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Fishing Cats

Fishing Cat Kitten Born May 17

August 16, 2013

Our fishing cat kitten, Wasabi, and his mom, Electra, are now on exhibit daily at Asia Trail’s fishing cat exhibit. Lek (Wasabi’s dad), is on exhibit in the second yard. Wasabi was born May 17, but had to wait to go into the outdoor exhibit until all of his vaccinations were up to date. Now he’s having a great time exploring his exhibit, and Electra is clearly enjoying having a little one to play with in the yard.

Electa and Wasabi are out every day by 10 a.m The time keepers bring them in varies and is weather dependent, but they’re usually out until late afternoon. 

Fishing cat
Fishing cat and mom

July 17, 2013

Asia Trail curators and zoo staff have determined the sex of eight-week-old fishing cat kitten Wasabi—and it’s a boy! Zoo veterinarians gave Wasabi a clean bill of health after performing a complete physical exam July 10 which included: listening to the kitten’s heart and lungs; checking his mouth, eyes, legs, feet and genital area; and feeling his belly. Wasabi also received the first in a series of routine vaccinations that protect against feline distemper and some upper respiratory viruses. Wasabi will make his public debut with mother Electra later this summer. Until then Zoo visitors can see the kitten’s father, Lek, on Asia Trail.

fishing cat kitten exam

July 2, 2013

Our fishing cat kitten has a spicy personality—and a name to match! Animal care staff has given the kitten the name "Wasabi." Wasabi recently had his/her first fishing lesson with mother Electra. A patient mother, Electra waited until Wasabi was paying attention. She showed her kitten the art of pouncing and left a few fish for it to play with—the whole lesson took about ten minutes. After watching mom, Wasabi tried his/her paw at fishing with great enthusiasm! At 11 or 12 weeks old, Wasabi will be a great fisher like Electra. For now, toys and mom’s tail are as enticing as fish.

Fishing cat kitten learning to fish

June 17, 2013

kitten and keeper aidesThis week we have started letting our keeper aides meet the fishing cat kitten–as you can see, Electra’s pretty relaxed about the whole process, but is definitely keeping an eye on things.  In this photo, Electra actually brought the kitten up to the mesh and deposited it there for social time! The kitten is a month old today and weighs almost exactly two pounds.

Photo by Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo



June 13, 2013

Our fishing cat kitten, born May 17, is growing fast! The kitten and its mother Electra are bonding in an off-exhibit area. Keepers have been monitoring the pair closely. A few days ago, Electra was comfortable with the keepers separating her and her kitten for a few moments while they weighed—750 grams and growing.

A vet exam will take place in the next few weeks, and we hope to learn the kitten’s sex! Zoo visitors can see the kitten’s father Lek on Asia Trail.

May 17, 2013

Fishing cat and kitten

Just before midnight on May 17, the mewling of a newborn kitten delighted keepers at the National Zoo's Asia Trail. The kitten's mother, Electra, had two kittens last year on May 18 (see below for more information on last year's births).

The adjacent photo depicts the first time that the mother escorted the little bundle of fur outside of the birthing den.

Inhabiting India and Southeast Asia, fishing cat populations are declining and they are considered endangered.

Photo by Tallie Wiles, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Twin Fishing Cats Born at the National Zoo—a First

May 18, 2012

The Smithsonian's National Zoo is closer to cracking the code for breeding one of Asia's most elusive species with the birth of two fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus). Seven-year-old Electra delivered the kittens between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. May 18 in an off-exhibit den. Their birth marks an important milestone: this is the first time fishing cats have successfully bred and produced young at the National Zoo.

Keepers are monitoring the mother and her offspring through a closed-circuit camera, allowing the family time to bond. Although the kittens will not make their public debut until later this summer, Zoo visitors can see their father, two-year-old Lek, on Asia Trail.

"Many months of behavior watch, introductions and research allowed us to get to this point," said Zoo Director Dennis Kelly. "It's very rewarding that our efforts have paid off. The future of their wild cousins hangs in the balance, so it's imperative that we do all we can to ensure their survival."

Before Lek arrived at the Zoo in January 2011, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for fishing cats intended to pair Electra with another male. The SSP scientists determine which animals breed by considering their genetic makeup and social needs, temperament and overall health. Despite meeting these criteria, the other male and Electra never took an interest in one another. By contrast, when keepers introduced Lek and Electra, the cats soon began showing signs of affection, such as grooming and nuzzling.

The Zoo's three adult fishing cats are taking part in a multi-institutional study that examines the many facets of introducing a potential breeding pair. Researcher Jilian Fazio is looking at stress and reproductive hormones to determine if different introduction techniques or individual personalities spell success or failure when it comes to fishing cat reproduction. The National Zoo's recent success is particularly important for fishing cat populations in human care. Of the 32 fishing cats in the North America SSP, only 27 of them are considered reproductively viable. Lek and Electra's kittens will become valuable breeders because their genes are not well represented in the captive population.

Only one other facility accredited by the AZA has successfully bred fishing cats since 2009. The Zoo hopes that by sharing its successful management strategies, other zoos across the country will have similar results.

National Zoo veterinarians will perform a complete physical exam on the fishing cat kittens and administer the first set of vaccines in the next few weeks. However, keepers have observed the kittens growing and becoming more independent every day.

"Electra will let the kittens explore only so far before she brings them back under her close watch," said Animal Keeper Courtney Janney. "Her maternal instincts kicked in right away, and she’s proving to be a very adept and confident mother. We are very proud of the whole process and look forward to learning all we can about their development."

Fishing cats are vanishing from riverbanks in their native India and Southeast Asia due to water pollution, poaching and increased shrimp farming throughout their habitat. Wild populations have decreased by 50 percent in the past 18 years, prompting the International Union for Conservation of Nature to change the species’ status from vulnerable to endangered.

Fishing cats are named after their hunting technique. The majority of their diet consists of prey such as fish, frogs and aquatic birds, and they have a unique way of capturing their meals. By tapping their paws on the surface of the water, they trick prey into thinking the water ripples are from an insect. When the prey is close enough, the cat will either dive into the water after it or scoop it out using its partially webbed paw.

Photo Credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian’s National Zoo