Extinction of Flat-headed cat

May 5, 2023, 3:43 p.m.

The Flat-headed Cat Prionailurus planiceps is one of the most unusual members of the cat family, with their long, narrow head and flattened forehead.

The flat-headed cat is an endangered small wild cat species that can be found in Sumatra, Borneo and the Malaysian Peninsula extending into Thailand.

This rare and elusive cat is threatened with water pollution, especially from oil, organochlorines, and heavy metals found in run-off from agricultural and logging activities. The cats are poisoned after these contaminates have been ingested by its prey. The clearance of waterways as human settlement expands into forested areas is also a problem for this species.

The flat-headed cat Prionailurus planiceps is one of the world’s rarest small cat species, occurring in Borneo, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia. The same size as a domestic cat, this wetland specialist has unique anatomical adaptations such as a slight webbing between toes, a flattened skull, small ears and large canine teeth, all presumably evolved to assist in the capture of slippery aquatic prey such as fish and amphibians.

The flat-headed cat can look you straight in the eye, if you ever have the fortune to see one. Its eyes are set farther forward and closer together than those of other cats, giving it exceptional stereoscopic vision.

A peculiar looking cat with short legs, a long head with tiny, low-set ears, and a short tail, the flat-headed cat has long, thick, and soft fur. The color of the fur is reddish brown on top of the head, dark roan brown on the body, and mottled white on the underbelly. The muzzle and chin are white.

Flat-headed cats conservation threats include habitat degradation and habitat loss, usually from the expansion of palm oil plantations. The cat’s prey is also being contaminated from water pollution. Other conservation issues include snaring an poisoning.

Little is known about the species’ ecology and behaviour as it is seldom seen and there are few published records of sightings, especially in Sumatra.

Flat-headed Cats share one characteristic with the Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, and Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus, in that their claws are not fully retractile, and can be seen at all times. Their toes are more completely webbed than those of the Fishing Cat, and they have long, narrow footpads.

Flat-headed cats have small, rounded ears that are positioned lower down on the side of the head. The cat’s thick, long fur is a red-brown on top of the head, and a mixture of brown and white on the body. The cat’s chin and muzzle are white, as well as its underbelly. There are white streaks between the eyes on either side of the cat’s nose.

The cat’s physical appearance has been compared to a civet, a cat-like mammal. There are less than 1,200 flat-headed cats left in the wild.

The Flat-headed cat is primarily threatened by wetland and lowland forest destruction and degradation. Causes of this destruction include human settlement, forest transformation to plantations, draining for agriculture, pollution, and excessive hunting, wood-cutting and fishing. The depletion of fish stocks from over-fishing is prevalent in many Asian wetland environments and is likely to be a significant threat. Expansion of oil palm plantations is currently viewed as the most urgent threat. Flat-headed cats are also threatened by trapping, snaring and poisoning. They have been captured in traps set out to protect domestic fowl.

More research is needed to evaluate if Flat-headed Cats use oil palm plantations or if they are only forced to pass through the plantations due to the fragmentation of their habitats. There is also generally an urgent need for further research on the status, ecology, distribution, threats and conservation needs across its range.

The scant information available on the Flat-headed Cat’s reproductive habits includes a young kitten that was found in the wild recently.

The Flat-headed Cat is one of the most endangered cat species in the world. Over 90% of their historical habitat has been converted to croplands, plantations and other land cover types unsuitable to these cats. Remaining habitats are highly fragmented.

The total population size of Flat-headed cats is fewer than 1,200 mature individuals. This species’ numbers are decreasing. The possibility exists that they will disappear before we have a chance to ensure their survival.

What do you think should be done already today to ensure the survival of a unique felid species?

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