Field Day 14: A last day couldn’t get more epic. Hooray for fishing cats! [PHOTOS]
PHOTO/ Josh Lewis, Morgan Heim and The Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project
As amazing as this trip has been, I went into this morning fairly certain that I’d be leaving Thailand with no new photos of a fishing cat on my camera trap. Technical malfunctions, flooding, bad luck, near misses, delays, poor site choices had thwarted my every attempt to get a photo. All the while, cats were consistently photographed on multiple other research cameras at other sites.
For two nights, I’d set up my trap next to a spirit house that a fishing cat had pooped on. (Read into that what you will.) An unexpected dead camera battery meant no captures the first night. With my camera set to trigger only from late afternoon to mid-morning (as fishing cats are usually nocturnal), and no spare battery on my person, I decided to just fix the setup that afternoon. Big mistake!
When we returned, fresh tracks indicated a fishing cat had come by in the middle of the day. As we set the trap, a deluge moved in, leaving Ruj and I thoroughly soaking as we scrambled to complete the battery switch. That night, rain was so constant, even fishing cats preferred to stay in and read.
With one night left to go, I had no expectation that after all our effort, this would be the night. Our new friend Josh Lewis with nywolf.org graciously brought a spare Bushnell. We found fresh tracks and scat at one end of a fish pond on the property. With his camera over there and mine still by the spirit house, we wished everything “Chock Dee,” (Good luck), and left, with me at least thinking this would be for naught.
What a surprise when we returned for my last morning in the field. Not one, but two fishing cats had come by our cameras. Beak Gah (Crow’s Wing), the fishing cat without a collar, had literally been at the trap as we walked up. The time stamp on Beak Gah’s photo read 9:59 a.m. The photo of Ruj’s legs takes place at 10.
As we walked towards my trap, the land smelled like two cats had quite literally gotten into a pissing contest. Plumes of fishing cat markings bombarded us every few meters. In case you’re wondering, fishing cat piss smells like juniper, (yes, the juniper that so many like to plant in their front yards in Colorado). This fact has been confirmed by Namfon when she visited me in Boulder last year.
On my trap, amid a light nighttime rain, Khai Toon had visited. You can clearly see the presence of man and research in this photo, with the spirit house, KT’s collar and the chicken that Namfon and her team like to use in their camera survey efforts. This moment is a perfect example of how the cameras can work in tandem with radio collaring, indicating a cat has returned to an area after moving out of range of the radio surveying.
We are happy to know that almost a week after collaring, and going out of range, Khai Toon is well and healthy. He certainly hasn’t lost his appetite.
I dream of what I could share with you if I had more cameras and time. Until then, we couldn’t hope for a better conclusion to another amazing trip to fishing cat country.
“Long live the fishing cat!”