Hooghly district, West Bengal. Evening is descending over a large marshy lake that stretches from the edge of a cluster of villages for a few square kilometres to the opposite bank, overgrown in this rainy season with a coarse grass called hogla. This indigenous plant once covered the district, giving it its name. And the thickets it formed was the natural habitat of a wild feline, the ‘fishing cat’, now on the verge of extinction.
Though not known to attack humans, this less celebrated cousin of the redoubtable Royal Bengal Tiger clearly inspired enough awe for locals to refer to it as a ‘tiger’—from the commonest maach baagha (literally, ‘fishing tiger’) to the rarer baaghrol. Yet, over generations, it lost ground—poached, hacked to death, chased out, their habitats encroached upon and destroyed through unchecked, aggressive industrialisation. Since the past decade, this species, of the Prionailurus viverrinus genus, which does not have any predatory enemies in nature, has been designated ‘vulnerable’ by international wildlife conservationists IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).