Author: Bittu Sahgal
Photo:Shivang Mehta/Abhilasha Yadav/Government of Uttar Pradesh/Uniques.
None of the models that grace the catwalks of Paris, New York, or Milan come close to matching the grace of the felines that sashay elegantly through wild homes fashioned for them by nature. The catwalk you see here is a mile-long track in Uttar Pradesh’s terai, which the ancestors of the fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus pair have been walking before we humans came on the scene.
Going back in time, we see that all cats large and small evolved from a common felid ancestor something like 10.8 million years ago. Around 6.2 million years ago, the smaller cats branched off to give rise to some of the stunning ‘lesser’ cats we still see in India such as the Asian leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus, Pallas’s cat Otocolobus manul, fishing cat, jungle cat Felis chaus, Indian Desert Cat Felis silvestris ornata and the familiar domestic cat Felis catus (which was delivered to us by nature some 3.4 million years ago; later hybridised).
At this point, I’m sure, most politicians, planners and economists have turned the page. They might have lingered longer if they knew how the fate of the millions who repose trust in them is linked to lessons hidden in the antiquity of these cats. The Scientific American explains why: “When sea levels were low, land bridges connected continents, allowing mammals to migrate to new domains. When sea levels rose again, animals on the continents were isolated once more.”
Slow climatic changes, unfolding over thousands of years, caused the isolation of animals that then evolved into new species through a process called speciation. Things are different today. By comparison, we humans are heating the planet in a relative wink of an eye… just a few hundred years. Consequently, between rising seas and climate oscillations, species are being denied the time to adapt to changing circumstances. This (coupled with our abysmal lack of planet-management) is what Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer...