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6 Fascinating Facts about the Fishing Cat: They Even Have Webbed Feet

Hangai Lilla

2024. June 12 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

When you think of a cat, water is probably the last place you'd expect to find one. However, the fishing cat feels right at home in aquatic environments.

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The fishing is found in South and Southeast Asia, living near rivers, streams, oxbow lakes, and mangrove swamps. Since 2016, they have been listed as Vulnerable on the Red List. Their population is declining due to the destruction of their natural habitats; more than 35% of mangrove swamps have already dried up. Human activities, such as expanding infrastructure and agriculture, are also encroaching on these areas. Additionally, these cats are often captured for their beautiful fur or to be sold as exotic pets.

The fishing cat can swim long distances, even underwater

1.) Maybe all is not lost

Although fishing cats are elusive and try to stay hidden, organizations like the Fishing Cat Conservancy in India and Sri Lanka are working to raise awareness about these unique wild cats. They educate children, fostering respect and appreciation for the fishing cat. They also provide local fishermen with tools to help them fish more effectively, reducing competition and leading to less conflict with the fishing cats.

2.) They are the only cat species that specialise in fish

Due to competition with other land-based predators, the fishing cat — a relatively large wild cat about twice the size of a domestic cat — has adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. Despite their typical feline appearance, they have short legs, a sturdy body, a deep chest, and a short, thick tail, which helps them handle larger fish. While they are specialized in catching fish, they will also hunt various prey near water, including ducks, if necessary.

3.) The fishing cat has an impressively effortless style

Fishing cats are ambush predators, stealthily moving along the water’s edge. They use their whiskers (vibrissae) to detect the position of fish in murky water, allowing them to strike precisely. They dive headfirst into the water, using the webbing between their front toes to maneuver efficiently.  The fishing cats can swim long distances, even underwater, showcasing their exceptional aquatic abilities.

4.) Kittens are already diving at one month

Fishing cats lead solitary lives, meeting others of their kind only during mating season. Typically, a litter consists of 2-3 kittens, which start learning to hunt at around one month old. By six months, they become independent.

5.) Distant relative of the leopard cat

Genetic studies suggest that the fishing cat and the leopard cat diverged between 4.25 and 0.02 million years ago. The leopard cat is believed to have been domesticated in China around 5000 years ago and has been used in breeding the Bengal cat.

6.) Here’s how they differ from most wild cats

Interestingly, unlike most wildcats that are crepuscular (active during twilight), fishing cats hunt primarily at night.

endangered animal fishing cat leopard cat wild cat
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