The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) gets their name from their love of water. Fishing cats have been observed “fishing” at the edge of water, scooping their prey seamlessly (1). They are one of the best swimmers around, equipped with webbing between their toes to help both with swimming and with walking in muddy wetlands without sinking (2). The fishing cat’s fur consists of two layers: a short and dense layer to conserve warmth and keep the skin dry when in the water, and a layer of longer hairs (referred to as guard hairs) which give the cat it’s colour pattern, used for camouflage (2). This pattern is a combination of spots and stripes, where the stripes run down from above the eyes between the ears onto the neck, breaking up on the shoulders. The short hair on the face is spotted, and its whiskers are short (1).
Fishing cats are found in scattered areas of the Oriental Region. They inhabit the peninsular region of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, and Pakistan (1). Although fishing cats are attracted to all types of water and live in wetlands predominantly, they have been found in tropical dry forests and in the Indian Himalayas at elevations of 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) in dense vegetation near rivers or streams. Little is known about fishing cats in the wild, but it is thought that they have no natural predators other than humans (2).
Like many smaller felines, the fishing cat communicates with hisses, growls, and even meows. During a courtship, the male and female will make chittering sounds with the female signaling her willingness to breed and the male communicating submissiveness. The females give birth in the spring to an average of two kittens in a litter, raising their young without help from the male (how’s that for a catfish). The kittens will then learn to fish by watching their mother, and at 10 months will be ready to venture out on their own (2).
Its dependence on water is likely to cause trouble for the species, as it is estimated around 50 percent of Southeast Asia wetlands are disappearing as the human population grows (2). Of the remaining wetlands, they are affected by pollution, over-farming and chemical fertilizer runoff, overfishing by humans, and drainage issues (2). In addition to this, the fishing cat is also a victim of poaching. They are often hunted for food, medicine, or various body parts (1). Accordingly, the fishing cat is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List (IUCN 2003) and is included on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (3).
This work was in part supported by DNA Zoo Australia, The University of Western Australia (UWA), with compute at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre with funding from the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia.
Blog by: Ashling Charles and Parwinder Kaur