It has been an exciting couple of days, but after the first two days things have calmed down. Experts from the Dusit Zoo have confirmed that our “tiger” is not a tiger at all but a member of the cat family, a Fishing Cat or Prionailurus viverrinus. Casts of the footprints were taken and the zoo people noticed that the prints had evidence of claws. Tigers would have no claws present in their tracks because they have retractable claws. Also, the size of the prints indicated a much smaller animal than an Indochina Tiger.
On Wednesday, the wildlife officials came to the school and took the school children to observe the tracks and educate the children about our wild neighbor. Although the fishing cat is unlikely to come into the school where many people are present, it can potential harm an unattended child. The school has taken precautions by reinforcing our back fence and the wildlife officials have installed night cameras to get a visual identification on our wild cat. Hopefully, the increased education about the fishing cat and ways to keep safe when at the school will help alleviate some of the fears of the parents. I hope that our school can learn to coexist with our fishing cat, as it has a right to exist in Bangkok as much as we do, if not more.
Fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus)
These animals are described as robust and powerful. Native to riverbanks from India through Southeast Asia, these cats love to fish. They have a double layer of fur so when they go in the water they don’t get wet down to the skin. The pelt is grizzled grey, often tinged with olive brown. The fur is marked with dark round spots which run in longitudinal rows. On the face fishing cats have white stripes running from the eyes to the crown of the head, and there are six to eight dark lines running from the forehead over the crown and along the neck. Contrasting white spots mark the backs of the short, rounded black ears. The head is thick and broad and the muzzle is somewhat elongate. They are about the size of a basset hound, the body of the fishing cat is notably deep chested, and the relatively short tail is unusually thick and muscular near the base.
Fishing cats don’t have full claw sheaths (similar to the cheetah) so their claws are partially visible even when retracted. It is often thought that fishing cats have webbed feet but this is not so. They have a partial membrane between the toes but no more than in other wild or domestic cats. There are two subspecies of fishing cat described as:
P. v. viverrinus India, southeast Asia and Sumatra
P. V. risophores Java and Bali
Overall Males Females
Head and body lengths (cm) 65-100
Height at shoulders (cm) 25-33
Tail lengths (cm) 38-41
Weight (kg) 6-15 11-15 6-7
Distribution and Habitats
Fishing cats live in a variety of watery habitats: mangrove swamps, marshy thickets and reed beds, up to an alititude of 1,500 meters. They seem to prefer areas where there is substantial thick cover near open water. Geographically they are found discontinuously throughout southern Asia, from Malyasia, parts of Indonesia (Sumatra and Java), and Sri Lanka to the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.
Fishing cats are often persecuted because they will live close to human dwellings. They can survive in suburban situtations and are often found stealing livestock, such as calves or chicken.
CITES: Appendix II. IUCN: Insufficiently known
Felid TAG 2000 recommendation: Although not an endangered species, this species’ lowland habitat is under stress. The Fishing Cat has a Species Survival Plan SSP.
In the wild they are listed as Near Threatened. Although they have a substantial range in tropical Asia (over 1 million square kilometers), its actual area of occupancy is much smaller as it is strongly associated with wetlands. A survey showed that more than 50% of Asian wetlands are faced with moderate to high degrees of threat and are disappearing. These threats include settlement, draining for agriculuture, polution, and excessive hunting, woodcutting and fishing. The result is a similar decline among the fishing cat populations.