Friday, August 15, 2008

Vanishing Species - Fishing Cat

An Article by Mohan Pai
Fishing Cat
Felis viverrina
Pic by Atin Dutt
A ferocious predator capable of killing even a leopard twice its size.
A medium sized wild cat of the wetlands of south and southeast Asia, the Fishing Cat is another unique example of the great abilities and diversities of the cat family. Found in a range extending from Indochina, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java it inhabits mainly water bound areas including rivers, mangrove swamps, creeks and thickets up to a height of five thousand feet.
Somewhat similar to other wild cats of this size, the Fishing Cat has a broad head, short tail and sturdy built. Coat is marked by dark spots that may form stripes over spine. Ears are short and round while the nose is of a flattened appearance. Feet are somewhat webbed that enables the Fishing Cat to maintain a degree of traction on slippery muds, though it is now believed the webbing is not of any extraordinary extent. Claws are semi-retractable - again probably an adaptation for a greater hold on the surface. Size varies according to the distribution of the felid. The Indian Fishing Cat is bigger with length around four feet and weight approximately twenty five pounds, whereas the Indonesian cats, in the southeastern part of the cat's overall global range, are smaller with an average length of three feet and weight nearing twelve pounds.
The Fishing Cat is a hunter mostly of aquatic animals, specializing in fish, frogs, mollusks and snakes. It preys on any animal and birds that it can secure and has been known to kill calves and sheep, to carry off dogs and even children! At the same time it does not spare terrestrial prey including rodents, deer, goats, dogs and even small wild boars! The opportunistic cat has also been known to go after birds and kills of other predators. There is the record of a newly-caught male which killed a leopardess twice its size after breaking through the partition which separated their cages (S. H. Prater). Solitary cats, they come in unison for mating primarily. Pregnancy lasts around two months after which a litter of one to five kittens is born. They are weaned off after half an year at the most and gain independence after one year of age. Life-span is generally around ten to twelve years in captivity.
The fishing cat has a limited and discontinuous distribution in Asia. One major portion of its distribution is found in the Himalayan foothill region of India and Nepal. Also in India, the fishing cat is found in the valleys of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, along the upper part of the east coast and possibly in coastal areas of Kerala in southwest India, although it may have disappeared from this region. Recently a fishing cat was found dead 40 km southeast from Nagpur, in central India, an area outside its known range. There also may or may not be scattered populations in Sri Lanka. In Pakistan it is considered very rare and fast disappearing. It is mainly found along the lower reaches of the Indus River, although a few stragglers penetrate the northeast of the country along the Ravi and Sutlej Rivers.From the Indian subcontinent, the second major portion of the fishing cat's distribution ranges through Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Thailand, to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. There are two records of fishing cats from Peninsular Malaysia, but the origin of these specimens is not clear. If it does occur in Peninsular Malaysia, it does so at an extremely low density. There is no record of the fishing cat from China, but it might be found in Guangxi Province or Yunnan Province near the border with Vietnam. The fishing cat is also found in Sumatra and Java, Indonesia. In Java, the fishing cat appears to be restricted to small numbers in isolated coastal wetlands: there were no records during recent surveys further inland than 15 km and it must be considered extremely rare.

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

Wetland destruction is the primary threat faced by the fishing cat. Causes of this destruction include human settlement, draining for agriculture, construction of aquaculture facilities, and wood-cutting In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the recent past has been rapid in tropical Asia. High use of pesticides in rice fields and fishponds results in adverse impacts, since the harmful chemical residues can enter aquatic food chains and affect top predators such as the fishing cat. Destructive fishing practices have also greatly reduced the fishing cat's main prey base. Finally, the fishing cat is hunted because it is considered edible and its skin is still valued by the fur trade.


The fishing cat is strongly associated with wetlands. It is typically found in swamps and marshy areas, oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove areas. It has been recorded at elevations up to 1800 m (5900') in the Indian Himalayas, where it frequents dense vegetation near rivers and streams. Some studies show that the fishing cat's distribution seems highly correlated with vegetation cover and that most sightings of this cat are of animals sitting next to moving water. However, results of the only radio-tracking study up to 2003, in the terai grasslands of southern Nepal, indicated that the fishing cat spent most of its time in dense tall and short grasslands, sometimes well away from water.


The fishing cat is a nocturnal hunter. It is very much at home in the water. It is a strong swimmer, even in deep water, and it can swim long distances. The fishing cat has been observed to dive into water after fish, as well as to crouch on a rock or sandbank near the water and swat the fish out onto dry land with its paw. It has even been seen to catch waterfowl by swimming up to them while fully submerged and seizing their legs from underneath.Social Organization:The fishing cat appears to be a solitary hunter, but otherwise there is little information on its social organization or mating behavior in the wild.