Fishing Cat

Fishing Cat, Prionailurus viverrinus    


Fishing Cats (Photo: Barb Palmer)

Fishing Cats (Photo: Barb Palmer)

The fishing cat is a medium-sized “small” cat with a stocky build, short legs and tail, and a round but elongated face. Their scientific name, in fact, comes from their viverrine or civet-like appearance rather than any morphological adaptations for fishing. Their coat is olive gray, and is patterned with rows of parallel solid black spots which often form stripes along the back. Males average 25 pounds (11.35 kg) in weight; females average 15 pounds (6.8 kg). Like the equally aquatic flat-headed cat, Prionailurus planiceps, their claw sheaths are shortened so that the claws are not completely enveloped when retracted. The fishing cat is said to have toes that are partially webbed to assist in catching aquatic food. However, it has been shown that the webbing beneath the toes is not more developed than that of a bobcat, Lynx rufus.


The fishing cat is strongly associated with wetlands, most commonly found in swamps and marshy areas, oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove areas. They have been recorded at elevations up to 5,000 feet (1,525 m) in the Himalayas where they frequent dense vegetation near rivers and streams. Although fishing cats are widely distributed through a variety of habitat types, their occurrence tends to be highly localized.


Fishing cats are found in separate populations across Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka and portions of Pakistan, western India to southern China, Sumatra and Java. While rare in Sri Lanka and much of India, they are thought to be fairly abundant in other parts of their range wherever suitable riverine habitat is present. Although found on both mainland and island areas within this range, only two subspecies are presently recognized, with the population on Java, Prionailurus viverrinus rizophoreus, being distinguished from all others on the basis of its smaller size. The Javan population is restricted to small numbers in isolated coastal wetlands; there are no records during recent surveys further inland than 9.3 miles (15 km).

Fishing Cats (Photo: Dave Jenike)

Fishing Cats (Photo: Dave Jenike)

Range map:


Fishing cats feed on rodents and birds. Because of their aquatic tendencies, they also include more frogs, fish and other aquatic species in their diet than do most other cats.

Social Structure:

Little is known about their social structure in the wild, but like other small felids, fishing cats are presumed to be solitary. Litters consist of two to three young born after a gestation of 63 to 70 days.


Good swimmers, fishing cats have been observed to dive into water after fish as well as to scoop them out with their paws. In Pakistan, fishing cats have been seen catching waterfowl by swimming up to them while fully submerged in order to seize their legs from underneath.

Threats to Survival:

Beyond anecdotal comments in the literature, little is known about their status in the wild. Their biggest threat is from habitat loss from settlement, draining for agriculture, pollution, excessive lumbering and fishing, and persecution by farmers for real or perceived depredation. Fishing cats have not been involved in the fur or pet trade, although individuals are commonly seen for sale in the markets of Ho Chi Minh City, Djakarta and other large Asian cities.

Legal Status:

Fishing cats are listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Trade in fishing cats is regulated on CITES Appendix II. They are not protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. While officially protected in most of its range, no legal protection is offered in Bhutan, Malaysia and Vietnam. No information is available for Cambodia. The Javan subspecies is considered critically endangered with the population numbering less than 200 individuals.

Zoo Programs:

A regional studbook and SSP coordinator is supported by Riverbanks Zoo. The target population for the captive population is 80 individuals. Captive populations in Europe are managed under an EEP (Species Survival Plan).

Fishing Cat (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

Fishing Cat (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

Bladder cancer is an alarmingly frequent danger for captive fishing cats. Zoo scientists are investigating possible factors and hope to find a correlative or causative factor related to bladder cancer in fishing cats. Hopefully, our findings will provide zoos with direction to correct underlying causative factors for bladder cancer. This could mean changing diets or omitting specific bloodlines from breeding programs.


Fishing Cat SSP Coordinator & Studbook Keeper

Jessica Kinzer, Riverbanks Zoo


The Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project was established in 2003 with the goal of securing and restoring fishing cat populations and their habitat. This project was initiated in response to a sharp decline in fishing cat populations throughout the species’ range, the subsequent elevation of fishing cats from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and a lack of information about the species’ distribution, ecology, threats, and conservation status. The project’s first phase focused on finding remaining populations of fishing cats in Southeast Asia and culminated with a peer-reviewed publication on fishing cat occurrence in Thailand. The second phase focused on understanding and initiating conservation activities at a site likely representing the largest fishing cat population in Southeast Asia, but threatened by habitat conversion for aquaculture.


Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project Facebook page,

Rare Video: Vandal Fishing Cats Lead to Wildlife Discovery,