Fishing cats, P. viverrinus are found in scattered areas of the Oriental Region. They inhabit the peninsular region of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, and Pakistan.
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
- Phillips, W. 1984. Manual of the Mammals of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka.
- Finn, F. 1929. Sterndale's Mammalia of India. Bombay: Thacker, Spink and Co..
In Southeast Asia, its distribution appears very patchy,with few recent records (Anak, W. Duckworth and R. Steinmetz, Southeast Asia mammal assessment, 2003). There are no confirmed records of the fishing cat from Peninsular Malaysia, but a 1999 camera trap image from Taman Negara National Park, an incomplete image showing only the animal's hindquarters, suggests the species occurrence here (Kawanishi and Sunquist 2003). However, the fishing cat never occurred on Taiwan, where it was mistakenly reported in the past (Nowell and Jackson, 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002). Its possible occurrence (based on an old, unsubstantiated record) in southwestern China is unknown (J. Sanderson pers. comm. 2007). On the island of Java, it has become scarce and apparently restricted to a few coastal wetlands (Melisch et al. 1996). Although commonly considered to occur on the island of Sumatra, there are no definite historic records, recent records have been shown to be erroneous, and its presence there remains to be confirmed (Duckworth et al. 2009).
The map shows range within forest cover (European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2003) to reflect patchiness caused by deforestation upon recommendation of the assessors (IUCN Cats Red List workshop 2007).
Fishing cats are considered one of the largest of the lesser cats. Fishing cats are powerfully built with short limbs and a stocky body. They have a long head and a short tail that is roughly one-third the length of their body. Their fur is coarse and brownish gray in color with distinctive dark markings (Finn, 1929). The markings are a combination of both spots and stripes. These spots are arranged longitudinally across the body. Six to eight dark lines run from above the eyes between the ears over the crown to the nape of the neck. These lines gradually break up into shorter bars and spots on the shoulders. The fur on the underside of P. viverrinus is longer and spotted, and the tail is ringed. The paws are webbed, and the claws extend past the claw sheaths when retracted (Prater, S. 1971).
The short hair on the face is spotted, and the whiskers are short. The ears are short and round and the back side is black. When viewed from the front the ears have a distinctive white spot in the center (Phillips, 1984).
Fishing cats show strong sexual dimorphism. The size of P. viverrinus varies with gender, males are considerably larger. The measurements of P. viverrinus are as follow: length 658 mm to 857 mm, tail 254 mm to 280 mm, hind foot 134 mm to 158 mm, and the ears are 47 mm to 51 mm in length. Fishing cats stand over 350 mm high at shoulder level and weight 6.3 to 11.8 kgs depending on gender (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Phillips, 1984).
Range mass: 6 to 12 kg.
Range length: 658 to 857 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
- Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fishing cats live primarily in wetland areas, both marshes and swamps. These cats can be found in heavily forested regions adjacent to rivers or near jungles. They can also be found in scrub areas, reed beds, and tidal creek areas. Fishing cats have been reported in Himalayan forests at an elevation of 1525 m. (~5000 ft.), they have also been found at elevations as high as 7000 ft. (~ 2100 m.) in the mountainous areas of Sri Lanka.
Range elevation: 2100 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams; coastal
Wetlands: marsh ; swamp
Other Habitat Features: riparian
- Prater, S. 1965. The Book of Indian Mammals. Bombay, India: Bombay Natural History Society.
Habitat and Ecology
Fishing cats are good swimmers, and unlike most other small cats may prey primarily on fish rather than small mammals. A one-year study of scats in India's Keoladeo National Park found that fish comprised 76% of the diet, followed by birds (27%), insects (13%) and small rodents last (9%) (Haque and Vijayan 1993). Molluscs, reptiles and amphibians are also taken (Haque and Vijayan 1993, Mukherjee 1989). However, they are capable of taking large mammal prey, including small chital fawns (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), and have been seen scavenging livestock carcasses and tiger kills (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Predation on small domestic livestock and dogs has also been reported (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
The only radio-telemetry study took place in Nepal's Chitwan National Park in the early 1990s. Cats were active only at night and spent most of their time in dense tall and short grasslands, sometimes well away from water. Home ranges of three females were 4-6 km²; that of a single male was larger at 16-22 km² (JLD Smith pers comm. in Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).
Fishing cats have been observed in degraded habitats, such as near aquaculture ponds with little vegetation outside the Indian city of Calcutta (P. Sanyal in Anon. 1989).
