CATinWATER Q&A with Smithsonian National Zoo Animal Keeper Courtney Janney
A CAT WITH ATTITUDE
A lot of what we’ve learned about fishing cats so far comes from watching them in zoos, so who better to speak with to get the lowdown on this feline’s personality than Smithsonian National Zoo animal keeper Courtney Janney? She takes care of the small cat exhibit at the zoo. As you’ll quickly learn from Janney, the fishing cat might be short on size, but not on attitude.
Q: How would you describe the “personality” of a fishing cat?
A: They are full of piss and vinegar! What the fishing cat lacks in size he totally makes up for in attitude. I would rather be stuck in a pen with some of our bigger cats than with a fishing cat! You see a lot of hissing, lunging at the mesh, hair standing on end etc. We practice “protected contact” with our cats – which means never going in with them. (umm we can’t wait to meet one in the wild!)
Q: Since you spend a lot of time working with and observing fishing cats, why do you think they are able to survive as they do in Thailand by the edges of villages?
A: It doesn’t surprise me that as people encroach into their habitat, the cats would adapt to a suburban lifestyle… Fishing cats are sort of Asia’s bobcat –so I can see them being similarly adaptable. While they are well adapted to life around water, they are carnivores and will eat birds, rodents or any other small mammal with whom they might come in contact. They are also good at hiding in plain sight!
Q: What does a fishing cat smell like?
A: The fishing cat smell is one of the most distinct smells in the world (at least to me). If I have worked with the fishing cats and then go to a meeting, nobody wants to sit by me! It’s tough to describe, but it’s a very intense “tom cat” type smell – but both males and females smell the same way!
Q: What do you feed the fishing cats at the zoo?
A: We feed them a beef diet with vitamins and minerals mixed in – it’s called Natural Balance. They also get cat kibble and two bones per week, which helps stimulate their gums and promote healthy teeth (less tartar). They also eat smelt,which is a 2-3 inch long fish, and rabbits (not live). Live goldfish swim in the cats’ enclosure, so they can fish any time. And Lek (the male fishing cat who recently came from Cincinnati Zoo) caught his first robin the other day! The enclosures are mesh, so anything that crawls or flies in is fair game!!
Q: How did you become interested in working with cats?
A: I have always been interested in cats. I wanted to be a big cat vet when I was about four years old!! Felines are so cool – they’ve adapted to so many different niches all throughout the world. You have social cats, solitary cats, fast cats, cats that love to climb and cats that love to swim & fish! Out of all the felids,I really love the small cats because they’re such a mystery. What makes for successful social pairings? What’s the best way to introduce them? What’s the best way to house them? There’s still so much to learn about these guys!