February is the second month of the year, the shortest month of the year…and did you know that it is the month of the…fish tiger?
Fishing Cats—called Machbagha (Mach=fish, Bagha=tiger-like) in parts of West Bengal—are neighbors to a few civilizations around the world that have thrived in the laps of the mighty rivers of South and Southeast Asia. My colleague Vanessa Herranz Munro at the Cambodian Fishing Cat Project describes how the Fishing Cat is depicted in the relic structures of an ancient civilization on the floodplains of the mighty Mekong.
This fish-loving felid of West Bengal, which is nourished by the Gangetic floodplains, was chosen as its state animal, perhaps to represent the fish-loving people of this landscape. Except that the average person has no clue!
So in February, we called for a celebration.
And what could be better than to celebrate with the exuberance, passion and vigor that only youth can bring!?
After a discussion with Fishing Cat Project team, we felt that the time was perfect for a Fishing Cat Youth Camp in the theme of “Come Know your State Animal.” With Science. For Conservation.
A simple call on social media, inviting undergraduate and post-graduate students of the life sciences to apply for our camp, got an enthusiastic response—in just three days we had 46 students apply to participate.
Our objectives were to introduce them to the world of Fishing Cat—the ecosystem that they represent, the threats from ‘development’ primarily, and a growing intolerance as humans and Fishing Cat are pushed together beyond an equilibrium.
The camp ended with a visit to the field where the participants were trained on camera trapping by our very enthusiastic cohort of pre-teens who call themselves ‘The Fishing Cat Protectors’ and implement the ‘Know Thy Neighbors’ program with heart and soul. ‘Know Thy Neighbors’ is a camera trapping exercise conducted by enthusiastic locals to monitor Fishing Cats in their backyard.
The camp was supposed to be held until 6, but stretched way beyond 7:30 p.m. As the interactions ended and the participants departed, our team’s primary question for the next couple of days was whether we were able to make a dent.
In many ways we were –two colleges now want to collaborate with the project and take part in research-based-conservation.
But would this be enough?
Given the pressures of a growing consumptive society, we’re always worried as conservationists and trying to find ways to connect with the like-minded and to catalyze a movement to conserve.
So while February left us with many prospects of increasing the size of the Fishing Cat community, we wondered what we could do to capitalize on the momentum.
Our team got together again, and after brainstorming, we decided to do what philosophers had suggested time and again–Resort To Art.
We marked the end of February with the beginning of what we hope will develop into a movement – Graffiti for Conservation—aimed at individuals of Calcutta who are considering buying apartments in the outskirts of the city that are largely being built by filling wetlands. Unknowingly their choices are turning their state animal’s homes into graveyards. Would they do it still? We and our partners in this graffiti series, including Kolkata Architecture Foundation, would like to think these efforts will create a discussion about consumerism.
We could still turn this around, we still have time. That’s what our team felt as the moon on the last day of February slowly merged with the pinkish cheeks of a young March morning.
We thank Wildlife Trust of India and David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation for their strong support of the cause.
So folks, don’t forget to celebrate Fishing Cat February next year!
Meanwhile, camera traps in the Mahanadi floodplains are busy. Our colleagues there are excited. Keep an eye out for updates in our next blog.