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 (Finn, 1929). In 1987 a fishing cat was observed eating a dead cow, so it is believed that they eat carrion (Haque, 1988). A study examining the food habits of P. viverrinus revealed that that they primarily feed on fish. A frequency analysis showed that out of 144 scats examined, 109 contained fish, 39 contained birds, 31 contained grass, 18 contained insects, 13 contained rodents, and 11 contained a mixture of snakes, lizards, mollusks, rabbits and cows (Haque and Vijayan, 1993).
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; carrion ; insects; mollusks
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore , Eats non-insect arthropods, Scavenger )
- Haque, N. 1988. Scavenging habit of fishing cat (Felis Viverrina) in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur. Journal of Bombay Natural History, 85(1): 183-184.
Fishing cats feed primarily on fish (Haque and Vijayan, 1993). There is no information regarding the species of fish P. viverrinus feed on and whether they might be positively or negatively effecting the ecosystem by over feeding on certain species. More research needs to be conducted on the actual diet of fishing cats to better understand the effects of this species on the ecosystem.
Fishing cats do not have any documented predators other than man.
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Female fishing cats call to attract males to initiate mating.
Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Not much is known about the lifespan of fishing cats in the wild. Zoo records indicate they may live up to 12 years in captivity.
Status: captivity: 12 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 12 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
There is little available information on reproduction in fishing cats.
Mating System: polygynous
Fishing cats breed once yearly, during the months of January and February. They have also been known to breed in June (Cat Specialist Group, 1996). The gestation period is 63 days, after which the female gives birth to 1 to 4 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 4 to 6 months of age. At 8 to 9 months the young reach adult size and are independent at 10 months (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002). They probably reach sexual maturity soon after.
Breeding interval: Fishing cats breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Generally breed during January and February.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Range gestation period: 63 to 70 days.
Range weaning age: 4 to 6 months.
Range time to independence: 10 (high) months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 to 10 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 10 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 170 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.
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 altricial and cared for by their mother they reach approximately 10 months of age, when they become independent (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002).
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
- Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Cat Specialist Group, 1996. "Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus" (On-line). Accessed February 06, 2004 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/viver01.htm.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Prionailurus viverrinus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
The major threat to fishing cats is the destruction of their habitat, primarily wetlands. For example, in Sri Lanka it has been documented that a variety of factors are responsible for the loss of habitat, including land reclamation, dumping, clearing of the natural vegetation, and pollution (Bambaradeniya, C., 2003).
In addition to the loss of habitat the population of the fishing cat is in danger due to destructive fishing practices that greatly reduce the fish stock. The fishing cat is also a victim of poaching. They are often hunted for food, medicine, or various body parts (BCPP, 1997).
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
There appears to have been a severe decline in the fishing cat population throughout much of its Asian range over the last decade. While this period has seen a great increase in research effort, relatively few records of fishing cats have been obtained (Nekaris 2003, Duckworth et al. 2005). For example, recent research in Thailand aimed at studying fishing cats in wetland habitat have failed to find any animals in recent years, despite intensive camera trapping efforts (Cincinnati Zoo Fishing Cat Conservation project website; J Howard pers. comm. 2007). Fishing cats have disappeared from Bharatpur, India within the past five years, and may also have been lost from southwestern India and Pakistan. Based on continued range contraction, decline in habitat quality, and actual levels of exploitation of fish stocks and potential levels of incidental poisoning and snaring of fishing cats, a decline of at least 50% is suspected over the past 18 years (= three generations) , and if habitat protection efforts are not intensified, a future decline of similar magnitude over the next 18 years is projected (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007).
- 2008Endangered(IUCN 2008)
- 1996Lower Risk/near threatened(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
Conservation of the species depends on adequate protection of remaining wild wetlands in Asia, and prevention of indiscriminate trapping, snaring and poisoning.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Fishing cats negatively affect humans by consuming livestock. However, research has shown that livestock is not the fishing cats' primary source of food (Haque and Vijayan, 1993). In the early part of the century fishing cats were known to take human infants (Finn, 1929).
The Biodiversity Conservation Prioritisation Project states that fishing cats are hunted for various aspects of trade, however it is unclear what parts of the fishing cat are valuable for trade (CAMP, 2004) . Fishing cats are also important for educational and research purposes.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; research and education
- Conservation Assessment Management Plan, 2004. "Mammals of India, Report BCPP" (On-line). Accessed October 21, 2004 at http://www.zooreach.org/Conservation/CAMP/CAMP-mammals.htm.
The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a medium-sized wild cat of South and Southeast Asia. In 2008, the IUCN classified the fishing cat as Endangered since they are concentrated primarily in wetland habitats, which are increasingly being settled, degraded and converted. Over the last decade, the fishing cat population throughout much of its Asian range declined severely.
