Other Names
chat à tête plate (French)
Flachkopfkatze (German)
gato cabeciancho (Spanish)
kucing hutan, kucing dampak (Indonesia)
kucing hutan (Malaysia)
gaung bya kyaung (Myanmar)
maew pa hua baen (Thailand)
  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • Description and Behavior
    Even more than the fishing cat, the flat-headed cat appears remarkably adapted to a life of piscivory, or fish-eating (Leyhausen 1979). It has a long, sloping snout and flattened skull roof, and its unusually small ears are set well down on the sides of the head. It has large, close-set eyes which provide maximal binocular vision, and the anterior upper pre-molars are larger and sharper relative to other cats (P2 height and width: P. bengalensis 1.7 & 1.6 mm; P. planiceps 5.2 and 4.5 mm [Muul and Lim 1970]; protocone of P3 also more long and sharp than other cats of Prionailurus: Groves 1982). A more developed premolar is characteristic of mammals that hunt slippery prey, and provides a better grip (Lyddeker 1896). Finally, the fleshy sheaths that cover a catís claws are shortened in the flat-headed cat, so that only about one-third of each claw is covered when retracted (Ewer 1973). While the flat-headed catís claws do not rub against the ground when walking, they are always visible. Its toes are more completely webbed than the fishing catís (Leyhausen 1979), and the pads are long and narrow, similar to the Bornean bay cat (Pocock 1932b). Muul and Lim (1970), commenting on the catís feet and other features, termed it the ecological counterpart of a semi-aquatic mustelid, and Leyhausen (1979) has commented on several behavior patterns (prey capture, scent-marking) which are similar to those of both mustelids and viverrids.

    The pelage of the flat-headed cat is thick and soft, and of a reddish-brown color tinged with grey, with the top of the head more brightly red. Wild adults have weighed 1.5-2.5 kg (Banks 1949, Muul and Lim 1970). The tail is very short, only 25-35% of head body length (TL=13-17 cm: Yasuma and Alikodra 1990).

    The stomach contents of an adult shot on a Malaysian riverbank consisted only of fish (Muul and Lim 1970), and the stomach of a male killed on a road in a Kalimantan forest reserve contained fish scales and shrimp shells (S. Yasuma in litt. 1993). In Borneo, flat-headed cats are most frequently observed at night along riverbanks, hunting frogs and fish (Banks 1949; J. Payne, A. Rabinowitz in litt. 1993). In captivity, flat-headed cats enjoy a basin of water, playing or simply sitting in it for hours. They have been observed to wash objects, raccoon-style. Live fish are readily taken, with full submergence of the head, and the fish were usually carried at least two meters away, suggesting a feeding strategy to avoid letting aquatic prey escape back into water (Muul and Lim 1970; M. Rosenthal, S. Yasuma in litt. 1993).

    Although Muul and Lim (1970) reported that their captive cat did not chase after sparrows, the cat at the Lincoln Park Zoo took live chicks (M. Rosenthal in litt. 1993). Banks (1949) stated that the flat-headed cat was not a poultry raider, but Guggisberg (1975) noted that the only specimen seen by ornithologist B.N. Smythies during his 20 years in Sarawak was shot while chasing chickens. In addition, M. Khan (in litt. 1991) reports that a female flat-headed cat was captured in Perak, Peninsular Malaysia, in a trap set to catch common civets preying on poultry.

    Gestation (C): approximately 56 days (n=1)

    Longevity (C): 14+ years (n=2) (M. Rosenthal in litt. 1993)

    Habitat and Distribution
    Most collection records for the flat-headed cat are from swampy areas, oxbow lakes and riverine forest (C. Groves in litt. 1993). No research has been done on the species in the wild; for example, the only information on altitudinal range for the species (up to 700 m in the Dulit mountains of Sarawak: Hose 1893) is 100 years old. It may be less specialized than presently believed in its habitat requirements, as indicated by sightings in oil palm plantations in Malaysia, where it apparently hunts rodents (M. Khan in litt. 1991). It is not known north of the Isthmus of Kra (Lekagul and McNeely 1977, U. Ohn in litt. 1993) (Figure 9).

    Population Status
    Global: Category 2
    Regional: Category 1
    IUCN: Insufficiently Known

    The flat-headed cat is seldom encountered and is believed to be rare.

    Protection Status
    Protection Status: CITES Appendix I

    National Legislation:
    Fully protected over most of its range

    Hunting and Trade Prohibited:
    Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

    Hunting Regulated:

    No Legal Protection:
    Brunei (Nichols et al. 1991; U. Ohn in litt. 1993)

    Principal Threats
    Water pollution, especially by oil, organochlorines and heavy metals associated with agricultural run-off and logging activities, poses a serious threat to the flat-headed cat through contamination of its prey. This is a major problem throughout much of the flat-headed catís range (Foster-Turley et al. 1990). In addition, waterways are often the areas first cleared by people as settlement expands into the forested areas (Collins et al. 1991).

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union