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.
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.
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.