Fishing for a Miracle

Endangered Fishing Cat Kitten Being Hand-Reared by Vet and Animal Care Teams

On March 31, 2018, an endangered fishing cat kitten was born by caesarian delivery at the Oklahoma City Zoo’s Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital, after his mom, Miri, surpassed her expected due date. This is the first successful cesarean delivery of a fishing cat among Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) member zoos in North America.

The gestation period for fishing cats ranges between 63 and 70 days. 11-year-old, Miri, had been pregnant for 75 days, showing no signs of progressing to give birth on her own, when the Zoo’s veterinary and carnivore teams chose to intervene in an effort to ensure that her pregnancy was viable. Although the first-time mother was closely monitored by her caretakers throughout the entire pregnancy, the risks associated with waiting for a natural birth became far too great for Miri and her kitten.

This was the first caesarian delivery of a fishing cat in the OKC Zoo’s history. The entire procedure lasted 3 hours and consisted of an ultrasound, radiographs, bloodwork, a physical exam and the caesarian delivery, which resulted in the birth of a male kitten. The kitten is the first offspring of Miri and 3-year-old Boon.

For approximately 1 hour after his birth, the kitten, weighing in at 164 grams (0.4 pounds), needed help breathing on his own. After two days in the animal hospital, the Zoo’s veterinary team confirmed that the kitten’s health was stable, and his care team transferred him to Cat Forest so that he could be introduced to mom Miri.

Unfortunately, when the kitten was placed inside with Miri, she displayed no signs of maternal care. As a result, the OKC Zoo’s veterinary and carnivore teams began the process of hand-rearing the kitten at the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.

Because hand-rearing a fishing cat kitten requires around-the-clock care, the Zoo’s veterinary and carnivore teams worked in shifts to bottle-feed the kitten every four hours. To provide the kitten comfort and warmth, his care team placed two stuffed animals, complete with his mom’s urine scent, inside his make-shift habitat. Since his birth, the kitten has gained a healthy appetite and continues to meet developmental milestones. Once he is weaned from bottle-feeding and begins consuming solid foods exclusively, his care team will continue hand-rearing him in Cat Forest next to Miri and Boon, where he can have visual and auditory access. During this time, the kitten will be off public view.

The Zoo participates in the Fishing Cat Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a planned breeding effort that promotes the survivability of this endangered species. The SSP strives to ensure a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically varied population through breeding programs among AZA-accredited zoos. This kitten is the first fishing cat born at the Zoo since 1997.

Fishing cats are solitary animals and live an average of 10 to 12 years in human care. Native to the wetlands of India and Indonesia, fishing cat populations are declining due to habitat fragmentation and destruction, excessive hunting and the exotic pet trade.

Follow the journey of the OKC Zoo’s male, fishing cat kitten on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The Zoo will share updated photos and videos as he continues to grow!

–   Dr. Gretchen Cole, OKC Zoo associate veterinarian

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