International wildcat experts to meet in Sri Lanka

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Published on SundayTimes on 01.11.2015 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151101/news/international-wildcat-experts-to-meet-in-sri-lanka-169792.html

An international summit on Asian wildcats begins tomorrow in Mount Lavinia as local concerns rise over the number of leopards – Sri Lanka’s most charismatic wild cat – killed in the span of a few weeks, some through reckless driving.

Sri Lanka is home to four wild- cats: leopards, fishing cats, jungle cats and rusty spotted cats all of which are threatened species.

According to the National Red List on Threatened Fauna and Flora, the jungle cat is “near threatened” while the other species are “endangered”.

“As predators, these species are of potentially profound importance to the ecosystems of which they are a part and it is only armed with knowledge of their behaviour and ecology that we can implement effective conservation and management strategies to ensure their long-term survival,” said Dr. Andrew Kittle of the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT), ahead of the symposium aimed at sharing research knowledge on wildcats.

The two-day Symposium of South Asian Wild Cats Past and Present will bring together local, regional and international scientists and students to present their work and discuss their findings.

The main objective is to highlight current research. “An important offshoot of this symposium is to identify knowledge gaps that require attention and can be targeted for further/future study and increase collaboration between local and international universities and researchers,” the organisers, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka (WNPS), said.

The symposium will also highlight this country’s palaeobiodiversity heritage by also focusing on the big cats such as lions and tigers that roamed the jungles of Sri Lanka in the past.

Few scientific studies have been done on the cats of Sri Lanka and the symposium is also aimed at encouraging and establishing a Sri Lankan research base linking international scientists, universities and wildcat lovers, both local and foreign, to conduct research on the small cats of Sri Lanka.

The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrina) has partially webbed toes which enable it effectively to hunt in aquatic systems but does it only live near water? The jungle cat (Felis chaus) has large, tufted ears which allow it to hear the movements of rodents in the grass and pounce, but what else does it eat? The beautiful rusty spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) is the smallest wild cat in the world, but where is it found and what are the threats to its survival?

In order to answer these questions, and many more, researchers are working hard to study these elusive species in the wild and their findings will be shared during the sessions of symposium.

A number of internationally acclaimed scientists studying wild cats are expected to attend the symposium. Among them is renowned scientist Dr. David Macdonald, who has pioneered research on the social ecology of carnivores and is founder and Director of Oxford University’s illustrious Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).

The symposium will include four sessions: “Cats of the Past”, chaired by Professor Lars Werdelin of the Swedish Museum of Natural History; “Big Cats of South Asia”, chaired by Dr. Kittle; “Small Cats of South Asia” chaired by Dr. Jim Sanderson, founder of the Small Cat Conservation Alliance; and “Cats of Sri Lanka” chaired by Dr. Sriyanie Miththapala and University of Colombo Professor Devaka Weerakoon.

For more information about attending the symposium, go to http://www.wildcatsasia.com

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