It’s as usual been a while, but it’s not my fault, really. The weather has been gloomy and it’s raining constantly. Rain = sleepiness and laziness. It does not equal blog post writing.
Anyway, the monsoon winds blew Fiona Fern in all the way from London. Fiona is a visiting researcher from England, who has worked with fishing cat and other small cats at The Aspinall Foundation, Port Lympne. Working with her on my project has been a blast! We’ve been corresponding over email for a while, and she finally landed here for three months.
To my absolute delight, she and I got on like a house on fire, from the get go. I think what really sealed the deal (well, apart from our obsession with small cats) was our love for the Conqueror Series by Conn Iggulden. Fiona’s one wish was to see a fishing cat in the wild before she left in 3 months, and that made me a bit nervous, because I work with these animals, and I have not seen one in the wild either! Do camera trap photographs count?
We spent the first day discussing how we would attack our habitat surveys, and early the next day we set out. I will admit that there was a lot of walking involved in the span of approximately three hours. We walked 12km. We also went in search of the spot where the Elibank cat was rescued. You all remember the Elibank cat right? He was found stuck in a drain at about 1.30pm, down Elibank Road on the 15th of July. The only reason he was found, was because the lady cleaning out the drain couldn’t push her broom all the way in, so when she looked inside to see what was causing the block, she was met with two large eyes and a very annoyed face!
Dr. Thulmini, one of the vets who helps us with our cats at the Department of Wildlife Conservation, was ever so kind as to give us directions, which were vague, but, a few meters down and to your left did the trick! We found the famous drain, and good grief! No wonder the creature got stuck. It was tiny. Trust a cat to get stuck in a tight space. Just because their collar bones aren’t attached to anything, gives them the impression that they are invincible!
Before heading back to our survey site we decided to grab some well deserved lunch. Yes, we also may have pigged out a wee bit. The grand meal was topped off with two slices of cake. I must say, that was the best way to regain all our strength!
Once the random torrential downpour, which came out of no where ended, and school rush simmered down, we were off once again to survey the landscape. There was a cluster of GPS locations in the area, so we decided to investigate and casually ask the residents around the area if they had seen fishing cats.
“Have you seen any fishing cats in this area?”
“Yes. I believe I have. Is this the leopard like cat that is grey and has faint spots?”
“Yup! That’s exactly what we are talking about! So you have seen them?”
“Well there is one that has a belt around it’s neck. It’s quite bizarre”
“Yes a belt. Like the one we wear. And there’s a little piece sticking out of the end, and these strange grey and black boxes on the sides”
“I’m sorry. Did you just say a belt around it’s neck?”
“You mean to tell me, that you have SEEN this cat? The cat with the belt?”
By this point I was trying VERY hard not to start jumping about. I looked at Fiona, and she looked just as excited.
“Yes. That’s exactly what I am telling you. It has even taken a giant grey gourami from this pond *points at pond*. See these flattened plants. He sits on the edge, catches the fish and takes it behind these bushes and eats it. Why. I have even seen it walking along the walls at 8am!”
Once I had recovered from my momentary lapse of sanity I began explaining who the cat was, and what we were doing with him. By this time, the owner of the house had arrived as well. He (thankfully) didn’t seem annoyed by the cat being in the vicinity. I was expecting the worst, to be honest. I mean, he stole AND ate his giant gourami! He even said that he would email me if anyone saw the cat or any other cat again.
So off we went, completely giddy with this news, and just talking about how completely fortunate we were to have come across this. We were just about to hit our next location when I got an email from the owner of the house. It had a picture of a fishing cat on their garage roof.
“Aww, Fi look. They sent us a photograph. Look at how he’s just sitting there!”
We both looked at the picture, and then I noticed the text in the body of the email. Fishing cat on roof. Now.
I nearly turned the tuk tuk around myself, and I don’t think Maduranga, one of our field assistants, has ever driven so fast in his life! Seven minutes later we get to the house, and everyone is waiting for us. We walked through the gate, turned and looked up.
There he was just sitting there, with not a care in the world. Like a fat little fluffy potato. Paws tucked under. Tail in front. Not an ounce of nervousness or agitation. He just sat there, watching us (when I mean us, I mean like six people standing 15 feet away from him), like a king. From what we learned, he was probably sitting there watching us the whole time. We just didn’t realise, since we were so focused on looking down, and who would have thought that a fishing cat would be awake at 3pm anyway.
I would like to take a moment, dear readers, to try and depict what my state of mind was at that moment.
After a good 3-4 mins, he got up, stretched, walked along the roof, hopped onto a fence, jumped down onto the wall, down again onto the road, and went under a storm drain. Fiona and I were both teary-eyed. You see, the first time I laid eyes on Mizuchi, he was fresh out of a drain. In perfect health, but emaciated and grumpy as hell. So seeing him now, was like seeing my dog after being away for a few weeks. It was a mixture of pride (this is my research animal after all), unconditional love (we bonded during the collaring) and just an overwhelming feeling of joy (my first fishing cat in the wild!!!). He had put on weight, thus the potatoish look, and looked fantastic!
I do think this cat is stalking me though, but that’s a story for another time!