The Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is a small wild cat patchily distributed in the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Borneo and Sumatra. Since 2008, it has been listed as Endangered by the IUCN due to destruction of wetlands in their habitat.
This cat is very rare in captivity, with less than 10 individuals – all in zoos in southeast Asia – recorded by ISIS in early 2010. Like some other small cats, it was originally placed in the genus Felis, but is now considered one of the five species in Prionailurus.
The Flat-headed Cat has a head-and-body length of 41-50 cm (16-20 in), and a short tail of 13-15 cm (5-6 in). It weighs 1.5-2.5 kg (3.5-5.5 lbs). The thick fur is generally dark reddish-brown tinged grey, with a more reddish head and whitish underparts. Except for the relatively faint facial streaks, it is rather unpatterned. The legs are fairly short, and the ears are short and round.
The inter-digital webs on its paws help the cat gain better traction in muddy environments and water, and are even more pronounced on this cat than those on the paws of the Fishing Cat. Like those of cheetahs, the claws are only partially retractile. The shape of the head is atypical for a cat; the skull is fairly long, while the skull roof, as suggested by both its common and scientific name, is rather flat. The eyes are unusually far forward and close together, compared with other cats, giving the animal improved stereoscopic vision. In addition, the teeth are adapted for gripping onto slippery prey, and the jaws are relatively powerful. These features help the Flat-headed Cat to catch and retain aquatic prey, to which it is at least as well adapted as the closely related Fishing Cat.
Distribution and habitat
The distribution of Flat-headed cats is restricted to lowland tropical rainforests in extreme southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei Darussalam, Kalimantan and Sumatra. They primarily occur in freshwater habitats near coastal and lowland areas. More than 70% of records were collected less than 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) away from water.
Ecology and behavior
The Flat-headed Cat is generally considered a nocturnal animal, but observations of captives suggests it is crepuscular. It mostly hunts for frogs, fish and crustaceans, but will also catch rats and chickens. In captivity, they show much greater interest in potential prey in the water than that on dry land, suggesting a strong preference for riverine hunting in their natural habitat.
It has relatively long premolars, and is one of the few cats that is unable to completely retract its claws (the others being the Cheetah, Fishing Cat, and the Iriomote Cat). These adaptions combined with its behavior have resulted in comparisons with semi-aquatic mustelids, and it is known for readily entering water.
In the wild, flat-headed cats are solitary, and scent mark their territory. Unlike other cats, however, they spray urine by walking forward in a crouching position, leaving a trail on the ground, rather than directing it onto a vertical surface. They appear to have similar vocalisations to the Domestic Cat.
Overall, however, little is known about its wild behavior, but a gestation period of about 56 days, and a litter size of 1-2 kittens have been reported in captivity. Captive individuals have lived for fourteen years.
The Flat-headed Cat is considered endangered by the IUCN and listed on appendix 1 by CITES. The total population is likely below 2500 adults with no single sub-population containing more than 250 adults. While habitat loss and water pollution are serious threats, sightings from oil palm plantations suggests it is less specialized than generally believed. The Flat-headed Cat is fully protected throughout its natural range, except in Brunei, where this species lacks legal protection. Sightings are generally very rare.
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