Thursday, Jul 07, 2022
Outlook.com

A Tiger Without Enemies

Bengal’s fishing cat and its habitat in the wetlands are endangered. Activists sing of their symbiotic beauty.

A Tiger Without Enemies Photograph by Partha Dey

Hooghly district, West Bengal. Eve­n­ing is descending over a large marshy lake that stretches from the edge of a cluster of villages for a few square kilometres to the opposite bank, overgrown in this rainy season with a coarse grass called hogla. This indigenous plant once cove­red the district, giving it its name. And the thi­ckets it formed was the natural habitat of a wild feline, the ‘fishing cat’, now on the verge of extinction.

Though not known to attack humans, this less celebrated cousin of the redoubtable Royal Bengal Tiger clearly inspired enough awe for locals to refer to it as a ‘tiger’—from the commonest maach baagha (literally, ‘fishing tiger’) to the rarer baaghrol. Yet, over generations, it lost ground—poached, hacked to death, chased out, their habitats encr­oached upon and destroyed through unchecked, aggressive industrialisation. Since the past decade, this species, of the Prionailurus viverrinus genus, which does not have any predatory enemies in nat­­ure, has been designated ‘vulnerable’ by international wildlife conservationists IUCN (Inter­na­tional Union for Conservation of Nature).

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