As its name implies, the fishing cat, scientific name: Prionailurus viverrinus, predominantly preys on fish. Largely active at night, fishing cats are good swimmers and have been observed diving for fish, as well as scooping them out of the water with their paws.
Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
The fishing cat is another feline that contradicts the belief that cats dislike water, frequently entering the water to prey on fish. However, it has often been incorrectly credited with physical adaptations to these habits. While webbed feet have previously been noted as a characteristic of the fishing cat, the partial membrane between the toes is in fact no more developed than in other wild or domestic cats. The fishing cat has a long stocky body and relatively short legs, a short thick tail, a broad head and elongated muzzle.The pelt is olive-grey with black bars running along the neck and face, dark brown spots in rows on the body, and a series of incomplete rings circle the tail. Females are markedly smaller than males.
Distribution and Habitat
Fishing cats live primarily in wetland areas, both marshes and swamps. They can also be found in scrub areas, reed beds, and tidal creek areas, but are scare around faster moving rivers and water courses. Fishing cats have been reported in Himalayan forests at an elevation of 1525 meters (approximately 5000 feet), they have also been found at elevations as high as 7000 feet (approximately 2000 meters) in the mountainous areas of Sri Lanka. Fishing cats have a scattered distribution over the Asian sub-continent and Southeast Asia. They are known to occur in Bangladesh; Bhutan; Cambodia; India; Indonesia (Jawa); Laos; Myanmar; Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is likely that fishing cats no longer occur in Pakistan; Thailand or Viet Nam, their presence in China and Malaysia remains unknown.
Food and feeding habits
Fishing cats are best described as piscivores. Earliest records indicate that fishing cats predominantly feed on fish and shellfish. These early records also state that fishing cats have been known to eat dogs, sheep, and calves. At that time fishing cats were known to have taken human infants. In 1987 a fishing cat was observed eating a dead cow, so it is believed that they eat carrion.
Behavior and Reproduction
Fishing cats breed once yearly, during the months of January and February. They have also been known to breed in June. The gestation period is 63 days, after which the female gives birth to one to four kittens. The average litter size is 2. The kittens generally weigh 100 to 173 grams at birth and will gain roughly 11 grams per day. On the 16th day their eyes open. The kittens take meat around the 53rd day and are weaned at four to six months of age. At eight to nine months the young reach adult size and are independent at 10 months. They most likely reach sexual maturity soon after. Males in captivity have been observed helping females care for and rear the young. It is unclear whether fishing cats repeat this behavior in the wild. The young are cared for by their mother until they reach approximately 10 months of age, when they become independent. Fishing cats live an average of 12 years, but have been known to live more than 15 years in captivity.
Fishing cats have been observed in the wild "fishing" at the edges of bodies of water. They appear to scoop their prey from the depths of the water and have also been observed playing with fish in shallow water. These fishing cats have also been observed eating grass and gerbils. In captivity fishing cats have been observed taking cow flesh to the water and dropping it in, retrieving it, and then eating it. This same washing behavior was mimicked when fishing cats were offered live quail.
The primary threat the fishing cat faces is destruction of wetlands for human settlement and agriculture, pollution, excessive hunting, and wood-cutting. Destructive fishing practices have also greatly reduced the fishing cat's main prey base. Additionally, fishing cats are hunted for food, medicine, and body parts in some areas of their range, and have been persecuted for taking domestic stock. The skin of the fishing cat has occasionally been observed in Asian markets, although far less frequently than other cats.
Research and conservation
The fishing cat is classed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, meaning that it is 'facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species lists the fishing cat on Appendix II, under which permits are required for international traffic in this species. The fishing cat is also protected by national legislation over most of its range, with the exception of Bhutan, Malaysia and Vietnam. Legal protection is extremely difficult to enforce, however, and illegal poaching does take place. In addition to enforcing protective legislation for this species, it is crucial that there is protection of its wetland habitat. Habitat degradation has been the most significant contributor to the decline in numbers, and this must be addressed if we are to maintain populations of this beautiful and extraordinary cat throughout its range across southern and Southeast Asia.