The Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a medium-sized wild cat of South and Southeast Asia. It is a threatened species whose population has declined severely over the last decade. Its scientific name comes from its viverrine or civet-like appearance rather than any adaptation for fishing.
The Fishing cat is a “small” cat of medium size and stocky build, with short legs, a short tail, and a face that is round but elongated. They have an olive-gray coat that has a pattern of rows of parallel black spots which will often form stripes on their back. Females are noticeably smaller than males. A significant difference between the Fishing cat and its relatives is that its claws do not fully retract, the tips remaining to stick out a little from the sheath of skin they have on their toes, whereas most cats can retract their claws completely when they are not using them, in order to stop them from becoming blunt.
Fishing cats live in separate populations in Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka and parts of Pakistan, in western India to southern China, Java, and Sumatra. They live primarily in wetland areas, swamps, and marshy areas around oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks, and mangrove forests. In Sri Lanka, Fishing cats may also be found in multiple localities ranging from coastal to hilly regions. They are relatively adaptable creatures and some live in agricultural areas and city suburbs close to human settlements where there is little vegetation.
Fishing cats are solitary and nocturnal hunters that rest during the day amongst dense vegetation and then at night head to the water to find food. They are very strong swimmers and can swim large distances, often while pursuing a fish. These animals are largely territorial and occupy home ranges as large as 22 sq. km (although females often have ranges that are much smaller). The territory of a male typically overlaps those of a number of females within the area. Fishing cats communicate with guttural growls, hisses, and a low, demanding meow. During courtship, they make a sound that is called chittering.
Fishing cats are polygynous, with one male mating with multiple females. The breeding season is thought to be from January to February. At this time a female call to the males in the area to indicate that she is ready for mating. After a gestation of 60 to 70 days, 1 to 4 kittens are born. The young grow fast and at around 16 days old they open their eyes. They start eating meat about the 53rd day and become weaned at 4 to 6 months old. The young reach adult size at 8 to 9 months old and are independent when 10 months old.
The major threat to the Fishing cat is wetland destruction, with more than 50% of Asian wetlands threatened and disappearing due to human settlement, pollution, drainage for agriculture, wood cutting, and excessive hunting. The Fishing cat’s main prey has been greatly reduced by destructive fishing practices. Additionally, these cats in some parts of their range are hunted for medicine, food, and body parts, and have also been killed for taking domestic stock.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of Fishing cat total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.