The Fishing Cat

The fishing catAbout the Fishing Cat: It is a highly elusive wild cat feline species. It is found primarily in wetland and mangrove habitats.
Conservation Status:

  • IUCN Red List: Endangered.
  • CITES: Appendix II
  • Indian Wildlife Protection Act,1972: Schedule I

Habitat
Global habitats

They are found in South and Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, images of fishing cats are found carved in the walls of ancient structures and are known as Kla Trey, ‘Tiger fish’.

Indian Habitats

  • Foothills of the Himalayas along the Ganga and Brahmaputra river valleys and in the Western Ghats.
  • Patchy distribution along the Eastern Ghats.
  • Sundarbans in West Bengal and Bangladesh
  • Chilika lagoon and surrounding wetlands in Odisha
  • Coringa and Krishna mangroves in Andhra Pradesh.

Characteristics: 

  • The fishing cat is an elusive nocturnal mammal. It is almost twice the size of the house cat.
  • Adept swimmers: The fishing cat is an adept swimmer and enters water frequently to prey on fish as its name suggests. It is known to even dive to catch fish.
  • Diet: Like all other cats, they are hyper-carnivores—animals that get over 70% of their nutrition from meat—making them excellent predators. They mostly prey on fish and are perfectly adapted to hunt in water. Apart from fish, they also prey on frogs, crustaceans, snakes, birds, and scavengers on carcasses of larger animals.
  • Nocturnal: They are nocturnal or crepuscular which means active during the night or the twilight period but daytime sightings have been reported too.
  • Breeding: It is capable of breeding all year round. But in India, its peak breeding season is known to be between March and May.
  • Features: They have: 1) double-layered coat to keep the skin underneath dry when they dive into the water, 2) close-set eyes to help them focus on prey in water, 3) small ears whose inner folds keep out water and 4) crude webbing between their feet which help anchor them to muddy banks while grabbing fish. 
  • Population: Unfortunately, no nationwide numbers exist, though counting is being attempted at the Bhitarkanika park. A 2018-19 census in the Coringa sanctuary, one of the largest mangrove forests in India estimated that there were around 115 fishing cats in the Godavari delta.

Threats:

  • Habitat loss [wetland degradation and conversion for aquaculture and other commercial projects],
  • Sand mining along river banks,
  • Agricultural intensification results in loss of riverine buffer and
  • Conflict with humans in certain areas results in targeted hunting and retaliatory killings.

Conservation Initiatives:

  • State Animal: In 2012, the West Bengal government officially declared the Fishing Cat as the State Animal.
  • Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance: It is a team of conservationists, researchers, working to achieve a world with functioning floodplains and coastal ecosystems. It will ensure the survival of the fishing cat and all species with which it shares a home.
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