Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)

Synonyms: Felis viverrinus
French: Chat Pêcheur
Spanish: Gato Pescador
GenusPrionailurus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 65.8 – 85.7 cm (2)
Weight6 – 12 kg (2)
Top facts

The fishing cat is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) 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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

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.

For more information on the fishing cat:

Authenticated (28/04/06) by Peter Jackson, Chair, IUCN Cat Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2008)
  2. Animal Diversity Web (October, 2005)
  3. CITES (October, 2005)
  4. International Society for Endangered Cats Canada (October, 2005)
  5. The Cat Survival Trust (October, 2005)
  6. Lioncrusher’s Domain (October, 2005)
  7. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. IUCN Cat Specialist Group (October, 2005)
  9. Jackson, P. (2006) Pers. comm.