Friday, November 10, 2023

Fishing Cat

Fishing Cat UPSC

The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a medium-sized wild cat that is found primarily in the wetlands of South and Southeast Asia. Fishing cats are well adapted to wetland habitats, including swamps, marshes, mangroves, and areas near rivers and lakes. 

Fishing cats are skilled swimmers and are known for hunting in water. They have partially webbed toes and are capable of catching fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic prey.

The fishing cat is listed as "Vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The major threats to their survival include habitat loss due to agricultural expansion, aquaculture, and urbanization, as well as pollution of water bodies.

Table of Contents

  • Fishing Cat Characteristics
    • Classification
    • Scientific Name
    • Habitat
    • Physical Appearance
    • Adaptations for Aquatic Life
    • Diet
    • Behavior
    • Reproduction
    • Lifespan
  • Fishing Cat in India
  • Population of Fishing Cat in India
  • World's First Fishing Cat Census
  • Fishing Cat Protection Status
  • Conservation Efforts
  • Threat
  • Fishing Cat Facts
  • Fishing Cat UPSC Questions

Fishing Cat Characteristics

The fishing cat possesses several distinctive characteristics that contribute to its adaptation to its aquatic environment. Here are some key features:

1. Classification:

The fishing cat belongs to the following taxonomic classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Suborder: Feliformia
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Prionailurus
  • Species: Prionailurus viverrinus

2. Scientific Name:

The scientific name of the fishing cat is Prionailurus viverrinus.

3. Habitat:

The fishing cat is primarily found in wetland habitats, and its distribution includes regions in South and Southeast Asia. Here are some details about its habitat:

(i) Wetlands:

Fishing cats are strongly associated with wetland ecosystems, including:

  • Swamps: They inhabit freshwater and tidal swamps.
  • Marshes: Wetland areas with a mixture of water and vegetation.
  • Mangroves: Coastal habitats with salt-tolerant trees and shrubs.
  • Rivers and Lakesides: They are often found in areas near rivers and lakes.

(ii) Vegetation and Cover:

  • Fishing cats prefer areas with dense vegetation, providing cover for stalking prey and protection.
  • The presence of water is a key feature of their habitat, and they are known to be adept swimmers.

(iii) Geographic Range:

Fishing cats are native to a range of countries in South and Southeast Asia, including India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

(iv) Human-Altered Habitats:

They may also inhabit areas near human settlements, agricultural fields, and aquaculture ponds, especially where wetland habitats have been modified.

4. Physical Appearance:

The fishing cat has a distinctive physical appearance, well-adapted to its semi-aquatic lifestyle. Here are some key features of its physical appearance:

(i) Size and Build:

  • Fishing cats are medium-sized, about twice the size of a domestic cat.
  • The size of an adult ranges from 57-78 cm and weighs between 5-16 kg.
  • They have a stocky and muscular build, with relatively short legs.

(ii) Coat and Coloration:

  • The coat of the fishing cat is short, dense, and coarse.
  • The general coat color is grayish-brown, with a series of dark spots and stripes. These markings help camouflage the cat in its wetland habitat.

(iii) Head and Face:

  • The head is rounded, and the face exhibits a distinct facial pattern with white markings around the eyes and on the cheeks.
  • Their ears are short and rounded, with a white spot on the back.

(iv) Tail:

  • The tail is relatively short, measuring about 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm).
  • It may have a few dark rings and a black tip.

(v) Limbs and Paws:

  • Fishing cats have partially webbed toes, a unique adaptation that aids in swimming and navigating through aquatic environments.
  • The webbing between their toes is not as extensive as that of fully aquatic species, but it contributes to their proficiency in water.

(vi) Eyes:

The eyes of fishing cats are typically yellow or grayish-yellow, providing good low-light vision for their crepuscular hunting behavior.

5. Adaptations for Aquatic Life:

(i) Partially Webbed Feet: One of the most notable features is their partially webbed toes, which aid in swimming. This adaptation makes them efficient hunters in aquatic environments.

(ii) Water-resistant Fur: The fur of fishing cats has water-resistant properties, allowing them to move through water more easily.

