Prionailurus planiceps


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

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: 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, Eizirik et al. submitted).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered C1+2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2010
Date Assessed: 2010-02-12
Assessor/s: Wilting, A., Hearn, A., Sanderson, J., Ross, J. & Sunarto, S.
Reviewer/s: Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. & Schipper, 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. Current status distribution is limited to presence/absence data, and there are few records in comparison with sympatric small felids. Wetland destruction and degradation is the primary threat faced by the species (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Over 45% of protected wetlands and 94% of globally significant wetlands in Southeast Asia are considered threatened (Dugan 1993). 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. The depletion of fish stocks from over-fishing is prevalent and is likely to be a significant threat. Over 1.3 million ha of lowland forest are deforested annually on the island of Borneo, a rate which would result in their disappearance over the next 10-20 years (Rautner et al. 2007). Malaysia and Indonesia are the world's largest producers of palm oil (Koh and Wilcove 2007), and Southeast Asia has had the world's highest deforestation rate for years (FAO 2007). While there have been observations of Flat-headed Cats in secondary forests (Bezuijen 2000, Meijaard et al. 2005, Mohamed et al. 2009), Wilting et al. (2010) could not find any support that Flat-headed Cats 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).

Based on rates of habitat loss and the threatened status of many wetlands in its range, a continuing decline in the Flat-headed Cat population of at least 20% over the next 12 years (two generations) is likely. It is difficult to estimate population size given its patchy distribution and lack of any density estimates, but it is suspected that the effective population size could be fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, with no subpopulation having an effective population size larger than 250 (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007).
2008 Endangered
2008 Endangered (IUCN 2008)
2002 Vulnerable
1996 Vulnerable
1994 Insufficiently Known (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Indeterminate (IUCN 1990)
1988 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)

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 map is adapted from Wilting et al. (2010); this online publication includes other more detailed maps as well.
Brunei Darussalam; Indonesia (Kalimantan, Sumatera); Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak); Thailand
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, Anon 1999, 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 and leopard cats Prionailurus bengalensis, a more abundant species (Bezuijen 2003). Most of the recent records come from Sabah in north-eastern Borneo, where it can be frequently be observed along the Kinabatangan River (Wilting et al. 2010), and where it has been several times photographed by camera-traps in Deramakot Forest Reserve (Mohamed et al. 2009).

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Very little is known about this species, with only a handful of observations and camera trap records. Available information suggets 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 3 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

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 (IUCN Cats Red List workshop assessment 2007). 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 Flat-headed Cats have 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 its range, with hunting and trade prohibited in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand (Nowell and Jackson 1996). It is known to occur in Berbak (Bezuijen 2000), Way Kambas (Anon 1996), Batang Gadis (Barita pers. comm.2006) and Kerinci Seblat National Parks (M. Linkie pers. comm. 2008) in Sumatra; the Danum Valley (Hearn et al. 2007), Tabin Wildlife Reserve (Yasuda et al. 2007), Kinabatangan Willdlife Sanctuary in Sabah (Lackman-Ancrenaz and Ancrenaz 1997), Deramakot Forest Reserve (Mohamed et al. 2009), Tangkulap Forest Reserve and Maliau Basi (Wilting et al. 2010); Bukit Sarang Conservation Area (Giman pers. comm. 2006) and Loagan Bunut National Park (Wilting et al. 2010) in Sarawak; Kutai and Kayan Mentarang National Parks (Wulfraat and Samso 2000), Bukit Suharto Protection Forest and Sabangau Peat Swamp Forest (Cheyne et al. 2009) in Kalimantan; Selangor and Pahang Peat Swamp Forest in Peninsula Malaysia (Wilting et al. 2010) and the Phru Tao Dang Peat Swamp Forest protected area in southernmost Thailand (Nowell and Jackson 1996). In Brunei it has been recorded from the TasekMerimbunHeritagePark (Yasuda et al. 2007). Conservation of this species depends on adequate habitat protection, and better understanding of its ecology and status in the remaining lowland and wetland forests. Therefore species specific field surveys focusing on these wetland and lowland areas are needed.

