Most domestic housecats hate water, but the Fishing Cat is no ordinary feline! A close relative of the leopard, the Fishing Cat is a wild cat that lives along rivers, streams, marshes and mangrove swamps. Unlike your average tabby, Fishing Cats are excellent swimmers, and are completely at home in the water!
These unique water-loving cats are found primarily in southern Asia. Their global range includes Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Burma, China and the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. However, Fishing Cats are not found throughout these countries because they prefer habitats in densely vegetated areas near water.
Being eager and skilled swimmers, these wild cats are well suited to wetland habitats. Fishing Cats are sometimes found in tropical forests, and have been sighted in the Indian Himalayas, at elevations of 4,900 feet. Fishing Cats also reside in a few dozen U.S. zoos, including Cincinnati and San Diego.
The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a medium-sized wild cat, with males weighing around 25 pounds and females weighing around 15 pounds. They have a short, stocky body with short legs, an elongated, flat-nosed face and short, round ears. Like other wild cats of a similar size, the Fishing Cat has a broad head, short tail and muscular build. Their olive-gray fur coat is marked by dark spots that form stripes down their spine. They have six to eight distinctive dark lines on their foreheads, and a ringed tail tipped in black.
The most unusual physical attribute of the Fishing Cat would have to be its paws, which have webbing between their toes. This webbing gives them traction in slippery mud and to a lesser degree, aids in swimming. However, today’s Fishing Cats are said to have less prominent toe webbing than their predecessors, generally not much more developed that that of a Bobcat.
Does the Fishing Cat Eat Fish?
Of course! Not only does the Fishing Cat eat fish, it catches them – no fishing pole needed! Instead, the cat lightly taps the water’s surface with its paw to attract fish, which mimics insect movements. In shallow water, they simply scoop the fish out of the water with the aid of their webbed paws. In deeper areas, they’re said to dive underwater to catch the fish with their teeth.
Although the Fishing Cat’s primary diet is fish, they also catch and eat other prey found in the water, including crabs, crayfish, snakes, ducks and frogs. On land, the Fishing Cat has been seen eating rodents, young deer and wild pigs. Even a farmer’s chickens, dogs, goats and calves are fair game for the plucky Fishing Cat, as are the morsels left behind by tigers after they’ve eaten their fill. At the San Diego Zoo, the felines are offered trout, mice and cat kibble.
What Does the Future Hold?
Fishing Cats are listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species. Habitat destruction is the greatest threat to this beautiful wild cat’s survival. Fishing Cats prefer to live in wetland areas, which are increasingly being settled and drained for agricultural use and roads. Pollution, overfishing, and excessive hunting and woodcutting are also contributing to the destruction of the Fishing Cat’s wetland habitats.
Fun Facts about Fishing Cats
* When swimming, the Fishing Cat can use its short, flattened tail like a rudder to help control its direction.
* Female Fishing Cats give birth in the spring to a small litter of two kittens on average. They raise their young without help from the solitary male, who typically only seeks out the female for mating.
* The kittens learn to catch fish by watching their mother. At around 10 months, they’re ready to venture out on their own.
* Although the Fishing Cat may look cute and cuddly, this wild cat can be very aggressive!