Kolkata: The recent killings of fishing cats in Uluberia’s Hafijpur were discussed in the first international fishing cat conservation symposium held at Nepal recently.

Conservationists from fishing cat range countries also devised a conservation strategy plan for the animal — the first such plan for an Asian small wild cat. As part of the plan, some fishing cats are likely to be radio-collared in Howrah, a first of its kind initiative involving the animal in the state. Howrah houses some of the last-remaining patches of fishing cat habitat in the state.

“In Bengal, we have to first find out how much marshland has been lost to urbanisation and industrialization by using geographic information system and remote sensing. Then we have plans to radio-collar a few fishing cats to understand how they use the landscape. Surveys indicate that fishermen lose fish to these animals in the four summer months when water levels fall and fish becomes easily available. Compensation schemes for the fishermen too need to be introduced,” said conservationist Tiasa Adhya, who was recently nominated for the Future for Nature award. In Howrah alone, there was a 44% decline of marsh and grassland in the last two decades. In Hooghly, the animal may have become locally extinct.

Adhya said in most of the range countries, fishing cat is poorly studied. “That’s why radio-collaring is important. Anya Ratnayaka, a conservationist who radio-collared the first fishing cat in suburban Colombo to understand their ecological adaptations, was also present at the event,” she said. According to her, in Sri Lanka, more than 50 fishing cats died in road accidents in the past two years.

Chief wildlife warden Pradip Shukla said they would include a proposal of radio-collaring fishing cats in their long-term plans to study the behaviour and habitat of lesser cats in the state.

In Asia, wetlands are being encroached upon, which results in a dip in fishing cat population in all range countries. Also, they are threatened by retaliation killing and poaching. The objectives of the first conservation strategy plan revolve around three issues, ecological, socio-cultural and policy. Participants pledged to implement planned activities in next five years. They will collaborate in developing manuals for policy makers and researchers as well as comprehensive habitat and distribution maps.

Participants included representatives from fishing cat range countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Bangladesh, as well as conservationists from USA, UK, Spain and Germany.

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Source: TOI-Kol