Bibliography [top]

Anonymous. 1996. Marbled, golden and flat-heaed cats photographed in Sumatra. Cat News 25: 19-20.

Bezuijen, M. 2003. The flat-headed cat in the Merang river region of south Sumatra. Cat News 38: 26-27.

Bezuijen, M. R. 2000. The occurrence of the flat-headed cat Prionailurus planiceps in south-east Sumatra. Oryx 34: 222-226.

Cheyne, S.M., Morrogh-Bernard, H., and Macdonald, D.W. 2009. First flat-headed cat photographed in Sabangau Peat-swamp Forest, Indonesian Borneo. Cat News 51: 16.

Dugan, P. 1993. Wetlands in danger: conservation atlas. Mitchell Beazley and IUCN, London, UK.

Eizirik, E., Johnson, W. E. and O'Brien, S. J. Submitted. Molecular systematics and revised classification of the family Felidae (Mammalia, Carnivora). Journal of Mammalogy.

FAO. 2007. State of the world's forests. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, Italy.

Hearn, A. J., Ross, J., Pamin, D. and Macdonald, D. W. 2007. Factors affecting guild composition of wild felids in pristine and logged tropical forest in Sabah, Malaysia: a camera-trapping study. In: J. Hughes and R. Mercer (eds), Felid biology and conservation conference 17-20 September 2007 Abstracts, pp. 108. WildCRU, Oxford, UK.

IUCN. 2006. Guidelines for using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria (vers. 6.2). IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

IUCN. 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2010.2). Available at: (Accessed: 29 June 2010).

Johnson, W. E., Eizirik, E., Pecon-Slattery, J., Murphy, W. J., Antunes, A., Teeling, E. and O'Brien, S. J. 2006. The late miocene radiation of modern felidae: A genetic assesstment. Science 311: 73-77.

Koh, L. P. and Wilcove, D. S. 2007. Cashing in palm oil for conservation. Nature 448: 993-994.

Lackman-Ancrenaz, I. and Ancrenaz, M. 1997. The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia.

Meijaard, E., Sheil, D. and Daryono. 2005. Flat-headed cat record in east Kalimantan. Cat News 43: 24.

Mohamed, A., Samejima, H., and Wilting, A. 2009. Records of five Bornean cat species from Deramakot Forest Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. Cat News 51: 12-15.

Muul, I. and Lim, B. L. 1970. Ecological and morphological observations of Felis planiceps. Journal of Mammalogy 51(4): 806.

Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

O'Brien, S. J. and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American July: 68-75.

Rautner, M. 2005. Borneo: treasure island at risk. WWF Germany, Frankfurt, Germany.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press.

Van Strien, N. J. 2001. Indoaustralian mammals. A taxonomic and faunistic reference and atlas. ETI, Amsterdam.

Wilting, A., Cord, A., Hearn, A.J., Hesse, D., Mohamed, A., Traeholdt, C., Cheyne, S.M., Sunarto, S., Mohd-Azlan, J., Ross, J., Shapiro, A., Sebastian, A., Dech, S., Breitenmoser, C., Sanderson, J., Duckworth, J.W., and Hofer, H. 2010. Modelling the species distribution of flat-headed cats (Prionailurus planiceps), an endangered South-East Asian small felid. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9612. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009612.

Wulfraat, S. and Samsu. 2000. An overview of the biodiversity of Kayan Mentarang National Park. WWF, Jakarta.

Yasuda, M., Matsubayashi, H., Rustam, Numata, S., Sukor, J. R. A. and Abu Bakar, S. 2007. Recent records by camera traps in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo. Cat News 47: 14-16.

Citation: Wilting, A., Hearn, A., Sanderson, J., Ross, J. & Sunarto, S. 2010. Prionailurus planiceps. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <>. Downloaded on 19 April 2014.
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