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Urban habitat use and home ranges of fishing cats in Colombo, Sri Lanka


Urbanisation and habitat loss are major threats to wildlife populations globally. Understanding how species respond to anthropogenic changes is therefore crucial to mitigating threats and developing conservation management strategies. We examined the habitat use of five fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, a densely urbanised landscape with a mosaic of wetland habitats, cultivated areas, and altered open spaces. We investigated: (1) to what extent all five cats used human-impacted versus natural wetland habitat; (2) whether there were behavioural shifts to avoid human activity throughout the diel cycle; (3) the home range sizes of two resident females and one resident male, and the extent of the area used by the two translocated males; (4) whether the two translocated males would survive introduction to a new urban environment. We monitored the fishing cats for 637 days (mean = 127) and collected a total of 2278 GPS (5-h interval) collar locations. We found that all five individuals used highly urbanised areas more than we expected. Home range sizes of the three residents were smaller than fishing cat home ranges in less disturbed landscapes. Though our sample size was small, our findings suggest that fishing cats use urbanised areas in Colombo, particularly at night, likely to avoid daytime human activity. Further comprehensive ecological study is needed to explore the aspects of fishing cat ecology that facilitate their persistence, and aid in their conservation across increasingly urbanised areas.

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Datasets generated during and/or analysed during this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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We conducted this study with permission from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), and special thanks must be given to DWC vet’s Dr S. Jayawardana, Dr T. Deeyagoda and their teams for helping us during collaring procedures. We thank M. Ranaweera and D. Madushanka for field assistance throughout the years. Over the years this study was funded by Panthera, the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme, the Rufford Small Grants Fund, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, MAS Holdings—Linea Intimo, and The Leopard Trust—Sri Lanka.


Funding was received through Panthera (Kaplan Graduate Awards Program, 2018), the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme (2018), Rufford Small Grants Fund (2013) (Grant no. 13033-1), Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (2015), MAS Holdings—Linea Intimo (2014–2015), and The Leopard Trust—Sri Lanka (2013).

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AAWR designed the study, collected, and analysed the data, and wrote the manuscript. LEKS and GRML made editorial comments and helped analyse the data. TP provided all veterinary support and data collection. JGS and LK-PL assisted in the design of the study. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Anya A. W. Ratnayaka.

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The author(s) declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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This research was conducted in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka (permit number: WL/3/2/36/13) and has been granted an Animal Ethics Approval Certificate (SAFS/546/17/SRI LANKA) by The University of Queensland, Australia.

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Ratnayaka, A.A.W., Serieys, L.E.K., Prasad, T. et al. Urban habitat use and home ranges of fishing cats in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Mamm Biol 102, 271–277 (2022).

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  • Colombo
  • Fishing cat
  • Home range
  • Mesocarnivores
  • Sri Lanka
  • Urban habitat use