Flat Headed Cat
- Once thought to be extinct
One of the most unique and unusual members of the
cat family, the flat headed cat is ideally
adapted for a life of fish eating and water hunting. They
are another example of a cat who's appearance seems set them
apart from that expected of a member of the felidae family.
Perhaps the most aquatic of all cats, the Flat Headed Cat
shares many attributes with the fishing cat. Little is known
about these cute cats in their natural environment owing to
their rarity and elusive nature. Rarely observed in nature
or in captivity, the biology of this species is poorly known
at best. Although range-country zoos have aggressively
sought to acquire this species, success has been low.
Captive propagation has been nonexistent, and North American
zoos are not encouraged to acquire specimens.
The flat headed cat that is nearly two feet in length
and weighs around six pounds. The distinguishing feature is
the flattened head owing to the unusual skull morphology.
The coat is usually dark brown with white streaks running
along the sides of nose below the large eyes that provide
binocular visions. This gives the look of a silvery-grey
tinge to the coat. Two well-defined pale lines run from the
eyes to the ears, and dark spots and stripes are sometimes
described on the body. The under parts of this cat are white
with brown spots. The inside of the limbs and underside of
the tail are reddish-brown. Another interesting departure in
the flat-headed cat is that its claws do not fully retract
into their protective sheaths. Toes have webbing that is
more enhanced than that of the fishing cat, with long thin
pads. This occurs in only a few of the wild cats, notably
its close neighbor, the fishing cat and Geoffrey's cat found
in the Americas.
This very rare and elusive species occurs from
Southern Thailand through the Malay peninsula to Sumatra and
Borneo, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei.
Rarely seen in the wild the flat-headed cat is a
crepuscular or nocturnal hunter and is to be found searching
for prey in areas of tropical rainforest bordering streams
and rivers. Its main prey consists of fish, frogs, shrimp
and other aquatic animals, along with birds and small
rodents. They also have been known to like fruit and consume
sweet potatoes by digging them up in plantations.
Almost nothing is known of their reproductive
behavior. A kitten was found in the wild in January. It was
still with its mother, who was killed. It is believed that
the gestation period is about 56 days, with one to four
The Flat Headed Cat was thought to have gone
extinct in 1985 but fortunately was seen again in 1995. Not
enough sufficient information is known about the density of
population of this cat to establish its true status, but it
is believed to be endangered throughout most of its range.
Habitat destruction is one very significant factor
influencing their population sizes, but so little is known
about the demography of this small cat that only very rough
estimates can be made about their status. Water pollution is
also a very major threat to these animals, as it
contaminates its prey. This problem is widespread throughout
the Flat Headed Cat's range. In addition, waterways are
often the first cleared to make way for human settlements.
If reports of flat-headed cats thriving in palm oil
plantations are true, then this is extremely encouraging. It
indicates that they can survive with considerable habitat
The darling cat is still classified as vulnerable
and is seen
in select locations
in countries of Southeast Asia. Principal threat is habitat
destruction through water pollution and clearing for human
settlements. However recent discovery of Flat Headed Cats in
palm oil plantations, surviving on rats, is encouraging
evidence of the tenacity of this unique cat to survive in
various habitats! The IUCN Red List has the flat-headed cat
as Vulnerable and CITES have placed them on Appendix One,
restricting all trade.