This library in Andhra Pradesh can save the elusive fishing cat

In Pallepalem, a small fishing village near Chirala in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, children are the ambassadors of a little known wild cat species — the fishing cat.

Here, creative young minds make their own versions of the fishing cats on canvases, and immerse themselves in a compact library filled with books on animals and birds. The library is one of the initiatives of the Children for Fishing Cat project, part of the Godavari Fishing Cat Project. which focusses on community-based conservation of this in the coastal habitats of the region.

This library in Andhra Pradesh can save the elusive fishing cat

Andhra Pradesh is one of the few states in India that still supports a healthy population of the fishing cat, listed as a vulnerable species under the IUCN Red List: The last census in 2018 recorded 115 of them in Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII-Dehradun) in association with the AP State Forest Department has initiated a collaring project at the sanctuary this month to look at the species estimate (census) and study how it is surviving in the sanctuary.

This shy animal weighs a maximum of 15 kilograms and is bigger than a domestic cat. It has a voracious palate for a fish-dominated diet. It is also one of the few felid species that can easily wade through water and survive in wet landscapes. Famously elusive, fishing cats are nocturnal. They have webbing between their toes that helps to catch fish efficiently, which makes them a top predator in mangroves, grasslands and marshes. However, this world is rapidly shrinking.

The enigmatic predator
  • Fishing cats are scattered along the Eastern Ghats.
  • They abound in estuarine floodplains, tidal mangrove forests and also inland freshwater habitats.
  • Apart from Sundarbans in West Bengal and Bangladesh, fishing cats inhabit the Chilika lagoon and the surrounding wetlands in Odisha, Coringa and Krishna mangroves in Andhra Pradesh.

The fishing cat is usually found in two types of habitat in a wetland: mangroves and marshes. But nearly 50% of the Asian wetlands are in moderate to high degree of threat. Godavari mangroves, which are of global importance with species like Ceriops decandra and Brownlowia tersa as well as almost 264 species of birds, are subjected to encroachment from aquaculture ponds and coastal erosion.

With support from the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation (SWCCF), Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance (FCCA), MbZ Species Conservation Fund and Panthera Small Cats Action Fund, the project seeks to conserve this wild animal, as well as the mangroves of Andhra Pradesh. (Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to another charismatic species of wetlands — the smooth coated otter which is also threatened due to water pollution and loss of habitat.) “One of the most important stakeholders of our initiative are the children belonging to the local communities. We aim to improve conservation by raising awareness about their global importance and habitats. We believe the easiest way to achieve this is by targeting the small children of the local fishing community, as they are highly receptive and can become good ambassadors,” says Giridhar Malla, a member of the Children For Fishing Cat project. “Our aim is to raise awareness and develop a sense of ownership among the local kids of a globally important species that lives just behind their backyards,” he adds.

This library in Andhra Pradesh can save the elusive fishing cat

The library, set up last year in November, has around 1,500 books and is located at a Government centre in the fishing village. “The need for accessible Nature education for the local communities perhaps increased manifold after the pandemic struck. This led us to establishing a library for the children in Pallepalem, with support from the local communities and leaders,” says Giridhar. The project initiatives include a board game Cat in the Creek, which Giridhar says was well-received and kept the children entertained through lockdown from March to May 2020. The books, Fishing Cat! Fishing Cat! What Are You Doing? and Moon And The Little Fishing Cat, written by Paromita Ray and illustrated by Giridhar Malla, explain how everything in Nature is connected. “Additionally, it is also important to raise greater awareness among the coastal communities about the impact of sea-level rise and climate change on their lives and livelihoods,” says Paromita, the author of the book.

“Since 2015, we have reached out to several children who live around the mangrove forests. Our surveys through these years suggest that the attitude of the local communities towards fishing cat conservation and mangrove protection varies across the State,” says Giridhar. He says there has been a marked change in the children’s mindsets, adding “Some of the drawings and paintings of mangroves and fishing cats which they created during the awareness drives are displayed in their homes.”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 12:25:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/this-library-in-andhra-pradesh-can-save-the-elusive-fishing-cat/article37702200.ece

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