Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Prionailurus planiceps
Species Authority: (Vigors & Horsfield, 1827)
Common Name(s):
English Flat-headed Cat
French Chat à tête plate
Spanish Gato Cabeciancho
Taxonomic Notes: Taxonomy is currently under review by the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group.  One of only two felids lacking any classically described subspecies (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Placed in Prionailurus according to genetic analysis (Johnson et al. 2006, O'Brien and Johnson 2007).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered C1 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-05-21
Assessor(s): Wilting, A., Brodie, J., Cheyne, S., Hearn, A., Lynam, A., Mathai, J., McCarthy, J., Meijaard, E., Mohamed, A., Ross, J., Sunarto, S. & Traeholt, C.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Hunter, L., Duckworth, J.W., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C., Lanz, T. & Breitenmoser, U.
Contributor(s): Duckworth, J.W. & Sanderson, J.
The Flat-headed Cat has a restricted and patchy distribution around wetlands in lowland forest on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and the Malayan Peninsula. It was formerly also distributed in southern Thailand but the last confirmed observation was almost 20 years ago (Wilting et al. 2010). Current status distribution is limited to presence data, and there are few records in comparison with sympatric small felids. The extent to which this reflects patterns of survey design and effort rather than patterns of distribution is unclear. Wetland destruction and degradation and the very high deforestation rate in southeast Asia is the primary threat faced by the species (Wilting et al. 2010). Since 2010 there have been few new photo captures of this species with camera traps. The reason for this can be due to the special wetland-based ecology of the species, but as they have been previously photographed on main roads, as well as in the forest and along trails, it is believed unlikely to be the sole reason. It was photographed only a few times in the Kinabatangan area of Sabah, of Borneo (an area thought to have the best habitat for the species), despite hundreds of camera traps (A. Hearn pers. comm. 2014).

Over 45% of protected wetlands and 94% of globally significant wetlands in Southeast Asia are considered threatened (Dugan 1993) and although the situation today is unknown, it is unlikely to be radically better and may be much worse. Causes include human settlement, draining for agriculture, pollution, and excessive hunting, wood-cutting and fishing. In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the past decade has been rapid. While there have been observations of the Flat-headed Cat in secondary forests (Bezuijen 2000, Meijaard et al. 2005, Mohamed et al. 2009), Wilting et al. (2010) could not find any support that the Flat-headed Cat can also live in oil palm plantations. According to their distribution model, over 70% of its predicted historical suitable habitat has been transformed to unsuitable habitats (Wilting et al. 2010). Between 2000-2010 the Flat-headed Cat lost over 20% of potentially suitable habitat (10% in Peninsular Malaysia, 17% in Borneo and 41% in Sumatra; extracted from Miettinen et al. 2011). Based on these rates of habitat loss and together with other threats such as pollution of wetlands and hunting it is very likely that the Flat-headed Cat population declined by at least 20% in the last 12 years (two generations; Pacifici et al. 2013) and will also continue to decline over the next 12 years by more than 20%.

It is difficult to estimate population size given its patchy distribution and lack of any density estimates. However the low number of camera-trapping records and direct sightings compared to other Southeast Asian cat species seem to support the notion that the Flat-headed Cat is very rare and/or very specialized in its habitat requirements. An area of occupancy map predicted a species distribution area of about 61,000 km² for Borneo (Wilting et al. unpublished data of the Borneo Carnivore Symposium). For Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra we inferred that additional 10,000 km² and 8,100 km², respectively, could be occupied. If we take a density of four individuals per 100 km² within this 80,000 km², and assuming that not all individuals of a population are mature individuals we would infer a population size which is plausibly fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. For the Flat-headed Cat with its very patchy distribution and its close associations to water resources the average density of four individuals per 100 km² is rather conservative, although in some well suitable areas the density might also be much higher than this. Using a higher average density (>5 mature individulas per 100 km²) would lead to population estimates which would qualify the species as Vulnerable (C1). The IUCN Red List Guidelines (vers. 11, Feb 2014) caution that multiplying density times area extent often leads to “gross overestimation” of the number of mature individuals. Although density estimations of Flat-headed Cats would be needed to verify the inferred numbers, the great threat to Southeast Asian wetlands further supports the classification as Endangered under the precautionary principle.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2010 Endangered (EN)
2008 Endangered (EN)
2008 Endangered (EN)
2002 Vulnerable (VU)
1996 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Insufficiently Known (K)
1990 Indeterminate (I)
1988 Indeterminate (I)
1986 Indeterminate (I)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Flat-headed Cat has a restricted distribution, found only on Sumatra, Borneo and the Malayan Peninsula (Malaysia and extreme southern Thailand). It is a lowland species strongly associated with wetlands (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). The range map is adapted from Wilting et al. (2010) and from data of the Borneo Carnivore Symposium; Wilting et al. (2010) and Wilting et al. (in revision) include other more detailed maps.
Countries occurrence:
Brunei Darussalam; Indonesia (Kalimantan, Sumatera); Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak)
Possibly extinct:
Upper elevation limit (metres): 700
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


