Flat-headed Cat, Prionailurus planiceps

The flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is a species of wildcat that can be found in a fragmented range that includes Borneo, Sumatra, and the Thai-Malay Peninsula. It prefers a habitat within primary and secondary rainforests. It is often found in areas with abundant freshwater near lowland or coastal areas. Vigors and Horsfield, who classified it in the Felis genus, first described this species in 1827. In 1951, the flat-headed cat was merged with the fishing cat, which shares some areas of its range, but studies conducted in 1961 showed that both species should be placed into the Prionailurus genus, where they remain today, as distinct species.

The flat-headed cat can reach an average body length between sixteen and twenty inches, with a tail length of up to about six inches and an average weight between about three and five pounds. This species is unique in that its head is flat from the nose to the tip of the muzzle. Its body is slender and its legs are long. Its flat head has made its canine teeth unusually long, almost the same size of a large cat that is twice as its size. Its fur is reddish brown the top of the head, fading to a brown color on the back and white on the underbelly. The face is lighter in color than the rest of body, with two whitish stripes occurring on either cheek. Its eyes appear closer together than most other cats, which give it an enhanced sense of sight, and coupled with its unique teeth, it can catch aquatic prey at least as efficiently as the fishing cat.

It is thought that the flat-headed cat is solitary and holds a home range that is marked by scent. In captivity, both males and females mark territories by spraying urine. There are local recordings of this species being nocturnal, but a captive female was primarily active during the early morning and late evening hours. The flat-headed cat can make a variety of vocalizations that are similar to domesticated cats, including purrs and growls. After a pregnancy period of up to fifty-six days, a litter of one or two kittens is born.

The diet of the flat-headed cat consists of mainly of fish, and this species has been known to wash food, like raccoons, before consuming it. This cat will submerge its head to catch a fish, carrying it at least six and half feet away from the water before eating. Despite its preference for fish, it may consume frogs, crustaceans, chickens, and rats if needed. Although the average lifespan is not known, two captive individuals lived until fourteen years of age.

The main threats to the flat-headed cat include habitat destruction caused by forest fragmentation and degradation. This habitat loss has been caused by pollution, industrial growth, and agricultural growth. Other threats include a loss of prey due to increased amounts of fisheries, hunting, poisoning, and snaring. This species is protected by law across its range, and cannot be hunted in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The flat-headed cat appears in CITES Appendix I and on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”

Image Caption: Flat-Headed Cat. Credit: Jim Sanderson/Wikipedia  (CC BY-SA 3.0)