6. Diet:

The fishing cat is well-adapted to a diet that includes a variety of aquatic prey. Here are the key aspects of the fishing cat's diet:

(i) Fish:

  • As the name suggests, fish are a primary component of the fishing cat's diet. They are skilled hunters in water and have the ability to catch fish using their sharp claws and teeth.
  • They may use a "pounce and scoop" technique to capture fish from the water.

(ii) Amphibians:

Fishing cats also feed on amphibians, such as frogs and toads. They are known to hunt for these prey in and around water bodies.

(iii) Crustaceans:

Crustaceans, including crabs and other aquatic invertebrates, are part of the fishing cat's diet. They are skilled at capturing and consuming these crustaceans.

(iv) Small Mammals:

The diet of fishing cats includes small mammals like rodents. They may hunt for these on land or in the water.

(v) Birds:

Fishing cats are opportunistic hunters and may prey on birds, especially those associated with wetland habitats.

(vi) Reptiles:

Reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, can also be part of the fishing cat's diet.

(vii) Insects:

Insects may be consumed, especially if they are found in or around the wetland habitats where fishing cats reside.

The fishing cat's diet is diverse and adapted to its semi-aquatic lifestyle. Their ability to catch a variety of prey both in water and on land makes them well-suited to the wetland ecosystems they inhabit. However, the availability of prey can vary, and fishing cats may adjust their diet based on the abundance of different food sources in their environment.

7. Behavior:

The behavior of the fishing cat is shaped by its semi-aquatic lifestyle and the habitats it occupies. Here are some key aspects of the fishing cat's behavior:

(i) Nocturnal and Crepuscular Activity:

Fishing cats are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the night and during the periods of dawn and dusk. This behavior helps them avoid the heat of the day and increases their chances of successful hunting.

(ii) Semi-Aquatic Lifestyle:

  • Fishing cats are excellent swimmers and are often found near water bodies. They have partially webbed toes, water-resistant fur, and are known to swim skillfully.
  • Their diet is heavily reliant on aquatic prey, and they may hunt by patiently waiting at the water's edge or by using a "pounce and scoop" technique to catch fish.

(iii) Solitary Nature:

  • Fishing cats are generally solitary animals, with limited social interactions outside of the mating season.
  • They have well-defined home ranges and may be territorial, marking their territory with scent markings.

(iv) Territorial Behavior:

Males and females may have overlapping territories, but they are known to be territorial, especially in areas where resources are limited.

(v) Communication:

  • Fishing cats communicate through vocalizations, scent markings, and body language.
  • Vocalizations may include meows, growls, and other sounds, especially during the mating season.

8. Reproduction:

The reproduction of fishing cats involves specific behaviors and adaptations. Here are key aspects of their reproductive process:

(i) Breeding Season:

Fishing cats do not have a specific breeding season, and reproduction can occur throughout the year. But in India its peak breeding season is known to be between March and May.

(ii) Courtship and Mating:

  • Courtship behaviors involve interactions between a male and a female. These may include vocalizations, scent marking, and other forms of communication.
  • Once a pair has bonded, mating takes place.

(iii) Gestation:

  • The gestation period for fishing cats is approximately 63 to 70 days.

(iv) Birth and Litter Size:

  • Females give birth to litters of usually two to four kittens, although litter size can vary.
  • The birth typically occurs in a secluded den or sheltered area.

(v) Maternal Care:

  • The female provides maternal care to her kittens, nursing them and protecting them in the den.
  • The kittens are born blind and helpless, and the mother is responsible for their initial care.

(vi) Development and Weaning:

  • Kittens open their eyes after about 10 days, and they become more active as they grow.
  • The mother gradually introduces solid food to the kittens, and they begin to venture outside the den.
  • Weaning occurs at around two to three months of age.

(vii) Independence:

As the kittens grow, they become more independent and start learning essential hunting and survival skills from their mother.

(viii) Maturity and Dispersal:

  • Fishing cats reach sexual maturity at around 10 to 12 months of age.
  • Young individuals may disperse from their natal territory to establish their own home ranges.

9. Lifespan:

In the wild, the lifespan of fishing cats is estimated to be around 10 to 12 years. However, the actual lifespan can be influenced by various factors, including environmental conditions, availability of prey, habitat quality, and the presence of potential threats. It's important to note that estimates of lifespan can vary, and individual fishing cats may experience different life expectancies based on their specific circumstances.

