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GRAPPLE | WITH ISSUES AND IDEAS

Record Arctic Melt | Critter: Fish-Hunting Cat | Next Big Thing: Sperm? | Graphic: Wolves vs. Cows | Up to Speed

The Cat in the Swamp

Fishing Cat
Morgan Heim/TandemStock

In an era that's produced the Internet Cat Video Film Festival and a reality show about people who write captions for cat photos, one feline has remained elusive: Prionailurus viverrinus, or the fishing cat. About twice the size of your average Fluffy, it lives in pockets of wetlands in Thailand, Cambodia, India, and other countries in South Asia. It stands in the shallows and snares freshwater fillets with its paws or dives right in and hooks a fish with its teeth. The fishing cat also dines on frogs' legs, escargot, and fowl—and after eating, it cleans its face every bit as cutely as does Felis catus.

But its native marshlands and mangrove swamps are being cleared for housing, agriculture, and aquaculture. Deprived of their fishing holes, some cats head into nearby villages to hunt livestock and end up getting killed by farmers. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which classified the fishing cat as endangered in 2008, notes that the feline seems to have disappeared completely from several of its former perches.

In Thailand, however, biologist Passanan Cutter of the Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project has found a handful of breeding cats near Sam Roi Yot National Park, where this rare photo of one in the wild was taken with a camera trap. Cutter and other cat fans are hoping for a robust kitten season. You can keep track of the latest sightings at fishing-cat.wild-cat.org.
—M.P. Klier


NEXT: Next Big Thing: Sperm?


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