Fishing Cat

Scientific Name: Prionailurus viverrinus 

About twice the size of a typical house cat, the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a feline with a powerful build and stocky legs. The size of an adult ranges from 57-78 cm and weighs between 5-16 kg. The fishing cat is an adept swimmer and enters water frequently to prey on fish as its name suggests. It is known to even dive to catch fish.

Wetlands are the favorite habitats of the fishing cat. In India, fishing cats are mainly found in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, on the foothills of the Himalayas along the Ganga and Brahmaputra river valleys and in the Western Ghats.

The fishing cat is nocturnal and apart from fish also preys on frogs, crustaceans, snakes, birds, and scavenges on carcasses of larger animals. It is capable of breeding all year round but in India its peak breeding season is known to be between March and May. Litter size varies between 1-4 and the young are suckled to the age of six months and become independent once they are ten months old. In the wild, fishing cats live up to an age of 12 years on an average.
One of the major threats facing the fishing cat is the destruction of wetlands, which is its preferred habitat. As a result of human settlement, drainage for agriculture, pollution, and wood-cutting most of the wetlands in India are under threat of destruction. Another threat to the fishing cat is depletion of its main prey-fish due to unsustainable fishing practices. It is also occasionally poached for its skin.

The fishing cat is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, which means that it faces a high threat of extinction in the wild. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists the fishing cat on Appendix II part of Article IV of CITES, which governs international trade in this species. In India, the fishing cat is included in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and thereby protected from hunting. Under this Act offenders found guilty can be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to three years or with a fine, which may extend to Rs. 25,000 or with both.

However, stronger conservation efforts are needed to reverse the rapidly declining numbers of the fishing cat due to loss of its preferred wetland habitats. Prevention of indiscriminate trapping, snaring and poisoning is also needed. WWF-India is working to conserve wetland habitats through its wider conservation work in Sunderbans, North Bank, Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong, Western Ghats-Niligiris and Terai Arc Landscape programs.

1. Mukherjee, S., Sanderson, J., Duckworth, W., Melisch, R., Khan, J., Wilting, A., Sunarto, S. & Howard, J.G. 2010. Prionailurus viverrinus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.2. Downloaded on 09 July 2010.
© Terry Whittaker
Fishing Cat
© Terry Whittaker
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