Fishing Cat

Keeper Blog

Taronga is working with Himalayan Nature to...
Taronga’s Research and Conservation Coordinator,...

These small, striking jungle cats are famous for their abilities in and around the water as adept and eager swimmers.  About twice the size of a typical domestic cat, Fishing Cats have quite stocky muscular bodies and short legs. 

They have olive coloured fur with dark spots arranged in horizontal streaks down their bodies with their undersides usually white in colour. 

The tail of the Fishing Cat is shorter than a domestic cat due to the fact that they seldom climb trees and a short tail makes them a more efficient swimmer. Their eyes are closer together than a regular cat aswell which allows them to focus on fish in the water.

Our Fishing Cat

Our oldest female Fishing Cat at Taronga Zoo, Fiddle, lost one of her front legs a number of years ago after an injury that could not be fixed surgically.

Scientific classification

Chordata
Mammalia
Carnivora
Prionailurus
viverrinus

Distribution & Habitat

Fishing Cats are found throughout Asia from Eastern Pakistan through to India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  They can also be found in Bangladesh and parts of Sumatra and Java. Their distribution throughout these regions is restricted to areas where there is favourable habitat.

Fishing Cats typically live in wetland areas around reed marshes, mangroves and swamps, however there have been populations found in Nepal in dense forest areas well away from bodies of water.

Breeding

Fishing Cats are able to breed at any time of the year however mating usually occurs between January and February. The female will construct a secluded den in areas with thick bushes or dense reeds and give birth to between one and four kittens after a 70 day gestation period.

Fishing Cats are able to breed at any time of the year however mating usually occurs between January and February. The female will construct a secluded den in areas with thick bushes or dense reeds and give birth to between one and four kittens after a 70 day gestation period.

While Fishing Cat kittens are not fully weened until around six months, they are able to move around independently from around one month and will swim and take solid food from around two months. Fishing Cats reach full size by about eight  months and have been known to breed from as early as nine months. 

Diet & Behaviour

Like a lot of small South East Asian cats, Fishing Cats are primarily nocturnal, hunting in the shallow pools for small fish and other small aquatic animals such as frogs, waterfowls and crayfish.  Like their name suggests, fish do make up the bulk of their diet, however are also known to hunt land animals such as rats, mice, water birds and even deer fawns.

Their partially-webbed toes make them good swimmers allowing them to search for prey away from the water’s edge.  They have also been known to dive from the river bank to grab prey with their partially retractable claws.

One of the Fishing Cat’s hunting methods is to lightly tap the surface of the water to mimic the actions of insects and hence attract fish.  The cats will then jump into the water to grab their prey or simply scoop them out with their paws.

While research is currently unearthing more and more information on the Fishing Cat, it seems that they are generally solitary animals, with female territories ranging up to four square kilometres and male territories up to 20 square kilometres.

Conservation Status

Least Concern
Population Trend Decreasing
Year Assessed 2010
Source http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/9194/0

The primary threat facing the Fishing Cats is the destruction of their habitat.  Protected wetland habitats in the Southeast Asian region have decreased by 45% and global wetland habitats in this area have decreased by 95% as more and more wetlands are drained for farming and commercial use. 

Over-fishing in these regions has also contributed to the declining numbers in recent years.

While Fishing Cats are rarely targeted by poachers, many are accidently snared by poachers hunting for other species.

Many countries in the Fishing Cat’s range have taken steps to protect the species by banning hunting and creating protected areas, however the fate of Fishing Cats will depend on the conservation and protection of the wetlands habitats that they need to survive.

Find me at Taronga Zoo