Habitat loss: Cat varieties come under threat

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Habitat loss: Cat varieties come under threat

Friday, 30 November 2018 | NADIYA CHAND KANUNGO

There are six types of cats in Odisha out of 16 types found in India.

In the whole world, there is no country, where such great variety of cats is seen, which proves that the climate of India as well as Odisha is very favourable for such species.

All the cats of the globe are carnivores. Profuse prey animals are available for them. But due to constant depletion of habitats and prey animals, the number of cats is reducing very fast. Similarly, our conservation policy is so poor and ineffective that there are certain varieties of cats which are either completely extinct or on verge of extinction.

The Royal Bengal Tiger (RBT) is one of them. The tiger has a wide range of habitats. The Indian race of tiger is found throughout India from the Himalayas to the Cape of Comorian.

But tiger is not found in deserts of Rajasthan. It can thrive in Himalayan snow at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

In Odisha, all types of tropical forests are favourable for the big cat. Because of sufficient prey animals, with water and wide range of resting grounds, the tigers flourish in India. However, due to destruction of forest cover throughout the State for extraction of minerals and establishment of industries, the habitat of tiger is under threat. The situation has gone worse in Odisha.

A complete ban on tiger shooting was imposed throughout the country in 1980. However, the unrestricted poaching and hunting of tigers has not been brought under control. Nine tiger reserves cum sanctuaries were established in the country for preservation and conservation of Indian race. The Similipal Tiger Project is one of them.

The leopard is also a cat. It is two feet in length. The tail is half of the length of the total body. The body colour and marking of the leopard are as good as that of a panther, but in size it is very small. The whole body is almost yellowish above, but white bellow. Recently, these cats were sighted in the Ghatagaon forest of Keonjhar and Chandaka forest of Khordha.

They were kept in the Nandankanan zoological park for exhibiting to the visitors of the zoo.

In the animal world, the cats are very cunning animals with powerful jaws. The writer during his service period saw leopards in Keonjhar and Similipal forests. Such hill forests are best suited to the cat families. There is an allied species of leopard cat, known as rusty spotted cat, generally found in southern and northern India; that is in western Ghat and Himalayan regions.

There is another cat found in Odisha forests which is known as fishing cat. Its size is about 3feet.

The weight of the cat varies from 11 kg to 15 kg. The fishing cat is much larger than the leopard cat and its tail is much shorter than the tail leopard. The total length of the tail of fishing cat is half of the total body of leopard cat. Its body is covered with short course of earth grey fur with a series of elongated spots.

The fishing cat inhabits within forest land up to an altitude of 5,000feet in the Himalayan areas. It generally prefers to live in swampy mountain lands and other such lands at the base of the hills.

This species is seen in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and other parts of India. Its habitats extend up to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indo-China countries. It is seen in the vicinity of Chilika lake.

It preys on all types of animals, birds and fishes. Its art of killing animal, birds and fish is applying a blow on the head of the preys through its paw like other cats. It also kills calves, sheep, dogs and sometimes the local children.

This can also kill leopards twice its size. It feeds on fishes and mollusks. The breeding period of this cat is June, and one or two kitten are produced at a time. Very little is known about its preying fishes from water bodies and wetlands.

Besides above three types of cats, there are other two types of cats in our State. One is panther or leopard and other is jungle cat.

Natural surroundings are required for existence of these five species.

Once upon a time the lion was living in Odisha forests. Due to hunting of lions by the royal members, the stock of lions was exhausted. Now only residual stock is available in Gir forests of Gujarat. Thanks to the then Raja Saheb of Junagarh of Gujarat, such residual stock is found. The shooting of lion was once a pride for royal members of the country and also for English administrators of British rules in India.

No person other than those could shoot a lion, which was prohibited. So the stock of lion of our country was exhausted very fast. Similarly, the position of Cheetah or hunting leopard is also similar in our State and country. This cat species has completely vanished from our land due to indiscriminate poaching and hunting for its prizeful hides. Such a beautiful animal, which is fastest among animals, is ruthlessly hunted to fulfill the human greed. This species now exists only in Africa. This has to be re-introduced in the Indian forests. It has vanished from Odisha forests long since.

Its brother is panther or leopard. The average length of animal is 7feet, but the length of the male is always greater than the female.

The average weight of the animal is about 70kg. This species is found all over the country and also in Baluchisthan, Sikim and Nepal.

Panther kills and eats anything. It preys on cattle, deer, monkey and rodents. It is very fond of hunting porcupines. It also eats birds, crabs and reptiles. It does not kill big animals like Sambar, stag and Nilgai or wild boar, but eats them if killed by tiger. Its chief enemies are tiger, wild dogs and hyenas. Sometimes it becomes a ‘man eater.’

It has a special quality to shrink its body to pass on through a very narrow slit, and to hunt its prey. Recently one leopard entered into the Delhi secretariat and created havoc. This animal is hunted very much for its skin.

The jungle cat or wild cat exists in natural forests. It is quite a non-harmful animal just like domestic cat. Its protection is needed for keeping control over population of harmful rodents.

(The writer is a former forest officer and environmentalist. Email: nadiya.kanungo@gmail.com , M-9937460649)

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