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Fishing cat on exhibit at National Zoo

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 12:36 AM

There are catfish, and cats that eat fish, of course, but there are also cats that can catch fish, and a new member of that special breed has just gone on exhibit at the National Zoo, a zoo spokeswoman said this week.

Cats specially suited by nature for catching fish are native to Asia and known as fishing cats.

"They're really a unique species," Courtney Janney, an animal keeper at the zoo, said in an announcement, which noted the special adaptations that make fishing cats what they are.

The new one is a 1-year-old male named Lek. The hope is to breed Lek with Electra, 6, the zoo's only female fishing cat.

The number of fishing cats in the wild has sharply declined in the past five years, the zoo said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has changed the status of the species from vulnerable to endangered.

A successful mating would apparently be significant, but not simple.The cats "are terribly difficult to breed in captivity," said zoo biologist Erika Bauer. Earlier efforts to breed Electra did not work out, she said.

Lek, who came to Washington in December from the Cincinnati Zoo, is on exhibit at the Asia Trail, the zoo said.

Such cats are found in the wild on riverbanks from India through Southeast Asia.

In the United States, the zoo said, only 38 can be found, and only 30 are believed to be reproductively viable.

They can swim and dive for fish, or they can try to scoop them from the water with paws that are partially webbed.

These cats, the zoo said, hunt by fishing.

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