The fishing cat is the largest of the Prionailurus cats. Its coarse fur is olive-grey to ashy-grey with darker stripes on the shoulder and roundish or oval-shaped spots on the flanks and sides. The short and rounded ears are set low on the head, and the back of the ears have a white spot. Two stripes are on the cheeks, and four stripes run from above the eyes between the ears to the shoulder. The underside is white, and around the throat are two rows of spots. The tail is short, less than half the length of head and body, spotted at the base and with a few black rings at the end. The underside fur is longer and often overlaid with spots. It is about twice the size of a domestic cat and stocky and muscular with medium to short legs. Its face is elongated. Its head-to-body length typically ranges from 57 to 78 cm (22 to 31 in), with a tail of 20 to 30 cm (7.9 to 11.8 in). Female fishing cats range in weight from 5.1 to 6.8 kg (11 to 15 lb), and males from 8.5 to 16 kg (19 to 35 lb).
Its paws are less completely webbed than those of the leopard cat, and the claws are incompletely sheathed so that they protrude slightly when retracted. 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.
Distribution and habitat
Fishing cat photographed in Nepal
The fishing cat is broadly but discontinuously distributed in Asia, and is primarily found in the Terai region of the Himalayan foothills in India and Nepal, in eastern India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There are no confirmed records from Peninsular Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos.
It is strongly associated with wetlands, inhabiting swamps and marshy areas around oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove forests; it seems less abundant around smaller, fast-moving watercourses. Most records are from lowland areas.
Reports in Bangladeshi newspapers indicate that fishing cats live in all divisions of Bangladesh but are severely threatened; villagers killed at least 30 fishing cats between January 2010 and March 2013.
The island of Java constitutes the southern limit of fishing cat range, but by the 1990s fishing cats were scarce and apparently restricted to tidal forests with sandy or muddy shores, older mangrove stands, and abandoned mangrove plantation areas with fishponds.
Ecology and behavior
A fishing cat in the Godavari mangroves at night
The fishing cat is thought to be primarily nocturnal, and is very much at home near water. It can swim long distances, even under water. Adult males and females without dependent young are solitary. 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.
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.
Reproduction and development
Wild fishing cats most likely mate during January and February; most kittens in the wild were observed in March and April. In captivity, the gestation period lasts 63-70 days; females give birth to two or three kittens. 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 old, 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.
The fishing cat is threatened by destruction of wetlands, which are increasingly being polluted and converted for agricultural use and human settlements. The conversion of mangrove forests to commercial aquaculture ponds is a major threat in Andhra Pradesh, where the targeted killing of fishing cats is also prevalent where there is human/animal conflict. Over-exploitation of local fish stocks and retaliatory killing are also significant threats.
In West Bengal's Howrah district, 27 dead fishing cats were recorded between April 2010 and May 2011. In Bangladesh, at least 30 fishing cats were killed by local people in three years between January 2010 and March 2013. Furthermore, in a study in Thailand, 84% of all fishing cats that were tracked via radio collars were killed - either due to poaching or unknown causes.
The fishing cat is possibly extinct in coastal Kerala, India.
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.
Its survival depends on protection of wetlands, prevention of indiscriminate trapping, snaring and poisoning.
In areas where habitat degradation is a major concern, such as coastal Andhra Pradesh, NGO are working to slow habitat conversion in collaboration with local villagers. Part of this work involves creating alternative livelihood programs that allow villagers to earn money without damaging natural habitats.
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