Monday 7 April 2008

Asian Fishing Cat

Asian Fishing Cat
Asian Fishing Cat photograph copyright clarissa~ (Flickr)

Did you know this stocky, small wildcat barks like a dog and the alpha male struts around stiff legged with his tail raised? It's toes are webbed and its claws are partially out even when retracted. It is a formidable predator. One report tells of a fishing cat breaking through a cage partition and attacking a female leopard1.

This stocky cat interests me mainly from the standpoint of its likeness to a domestic cat in terms of size which on the face of it can appear similar but is not in fact the same. This cat weighs between 5 to 12 kilograms (11 to 26 lbs). The average domestic cat weights around 10 lbs. Despite being small, its powerful appearance can deceive local people into thinking that, at a distance, they are looking at a leopard. The leopard however is much larger and one of the big cats. Its weight and size varies from place to place. In India this cat can weigh 26 lbs (the very top end for domestic cats, say a very large Maine Coon or Savannah cat) and in Indonesia it weighs about 13 lbs.

In terms of appearance there is a similarity too (particularly to the wildcat/domestic cat hybrids) but there is no mistaking the wild look of this cat. The face has a very particular wild look, rather aggressive in fact. If you took away the wild look (something that cat breeders are keen to breed into cats such as the Bengal Cat) this cat would be quite close to a domestic cat. However, there is the coat too and this cat's coat is very particular and striking. The strong white and black stripe on the forehead differentiate it from the similar looking Ocelot. These stripes are merged spots.

The coat of the Asian Fishing Cat is a classic brown spotted tabby. This is the best coat for camouflage and therefore survival. The Scottish Wildcat and American Bobcat are very similar in respect of coat type and size. The Fishing cat is Asia's equivalent of the American Bobcat it could be said. It even has a shorter than average tail which acts as a rudder when swimming. See more photos in a large format montage of this cat species.

The wild parent of the Bengal cat, the Asian Leopard cat, is also a cat that likes to fish. This wildcat lives next to water of course and is a good swimmer. There are a number of domestic cats that like water, which is unusual for domestic cats. The Bengal cat is known to like water; clearly inherited from the Asian Leopard Cat. Another wildcat hybrid that likes water is the Chausie. The Chausie is a cross between the Jungle cat and the Abyssinian. The Jungle cat is also called the "Swamp Lynx" so also likes water and has handed this down to the hybrid domestic cat. Pure domestic cats are much less likely to enjoy water.

It is not surprising that some wild cats live near water as it is a perfect source of water and food. Cats are extremely adaptable and it would seem that the cat's dislike of water has been overcome to the point where she can swim with skill in water in order to improve its chances of survival.

Fishing Cat Photo
Asian Fishing cat published under Creative Commons license
License: この写真は,クリエイティブ・コモンズ・ライセンスの下でライセンスされています。

The fishing cat belongs to a group of cats that includes the leopard cat (DNA testing confirms a strong relationship with this cat), rusty-spotted cat and the flat-headed cat. They all have strong markings and spotted patterns. The leopard cat is much more slender that the fishing cat. A notable feature of the fishing cat is its relatively small ears in comparison to domestic cats and some wildcats. On the ear flaps there are white spots against a black background. The spots are sometimes called "ocelli". The word means "little eye". They look like eyes and are designed to send a signal to aggressors to stay away before a fight.

The Asian Fishing Cat is found in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java, Indochina and India (see Fishing Cat Range). Its once reasonably continuous range is now fragmented due to human activity.

They sometimes tap the water with their paw imitating an insect luring a fish to the surface. They are nocturnal and few people get to see them in action. They can swim under water too and catch aquatic birds. These are resourceful animals.

View Fishing Cat Range in a larger map

This map is an embedded map from Google My Maps that I made up. It is an open collaboration project so if you are able and willing to refine and improve it please go here: Fishing Cat Range.

It is very easy to see the connection between the wildcat and domestic cat and how (s)he became domesticated some 9,000 years ago. After all cats are adaptable and it is a short step from catching rodents in the grassland to catching them near and around barns. And once the wildcat discovered that there was a plentiful supply of rodents near barns (s)he stayed and the farmer liked it.

