Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 22 to 45 inches (57 to 115 centimeters), with males being larger than females
Shoulder height: 14 inches (35 centimeters)
Weight: males—18 to 31 pounds (8 to 14 kilograms); females—11 to 20 pounds (5 to 9 kilograms)
Life span: unknown in the wild, up to 12 years in zoos
Gestation: 63 to 70 days
Number of young at birth: 1 to 4
Weight at birth: 6 ounces (170 grams)
Age of maturity: 10 to 15 months Conservation status: endangered
• The San Diego Zoo received its first fishing cats in 1961.
• Fishing cats have been seen swimming underwater to grab a duck’s legs.
• If you think fishing cats look cute and cuddly, think again—these small cats can be very aggressive!
- Clouded Leopard
- Lynx & Bobcat
- Mountain Lion
- Small Cat
- Snow Leopard
- Spot the Cat Coats
Listen to a fishing cat hiss!
Mammals: Fishing Cat
Male fishing cats are solitary, only searching out a female during the breeding season.
Making a splash
Cats don’t like water and they definitely don’t swim. Well, that’s only true of some cats—others actually love the water! Fishing cats are one of the best swimmers around and are completely at home in the water. Cats are supposed to roam the land while hunting small terrestrial animals, but sometimes you want to be something different when you grow up!
Looks aren’t everything
If you were to look at the fishing cat without knowing what it is, you would not guess that with its short, stocky body it can swim like a pro. The fishing cat’s paws have webbing between the toes to help it swim and walk in muddy wetlands without sinking. The cat’s tail is fairly short, less than half of its body length, and its coat is olive-gray with black spots and stripes. Its fur has two layers: very short and dense to keep the cat’s skin dry during time in the water; and longer hairs, called guard hairs, that give the cat its color pattern. Female fishing cats are much smaller than the males.
True to their name, fishing cats aren’t afraid to get a bit wet to find a meal.
Fishing cats are attracted to all types of water. From Thailand to India and Pakistan, the fishing cat lives in wetlands, its most common stomping ground, with marshes, swamps, and mangroves also high on the list. They are sometimes found in tropical dry forests and have even been seen in the Indian Himalayas, at elevations of 4,900 feet (1,500 meters), in dense vegetation near rivers and streams.
Kittens strike out on their own at about 10 months of age.
Fishing cats mainly eat fish but will eat other prey found in the water, including crabs, crayfish, and frogs. Of course, they don’t use a fishing pole! Instead, the cats wade in shallow water and use their paws to scoop fish out of the water, or they dive into deeper areas to catch a meal with their teeth. The cats have also been seen eating snakes, rodents, young deer, and wild pigs and ducks. Farmers’ chickens, dogs, goats, and calves are fair game for the fishing cat, as are leftovers from someone else’s meal, including morsels tigers leave behind after they’ve eaten their fill. These un-finicky felines can eat any time of the day, which gives them more menu choices.
A kitten hand raised in the Zoo’s nursery gets some practice fishing for minnows in a kiddie pool.
At the San Diego Zoo, the fishing cats are offered trout, mice, cat kibble, and carnivore diet.
Whether weather matters
It does! If it has been a good rainy season, the food should be plentiful. If it is warm and sunny, fishing cat kittens have a better chance of being healthy. Fishing cat females give birth in the spring to an average of two kittens in a litter. They raise their young without help from the male; he doesn’t stay around once breeding time is over.
A white spot on the back of each ear may be a visual cue for fishing cats looking for other fishing cats, or it may be a way for mothers to keep their cubs in sight in thick vegetation.
The kittens learn to fish by watching their mother. At 10 months, the young fishing cats are ready to venture out on their own. While numbers are unclear in the wild, fishing cats can live up to 12 years in zoos.
When the water runs dry
Because fishing cats depend on water in their habitat, this is likely to cause trouble for future generations. These wetland areas are affected by pollution, overfarming, and even drainage issues. Fishing cats do not need to live near water but always choose to make their homes there. This choice may not be the best but appears to be what the fishing cat prefers.
Choosing to purchase products that support better use of the land is a great way to help the fishing cat and other species that live in wetland habitats. Reducing pollution and using eco-friendly fishing and agricultural ideas may ensure that the fishing cat always has its favorite place to call home, right on the bank of a wetland area.