Cats and water: Seems like they wouldn’t mix — like oil and water — right? Well, not always.
Many domestic cats love playing with water, splashing in their water dish, or sipping running water. In fact, many water fountains are made for cats, which many pets find fascinating. Some cat breeds seem predisposed to enjoy hopping into the shower with their favorite people.
Domestic cats, however, aren’t the only cats that like water. Several species of smaller cats from South America’s Amazon basin have learned to adapt to a place where the two primary seasons are wet and wetter. Asia’s Bengal tigers, too, actually appear to enjoy taking communal baths in local rivers.
But the ultimate water champion among water-loving cats is a little known and endangered cat from Asia called the Fishing Cat. This might be the only feline species named for his occupation: hunting fish.
They’re built for the job. The Fishing Cats’ ears kind of close in when they’re in water (preventing too much water from getting in), their paws have rudimentary webbing and this 18- to 28-pound cat actually dives into rivers or swamps for fish. They’re also happy to catch crayfish, frogs, water birds, rodents or farmers’ chickens. And therein lies one the problem.
Much of the Fishing Cat habitat is now being used by shrimp farmers, especially in Thailand. Not only do these farms essentially destroy the Fishing Cat habitat, the relentless noise from equipment and people makes life challenging for a secretive cat. Meals are increasingly scarce, forcing them to snag a local chicken – which villagers don’t take kindly to. Those cats – if they’re found – may pay with their lives.
It turns out America is the number importer of Thai shrimp. ABC-TV’s “Nightline” recently featured a report by Dan Harris, a researcher studying these cats in the field for eight years. Harris can count on one hand how many times he’s personally seen the Fishing Cats.
According to the “Nightline” report, the average American consumes one pound of Thai shrimp annually. I find that number hard to believe – but no matter. Harris and supporters of the Fishing Cat in Thailand suggest that if we no longer buy the shrimp, demand will dwindle and some farmers will go into another business.
By being careful shoppers, we might be able to help these endangered and increasingly threatened cats who live in Southeast Asia, thousands of miles away. Personally, I’m not sure the solution is that easy. I’m not optimistic that enough people will stop buying to really matter. It’s worth a try.