In captivity, where they may be protected from many of the challenges faced in the wild, fishing cats may potentially live longer than their counterparts in natural habitats. The lifespan in captivity can be influenced by factors such as diet, veterinary care, and the overall management of the captive environment.

Fishing Cat in India

Where is Fishing Cat found in India?/Are Fishing Cats found in India?/In which region Fishing Cat is found?/In which state Fishing Cat is found?

The fishing cat is found in various regions of India, particularly in wetland habitats. Here are some key points about the presence of fishing cats in India:

1. Sundarbans:

The Sundarbans, a vast mangrove forest in the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers, is a significant habitat for fishing cats. This region is shared between India and Bangladesh and is known for its diverse and unique ecosystem.

2. Himalayan Foothills:

Fishing cats are reported in the foothills of the Himalayas along the Ganga and Brahmaputra river valleys. These areas provide diverse landscapes that include riverine habitats.

3. Western Ghats:

The Western Ghats, a mountain range along the western coast of India, is another region where fishing cats are found. The Western Ghats are recognized for their high biological diversity.

4. Eastern Ghats:

Fishing cats have a patchy distribution along the Eastern Ghats. They are reported in estuarine floodplains, tidal mangrove forests, and inland freshwater habitats in this region.

5. Chilika Lagoon (Odisha):

Fishing cats inhabit the Chilika Lagoon, the largest coastal lagoon in India, and the surrounding wetlands in the state of Odisha.

6. Andhra Pradesh:

Fishing cats are found in the Coringa and Krishna mangroves in Andhra Pradesh. These mangrove ecosystems along the eastern coast provide suitable habitats for the cats.

7. Protected Areas and Sanctuaries:

Fishing cats are documented in various protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries, including Ranthambore National Park, Pilibhit, Dudhwa and Valmiki Tiger Reserves, Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, Lothian Island Wildlife Sanctuary in the Sundarbans, Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary in Odisha, and Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary and Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh.

8. Outside Protected Areas:

Fishing cats are also reported outside protected areas in West Bengal, Odisha's coastal districts, and Andhra Pradesh's adjoining reserve forests.

Population of Fishing Cat in India

No nationwide numbers for the fishing cat population in India currently exist. However, counting efforts have been initiated at Bhitarkanika Park.

Coringa Sanctuary (2018-19 Census):

A census in the Coringa sanctuary estimated around 115 fishing cats in the Godavari delta.

World's First Fishing Cat Census

Where was the world's first fishing cat census held?/What is the world's first fishing cat census?

The survey on fishing cats in India started in 2010 by the Chilika Development Authority in collaboration with The Fishing Cat Project (TFCP). This is the world’s first population estimation of the fishing cat, which has been conducted outside the protected area network.

The survey covers Chilika Lake, Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon in Odisha, and is currently underway in two states: Odisha and West Bengal.

Spatially Explicit Capture Recapture (SECR) method was used to analyze the data. Local fishermen and villagers from Chilika were major participants in The Fishing Cat Project.

A total of 176 fishing cats were found in Chilika Lake, providing a crucial population estimation for the species in this particular region.

These initiatives and surveys contribute significantly to our understanding of fishing cat populations, their distribution, and the conservation status of the species in specific habitats. They also underscore the importance of collaborative efforts between authorities, conservation organizations, and local communities in wildlife research and protection.

Fishing Cat Protection Status

1. IUCN Status:

The fishing cat is currently listed as "Vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This status indicates that the species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

2. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora):

The fishing cat is listed under CITES Appendix II. Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily currently threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is closely controlled. This listing aims to ensure that international trade does not negatively impact the species.

3. Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972:

The fishing cat is listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Schedule I includes species that receive the highest level of legal protection under this act. Hunting, poaching, and trade of species listed under Schedule I are strictly prohibited.

It's noteworthy that the recent downlisting of the fishing cat from "Endangered" to "Vulnerable" in the IUCN Red List may reflect a combination of conservation efforts and updated data on the population status and threats faced by the species. However, despite this downlisting, the species is still considered to be at significant risk, emphasizing the importance of continued conservation efforts. The legal protections provided under CITES and national legislation in India contribute to the conservation and management of fishing cat populations.

