Denver Zoo Map

Prionailurus viverrinus

Fishing Cat


Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Prionailurus
Species: viverrinus

Fun Facts

  • Fishing cats are the largest member of the small cat group.
  • These cats have been reported in the Himalayan forests at elevations of up to 7000 feet.
  • The fishing cat’s Latin name viverrinus comes from its resemblance to members of the Viverridae family, like civets.



Scattered areas throughout southwest India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Sumatra, Java and Pakistan.


Wetland areas including marshes, swamps, mangroves and densely vegetated areas along rivers and streams.

Physical Description

  • Fishing cats have a head-body length of 25-34 inches (63-86 cm) with a 12 inch (30 cm) tail.
  • They weigh 13-26 pounds (6-12 kg).
  • Exhibit sexual dimorphism; males are larger than females.
  • Their fur is olive gray in color with dark spots arranged in longitudinal stripes down the back and a ringed tail tipped in black.
  • They have six to eight distinctive dark lines running from above the eyes between the ears over the head to the neck.
  • They have a stocky build with short legs.
  • They have a flat nosed face, short round ears and short whiskers.
  • They have webbed paws with claws that extend past the claw sheath.


What Does It Eat?

In the wild: Fish, frogs, crawfish, snails, crustaceans, snakes, toads, birds, rodents and small domestic livestock.
At the zoo: Special feline diet and fish????

What Eats It?


Social Organization

Fishing cats are solitary except mating pairs and females with kittens. There are unconfirmed reports that males may help with the care and supervision of the young.

Life Cycle

Little is known about the social and reproductive behavior of this elusive cat. Both males and females are sexually mature by about 10 months of age. Females call to attract males for mating. Fishing cats generally breed in January and February. After a gestation of 63-70 days a litter of one to four (usually two) kittens are born. The kittens are blind and helpless weighing 3.5-6.2 ounces (100-173 gm). The kittens open their eyes at 16 days, begin eating meat at seven to eight weeks and are weaned at four to six months. They reach adult size at eight to nine months and are independent at 10 months. Fishing cats live up to12 years in captivity but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.


Gone Fishing

Fishing cats attract fish by lightly tapping the water’s surface with a paw mimicking insect movement. They then dive into the water to catch the fish that come near. Because their claws do not fully retract they use their claws like fishing hooks to spear the slippery fish. They also wade in shallow water hunting for prey and then use their partially webbed paws to scoop fish, frogs and other prey out of the water.

Dive In!

Unlike many cat species, fishing cats love the water and are powerful swimmers. They push through the water with their webbed hind feet and use their short flattened tail like a rudder to help control direction as they swim. They may swim under water to prey on ducks and other aquatic birds from below. They have been observed climbing trees then diving headfirst into the water grabbing prey in their mouth. Their water resistant fur is another adaptation for aquatic life.

Conservation Connection

IUCN Status – Endangered.

Fishing cats are listed as endangered due to wetland destruction and conversion to farmland. They are also threatened by pollution from industry, agricultural pesticides, destructive fishing practices and poaching for food, medicine and body parts. They are also hunted for the exotic pet trade.

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