Search Is on for Endangered Javan Fishing Cat

A research team gathers the funding to find out whether or not the expert swimmer and angler still exists on the Indonesian island.

<p>Getty Images/Belinda Wright</p>

A team of researchers has crowdfunded a new survey on the island of Java to determine the status of an animal that has not been assessed since the late 1990s and may not even be among us anymore: the Javan fishing cat.

Biologist Anthony Giordano has raised the cash to find out more about what he and his project team called "probably the most endangered cat in the world."

RELATED: Rare Arabian Sand Cat Spotted

Fishing cats -- native to South and Southeast Asia -- are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but no one has taken stock of the animal on the species' southernmost habitat of Java in more than two decades.

During the mid-1990s, fishing cats were seen in a number of locations on the western half of the island. But, calls since then to consider the animal "critically endangered" have gone unheeded, according to the project team.

"Given that during this time Java's coastal ecosystems and wetlands have suffered dramatic changes due to intensive development and a soaring human population," they wrote in their funding package, "it is imperative that the status of the Javan fishing cat be re-assessed."

RELATED: Dwindling Prey Bad News for Big Cats

Fishing cats are short-legged, muscular felines, about double the size of a domestic cat. They're accomplished swimmers that can even go underwater. Most of their diet is fish, though they'll also eat animals such as snakes, birds and small rodents.

True to their name, they fish from river banks and in the water itself, pulling out of the stream whatever swims close enough to their somewhat webbed paws.

RELATED: Top 10 Camera Trap Wildlife Photos

Is the fishing cat still on Java or have development and poaching taken the last of them?

Giordano sounded a hopeful to Newscientist: "It's a small cat, but don't tell the fishing cat that," he told the site. "It's a really badass cat. They're not to be trifled with. They're also adaptable."

According to the funding plan, Giordano and his team will speak with communities in western Java, to see if people there still see the cat and to study any records that may exist. They'll also distribute brochures to local residents to raise awareness about the animal and to ask for their help spotting them.

Shown are "clear" fishing cat tracks, according to the new survey team. "Fishing cat tracks are fairly distinctive," Giordanon told Newscientist. "There's very little you can confuse it with particularly on an island like Java." Credit: Javan Fishing Cat Survey/

Depending upon what they hear, they'll attempt to capture evidence of the cats, such as tracks, in key spots on the island.

"Our primary goal," the team wrote, "is to use the information we collect to assess the Javan fishing cat's status, and inform the Indonesian government and conservation community as to immediate conservation actions needed."

Hat tip: Newscientist

WATCH VIDEO: Why Your Cute Cat Is Still A Vicious Killer