Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

As its name implies, the fishing cat predominantly preys on fish (6). Largely active at night, fishing cats are good swimmers and have been observed diving for fish, as well as scooping them out of the water with their paws (8). These cats will also prey on frogs, crustaceans, snakes, birds, calves, goats, and dogs, and will scavenge on carcasses of larger animals (5). Although capable of breeding all year round (6), birth peaks have been noted in March and May in north-eastern India (8). One to four kittens are born after a gestation period of 63 days (7). Young suckle until they are six months old (5) and reach independence at ten months (8). In captivity, males have been recorded to aid in the rearing of young (5). Fishing cats live an average of 12 years (8), but have been known to live more than 15 years in captivity (5).
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Description

The fishing cat is another feline that contradicts the belief that cats dislike water, frequently entering the water to prey on fish, as its common name alludes (4). However, it has often been incorrectly credited with physical adaptations to these habits. While webbed feet have previously been noted as a characteristic of the fishing cat, the partial membrane between the toes is in fact no more developed than in other wild or domestic cats (5). The fishing cat has a long stocky body and relatively short legs, a short thick tail, a broad head and elongated muzzle (4). The pelt is olive-grey with black bars running along the neck and face, dark brown spots in rows on the body, and a series of incomplete rings circle the tail (4) (6) (7). Females are markedly smaller than males (8).
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Distribution

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..
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Range Description

The Fishing Cat has a broad but discontinuous distribution in Asia, with large gaps - some the result of its association primarily with wetlands, some the result of recent extirpation, and some supposed due to a lack of confirmed records. In Pakistan, the only known population was in the Indus river valley (Roberts 1977), but there are no recent records to confirm it still occurs. The fishing cat has been extirpated in recent years from parts of India, including the Bharatpur region of western India (Shomita Mukherjee, Jamal Khan pers. comms. 2007), home to Keoladeo National Park, one of the few areas in India were fishing cats were studied (Mukerjee 1989, Haque and Vijayan 1993). It has possibly disappeared also from the southern Western Ghats (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Shomita Mukherjee and Jamal Khan pers. comms. 2007). However, there is also a new record from Umred, near Nagpur in central India, an area well outside of the fishing cat's known range, when a Fishing Cat that had been killed by a vehicle was found (Anon 2005). It is primarily found in the terai region of the Himalayan foothills, and eastern India into Bangladesh, where it is widely distributed and locally common in some areas (Khan 2004), although in eastern India few prime habitats remain (Kolipaka 2006). On the island of Sri Lanka, it occurs apparently all over the island, and has been found on waterways near the capital city of Colombo in degraded habitats (S. Mukherjee pers. comm. 2007).

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).

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Range

The fishing cat is discontinuously distributed throughout southern and southeast Asia, found in northeastern India, the foot of the Himalayas in Nepal and India, and a few scattered areas in the rest of India, Bangladesh, Indus Valley Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and in the Indonesian Islands of Sumatra and Java. A few reports in peninsular Malaysia have not established whether the fishing cat is resident (9).
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Physical Description

Morphology

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.
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Ecology

Habitat

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.
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Fishing Cats are strongly associated with wetland. They 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. Along watercourses they have been recorded at elevations up to 1,525 m, but 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: Rabinowitz and Walker 1991), their occurrence tends to be highly localized (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

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).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Fishing cats typically inhabit areas of wetland, including swamps and marshy areas, oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove areas, up to an altitude of 1, 500 metres (1) (5).
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Trophic Strategy

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.
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Associations

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.

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Fishing cats do not have any documented predators other than man.

Known Predators:

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Known prey organisms

Prionailurus viverrinus preys on:
Actinopterygii
Mollusca
Arthropoda
Amphibia
Reptilia
Aves
Mammalia

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

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

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Life Expectancy

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.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
12 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
12 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 17.2 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

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.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Prionailurus viverrinus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

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

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2cd+4cd

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2010

Assessor/s
Mukherjee, S., Sanderson, J., Duckworth, W., Melisch, R., Khan, J., Wilting, A., Sunarto, S. & Howard, J.G.

Reviewer/s
Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U., & Schipper, J.

Contributor/s

Justification
Fishing cats are widely distributed but concentrated primarily in wetland habitats, which are increasingly being settled, degraded and converted. Over 45% of protected wetlands and 94% of globally significant wetlands in Southeast Asia are considered threatened (Dugan 1993). Threats to wetlands include human settlement, draining for agriculture, pollution, and excessive hunting, wood-cutting and fishing. In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the past decade has been rapid. The depletion of fish stocks from over-fishing is prevalent and is likely to be a significant threat.

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).