The Asian Fishing cat and the Asian Leopard cat also catch rodents.


Usually called simply "Fishing Cat". Scientific name is Prionailurus viverrinus. Species Authority: (Bennett, 1833). The scientific name viverrinus  is a throwback to its resemblance to the viverrid family of which the large Indian civet is a member1.


Asian Fishing Cat - Update 7th October 2008: This lovely cat has moved from vulnerable to endangered on the IUCN Red List. What does that mean? IUCN stands for International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Red List is the most comprehensive list of the status worldwide of the conservation of the world's animal and plant species. The logos below show the different levels of status.

IUCN chart

Endangered is EN on the chart. Endangered (EN), considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. This chart is reproduced under published under Wikimedia® creative commons license license = Attribution-ShareAlike License. And the text in italics is published under under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version - see Wikipedia® licensing.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ website says that more than 45% of Southeast Asian wetland that is protected are also threatened. How can this be? Either the wetland is protected or it isn't. The wetlands are the habitat of this cat. Perhaps the most commonly encountered threat to wildlife is habitat loss due to human expansion (population and commercial). In the case of the wetlands mentioned above these are drained for agriculture. Other threats include:
  • pollution
  • excessive hunting (I presume for prey and/or the Asian Fishing cat perhaps for skins and other body parts). It is notable that the above map has been viewed more times than the other wildcat maps. Is this because poachers are trying to figure out where this cat is? I hope not.
  • wood cutting
  • over fishing - a major threat. Overfishing is a worldwide phenomenon.
  • clearance of coastal mangroves
    Asian Fishing cat
    Photo © Mathieu Ourioux

    Yes, it does eat fish! It uses its paws to scoop out fish from the water. It also swims under water to catch fish, coots and ducks1. Frogs are also on the menu as are small mammals, snakes, birds, snails and crustaceans. The Asian fishing cats teeth are not specifically adapted for catching fish. There have been reports (stories?) of the fishing cat killing chittal (Indian deer) fawns calves, dogs and young children 1.

    This is a formidable hunter.


    Mating appears to take place in January - February. Dens can be in dense reeds. Litter are usually 2 - 3 kittens. Gestation is approximately 63 - 70 days1. Young cat weigh approx. 170 grams at birth. Kittens play in the water at 2 months of age. Although they suckle for about six months they eat solids at 53 days. They are adult in size at 8.5 months of age.

    Semi-domestic cat

    Asian Fishing Cat - Update 14th October 2008: There are photographs circulating around the internet (and therefore copyright free in my view) of a small wild cat catching a catfish in a bath. Here is one of the pictures:

    Asian Fishing cat
    Asian Fishing Cat
    There been discussion as to whether this cat is an Ocelot or an Asian Fishing cat. The consensus is that the cat is an Asian Fishing cat (see a picture of an Ocelot). I agree because the head stripes that I refer to above are noticeable.

    The view is also that the cat, the bath and the fish are in Russia in the home (?) of a person who works in a zoo or some such establishment who raised the cat from kittenhood. The cat is therefore domesticated or semi-domesticated. So things are OK in that sense. When we see an interesting picture like this some of us ask questions and make presumptions sometimes. I am too quick to make presumptions on occassion. We think that someone in the US has acquired a wild cat illegally or something. This is not the case.

    The only slight problem I have is the fact that the fish was placed in a bath for a certain death at the hands and mouth of the Asian Fishing cat who are very skilled fishers. OK this is reality etc. But it makes some of us a bit queasy when the pictures are widely distributed for our entertainment.

    Although the Asian fishing cat has a reputation for being aggressive they are also said to be quite tame and affectionate as pets. This may be an exaggeration however1.

    Here is an Asian Fishing cat video from Bigcat Rescue:


    1. Wild Cats Of The World pages 242 - 245.

    Asian Fishing Cat to Scottish Wildcat


    1. Fishing Cat is fishing!

    2. For more pics of the Russian pet Fishing Cat visit

    3. Wow! I thought they'd come from the same breed as the Bengal Cats. But they're a breed on their own!


    Your comments are always welcome.

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