Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 15251449
Towards legal protection for the endangered Fishing Cat through Community Reserve (IUCN Protected Area Category IV), suburban Calcuttta, West Bengal
As mentioned in the project proposal submitted to the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, work was started in 6 villages of Howrah district. However, due to a past of the team’s conservation efforts in the area, the project was fortunate to expand it’s ambit to a unit of 18 villages (instead of 6), for facilitating the safeguarding of the Fishing Cat (Endangered (IUCN, 2010), Schedule I (WLPA, 1972)). The aim of the facilitation is a legal recognition of the community conserved area as owned and conserved by its people.
We encountered the following conservation issues through this experience:
1) the legal authority for protecting wildlife in India is the Forest Department. It is majorly trained to manage protected areas and wildlife in and around. Lack of adequate conservation measures for the Fishing Cat in such landscapes betrays the plight of smaller, yet threatened wildlife. They remain mostly overshadowed by megafauna in conservation prioritization. In addition, the sole department for wildlife conservation has inadequate infrastructural presence in human-modified/dominated landscapes.
2) local people of the 18 villages equated the globally endangered Fishing Cat with lesser threatened and often more commonly found widlife like the Palm Civet or Jungle Cat. They were mostly unaware of the fact that the Fishing Cat is also the State Animal of West Bengal. In other words, the species is common in this locality but grossly undervalued.
3) the rural administrative infrastructure (in this case, the three-tier panchayat system in Howrah) which consists of elected representatives, lacked an understanding of legal provisions within India, which gives them the scope for collaborating for conservation.
Activies and experience so far
These 18 villages cover an area of approximately 30 sq kilometre and and consists of around 7800 bighas of marshland (7.5 bigha = 1 hectare), criss-crossed by river-canals, dotted with fish ponds, along with paddy and vegetable fields, orchards and human habitation.
The total human population of the proposed site is 39720 (Block Development Office, Howrah. Majority of the population consists of reed cultivators and reed cutting labourers, connected to this livelihood for generations, along with fishermen, small-scale farmers and migrating workers.
The landscape is thus a mosaic of different land-uses, people connected to these land-uses through their occupation or otherwise. These people and the land-use is governed through elected representatives with different responsibilities in multiple tiers of administration, government officials of various departments like administration, fisheries, agriculture, land etc. However, the Forest Department, with its minimal presence in such landscapes remain the sole authority to give legal protection to wildlife occurring in this landscape of multi-layered mosaic. Under such circumstances, the future of the Fishing Cat, will depend on the attitudes of multiple stakeholders and their responsible participation in its conseration.
Our goal is to influence the attitudes of the multiple stakeholders, such that a “pride value” for the Fishing Cat is created and a sense of pride in their coexistence with the State Animal of West Bengal is instilled. In this context, a Biodiversity Heritage Site (BHS) for the Fishing Cat under the Indian Biological Diversity Act, 2002, is a better option within the structure of the existing legal framework. It has provisions for recognizing the representation and participation of multiple stakeholders. It also gives the stakeholders autonomy such that the conservation effort of the cat is bottom-up in spirit and inclusive in general.
By definition BHS are well defined areas that are unique, ecologically fragile ecosystems – terrestrial, coastal and inland waters..............presence of a rare and threatened species.......and having significant cultural, ethical or aesthetic values and are important for the maintenance of cultural diversity, with or without a long history of human association with them.” The characteristic features of a BHS could be 1) areas that contain a mosaic of natural, semi-natural, and man-made habitats, which together contain a significant diversity of life forms, 2) representative agro-ecosystems with ongoing
agricultural practices that sustain this diversity 3) that offer refuge or corridors for threatened and endemic fauna and flora, such as community conserved areas or urban greens and wetlands 4) all legal land uses whether government, community or private land could be considered 5) as far as possible those sites may be considered which are not covered under Protected Area network under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (Section 4, Criteria a, b, d, e and f, Guidelines for the selection and management of Biodiversity Heritage Site, (http://nbaindia.org/uploaded/ut/Final%20BHS%20guidelines%20approved%20in%20the%2019th%20Authority.pdf , accessed on 10th March, 2016) under the National Biodiversity Authority (a central, statutory and legal body) formed under the Indian Biological Diversity Act, 2002 after the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). One can visualize the BHS as a legally recognised Key Biodiversity Area (IUCN). Hence our activities for the past one year was to engage with and create awareness among the different and multiple stakeholders.
