Fishing cat

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Not to be confused with the fisher (animal), a mustelid sometimes called a "fisher cat"; nor the Van cat, a landrace of domestic cat nicknamed the "swimming cat".
Fishing cat
Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) 3.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Prionailurus
Species: P. viverrinus
Binomial name
Prionailurus viverrinus[2]
(Bennett, 1833)

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. Fishing cat populations are threatened by destruction of wetlands and declined severely over the last decade.[1] Fishing cats live foremost in the vicinity of wetlands, along rivers, streams, oxbow lakes and mangrove swamps.[3]

The fishing cat is the state animal of West Bengal.[4]


A fishing cat at the San Diego Zoo. Note the ocelli on the backs of the cat's ears.

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).[5] 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.[6]

Their feet are less completely webbed than those of leopard cats, their claws incompletely sheathed.[7] 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.[8]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Fishing cat photographed in Nepal

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.[1] They are also found in Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, and on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra.[9]

Fishing cats are strongly associated with wetland, 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. [3] They have been reported at elevations up to 5,000 ft (1,500 m) in the Indian Himalayas.[10]

Populations have also been documented in Thailand.[11] Fishing cats were the least detected cats with only six photos obtained altogether in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and Thale Noi Non-hunting Area.[12] There are no confirmed records from Laos.[13]

In March 2003, a single fishing cat was photographed by a camera trap in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, northern Cambodia.[14] In January 2008, their presence was confirmed in Botum-Sakor National Park, southwest Cambodia.[15] In 2015, fishing cats were recorded in coastal wetland in Cambodia.[16]

The island of Java constitutes the eastern limit of their range, but by the 1990s they were already scarce and apparently restricted to tidal forests with sandy or muddy shores, older mangrove stands, and abandoned mangrove plantation areas with fishponds.[17]

Ecology and behavior[edit]

Fishing cat searching for prey near water

Fishing cats are thought to be primarily nocturnal. Adult males and females without dependent young are solitary animals. 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.[5]

As the name implies, fish are their main prey. A one-year study of scat collected in India's Keoladeo National Park found that fish comprises approximately three-quarters of their diet, with the remainder consisting of birds, insects, and small rodents. Molluscs, reptiles including snakes, amphibians and carrion of domestic cattle supplement their diet.[18] They hunt along the edges of watercourses, grabbing prey from the water, and sometimes diving into the water to catch prey further from the banks.[19]

They mark their territory using cheek-rubbing, head rubbing, chin rubbing, neck rubbing and urine-spraying to leave scent marks. They also sharpen their claws and display flehmen behavior.[20]

Reproduction and development[edit]

Wild fishing cats most likely mate during January and February; most kittens in the wild were observed during March and April.[5] In captivity, the gestation period lasts 63–70 days; females give birth to two or three kittens.[21] They 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 when about two months of age, but are not fully weaned until six months old. They reach full adult size when about eight and a half months old, acquire their adult canine teeth by 11 months, and are sexually mature when approximately 15 months old. They live up to 10 years in captivity.[5]


Fishing cats are threatened by destruction of wetlands, which are increasingly being polluted and converted for agricultural use and human settlements. Over-exploitation of local fish stocks and retaliatory killing are also significant threats. They are possibly extinct in Pakistan[1] and in coastal Kerala, India.[22]

In June 2015, five fishing cats were killed in West Bengal's Howrah district for meat and illegal trading of skins.[23]


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.[3]

In captivity[edit]

Fishing cat at the Cincinnati Zoo

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.