Fishing cats are the largest of the Prionailurus cats. They are about twice the size of a domestic cat and have a stocky, muscular build with medium to short legs. The coarse fur is olive-grey with dark spots arranged in horizontal streaks running along the length of the body. The face is elongated with a distinctly flat nose and ears set far back on the head. The underside is white, and the back of the ears are black with central white spots. There are a pair of dark stripes around the throat, and a number of black rings on the tail. Their head-to-body length typically ranges from 57–78 cm (22–31 in), with a short tail of 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in), which is one half to one third the length of the rest of the animal. They weigh from 5–16 kg (11–35 lb). The face is spotted and the ears are short and rounded. Black spots run longitudinally across the body, and six to eight dark stripes run from behind the eyes to the nape. The underside fur is longer and often overlaid with spots.
Their feet are less completely webbed than of leopard cats, their claws incompletely sheathed. Webbed feet have often been noted as a characteristic of the fishing cat, but the webbing beneath the toes is not much more developed than that of a bobcat.
Distribution and habitat
Fishing cats are broadly but discontinuously distributed in Asia, and are primarily found in the Terai region of the Himalayan foothills in India and Nepal, in eastern India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There are no recent records from Pakistan, and no confirmed records from Peninsular Malaysia and Vietnam. The island of Java constitutes the eastern limit of their range, but already in the 1990s they were scarce and apparently restricted to tidal forests with sandy or muddy shores, older mangrove stands, and abandoned mangrove plantation areas with fishponds.
In March 2003, a single fishing cat was camera trapped in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, northern Cambodia. In January 2008, their presence was confirmed in Botum-Sakor National Park, southwest Cambodia. Populations have also been documented in Thailand. Fishing cats were the least detected cats with altogether six photos obtained in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and Thale Noi Non-hunting Area. There are no confirmed records from Laos.
Fishing cats are strongly associated with wetland, and are typically found in swamps and marshy areas, oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove areas and are more scarce around smaller, fast-moving watercourses. Most records are from lowland areas. Although fishing cats are widely distributed through a variety of habitat types including both evergreen and tropical dry forest, their occurrence tends to be highly localized. They are allegedly found at elevations up to 5,000 ft (1,500 m) in the Indian Himalayas.
Ecology and behavior
The solitary living fishing cats are thought to be primarily nocturnal. They are very much at home in the water and can swim long distances, even under water. Females have been reported to range over areas of 4 to 6 km2 (1.5 to 2.3 sq mi), while males range over 16 to 22 km2 (6.2 to 8.5 sq mi). Adults have been observed to make a "chuckling" sound and likely have other calls similar to those of domestic cats.
As the name implies, fish is their main prey. A one-year study of scats in India's Keoladeo National Park found that fish comprised approximately three-quarters of the diet, with the remainder consisting of birds, insects, and small rodents. Molluscs, reptiles including snakes, amphibians and carrion of domestic cattle supplement their diet. They hunt along the edges of watercourses, grabbing prey from the water, and sometimes diving in to catch prey further from the banks.
Reproduction and development
Fishing cats may mate at any time of the year, although most commonly between January and February. The female constructs a den in a secluded area such as a dense thicket of reeds, and gives birth to two to three kittens after a gestation period of 63–70 days. The kittens weigh around 170 g (6.0 oz) at birth, and are able to actively move around by the age of one month. They begin to play in water and to take solid food at about two months, but are not fully weaned for six months. They reach full adult size at around eight and a half months, acquire their adult canine teeth at eleven months, and are sexually mature at fifteen months. They live for up to ten years in captivity.
Fishing cat are endangered due to their dependence on wetlands, which are increasingly being settled and converted for agricultural use, and also due to human over-exploitation of local fish stocks. It is believed to be extirpated in Afghanistan, it may already be gone from Malaysia and China, and it has become rare throughout its remaining distribution range.
Prionailurus viverrinus is included on CITES Appendix II, and protected by national legislation over most of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand. Hunting regulations apply in Lao PDR. In Bhutan and Vietnam, the species is not protected outside protected areas.
Fishing cat captive breeding programmes have been established by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. All the fishing cats kept in zoos around the world are listed in the International Studbook of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
In Sri Lanka, the fishing cat is known as Handoon Deeva. This name and Kola Diviya are used by local people to also refer to the rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), another little-known small cat in suburban areas of Sri Lanka. As both cat species are nocturnal and elusive, it is usually uncertain which one is referred to by either of these names.
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- Mukherjee, S., Sanderson, J., Duckworth, W., Melisch, R., Khan, J., Wilting, A., Sunarto, S., Howard, J.G. (2010). "Prionailurus viverrinus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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