Although we associate cats with a distaste for being submerged in water, fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus) are strong swimmers and can cover long distances underwater. They mainly hunt fish, birds, insects, and rodents. A study in India estimated that fishing cats in the West Bengal state in India eat between 365 to 730 rodents per year.

The fishing cat is one of 40 unique species of cats found in the wild. It can be found across South and Southeast Asia, from Pakistan in the west to Cambodia and Thailand in the east. It had been known to live on the Indonesian island of Java, but there have been no recent sightings. Fishing cats can also be found on the island nation of Sri Lanka.  

Fishing cats are quite elusive and mostly nocturnal. Scientists often will document their presence by capturing their photo from a camera-trap survey. Their preferred habitat is near shallow water in wetlands, mangroves, and increasingly in aquaculture ponds where shrimp and other seafood are farmed.

The population of fishing cats has declined in recent years, mostly due to the loss and fragmentation of habitat, killing for consumption by humans, and retaliation by humans for causing disturbances. Retaliation killings have been reported from fisherman whose fishing nets have been damaged and whose poultry has been hunted and killed by fishing cats. Poaching of the cats for their skin also occurs, as it does for many species of wild cats.

The experts who study the fishing cat expect that the global population will continue to decline, and so they are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, a program that evaluates the conservation status of plants and animals. Protected land areas are important resources in helping make sure that the fishing cat finds suitable habitats, free from poaching and conflict with humans.

  1. How can scientists in Indonesia know if the fishing cat is still living on the island of Java?

    • Answer

      Scientists rely on a number of different data collection techniques to confirm if a species of animal is still present in an area. Techniques can include camera-trap surveys; surveys looking for other evidence of the animal, such as scat; and verified reports from nonscientists who have encountered the animals, ideally with photographic evidence.

  2. How can a mutually beneficial solution be constructed for the problem of people killing fishing cats in retaliation for killing farmed fish, poultry, or livestock?

    • Answer

      How can a mutually beneficial solution be constructed for the problem of people killing fishing cats in retaliation for killing farmed fish, poultry, or livestock?

  3. Why are protected land areas important for the fishing cat?

    • Answer

      The fishing cat has experienced a decline in its population across regions of Asia and is considered a vulnerable species. For its continued survival in the wild, protected land areas where the fishing cat can live free from conflict with humans is crucial. Protected land areas usually are parks, or land set aside by the government with special regulations against building, clearing land, poaching, and hunting.

camera trap
Noun

remote-activated camera that relies on changes in light or motion to automatically take a photo.

elusive
Adjective

difficult to capture.

fragmentation
Noun

breaking up of large habitats into smaller, isolated chunks. Fragmentation is one of the main forms of habitat destruction.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Noun

environmental organization concerned with preserving natural ecosystems and habitats.

mangrove
Noun

type of tree or shrub with long, thick roots that grows in salty water.

nocturnal
Adjective

active at night.

poach
Verb

to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

protected land area
Noun

area where development projects are controlled or limited.