By Chelsea Whyte
Slapping the surface of water to create ripples that mimic insects landing, fishing cats use their partially webbed paws to grab the fish that come to feed.
But this behaviour may no longer be seen in Java – evidence of the Javan fishing cat hasn’t been recorded for more than two decades.
“Is it the rarest cat in the world? It quite possibly could be, if it’s still alive,” says Anthony Giordano, a conservation biologist and leader of a new survey to seek out the elusive creature.
In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature designated fishing cats an endangered species, noting that the Javan fishing cat subspecies may qualify as critically endangered, the step before extinction.
But that was based on the last survey of cat tracks carried out on the Indonesian island – in the early 1990s.
Fishing cat tracks
“Fishing cat tracks are fairly distinctive. There’s very little you can confuse it with particularly on an island like Java,” says Giordano. “Fishing cat tracks are really interesting in the sense that unlike other cats, on average you’ll see the claws in their prints due to their semi-retractable claw system.”
There’s been only rumour or hearsay since then. People say they have seen them, but it turns out to be the more common leopard cat, which shares a similar habitat and markings.