Local names[edit]

In Bengali language, the fishing cat is known as 'mach-baghrol' and 'bagh-dasha'.[24] 'Mācha' means fish, and 'bāgha' means tiger.[25]

In Hindi, it is known as 'bunbiral' and 'khupya bagh'.[26] In Telugu, it is called బావురుపిల్లి 'bavuru pilli' meaning wild cat.[27]

In Sri Lanka, the fishing cat is known as 'handoon deeva' or 'handun diviya'.[26][28]


  1. ^ a b c d 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 2015.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  2. ^ Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 544. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  3. ^ a b c Nowell, K., Jackson, P. (1996). Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus. In: Wild Cats: status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland.
  4. ^ Wildlife Institute of India. "State animals, birds, trees and flowers" (PDF). Wildlife Institute of India. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d Sunquist, M., Sunquist, F. (2002). Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 241–245. ISBN 0-226-77999-8. 
  6. ^ Burnie, D., Wilson, D. E. (2001). Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. ISBN 0-7894-7764-5
  7. ^ Pocock, R. I. (1939). Prionailurus viverrinus Pages 259–264 in: The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia. – Volume 1. Taylor and Francis, Ltd., London.
  8. ^ Kitchener, A. C. (1998). The Natural History of the Wild Cats. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Prater, S. H. (1939). The book of Indian Mammals. Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay.
  11. ^ Cutter, P., Cutter, P. (2010). Recent sightings of fishing cats in Thailand. Cat News 51: 12–13.
  12. ^ Lynam, A. J., Jenks, K. E., Tantipisanuh, N., Chutipong, W., Ngoprasert, D., Gale, G. A., et. al (2012). Terrestrial activity patterns of wild cats from camera-trapping. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology: 407–415.
  13. ^ Duckworth, J. W., Stones, T., Tizard, R., Watson, S., and Wolstencroft, J. (2010). Does the fishing cat inhabit Laos?. Cat News 52: 4–7.
  14. ^ Rainy, H. J., Kong, K. (2010). A fishing cat observation from northern Cambodia. Cat News 52: 8–9.
  15. ^ Royan, A. (2009). Confirmation of the endangered fishing cat in Botum-Sakor National Park, Cambodia. Cat News 51: 10–11.
  16. ^ McKerrow, L. (2015). Found! Fishing cat in coastal Cambodia. Press release by Fauna & Flora International Cambodia and Royal University of Phnom Penh.
  17. ^ Melisch, R., Asmoro, P. B., Lubis, I. R. and Kusumawardhani, L. (1996). Distribution and status of the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus rhizophoreus Sody, 1936) in West Java, Indonesia (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae). Faunistische Abhandlungen. Staatliches Museum für Tierkunde Dresden 20 (17): 311–319.
  18. ^ Haque, N. M., Vijayan, V. (1993). Food habits of the fishing cat Felis viverrina in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 90: 498–500.
  19. ^ Mukherjee, S. (1989). Ecological separation of four sympatric carnivores in Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India. M. Sc. Thesis, Wildlife Institute of India.
  20. ^ Mellen, J. D. (1993). A Comparative Analysis of Scent-Marking, Social and Reproductive Behavior in 20 Species of Small Cats (Felis). American Zoologist 33 (2): 151–166.
  21. ^ Mellen, J. D. (1993). A Comparative Analysis of Scent-Marking, Social and Reproductive Behavior in 20 Species of Small Cats (Felis). American Zoology 33: 151–166.
  22. ^ Janardhanan, R., Mukherjee, S., Karunakaran, P. V., Athreya, R. (2014). On the occurrence of the Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus Bennet, 1833 (Carnivora: Felidae) in coastal Kerala, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 6(3): 5569–5573.
  23. ^ Adhya, T. (2015). Fishing Cat Working Group News 2015: Immediate Action Requested to Stop Fishing Cat Killings in Howrah. Fishing Cat Working Group.
  24. ^ Jerdon, T. C. (1874). Felis viverrina The Mammals of India. J. Wheldon, London.
  25. ^ Biswas, S. (2000). mācha bāgha In: Samsad Bengali-English dictionary. 3rd ed. Calcutta, Sahitya Samsad.
  26. ^ a b Sterndale, R. A. (1884). Felis viverrina Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon. Thacker, Spink, and Co., Calcutta. Pp. 187–188.
  27. ^ Brown, C. P. (1903). Telugu-English dictionary. బావురుపిల్లి. Promoting Christian Knowledge, Madras.
  28. ^ Bambaradeniya, C. N. B. (2006). Handun Diviya The Fauna of Sri Lanka: Status of Taxonomy, Research, and Conservation.

External links[edit]