History
  • 2008
    Endangered
    (IUCN 2008)
  • 2008
    Endangered
  • 2002
    Vulnerable
  • 1996
    Lower Risk/near threatened
    (Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
  • 1994
    Insufficiently Known
    (Groombridge 1994)
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Status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
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Population

Population
There is concern about the species status in Southeast Asia where it is very infrequently encountered and believed to be declining (Southeast Asia regional mammal assessment, 2003). There are very few records from camera trapping in Lao (Duckworth pers. comm. 2003) or Cambodia, although there are a sizeable number of confiscated live captive animals there (Duckworth et al. 2005). There have been declines in Thailand (Anak pers. comm. 2003) where it is very rarely encountered (Steinmetz pers. comm. 2003) and was more common in the past (Anak pers. comm. 2003). The fishing cat could not be confirmed in any reserves in Viet Nam during a survey of wildlife officers (Johnsingh and Nguyen 1995). In 2004, the Fishing Cat SSP and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden funded a field survey by Thai biologists Namfon Boontua and Budsabong Kanchanasaka to locate fishing cats in prime wetland areas in southern Thailand. Four months of camera trapping failed to find any sign of fishing cats despite confirmed presence of numerous other wildlife species. There have also been big declines in Lao PDR (W. Duckworth pers. comm), as well as on the island of Java, where the population, possibly a valid subspecies Prionailurus viverrinus rizophoreus (Sody 1936), may qualify as Critically Endangered (Boeadi pers. comm.; Melisch et al. 1996). In India it has apparently been extirpated from large parts of its range in recent years (S. Mukherjee and J.A. Khan pers. comm. 2007), and it may no longer occur in Pakistan.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Wetland destruction and degradation is the primary threat faced by the species (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Over 45% of protected wetlands and 94% of globally significant wetlands in Southeast Asia are considered threatened (Dugan 1993). Threats to wetlands include human settlement, draining for agriculture, pollution, and excessive hunting, wood-cutting and fishing. In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the past decade has been rapid in Tropical Asia. The depletion of fish stocks from over-fishing is prevalent in many Asian wetland environments and is likely to be a significant threat. While fishing cats appear relatively tolerant of modified habitats, they are also vulnerable to accidental snaring, while generally not being a commercially valued species (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Widespread indiscriminate snaring, trapping and poisoning are believed to underlie recent declines in Southeast Asia, where fishing cats have not been found even in seemingly intact wetland habitats (Southeast Asia regional mammal assessment, 2003). Kolipaka (2006) reported that fishermen have killed and eaten fishing cats which they say had taken fish from their nets. Wetlands are under-represented in the matrix of Asian protected areas (W. Duckworth pers. comm.). Fishing cat skins have been found in illegal trade in India for many years (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002, Anon 2005).
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The primary threat the fishing cat faces is wetland destruction, with over 50 percent of Asian wetlands under threat and disappearing (4) (8), as a result of human settlement, drainage for agriculture, pollution, excessive hunting, and wood-cutting (1). Destructive fishing practices have also greatly reduced the fishing cat's main prey base. Additionally, fishing cats are hunted for food, medicine, and body parts in some areas of their range, and have been persecuted for taking domestic stock (1). The skin of the fishing cat has occasionally been observed in Asian markets, although far less frequently than other cats (4).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Included on CITES Appendix II. Protected by national legislation over most of its range. Hunting prohibited: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand. Hunting regulations apply in Lao PDR. No protection outside protected areas: Bhutan, Viet Nam (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The Fishing Cat is confirmed to occur in protected areas including the Sundarbans (Bangladesh and India), Chitwan (Nepal), Corbett, Dudwha, and Kaziranga (India) (IUCN Cats Red List workshop 2007), Khao Sam Roi Yot and Thale Noi (Thailand: Cutter and Cutter 2009), Botum-Sakor (Cambodia: Royan 2009) and Ujung Kulon and Pulau Dua (Java, Indonesia: A. Compost in Duckworth et al. 2009).
Conservation of the species depends on adequate protection of remaining wild wetlands in Asia, and prevention of indiscriminate trapping, snaring and poisoning.
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Conservation

The fishing cat is classed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, meaning that it is 'facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild' (1) (9). The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists the fishing cat on Appendix II, under which permits are required for international traffic in this species (5). The fishing cat is also protected by national legislation over most of its range, with the exception of Bhutan, Malaysia and Vietnam (4). Legal protection is extremely difficult to enforce, however, and illegal poaching does take place (4) (5). In addition to enforcing protective legislation for this species, it is crucial that there is protection of its wetland habitat. Habitat degradation has been the most significant contributor to the decline in numbers, and this must be addressed if we are to maintain populations of this beautiful and extraordinary cat throughout its range across southern and southeast Asia.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

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).

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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

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