Species Facts: The Flat-Headed Cat

What’s rarer than the fishing cat?

Its neighbor, the flat-headed cat! This unusual-looking feline is also considered to be a better fisher.

Who’s this?

What little is known about Prionailurus planiceps comes from observing captive animals. In the wild, flat-headed cats live in swamps, along rivers and lakes, and in forested wetlands. They apparently only come out at night.

Researchers can’t get many camera-trap images of these elusive kitties.

Flat-headed cats have been seen in parts of the Malayan Peninsula as well as on Sumatra and Borneo, but it’s difficult to find many images of them online. Here are some from Arkive.

What does it look like?

Planiceps is about the size of a domestic cat, with a longer body and shorter legs. This rather weasel-like feline was named for its long sloped muzzle as well as the slighty flattened skull.

Adding to the strange appearance are close-set big eyes and tiny ears that are situated more along the sides of the head than up on top, like with most cats.

Flat-headed cats have a short, extremely furry tail. The rest of their reddish brown/gray fur is thick and soft. Each hair has a white tip, giving the cat an overall shimmering appearance.

How friendly/dangerous is it?

Unlike its relatives – the fishing cat and the leopard cat – there don’t seem to be any reports of flat-headed cats kept as pets.

The Cool Factor:

Flat-headed cats are adorable little Tim-Burton-style Halloween cats.

Along with its huge eyes, Planiceps’ teeth are sharper, longer, and more pointed than in other cats (the better to catch and eat fish and other slippery water-loving critters).

Its toes are also longer and the claws stick out of the sheath. If that reminds you of a raccoon, then this will blow your mind. Flat-headed cats sometimes wash their food, just like a raccoon, and they carry it away from the water so the prey can’t escape.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

The conservationists don’t know much about this cat, but it obviously needs wetlands. These are vanishing quickly in Southeast Asia. There is also concern about water pollution and overfishing in the fishing cat’s home region.

Fishing cats were last seen in Thailand about twenty years ago, and they may already be extinct there.

A few have been recorded in the Sunda Islands, but overall the number seems to be in decline and things don’t look very good for this cat’s future.

This is why the IUCN/World Conservation Union gives Planiceps the highest priority of any small Southeast Asian wild cat.


Featured image: By Jim Sanderson. CC BY-SA 3.0.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group (CSG): Flat-Headed Cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=119 Last accessed October 6, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada: Flat-Headed Cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/flat-headed-cat/ Last accessed October 6, 2017.

Wilting, A.; Brodie, J.; Cheyne, S.; Hearn, A.; and others. 2015. Prionailurus planiceps. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:e.T18148A50662095.

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