Sri Lanka’s Small Wild Cats

FISHING CAT (Prionailurus viverrinus)

Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Prionailurus

Species: viverrinus

English Name: Fishing Cat

Sinhala Name: Handun Diviya

Tamil Name: Koddi Poonai

Average adult weight: 8-16kg

Size comparison: About the size of an adult cocker spaniel

Unlike most feline species fishing cat is well adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Its short, coarse fur coat is a beautiful olive grey, tinged with brown and patterned with rows of parallel solid black, oblong spots along its flank. The cat can also be recognized by the four dark lines running along the length of its forehead and along its back, which eventually taper into spots. And well mixed with the wild and one of the best camouflaged animals when it comes to hunting. In captivity, the females are assumed to be polyestrous (able to go into heat several times a year). Fishing cat dens are constructed in thick shrub, reeds, rocky crevices and tree hollows. Two kittens are usually born after a 63-70 day gestation period and weigh around 170 grams each. Kitten eyes open by day 16 and in captivity, meat is introduced into their diet around day 53. The kittens are weaned when they are between 4-6 months old and become independent at 12-18 months. In captivity, fishing cats have been known to live up to 12 years of age. Fishing cats are solitary animals, and seem to follow the typical felid occupancy pattern, in which several females’ home ranges’ are overlapped by one male’s. Fishing cats are strongly associated with wetlands, marshlands and other habitats that have a good source of flowing water. Most known records of the species within its range are from lowlands. However, in Sri Lanka, fishing cats occur in wetlands in hilly areas as well. The species is primarily nocturnal, and is a dietary generalist, consuming anything from rodents, to birds and fish.

The species is widely distributed in South and Southeast Asia, its patchy distribution throughout most of its range is most likely due to the species’ strong association with wetland habitats, which are few and far between in the region.Fishing cats have been recorded in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Sadness is that The species’ global population has declined more than 30% over the past 15 years (three generations) due to fishing cats being killed by local people throughout their range.

It has been estimated that within the next 15 years there will be an irreversible loss of approximately 10% of prime fishing cat habitat in Sri Lanka, 10% of savanna and grassland eco regions along the Terai-Duar of India and Nepal, and 30% of wetland habitat along the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta. This coupled with ongoing retaliatory killings will most likely bring the global population down by a further 30% by the year 2032. Fishing cats are at a high risk of extinction throughout their global range, and therefore has been thought to be one of the most vulnerable small wild cat species in South and? Southeast Asia. The biggest threat faced by the species in South Asia is habitat loss and fragmentation caused by development. In Sri Lanka, the fishing cat is protected in the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 2009, under Schedule ll, listing the species as a strictly protected mammal.

RUSTY-SPOTTED CAT (Prionailurus rubiginosa)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Prionailurus

Species: rubiginosa

English Name: Rusty-spotted Cat

Sinhala Name: Kola Diviya

Tamil Name: Kāttu Poonai

Average adult weight: 1.5-1.8 kg

Size comparison: The size of a six month old domestic cat

Two subspecies are recognized,

  • Prionailurus rubiginosus rubiginosus — lives in India
  • Prionailurus rubiginosus phillipsi — lives in Sri Lanka

The smallest cat in the world, the rusty, like its name suggests, is only about the size of a six month old domestic cat, and has short brownish-grey fur, overlaid by a rufous hue – though in Sri Lanka, it has a more russet color. The cat’s face has two dark streaks that run along each cheek and four stripes extending above its eyes, back towards between the ears and then down along the shoulders, eventually tapering off to elongated spots. These elongated spots can also be seen along its flanks as very faint rusty-brown spots and blotches. Its throat, chest and belly are stark white, and marked with large black spots and bars, much like that of a leopard. It has small rounded ears, black soled feet, and a tail that is just above half its body length.

The species is generally considered terrestrial, but show strong arboreal tendencies. When the Frankfurt Zoo brought in their first rusty-spotted cats, they were thought to be nocturnal, since most of the sightings were at night, early dawn or late evening. However, once the cats were placed in a nocturnal environment and after closely monitoring their behavior, the keepers learned that the species might not be strictly nocturnal or crepuscular. They also learned that sexually active animals were more active during the day.

