The Adventure of a Lucky Young Leopard Cat

Last April, we received a wildlife SOS call from the Bunong village of Putru. the villagers sought our help for a young Leopard kitten – who was found lingering by her mother who had been killed in a deadly deer snare.  The villagers, who could find no use with such a small cat, had kept the orphan as a pet.

A Leopard cat may seem cute and harmless, but it is actually about 4 times more powerful and faster than a house cat. One of the main reasons the community village were keen to part ways with the cat was due to her wild tendency to kill chickens anytime they let her run around the village.

the L.E.A.F negotiated a deal to get the cat out of her small cage and bring her for rehabilitation at the Mondulkiri sanctuary where it would hopefully learn how to to hunt, fish and be able to roam wild once again.

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The baby leopard kitten rescue by L.E.A.F

This morning I – Noah – found the furry visitor in front of my hut. She first caught my attention when some nearby high grass started to shake ­– and out came the kitten, hopping and frolicking.

Despite being aged less than four months old, the big eyed kitten has already lived through tough times: Losing her mother to poachers & being caged in captivity.

There are concerns that arise in the process of  reintegrating a young animal into the wild. Firstly, we were unsure whether the cat’s mother had passed on the necessary survival skills for the cat to become self sufficient in the unforgiving jungle. Can the young feline protect itself from predators without knowing about territorial rules? Will it be able to communicate with its own species? Will it be able to mate? And most importantly, will the leopard cat be able to feed itself?

We started  her rehabilitation on supplementary feeding, leaving fish in different spots by the river in the sanctuary. At first, the cat would make a daily visit into the kitchen area around sunset in search of food. Positive signs were seen when these visits became less frequent. I was the most happy when I saw her successfully hunt three lizards, a mouse and a big beetle.

 

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The wild cat pounced – tongue out – on a big flying beetle.

Another main issue with the reintroduction process is the constant human contact the cat received at the village. The majority of people will agree that this is an extremely cute cat, but cuddling and holding disrupts its development. In a perfect world, wild animals should run and hide long before a human comes close to seeing them. Associating humans with food not only creates a reliance for the animals, but it also facilitates the job of ruthless poachers searching for income. The first few days after its release, the kitten followed a group of trekkers and even went swimming with them in the sanctuary’s waterfall. It would even hop up on the table during dinner like a disobedient house cat. In order to limit human contact, we supplementary feed the cat in remote places and we prohibit people touching the cat. As time passed, we saw less and less of the cat.

These days, we very rarely spot the fishing cat anymore. The fact that she has grown considerably shows that her hunting skills seem well developed, especially since we stopped the supplementary feeding. Unlike before, she runs away from people if they get too close. The earlier video filmed from my hut’s porch showing her sniffing my lens shows that there is still work that has to be done for this semi-wild cat to be fully independent. Although seeing her more scarcely is a lovely sign that she is adapting well to her environment and is happy about her new jungle life.

Poaching is so prevalent in Cambodia that leopard cat numbers are dwindling & fishing cat s were recently feared to be extinct. Luckily, after nearly 10 years without any sightings, the first pictures and footage of the now “IUCN Endangered status” fishing cat in Cambodia were released in September 2015. Since then, there have been a greater number of sightings across the country, but Fishing Cat populations are said to be more than half of what they were 20 years ago.

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A fishing cat spotted in Cambodia in over 10 years – Fauna & Flora International/Royal University of Phnom Penh, Sept 2015. 

 

Ben: My Journey To Mondulkiri

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The thought of potentially gaining experience in conservation projects during my travels was a big incentive for me to leave Wales in direction of Southeast Asia in June 2015. My loose plan was to find different conservation projects that could benefit from my help. Sitting on my one-way flight to Bangkok I had no idea what kind of projects awaited. Fair to say, I never dreamed that come December I would be working with an up and coming conservation project in Eastern Cambodia.

The Mondulkiri Province was not originally in my travel plans, but to say I had a travel ‘plan’ is a very broad statement. I first arrived in Cambodia with very few preconceptions about what the country had to offer. My Dutch friend, Laurens, I met in Siem Reap introduced me to Mondulkiri after travelling together through the main tourist attractions in Cambodia. After experiencing the joys of Siem Reap pub street and the beauty of Serendipidy beach in Sihanoukville (if you have not had the pleasure of seeing these places, then you might not see the sarcasm), we both needed some nature to refill our batteries. As it turned out, Mondulkiri was the perfect place experience and trek through Cambodia’s magnificent forestry and turned out to be where I would find the ideal conservation project to help out.

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After visiting a few other places on the journey east we got to Mondulkiri, and just by looking out of the window of the bus I could tell that I was going to love it here. Compared to most of the other places I had been in Cambodia Mondulkiri seemed like a real oasis, with beautiful rolling hills, covered in lush green forest. Upon meeting Kim and learning about the work L.E.A.F does here in Mondulkiri to protect the forest and wildlife I was captivated and wanted to see the sanctuary and see how I could help. After doing the one day trek around the sanctuary I fell in love with the stunning forest protected by the sanctuary and, of course, the elephants. I could instantly see that Chellot and Chepril are so happy in the sanctuary and are loving the retirement that L.E.A.F has given them. After visiting the sanctuary and learning about their plans for the rescue centre I instantly wanted to help them out to achieve their vision, using my degree and experience. So after meeting and speaking at length with Sokha about his vision and how I could help to achieve it, we decided that I would come and start working as project manager/administrator in December, I was over the moon!

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After a few days in Mondulkiri I crossed the border over to Vietnam where I travelled for a month before flying to Indonesia for two months. While in Indonesia I volunteered at Cikananga rescue centre in central Java for a month, this gave me the opportunity to get some more experience at a rescue centre and really motivated me to get back to Mondulkiri and get stuck in to my new project. Following my month volunteering I travelled through almost the whole of Java over land, to Bali. After a few days travelling around Bali from west to east I ended up in Kuta, which was on the verge of being my idea of hell. In Kuta I met Noah, who shared my detest for the concrete covered drunkard playground that is Kuta. For the next couple of weeks I travelled around Bali with Noah and a few other friends, snorkeling through perfect corals in Amed, swimming with turtles in the paradise of the Gili islands and riding scooters around Lombok.

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After experiencing just a small part of what Indonesia has to offer I was on a flight to Phnom Penh buzzing with excitement to get to sanctuary and start this new chapter of my travels. After travelling for so long and having so many new experiences every day I had grown slightly tired of packing up and moving every few days and I was starting to lose the shock value of the awe-inspiring sights I was seeing. Since living in Mondulkiri I have really loved getting involved with the community in Sen Monorom; meeting new people all the time, playing football with the locals and mostly exploring the sanctuary and the other amazing places Mondulkiri has to offer. Mondulkiri definitely has a place in my heart now, it feels like home. I have really enjoyed becoming a part of the project and seeing it move forward since I started. Whether it’s talking to people about visiting the sanctuary and doing some trekking or with people running other projects to work in conjunction with us I have loved putting my people skills to good use and promoting a project I am passionate about. Leading treks around the sanctuary has also been so much fun for me, walking through the lush forests in the valley, meeting people from all around the globe and teaching them about the work we do. Also through doing this I have had the chance to be on Filipino TV, which is something I’d never thought I’d say. Also being here has allowed me to put some of my experience into practise, putting plans together for the rescue centre, seeing the first enclosure going up and, of course, working with elephants.