Conservation Efforts 

Conservation efforts for the fishing cat involve a range of strategies aimed at protecting its habitat, mitigating threats, and promoting coexistence with local communities. Here are some common conservation initiatives for the fishing cat:

1. Chilika Development Authority:

The Chilika Development Authority expressed its commitment to a five-year action plan for fishing cat conservation in Chilika. This indicates a targeted and comprehensive approach to safeguarding the species in this important habitat.

2. Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance (FCCA) Study (2021):

The Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance initiated a study focusing on the bio-geographical distribution of fishing cats in the unprotected and human-dominated landscapes of the northeastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh. Understanding the presence of fishing cats in such landscapes is crucial for effective conservation planning.

3. The Fishing Cat Project (Since 2010):

The Fishing Cat Project, launched in 2010, has been actively involved in raising awareness about fishing cats in West Bengal. Awareness initiatives are vital for garnering public support and engagement in conservation efforts.

4. West Bengal Government Declaration (2012):

The West Bengal government officially declared the fishing cat as the State Animal in 2012. This recognition signifies the importance of the species in the state's biodiversity and can contribute to increased conservation attention.

5. Calcutta Zoo Enclosures:

The Calcutta Zoo has dedicated two big enclosures to fishing cats, providing a space for public education and showcasing the species. Such facilities can contribute to awareness and education about the importance of wildlife conservation.

6. Odisha NGOs and Conservation Societies:

In Odisha, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and wildlife conservation societies are actively involved in fishing cat research and conservation work. Local engagement is crucial for addressing conservation challenges and implementing effective measures.

These conservation initiatives reflect a multi-faceted approach, involving research, awareness, habitat protection, and collaboration with local communities. Continued efforts from governmental bodies, NGOs, and local communities are essential to ensure the long-term survival of the fishing cat in its various habitats. Conservation is a dynamic process that requires ongoing commitment and adaptation to changing circumstances.


The fishing cat faces a combination of threats that impact its survival and well-being. Here are some of the major threats:

1. Habitat Destruction:

Destruction of wetlands, which are the preferred habitat of fishing cats, is a significant threat. Human activities such as settlement, agriculture, pollution, and wood-cutting contribute to the degradation and loss of these crucial habitats.

2. Shrimp Farming:

Shrimp farming poses a growing threat to mangrove habitats, which are important for fishing cats. The conversion of mangroves for shrimp farming can lead to the destruction of suitable habitats for the species.

3. Depletion of Prey (Fish):

Unsustainable fishing practices can lead to the depletion of the fishing cat's main prey—fish. Changes in fish populations affect the availability of food for fishing cats.

4. Hunting:

Fishing cats face threats from hunting for both meat and skin. Tribal hunters, in particular, may engage in hunting practices that pose a risk to the species.

5. Ritual Practices:

Ritual hunting practices conducted by tribal communities throughout the year can contribute to the decline in fishing cat populations.

6. Poaching:

The fishing cat is occasionally poached for its skin. Poaching poses a direct threat to individual cats and can impact population numbers.

7. Poisoning:

Indiscriminate trapping, snaring, and poisoning are additional threats. The use of poisons can have wide-ranging impacts on the ecosystem, affecting not only fishing cats but also other wildlife.

8. Sand Mining:

Sand mining along river banks can lead to habitat loss for fishing cats. It contributes to the degradation of riverine habitats that are important for the species.

9. Agricultural Intensification:

Agricultural intensification can result in the loss of riverine buffer zones, impacting the quality and availability of habitats for fishing cats.

10. Human-Wildlife Conflict:

Conflict with humans in certain areas can result in targeted hunting and retaliatory killings. As fishing cats come into contact with human settlements, conflicts may arise, posing a threat to the species.

Addressing these threats requires a combination of habitat protection, sustainable resource management, community engagement, and the enforcement of wildlife protection laws. Conservation efforts need to focus on balancing the needs of local communities with the conservation of the fishing cat and its habitat.