The Flat-headed Cat is closely associated with wetlands and lowland forests, habitats which are increasingly being occupied and modified by people (Wilting et al. 2010). It has never been studied, there are few records of the species, and it is generally considered rare, with a highly localized distribution around bodies of water (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Anonymous 1996, Bezuijen 2000, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002, Meijaard et al. 2005, Yasuda et al. 2007, Barita and Boeadi pers. comm. 2006, Mohamed et al. 2009). Although fishermen along the Merang River in south Sumatra (which has relatively intact peat forests) described it as common (Bezuijen 2000), they tend to use a single generic term for both Flat-headed Cat and Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis, a more abundant species (Bezuijen 2003). Most of the recent records come from Sabah in northeastern Borneo, where it can be frequently be observed along the Kinabatangan River (Wilting et al. 2010), and where it has been several times recorded by camera-traps in Deramakot and Tangkulap Forest Reserve (Mohamed et al. 2009). Recently camera-trapping records come from a mixed-used plantation area, which includes conservation reserves within the oil palm estates in East Kalimantan (Wahyudi and Struebing 2013) and from Pasoh Forest Reserve in Peninsular Malaysia (Wadey et al. 2014).

Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals: 2499 Continuing decline of mature individuals: Yes
Population severely fragmented: Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Very little is known about this species, and the available information suggest that, like its close relative the fishing cat, the Flat-headed Cat is strongly associated with wetlands and preys primarily on fish. Stomach contents of two dead animals contained mostly fish, and also shrimp shells. They may also take birds and small rodents, and have been reported to prey on domestic poultry (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Most records for the Flat-headed Cat are from swampy areas, lakes and streams, and riverine forest (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Yasuda et al. 2007). They also occur in peat-swamp forest (Bezuijen 2000), and have been observed in secondary forest (Bezuijen 2000, Bezuijen 2003, Meijaard et al. 2005, Mohamed et al. 2009). All published observations of live animals have taken place at night or early morning, near water (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Bezuijen 2000, Bezuijen 2003, Meijaard et al. 2005, Yasuda et al. 2007). Over 80% of the records gathered by Wilting et al. (2010) were from elevations below 100 m asl, and over 70 % were recorded within a distance of three km to larger water sources.

The Flat-headed Cat takes its name from its unusually long, sloping snout and flattened skull roof, with small ears set well down the sides of its head. It has large, close-set eyes, and relatively longer and sharper teeth than its close relatives. Its claws do not fully retract into their shortened sheaths, and its toes are more completely webbed than the Fishing Cat's, with long narrow foot pads. Muul and Lim (1970), commenting on the cat's feet and other features, termed it the ecological counterpart of a semi-aquatic mustelid.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat: Yes
Generation Length (years): 6

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: E. Bennett (in Sunquist and Sunquist 2002) reported that skins were frequently seen in longhouses in the interior of Sarawak, Malaysia.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Wetland and lowland forest destruction and degradation is the primary threat faced by the species (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Wilting et al. 2010). Causes of this destruction include human settlement, forest transformation to plantations, draining for agriculture, pollution, and excessive hunting, wood-cutting and fishing. In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the past decade has been rapid in Tropical Asia. 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 (Wilting et al. 2010). Trapping, snaring and poisoning are also threats: E. Bennett (in Sunquist and Sunquist 2002) reported that skins were frequently seen in longhouses in the interior of Sarawak, and the Flat-headed Cat has been captured in traps set out to protect domestic fowl (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Included on CITES Appendix I. The species is fully protected by national legislation over most parts of its range, with hunting and trade prohibited in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand (Nowell and Jackson 1996). It is currently not protected by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1984 in Brunei Darussalam. Wilting et al. (2010) and Wilting et al. (in revision) provide details about areas where this species has been recorded and also suggested key sites which should receive conservation priority. However, currently any further information about the status of any Flat-headed Cat population (population sizes and trends) is missing.

Citation: Wilting, A., Brodie, J., Cheyne, S., Hearn, A., Lynam, A., Mathai, J., McCarthy, J., Meijaard, E., Mohamed, A., Ross, J., Sunarto, S. & Traeholt, C. 2015. Prionailurus planiceps. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T18148A50662095. . Downloaded on 10 October 2015.
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