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Fishing Cat


Fishing cats have an olive grey coat. From the top of the eyes to the base of the neck are 6-8 black stripes. Running in lines along the back of these animals are black spots. The head is darker in colour when compared to the rest of the body. Their underside is white and highlighted with spots. Their tail is ringed with black. They have a flat nose and ears which sit back on their neck. On the back of their ears the fur is black and in the centre is a white spot. They have feet which are less webbed than those of other cats. Their claws do not retract fully unlike most cats.

Twice the size of a domestic cat, fishing cats weigh between 8 and 14kg (18-31lb). A typical head-body length for this species would be between 58 and 78cm (22-31in). Their short tail is between 20 and 30cm (7.9-11.8in).


Fishing cats are carnivores they feed on fish, frogs, insects, snakes, crabs, rodents, birds, crayfish, young deer, civets and wild pigs along with calves, chickens, dogs and goats. 70% of their diet is fish leading to their name.

When fishing these cats stand at the edge of a river and lightly tap the water like an insect. This attracts fish which they then dive in after and grab with their mouth. Sometimes they will dive in under waterbirds and then swim up to catch them. They will also scoop fish out of the water with their paws.

fishing cat

Scientific Name

Prionailurus viverrinus

Conservation Status



8-14kg (18-31lbs)


58-78cm (22-31in)


Male 10 years

Female 12.5 years




This species is found throughout South East Asia. They can be found throughout Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. They can also be found in Indonesia on the islands of Java and Sumatra.


Fishing cats have such a large range as they live in mangroves which are far apart from each other. They can be found in mangrove swamps which feature swamps, rivers, lakes, reeds and marshes. Most of their habitats are in a forest with a stream so that they can fish. They are under threat as 98% of South East Asia’s wetlands are at risk of being destroyed due draining or pollution.

Other habitats that they may inhabit include evergreen and tropical dry forests.


Females will call to the males when they are ready to mate. Breeding normally takes place between January and February. If it has been rainy and the food is plentiful more kittens are born as the parents are healthy.

Females are the only ones who assist with the rearing of the kittens in the wild. Males have been seen assisting with the rearing of the young In captivity.

The mother finds a dense thicket of reeds or something similar where they can create a den. Litters consist of up to four kittens although two is the average. The kittens are born with their eyes closed.

After two weeks their eyes will open. At 50 days old they get their first taste for meat. They will continue drinking milk till they are 4-6 months old. Fishing cats are fully grown and sexually mature at 9 months old.

At 10 months old they leave their mother and go off to establish their own territory. Their canine teeth come through at 11 months of age.


A system of hisses, guttural growls and meows is used by these cats to communicate.

Humans are the only predator of the fishing cat.

This species will maintain a home territory. To mark this out they will use cheek rubbing, head rubbing, neck rubbing and spraying with urine. A males territory will overlap that of numerous females.

Fishing cats are nocturnal. During the day they will sleep in a reed bed. At night they head for water where they are able to fish.

They have incredible swimming abilities. They will swim vast differences when looking to catch a fish.  Their tail acts like a rudder to push them along.

Quick facts

The scientific name ‘Prionailurus viverrinus’ means ‘civet like.’

Fishing cats were first described by Bennet in 1883.

West Bengal has the fishing cat as its national animal.

Photo Credits

By Cliff [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Mukherjee, S., Appel, A., Duckworth, J.W., Sanderson, J., Dahal, S., Willcox, D.H.A., Herranz Muñoz, V., Malla, G., Ratnayaka, A., Kantimahanti, M., Thudugala, A., Thaung, R. & Rahman, H. 2016. Prionailurus viverrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T18150A50662615. Downloaded on 15 May 2020.

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