Wednesday, August 4

Gritty woman who pushed boundaries to put the elusive fishing cat on Bengal’s conservation map

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Talk about conservation and the programme that comes to mind is ‘Project Tiger’. A young woman, however, has managed to successfully change that perception in Howrah, where block development offices now have hoardings with pictures of the fishing cat and the words ‘state animal’ written in bold. Fishing cats that have been killed with impunity till not so long ago are now protected, thanks to the efforts of Tiasa Adhya and her team.

Adhya is the co-founder of ‘The Fishing Cat Project’, the longest running research and conservation project on fishing cats, along with her mentor and partner Partha Dey. The duo researched human-dominated landscapes on the fishing cat since 2010, implementing conservation, coercing government and non-government organizations, and citizens, to initiate conservation movements.

It was in June 2015 that an incident highlighted the condition of fishing cats. Five persons in Howrah killed a fishing cat and one of them even uploaded the photograph of the dead animal on Facebook. “People were shocked, but not to the extent they would have been if it were a leopard or tiger,” Adhya recounted. Struck by the response, she and her team decided to run a campaign to spread awareness about the smaller cats. They put the word out on Facebook and sent e-mails to friends, colleagues and families seeking signatures on a petition. “The 5,000 signatures that we managed to gather from 48 countries garnered enough pressure to get the poachers arrested,” Adhya said.

In order to prevent a rerun, the team decided to involve the Howrah Zilla Parishad. The project successfully integrated fishing cat conservation into the three-tier panchayati administration. In collaboration with the forest department, The Fishing Cat Project released awareness films that were circulated via WhatsApp and cable channels.

“We believe in conservation becoming a societal decision. We strive to engage with people from different sections and design innovative conservation approaches. For instance, a small goat bank project was initiated by the community, in which pregnant goats were given to economically backward people on the condition that they would give away the kids to neighbours who had lost goats to fishing cats,” Adhya said.

Kushal Mukherjee of the NGO Prakriti Samsad said very little work had been done on the state animal before Adhya’s initiative. “Apart from conservation, her research work has shed light on the elusive animal. We now know about its distribution and habitats have been established through photographs. Behaviour studies are also being carried out,” he said.

A recipient of the Nari Shakti Puraskar from former President Pranab Mukherjee and the Wildlife Service Award from Sanctuary Nature Foundation for her work on fishing cats, Adhya is now a name synonymous with conservation.

Growing up in a two-storied building with no parks in the neighbourhood, her father and brother peaked her interest in animals. “Living with them helped me develop connections with the natural world,” said Adhya.

Source: Times of India

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