Fishing Cat Facts

Here are some interesting facts about the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus):

1. Habitat and Range: Fishing cats are primarily found in wetland habitats, including mangroves, swamps, and marshes. They are distributed across South and Southeast Asia, including countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

2. Semi-Aquatic Lifestyle: Fishing cats are well-adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. They are strong swimmers, with partially webbed feet and water-resistant fur, enabling them to hunt for prey in water.

3. Physical Characteristics: Fishing cats have a distinctive appearance with a short and coarse coat that varies in color from gray to olive-brown. They have dark spots and stripes on their body, and their legs may have bold, dark stripes.

4. Size and Weight: Adult fishing cats are about the size of a domestic cat but are sturdier. They typically weigh between 5 to 16 kilograms (11 to 35 pounds).

5. Adaptations for Fishing: Fishing cats have specialized adaptations for catching aquatic prey. Their short and flattened tail aids in balance while fishing, and they have sharp retractable claws for catching fish.

6. Prey and Diet: As their name suggests, fish is a primary component of the fishing cat's diet. However, they are opportunistic feeders and also consume amphibians, crustaceans, small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects.

7. Nocturnal Behavior: Fishing cats are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. This behavior helps them avoid human activities and predators.

8. Communication: Fishing cats communicate using a variety of vocalizations, including meows, growls, and gurgles. They may also use scent marking to establish territories.

9. Threats and Conservation Status: Fishing cats face significant threats, including habitat loss due to wetland destruction, hunting, and poaching. They are listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts.

10. Conservation Initiatives: Conservation projects, such as the Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance and The Fishing Cat Project, work to raise awareness, conduct research, and implement conservation strategies to protect fishing cats and their habitats.

11. State Animal of West Bengal: The fishing cat was declared the state animal of West Bengal, India, in 2012, highlighting its significance in the region.

12. World's First Fishing Cat Census: Chilika Development Authority, in collaboration with The Fishing Cat Project, conducted the world's first fishing cat census at Chilika Lake in Odisha, India, providing valuable insights into the population and distribution of the species.

Fishing Cat UPSC Questions

Q. What is the scientific name of Fishing Cat?

A. The scientific name of the fishing cat is Prionailurus viverrinus.

Q. What is the IUCN status of Fishing Cat?/What is the current status of Fishing Cats?/Are Fishing Cats critically endangered?/Is Fishing Cat endangered species?

A. The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is listed as "Vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This status indicates that the species faces a high risk of extinction in the wild if conservation measures are not implemented.

Q. What is the significance of the Fishing Cat?

A. The fishing cat holds ecological and conservation significance due to its unique characteristics and its role in maintaining the health of wetland ecosystems. Here are several aspects that highlight the significance of the fishing cat:

1. Indicator Species: Fishing cats are considered indicator species, meaning their presence or absence can provide insights into the health of their ecosystems. Monitoring their populations can help assess the overall well-being of wetland habitats.

2. Biodiversity: As a predator, the fishing cat contributes to the regulation of prey populations, promoting biodiversity in wetland ecosystems. By controlling the populations of fish, crustaceans, and other prey species, fishing cats play a role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystems.

3. Wetland Ecosystems: Fishing cats are highly adapted to wetland environments, including mangroves, swamps, and marshes. Their presence indicates the ecological importance of these habitats, which serve as nurseries for various aquatic species and provide valuable ecosystem services.

4. Aquatic Prey Control: Fishing cats are specialized fish hunters, and their predation helps control fish populations in water bodies. This can be crucial for maintaining the balance of aquatic ecosystems and preventing overpopulation of certain fish species.

5. Cultural and Conservation Value: The fishing cat holds cultural significance in regions where it is found. In West Bengal, India, for example, it has been declared the state animal. Such recognition raises awareness about the importance of conserving this species and its habitat.

6. Conservation Challenges: The challenges faced by fishing cats, such as habitat loss, degradation, and human-wildlife conflict, highlight broader issues affecting wetland ecosystems. Addressing the conservation needs of fishing cats can contribute to the protection of entire ecosystems and the species that inhabit them.

7. Research Opportunities: Studying fishing cats provides valuable insights into the ecology and behavior of wild cat species adapted to aquatic environments. Research on fishing cats contributes to our understanding of wetland ecosystems and the adaptations of species living in these habitats.

Fishing Cat

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