The Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project began in 2014 to protect Colombo’s fishing cat population after the project team saw the devastation caused to the city’s urban wetlands through dredging and land filling practices. Our project has worked very closely with the Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (SLLDC), and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) since the very beginning, to conserve the urban wetlands by collecting vital information about the fishing cats living within these habitats, conducting awareness programmes and field workshops for the general public, as well as getting as much media attention on these habitats as possible.
Despite the loss of 60% of its wetlands, Colombo still has a rich network of natural and man made (in the form of active and abandoned paddy fields and tanks) wetland habitats. These provide a variety of important ecological and hydrological services to the city. Further, the wetlands can be called the lungs of the city, since they scrub airborne pollutants, especially exhaust fumes, from the atmosphere and help maintain a comfortable ambient temperature.
Our work has shown that Colombo is the only known large city in the world where wild fishing cats have been recorded, not only in urban wetlands, but also within the heart of the city. Thus, fishing cats are an excellent flagship species around which to protect Colombo’s urban wetland habitats. The species will also promote tourism within the city, as tourists won’t need to travel hours out of Colombo in search of a charismatic animal, but will also help promote other urban wildlife species, such as the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), the small Indian civet (Viverricula indica) , the Indian crested porcupine (Hystrix indica) and the rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus). The importance of the city’s urban wetlands will also be highlighted through the fishing cat, as tourists spend time exploring these otherwise ignored habitats. This in turn would help increase the city’s liveability by creating new jobs for the citizens of Colombo.