In captivity, rusty-spotted cats mate throughout the year, and captive data shows that mating activities begin anywhere between 1 to 72 days after introducing two new individuals to each other, and the activities last between 1 to 11 days, and like all other small cats, it includes straddling and a nape bite. Gestation lasts between 67 to 71 days. In Sri Lanka, captive females were observed giving birth under rock cliffs and tree hollows, whereas females in the Frankfurt Zoo chose spots that were on the ground. Each litter consists of 1 to 3 kittens, and these newborn kittens weigh approximately 46g. In Sri Lanka, the species has been recorded from the Central Highlands to the Southern rainforests.

The species was believed to be restricted to India and Sri Lanka, but recent photo evidence shows rusty-spotted cats recorded in Bardia National Park, Nepal. Rusty-spotted cats are native to India (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu-Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttaranchal, and Uttar Pradesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the rusty-spotted cat is protected in the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 2009, under Schedule ll, which lists the species as a strictly protected mammal



JUNGLE CAT (Felis chaus)

jungle cat
Jungle Cat (Felis chaus)




Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae



English Name:Jungle Cat

Sinhala Name: Vul Balala

Tamil Name: Kāttu Poonai

Average adult weight:3-8 kg

Size comparison: About the size of an average street dog


Jungle cats are the largest living member of the Felis species. They can get to about 3-4 times the size of a domestic cat and their lanky build resembles that of a serval. Depending on its range country, the species’ coat coloring varies between a uniform, unspotted reddish or sandy brown, to a tawny grey. However, some individuals do have a speckled look to their coats, which is caused by the fine black-tips of guard hairs. Like most other feline species, kittens are spotted and striped at birth, and lose these markings once they reach sexual maturity. The only markings retained as adults are the dark arm bands on the forelimbs and hindlimbs (a visible marker of the species), and very faint rings towards the end of the tail. Jungle cats are one of the 11 species of melanistic wild cat, meaning that in rare cases, an individual can be completely black. Melanistic jungle cats have been recorded in the wild – regularly occurring in southeastern Pakistan – and in captivity. The mating season is marked by the shrieks and fights of males. However in captivity, there are no outward signs indicating the onset of reproductive activities, though certain males were observed being more vocal just prior to copulation. Records of wild births show that most young are born between December and June, and in Sri Lanka, births are recorded between December and March. As many as six kittens can be born in a litter, though the most common number is three, with kittens weighing between 43-55 grams at birth. Despite its name, jungle cats are not associated with “jungle habitats”, but rather with scrubland, grassland, deciduous dipterocarp forests and habitats that have dense vegetation cover and a good source of water. The species also adapts well to irrigated cultivation and agricultural areas that have a low intensity of human use, since these habitats retain small patches of scrubland. Jungle cats were most active at night means they are nocturnal animals and somewhat territorial. Habitat loss for industrialization, urbanization and large scale agricultural purposes is the biggest threat faced by the species throughout their range. In Sri Lanka, the jungle cat is protected in the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 2009, under Schedule ll, listing the species as a strictly protected mammal.


Haque, N. M. and Vijayan, V. 1993. Food habits of the fishing cat Felis viverrina in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 90: 498-500.

Duckworth, J. W., Poole, C. M., Tizard, R. J., Walston, J. L. and Timmins, R. J. (2005). The Jungle Cat Felis chaus in Indochina: A threatened population of a widespread and adaptable species. Biodiversity and Conservation. 14. 1263-1280.

Deraniyagala, P. E. P. (1956). A new subspecies of rusty spotted cat from Ceylon. Spolia Zeylanica 28: 113

Kittle, A., Watson, A. (2004). Rusty-spotted cat in Sri Lanka: observations of an arid zone population. Cat News 40: 17–19

Written by-

Rtr. Sethil Muhandiram

President 2018-19

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