Have you ever heard of the fishing cats?

The Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a medium-sized wild cat that originated in the South and Southeast Asia. In 2016, it has been listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red list as they continue to be threatened by the destruction of their habitats.

Wildlife biologist Tiasa Adhya is one of the few who spend their days looking for signs of the rarely seen wild cat.

“Fishing cats are fascinating animals,” Adhya told The Guardian. “They have co-inhabited riverine deltas and floodplains alongside humans for centuries. Ancient cultures like the Khmer empire show evidence of fishing cats.”

Adhya is a co-founder of The Fishing Cat Project (TFCP), the world’s longest-running fishing cat research and conservation project based on Kolkata. They started their work in 2010, and since then, have given the public more insight about the animals.

The cat is about twice the size of a household one and adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. It hunts from the water’s edge and scoops out fish with its paws or dives into shallow waters.

“The fishing cat has evolved to be the top predator in its habitat,” Adhya said. “It has half-retractile claws which help it hook fish, while its partly-webbed feet enable it to have a strong grip in muddy terrain. It also has a water-resistant coat, a rudder-like tail, and other adaptations that help it swim effortlessly.”

The organization has declared the month of February as the Fishing Cat month to raise awareness of the mammal and support its conservation efforts.

In India, the fish cat is listed under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and receives the same protectin as the tiger, elephant, and other threatened fauna.

“After the fishing cat was declared the state animal of West Bengal in 2012, we worked on instilling a sense of pride and ownership in people,” Adhya added, noting that they are focusing on the conservation of fishing cats in the wetlands and mangroves of West Bengal and Odisha, states along the east coast of India.

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