The Fishing Cat: A Truly Unique Feline

A photo of a fishing cat taken by Srikanth Mannepuri. Image © Fishing Cat Conservancy.

This post is an introduction to the ecology and conservation of a truly unique species: the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). It is the second entry in a three-part series about fishing cats and a non-profit organization called the Fishing Cat Conservancy, whom I shall write about next week.

Size

The fishing cat is a medium-sized cat: recorded weights for the species range from 5.1-6.8 kg for females, and 8.5-16 kg for males.1 That translates to 11.2-15 lb for females and 18.7-35.3 lb for males, which is slightly smaller than a bobcat (Lynx rufus).

Range and Habitat

The fishing cat has a wide but patchy range. It occurs in fragmented habitats in parts of:

A fishing cat watching the water, presumably waiting for prey. Photo taken by Srikanth Mannepuri, © Fishing Cat Conservancy.
  • India
  • Nepal
  • Sri Lanka
  • Bangladesh
  • Cambodia
  • Thailand.2

Fishing cats might also be living in the following countries:

  • Pakistan
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Lao PDR
  • Vietnam
  • Indonesia.3

Part of the reason why the fishing cat’s range is so spread out stems from its reliance on wetlands; of all the cat species, the fishing cat depends on water the most.4 They heavily depend on water for hunting (or fishing), and are the only small cat species that swims to catch its prey – they even have partially webbed feet.5

A fishing cat going for a swim, photographed by Srikanth Mannepuri. Image © Fishing Cat Conservancy.

Diet

Despite their name, fishing cats are opportunistic hunters. They do eat fish, but fishing cats will also go after: reptiles, amphibians, crabs, rodents, water birds, hares, and more.6

Fishing cats also utilize a diverse range of hunting strategies to catch their prey. Pranav said that in the mangrove forests of Andhra Pradesh, the cats appear to do much of their fishing during low tide – although he has also seen them dive. In addition, Srikanth has observed fishing cats chasing rats up trees and jumping into the water to catch birds.7

Population and Conservation Status

The fishing cat was listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List until 2016, when it was ‘upgraded’ to Vulnerable in light of new information. However, not everyone agreed with that change.8 Regardless, the fact remains that fishing cats are a declining species: there may be fewer than 2,500 individuals left in the wild.9

The fishing cat is a unique, but threatened species. Photo taken by Anjani Kumar, © Fishing Cat Conservancy.

Threats

Fishing cats face a number of threats. Direct persecution, habitat loss, and the pet trade are major problems in Southeast Asia – where people kill fishing cats to protect fishing nets, to trade the cats’ skins and body parts, and to eat. In a study in Thailand, 84% of all the fishing cats that were tracked via radio collars were killed, either due to poaching or unknown causes.10

In South Asia, the dominant threat to fishing cats is habitat degradation.11 In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (where the Fishing Cat Conservancy works), as in many parts of South and Southeast Asia, mangrove forests have been converted to commercial aquaculture (fish and shrimp) ponds and agriculture farms.12

The loss of mangrove forests has negative consequences for people and wildlife. Countless species, including fishing cats, depend on mangroves to survive. Local people also collect valuable resources from the forests, including: firewood, fish, and more.

Mangrove forests are vital ecosystems for countless species, including humans. Mangroves by mopar05ram. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Mangroves’ importance extends to regional and global scales as well. On a regional level, mangroves act as natural shields from cyclones and tsunamis. Globally, they absorb more than five times as much carbon as tropical forests. Thus, not only do mangroves buffer human communities from natural disasters, but they also help to regulate the planet’s climate.13

Given the above factors, it is clear that protecting mangrove forests and restoring lost mangroves is crucial for wildlife and human communities. Fortunately, the Fishing Cat Conservancy is working to protect and restore vital mangrove habitats; their innovative, community-driven solutions will be the focus of the next post in this series.

References:

  1. P. Tamarapalli, personal communication, October 8, 2018; Hunter, 2015, p. 58
  2. Mukherjee, Adhya, Thatte, & Ramakrishnan, 2012; A. Naidu, personal communication, December 17, 2018
  3. Mukerjee et al., 2016; P. Tamarapalli, personal communication, October 8, 2018
  4. Mukherjee et al., 2016
  5. S. Mannepuri, personal communication, October 8, 2018
  6. Hunter, 2015; P. Tamarapalli & S. Mannepuri, personal communication, October 8, 2018
  7. P. Tamarapalli & S. Mannepuri, personal communication, October 8, 2018
  8. Mukherjee et al., 2016
  9. P. Tamarapalli, personal communication, October 8, 2018
  10. Mukherjee et al., 2016; A. Naidu, personal communication, December 23, 2018
  11. Mukherjee et al., 2016
  12. P. Tamarapalli & S. Mannepuri, personal communication, October 8, 2018; A. Naidu, personal communication, December 23, 2018
  13. P. Tamarapalli & S. Mannepuri, personal communication, October 8 & 9, 2018; TEDx, 2018; Bineth, Shannon, Parameswaran, & Gaedtke, 2017

33 Thoughts

  1. Great article! We have made our way through Nepal, India (Rajasthan and Gujarat) and Sri Lanka over the past 5 months. Keeping an eye out for fishing cat as Jono has wanted to photograph one but they are proving very difficult to track down! As you mentioned habitat loss is a huge issue with mangroves, so that’s certainly added a level of difficulty. Maybe we will see one in Thailand layer this year. Also thanks for mentioning the conservancy. We had not heard of them before 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you want to see fishing cats, then I highly recommend you try to go out at night: fishing cats are largely nocturnal. Or, better yet, does Jono have any camera traps with him? If you’re ever in an area where you’ll have the same camp for a few days, I suggest placing camera traps in a wetland – ideally where you see cat tracks. Fishing cats have great senses and might be scared off by the noisy approach of human feet or a motor boat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes we’ve done lots of spotlighting looking at night, on foot and in safari jeeps. We have just been unlucky I think! We really need to invest in some camera traps, they would be useful for many species we are on the lookout for… One day hehe 🙂 for now we’ll just have to keep looking…and looking.

        Liked by 1 person

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