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Species Facts

While many cats catch and eat fish when the opportunity presents itself, the fishing cat is the only species named for its skill at capturing, and its preference for eating, fish.

  • Scientific Designation: Prionailurus viverrinus
  • Related Project: Fishing Cats in Thailand
  • Endangered Status: Vulnerable (VU)
  • Lifespan: Average of 12 years
  • Weight: 6-15 kg
  • Length: 65-100cm
  • Shoulder Height: 25-33cm
  • Tail Length: 38-41cm


About twice the size of a domestic cat, the fishing cat is characterized by conspicuous stripes and spot patterns on the head and body. This cat’s short, coarse fur is mouse gray or olive brown. The fur is covered with black spots with white undersides and two dark collars on the throat. The tail is comparatively short and marked with five to six black rings and a black tip. Powerful and stocky, the fisher cat projects an aura of power and strength. Its deep-chested body and comparatively short legs give it the look of a much larger cat.

Diet and Fishing

The specialization for fishing is seen in the partially-webbed toes of the front feet. The fishing cat uses these paws to scoop up fish. In addition, the cat sometimes gently taps the surface of the water with the paws to imitate insects – and then scoops the investigating fish. The species is known to be a strong swimmer. It is able to swim long distances, even in deep water. It can swim and pursue prey underwater, using its strong tail as a rudder. In addition to fish, the species will hunt waterfowl, frogs, small mammals, snakes, snails, crustaceans, and even birds.

Map shows India and surrounding countries; very few regions are highlighted, but there are small regions on Sri Lanka, along the Bengal coast of India, as well as some portions of Bangladesh highlighted as Extant, or resident.

Species Distribution

This solitary, nocturnal cat has a limited and discontinuous distribution in Asia. Within its distribution, the fishing cat lives near water in thick cover in habitats such as mangroves, marshes, and densely vegetated areas along watercourses.

Distribution map courtesy of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), compiled in 2016 by the Fishing Cat Working Group.

Threats to the Fishing Cat

The fishing cat’s association with wetlands, marshes, and grasslands puts it direct competition with the increasing number of humans who are moving into these areas. In addition to this loss of habitat (its main threat), the fishing cat is also under pressure from people who hunt it for its skin, its meat, and for the exotic pet trade.

The fishing cat is currently classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and protected under appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

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