilika, Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon, located in the state of Odisha, eastern India, with community participation. The study was carried out in 2 phases in different habitats during 2021 and 2022: homogeneous marshy habitat and its buffer (Northern Block), and a heterogeneous matrix of different land-use types (Southern Block). We deployed a total of 144 camera traps across 4380 trap nights. Using spatially explicit capture recapture (SECR), we estimated fishing cat density to be 0.69 ± 0.1 (mean ± SE) ind. km–2 in the Northern Block and 0.67 ± 0.33 ind. km–2 in the Southern Block. The population abundance estimates for the Northern and the Southern Blocks were 159 ± 23 and 185 ± 91 respectively. In the former, SECR modelling indicated an effect of anthropogenic habitat modification upon the species’ home range extent. Our density estimates are amongst the highest reported for the species outside protected areas. The results imply that Chilika holds an abundant population of the fishing cat, the continued persistence of which requires mitigation of local and external threats to fish populations. Furthermore, our study indicates the applicability of camera trapping for obtaining robust density estimates of species with uniquely marked individuals in wetland habitats.