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Endangered Fishing Cat Kittens Born In National Zoo

Mom and kittens

Electra the fishing cat and her two kittens.

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Electra and her two kittens inside a shelter. The Smithsonian National Zoo is celebrating the birth of two endangered fishing cats, marking the first time the endangered species has been successfully bred there, the zoo said.

Go forth, young one!

Fishing cat mom and kitten

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Electra pushes one of her little ones out the door. The two kittens were born on May 18 to 7-year-old mother Electra. Zookeepers expect these little guys to become valuable breeders in the future because their genes are not well represented in the captive population of fishing cats.

You're coming with me

Fishing Cat mom and kitten

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Electra carries one of her kittens about. Fishing cats are vanishing from riverbanks in their native India and Southeast Asia due to water pollution, poaching and increased shrimp farming throughout their habitat. Wild populations have been cut in half over the past 18 years, prompting the International Union for Conservation of Nature to change the species' status from vulnerable to endangered in 2008.

What is this thing?

Fishing cats and ball

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

One of the kittens ponders the existence of a red ball as mom Electra looks on. Keepers are monitoring the mother and kittens through a closed-circuit camera, allowing the family time to bond. The endangered kittens will not make their public debut until later this summer.

Kittens at play

Fishing Cat Kittens Playing

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

The two kittens play, discovering their webbed claws. Fishing cats feed on fish, frogs and aquatic birds, and they have a unique way of capturing their meals. By tapping their paws on the surface of the water, they trick prey into thinking the water ripples come from an insect. When the prey is close enough, the cat will either dive into the water after it or scoop it out using its partially webbed paw.

What's that you say?

Fishing cat kittens and mom

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Before the kitten's father, Lek, arrived at the zoo in 2011, officials planned to pair Electra with another male. The match looked good to scientists, who weigh genetic makeup, social needs, temperament and overall health before deciding upon a pairing. But Electra and the other male just weren't interested in each other.

The fishing cat growl

Fishing cats growl

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Did I say something wrong? The zoo's three adult fishing cats are taking part in a study looking at the many factors that control whether or not breeding succeeds, and how to best select breeding partners.

Laying around

fishing cat kittens with mom

(Image credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

The kittens lay around as mom looks on. "Electra will let the kittens explore only so far before she brings them back under her close watch," said animal keeper Courtney Janney. "Her maternal instincts kicked in right away, and she's proving to be a very adept and confident mother."

Live Science Staff
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