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Fishing cats also targeted by villagers following leopard attack at Panama fearing they are dangerous

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by Ifham Nizam

With the killing of a man by a leopard at Panama in Ampara recently, the relatively harmless fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) are being targeted by villagers, who fear the animals as a ‘diviya’ in Sinhala means a leopard.

The Sinhala term for fishing cats is ‘Handun Diviya’, which gives the jitters to many villagers who fear that the animals are akin to leopards and are a threat to them, says researcher cum conservationist Chaminda Jayasekara.

With the human-leopard issue that has emerged with the Panama attack, fishing cats are also being targeted and killed in some parts of the hill country, he says.

“In some parts of Nawalapitiya, children fear to go out when word gets around that ‘Handun Diviyas’ were lurking in the vicinity,” he said.

The killing of fishing cats happen primarily because some people assume that they could harm them as the animals are often misidentified as leopard cubs. This happens especially in the tea plantation areas due to the lack of knowledge on this species, he remarked.

Fishing cats, an elusive feline in the Wetlands, suffer mostly in the dry zone when they sneak into poultry farms or roam in the vicinity. “Poisoning these animals is common especially in areas where poultry farms are located. Poisoning is considered as one of the biggest threats apart from being hit by vehicles in areas such as Sigiriya, when they cross roads to hunt, Jayasekara explained.

This is a big threat to all three small cat species in Sri Lanka, he pointed out.

There is also information that fishing cats are also killed for native treatment of asthmatic patients, he said.

Jayasekara, the Assistant Manager of Jetwing Vil Uyana, further said they built a forest habitat for fishing cats with two lakes on 28 acres. Within last year, seven young cubs were sighted there.

Unlike other cat species, fishing cats prefer an area close to water, he said. “They don’t mingle with domestic cats as jungle cats do. When encountered, they kill domestic cats”.

Of the 40 species of wild cats in the world, four are found in Sri Lanka. Three of them are considered small cats. Apart from the magnificent leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), Sri Lanka is also home to three of its smaller, but equally threatened, cousins. The fishing cat, jungle cat (Felis chaus) and rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) are found in the wetlands and jungles around the island. Their secretive, elusive nature, smaller size and often nocturnal habits make their sightings difficult.

Fishing cats are small to medium sized felines found in countries in South and South East Asia. They have been given a Latin name because of their viverrine or civet like appearance. They are larger than domestic cats and are one of the most elusive small cat species in the world, as well as in Sri Lanka. They are also a threatened species due to habitat destruction.

Unlike other cat species, fishing cats love to be in the water and wetlands and are good swimmers and tree climbers. The size of a fully grown fishing cat is 57 to 85cm in length, with a 25 to 30cm tail. Their weight varies from six to 12 kilograms. The males are slightly bigger than the females. As they are solitary creatures, males and females come together mostly for mating.

Globally, the fishing cat is classified as “Vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List and in Sri Lanka, it is considered “endangered”. They can be found in Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

They have a stocky and powerful body that is quite long in comparison to their short legs. Their short and coarse coat of fur is olive grey to ashy grey and patterned with solid black spots that run the length of its body and often with black lines along the spine.

Fishing cats typically live near water in thick vegetation. They are not commonly found near fast moving and deep water bodies. This is one of the unique habitat adaptations of fishing cats because, unlike the other wild cat species in the world, they spend most of their life close to the water hunting and are well adapted for an aquatic lifestyle.

They are found in Sri Lanka in habitats like forests, shrubs, grasslands, reed beds, lakes, river, wetlands, paddy fields etc.

Fishing cats are territorial and they live and hunt alone. The size of their territory also varies due to climatic conditions. Especially during the dry season, as most water reserves in the dry zone go dry, they expand their territories for their survival. During the rainy season as they have plenty of food in a small area, they do not expand their territories much. Both females and males overlap their territories.

Mostly within the dry zone of the country, they have suitable habitats and enough food because the dry zone of the country is rich with wetland areas including man-made lakes, canals and paddy fields.

Fishing cats are carnivorous but their main food is fish. They also prey on frogs, snakes, rats and also nocturnal birds like night herons.

They use different techniques to catch fish. They have been observed hunting along the edges of water courses. Once a fish has been spotted, they jump into the water and catch it with their paws. Sometimes they stay in shallow water areas to catch their prey.

When they stay at the edge of the water, they slightly tap the surface of the water by using a paw to imitate a struggling insect to attract fish. When the fish is close enough, they quickly jumps into water and catches it and drags it to the ground, reeds or dense area.

Their gestation period is nearly 70 days and they give birth to one to four kittens at a time. The babies stay with their mother in more dense vegetation areas.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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