Denver Zoo is excited to announce its first successful birth of a Fishing Cat. The cub, whose sex is not yet known, is named Miso-Chi (MEE-soh-CHEE) and was born on January 25.
The cub was born to mother Namfon (NAAM-fawn) and father Ronaldo. Namfon was born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, in Washington D.C., in May 2012 and arrived at the Denver Zoo in July 2013. Ronaldo was born in June 2013 at a private facility in Houston, Texas, that specializes in the propagation of rare and endangered species and arrived at Denver Zoo from there in April 2014. The two were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Fortunately, the couple has proved to be an excellent match.
Fishing Cats are scattered throughout southwest India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Sumatra, Java and Pakistan, living primarily in wetland areas like swamps, marshes and densely vegetated areas along rivers and streams.
As their name suggests, Fishing Cats are powerful swimmers and fish form an important part of their diet. However, they are generalist feeders. Rodents, amphibians and aquatic birds are also fare. The cats have been observed attracting fish by lightly tapping the water’s surface with their paw, mimicking insect movement. They then dive into water to catch the fish that come near and, because their claws do not fully retract, use them like fishing hooks to spear the slippery fish. Fishing Cats also wade in shallow water to hunt for prey to scoop out.
Although they resemble a domestic house cat, they are about twice the size of an average house cat. They can grow from about two to almost three feet long, with a foot long tail. They also weigh 18 to 26 pounds and have stocky builds with short legs. Their fur is olive gray with dark spots arranged in longitudinal stripes down the back and a ringed tail tipped in black. They have flat-nosed faces with short round ears and six to eight distinctive dark lines running from above the eyes between the ears over the head to the neck. Fishing Cats are very much adapted to their semi-aquatic life, with water resistant fur and webbed hind feet to power them through the water. Their short, flattened tail acts as a rudder to help control direction as they swim.
Exact Fishing Cat population numbers in the wild aren’t known because they are so rarely encountered. However, it is believed there are less than 10,000 individuals, and their numbers are declining. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently classifies them as “Vulnerable”. Their biggest threats are wetland destruction and conversion to farmland. They are also threatened by pollution from industry, agricultural pesticides, and destructive fishing practices. The species is also threatened by poaching for food, medicine and body parts. In addition, Fishing Cats are often a target of local farmers in their native habitat. The farmers believe the cats are solely responsible for the killing of their small livestock and damage to their fishing nets. While this does happen occasionally, they are often blamed for acts other animals commit. Fishing Cats are also hunted for the exotic pet trade.
Denver Zoo recently voted to donate $1,500 to the Fishing Cat Fund, which seeks to educate the public about Fishing Cats as well as to conserve cats in the wild. The money for this comes from the Zoo’s membership animal care donation “check box,” which supports conservation projects for species of the AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP).
Visitors to the Denver Zoo can see the new cub, alongside mom, learning to dive for live fish in the waters of the Marynelle Philpott Fishing Cat Lagoon exhibit at Toyota Elephant Passage.