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Fishing Cat Facts


Fishing Cat Facts

Key Features of the Fishing Cat

Very few people observe and photograph Fishing Cats each year, so we often have to rely on indistinct photos or camera traps to have an appreciation of this beautiful and extremely rare wild cat. The Fishing Cat is a medium, powerfully built wild cat known for its large broad head, short legs, stocky body and short tail; no specific anatomical adaptations for fishing, despite some observations of webbing on their feet; which turned out not to be that dissimilar to other cat species. A fully grown adult Fishing Cat weight around 25 pounds and can reach 48 inches in length – similar in size to a small female European Lynx. Its coat is olive grey and is patterned with rows of parallel solid black spots, which can appear to form stripes along the spine. The fishing cat’s ears are short and round with black colouration on the back and prominent white spots in the middle.

Fishing Cat habitat and diet

Obviously to survive and breed the fishing cat needs good clean fresh water habitats which have not been disturbed by man. Unfortunately, for the main part, it is humans that are competing with the fishing cats for these habitats and often destroying them. An example of this is mangrove forests being cut for shrimp farming (huge industry in India which is incredibly destructive!) and swamplands being filled in with rubble for poorly planned housing developments. One of the only positives for the fishing cat when living near man is the rural areas around Kolkata in north east India, where local people build their own beels (fish farms/ponds) to service the huge demand for fish in the capital and by doing so, provide great habitat and food sources for the Fishing Cat.

The bulk of this cats diet is made up of fish – hence the name - which they will not only swim and dive after, but also try and ‘hook’ them with their paws. It is also believed to take other aquatic prey such as crustaceans, frogs and snakes. Occasionally they will also prey on mammals, such as rodents, civets, young chital fawns, wild pigs, and even domestic animals, such as baby goats, dogs and poultry.  They have also been observed scavenging off kills made by larger predators, such as leopards and tigers.

Principle Threats to the Fishing Cat

The destruction of the world wetlands is as big a threat to our planet as the disappearance of tropical forests. As well as having a very negative effect for water dependent species such as fishing cats, they also have a proportionally worse effect on the poorest villages, who need the wetlands to fish and grow basic crops. A recent survey showed that more than 50% of Asian wetlands are faced with moderate to high degrees of threat and destruction. These threats include settlement, draining for agriculture, pollution, and excessive hunting, woodcutting and fishing.

Best place to see Fishing Cat in the wild

Here are Wildlife Trails we have focused on two main habitats, where we take our clients to observe and photograph this iconic species. The first location may be unexpected for some people, as it is a population living in close proximity to humans in the populous Indian state of West Bengal. Here it is Bengalis love of fish which has created a smallholder fish farm industry, where every villager has access to a man-made Beel where they farm their fish and then sell them on to the huge markets in Kolkata and beyond. We have partnered with the owner of a beautiful historic homestay who has access to multiple water bodies from their property and who has documented many different individual fishing cats.

The second location is down in southern India in the beautiful, but rapidly dwindling, mangrove forests, which are also home to this elusive cat. The mangrove forest is close to a beach on the south west coast and we work with local biologists who have been documenting the threats to the cat to increase our chances of a good sighting.

Best time of year to see Fishing Cat

Unlike with their larger big cat cousins like tigers and leopards, there is not really a peak season to see the fishing cat in India, as it is mainly a nocturnal species, which to a degree, can become habituated to the presence of humans and allow us to take a peek into its way of life. We would obviously avoid the Monsoon season, but look to travel anytime from October to April – early heavy rains can arrive by the end of April into north east India.

What do expect on your Fishing Cat safari

It is common when looking for rarer species to visit locations which are far removed from the main tourist destinations and therefore the accommodation standards are much more basic. In addition, the owners of the lodges and their staff may not speak much English, so it is not suitable for clients used to full service hotels and international cuisine. Because the fishing cat is mainly nocturnal, we will often start our safaris from 8pm onwards and spend 3-4 hours looking for the cats at different water bodies. So, expect to be a little tired in the evening and to have most of your Fishing Cat encounter in torchlight and the need for a camera that works well in low light conditions.

To book our Fishing Cat safari for 2020 or talk about the two contrasting small group safaris we have available, please contact Allan on 0800 999 4334 or email him at [email protected] 

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