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Trouble Ahead for Tiny Cat

Breaking news highlights the threat to Southeast Asian wetlands: A mysterious, little-known species, the Flat-Headed Cat, Today’s Endangered All-Star, is even more threatened that previously believed because few forested wetlands in the region are currently protected. The BBC reports that a new study published in PLoS ONE has found that only ten to twenty percent of the cat’s range is adequately protected; seventy percent of its habitat has been plowed under for agriculture; and only 17 images of the elusive species have been captured on remote camera traps. The species—scarcely bigger than a domestic cat—is exquisitely tuned by evolution to hunt in coastal and wetland areas. Its partially webbed feet ensure steady footing in muddy swamps and streams; backward slanting teeth enable the animal to hold onto the fish, frogs, and crustaceans that make up its diet. Believed to be extinct in 1985, this reclusive cat has been found in very small, fragmented populations in Borneo, Sumatra, the Malaysian Peninsula, and a tiny pocket of southern Thailand. This latest research shows it surrounded by palm oil plantations, commercial gold mining, and industrial logging. Clearly, this cat—and the wetlands and coasts of Southeast Asia—need urgent attention to prevent them from slipping away forever.
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