Map 1: Location of the proposed Biodiversity Heritage Site for Fishing Cat conservation
Name of Name of Mouza
Area (in acres)
Area of marshland (in bighas)
Table 2: Details of area under each Mouza with marshland in bighas
The 18 villages falls under 4 Gram Panchayat of Amta Block II, Howrah district. A Gram Panchayat is the administrative tier comprising a number of villages. A number of gram panchayats form the second tier of administration – panchayat samity or block. Finally all panchayat samities/blocks constitute the third tier of administration which is the local government body or the zilla parishad.
State (West Bengal) à District (Howrah) à Block (Amta II) à Village (details mentioned in table below).
Name of Gram Panchayat
Name of Mouza
Name of Village
Bankura, Shitalchak, Sarda, Kushberia
Kushberia, Kachida, Chak Srirampore, Tegechia (Kushberia Mouza), Sarda (Sarda Mouza), Bankura (Bankura Mouza), Shitalchak, Panchsheela (Shitalchak Mouza)
Tajpur, Mahishamuri, Sirol, Narit
Tajpur (Tajpur Mouza), Mahishamuri (Mahishamuri Mouza), Sirol, Norit (Narit Mouza)
Jhamtia, Khajurdaha, Kamargaria
Jhamtia (Jhamtia Mouza), Khajurdaha (Khajurdaha Mouza), Kamargaria (Kamargaria Mouza)
Paschim Gazipur, Bargazipur, Kalbansh
Paschim Gazipur (Gazipur), Bargazipur (Gazipur), Kalbansh (Kalbansh)
Table 1: 4 gram panchayats comprising 15 mouzas consisting of 18 villages
We collaborated with this local constituency, local clubs, groups of villagers through meetings at each level to create a multi-departmental, multi-stakeholder conservation venture. 40,000 leaflets, 10,000 posters, 200 banners, 4000 brochures were distributed and the aural (bike
campaigns) and visual media (a short ad film for television) was used to propagate the spirit of conservation by these different stakeholders.
The Howrah Zilla Parishad as a successful culmination of our collaboration has passed an official resolution in its bi-annual meet to form Fishing Cat Protection Committees in all the 157 Gram Panchayats of the district (1467 sq km). In this context, the formation of 4 Fishing Cat Protection Committees in 4 Gram Panchayats – Kushberia, Tajpur, Jhamtia, Gazipur (our proposed BHS site), are the first ones to have their individual Fishing Cat Protection Committees, under which the proposed villages are administered. Our committees have a minimum of 33% women representatives, 10% Schedule Caste/ Schedule Tribes and the rest are general.
Local clubs and local non-government organisations took up conservation drills in their respective areas and the process is on-going. Additionally, they were given digital cameras to record biodiversity in their areas with a special focus on documenting and preventing poaching of the Fishing Cat. A link to a rare video footage of a female Fishing Cat, taken by such a club (Kamargaria) is given (https://vimeo.com/150369655). It is one of the first such video footage of the Fishing Cat documented from human habitation. This helped in generating an attachment of people with their surrounding environment.
Moreover, for creating awareness about the Fishing Cat among school children, a program was held in a local high-school, the Tajpur M.N. Roy High School, during the Wildlife Week of West Bengal. It was convened by the Howrah Zilla Parishad and the West Bengal Forest Department. A meeting was then held with school teachers of all secondary and higher secondary schools in the area to conceptualize projects in schools on the research and conservation of the Fishing Cat.
A Biodiversity Monitoring Committee has been formed in Amta Block II under the provisions of the State Biodiversity Board. A proposal is being prepared by this committee to send to the West Bengal State Biodiversity Board for legal recognition of the 18 villages as a BHS.
Our campaign for arresting 5 Fishing Cat poachers yielded victory on the third day itself with 5000 petitioners from over 48 countries. The poachers face imprisonment of a minimum of 3 years and a penalty of 10,000 INR under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. We used online campaign tools and social media like Facebook, Twitter etc for this.
Project 15251449 location - India, Asia