Why fishing cats can be good for your wallet and your health

 

Captive fishing cat, the wild variety might help keep pesky critters at bay. (Photo/Kalyan Varma)

When you’ve got mice in your house, or worse yet, rats, what do you do? “You get a cat,” says ecologist Namfon Cutter.

 

Domesticated cats have long proven their worth when it comes to managing pest species in homes and farms around the world. Sometimes, they are too good at their predatory instinct, wreaking havoc on local bird populations. Just check out the recent New York Times article on the matter to see what I mean.

That controversy aside, a wild version of feline, the fishing cat, may very well be performing a similar service (in terms of rodent management) for farmers in Thailand.

Thailand’s economy is significantly supported by agriculture, mainly rice and shrimp, sometimes both occuring in the same field. Shrimp aquaculture alone will account for roughly US $2.78 billion to the Thai economy  in 2011, according to the Thai Frozen Foods Association. Now shrimp farming in itself is causing major problems for fishing cats, namely eating up and polluting the habitat for the feline. But there are ways that these two can seem to benefit one another. The farms provide easy prey for the cats, often in the form of rats and other rodents, and the cats clean up disease-carrying, crop-destroying pests.

Cutter is trying to encourage this line of reasoning with locals, as right now, fishing cats often get at best the evil eye and at worst a brutal death from villagers who think the cats are a nuisance.

Workers in Thailand rice paddy (Photo/TORIKAI Yukihiro)

Of particular interest to Cutter is the potential that the cats might help control the spread of leptospirosis, a nasty bacterial infection that gives malaria and dengue fever a good name. This disease is carried by rats and spreads when rat urine mixes with water. Picture a barefoot rice farmer wading through infected water. All he or she needs is a cut to give the bacteria the entry to cause trouble. If that wasn’t enough. Leptospirosis also poses a threat to cows, causing them to miscarry.

Leptospirosis is more wide-spread in regions of Thailand absent of fishing cats. There is no scientific study correlating the two, so don’t start spouting that one causes the other. Cutter is currently looking into methodologies for testing the idea.

So it’s possible that fishing cats could be good for your health, but they do seem to like munching on crop-nasty critters. For Thai farmers wanting to hang on to their income, fishing cats might just be your new best friend.

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