Species Facts:  The Fishing Cat

Most people wouldn’t consider “saving wetlands” as the method of choice for protecting an endangered cat, but it’s just what Southeast Asia’s fishing cat needs.

Fishing cats have a layer of waterproof fur as well as somewhat webbed hindfeet. The front claws retract just like in other cats, but they are never completely covered. This way, the cat can grab prey while its hindfeet paddle along. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC)

There is even a report that a fishing cat swam underwater to catch an unsuspecting waterfowl! (Sunquist and Sunquist)

Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the leopard-cat lineage.

Who’s this?

Fishing cats are a little bigger than the average domestic cat, with a top weight of around 35 pounds. Their head and body are 2-3 feet long. That muscular tail adds less than a foot of extra length, but it makes a great swimming rudder! (Cat Specialist Group; Sunquist and Sunquist)

These felines pack a lot of muscle and are capable of killing a dog with one blow of their powerful paws. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

That’s why villagers in the above video are so concerned. Fishing cats do supplement their diet with livestock and dogs. (Cat Specialist Group)

The question is, how much of the perceived threat to human property is real and how much is just fear?

That’s still under debate, but the concern has led to a sharp decline in fishing cat numbers in Southeast Asia, where they are often killed as pests. (SCARLK)

Conservationists say that, besides protecting wetlands, this cat’s survival also depends on preventing its indiscriminate slaughter. (Mukherjee and others)

The Coolness Factor:

In addition to being a fish-catcher by trade, this cat has an adorably round face and stubby ears. Multiple dark lines run from its forehead down the neck and back, and there are beautiful cheek stripes, too.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

Today you’re most likely to see a fishing cat in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and parts of the Himalayan foothills and eastern India. It’s hard to find them in other parts of a range that once extended from Pakistan through Cambodia and south to Sri Lanka. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC; Mukherjee and others)

Little is known about actual numbers, though. (Mukherjee and others)

Research on fishing cats only began in 2009, and the cat was red-listed at first as endangered. As of 2016, it is rated vulnerable, but only because experts have more information now, not because there has been much conservation progress. (Mukherjee and others)

Fishing cats have declined an estimated 30% in the last fifteen years, and if present trends of urbanization in Sri Lanka and India – and more Indian industrialization – continue, then the world’s fishing cat population will probably drop another 30% as its habitat disappears.

Featured image: By Gellinger at Pixabay. Public domain.

Cat Specialist Group: Fishing cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=121 Last accessed September 19, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC): Fishing cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/fishing-cat/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Mukherjee, S.; Appel, A.; Duckworth, J. W.; Sanderson, J.; and others. 2016. Prionailurus viverrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:3.T.18150A50662615.

Small Cat Advocacy and Research (SCARLK): Fishing cat. https://scar.lk/fishing-cat/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the world. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


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