I had just finished a pleasant—no, horrible—5k on the most hated machine of any oarswoman/man, the erg, when my phone started lighting up like a malfunctioning Christmas light.
It was fellow GWC associate conservation scientist and Small Cat Advocacy & Research (SCAR) co-founder Ashan on the other end, informing me about a kitten that was found by someone in Colombo, and that the individual in question was asking the Facebook community for advice. Oh, God! He said that judging by the photographs posted online, it seemed to be a Fishing Cat kitten.
Without a second thought, and thankful for the distraction, I started the tedious task of searching for this post on my spastic phone, and after several minutes found what I was looking for. It WAS a Fishing Cat kitten, but it looked a bit weak. The person who found the kitten, let’s call her X for the sake of this story, had mentioned in the post’s caption that she wasn’t sure what the kitten was and that it was refusing to drink milk.
Scrolling through the comments I noticed that some people had identified the kitten as a wild cat, and despite this, others had asked that the kitten be handed over to them as they would like to have it as a pet. I also saw some comments directing X to call the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and us. This made me particularly happy, as it showed that all the awareness building we were doing was paying off. Now it was just a matter of time before X would reach out to us, but just in case I sent her a message as well.
My phone rang about 20 minutes later, and I was greeted by a worried voice on the other end. After some verification on her end to make sure I was in fact from the project (very impressive—it showed that she didn’t want to give the kitten to just anyone), she started updating me on what happened.
The kitten was found the night before in the middle of the road, when X was turning into her street after work. She took it home and tried to feed it, but it had refused to eat despite numerous desperate attempts on her end. Her only option was to keep it warm until morning. X was also worried because the kitten looked weak since it was a bit unsteady on its feet the next morning.
Without any hesitation, I got X’s details and called Dr. Tharaka, the DWC chief veterinary surgeon, and explained the situation to him. Since I was so close to the location at the time, he gave me permission to go pick the kitten up.
(I would like to mention that my team and I work very closely and very well with the DWC, especially its Veterinary Unit, and for that we are very grateful. Now, back to my story.)
With permission under my belt, I rushed over to X’s house to pick the kitten up. Driving down to the location in Borella, I was stunned at the urbanization of the area, and it instantly reminded me of Mizuchi, a Fishing Cat I know well who is thriving in an urban wetland setting—a trend that we are studying in Colombo. Judging by the environment and time at which the kitten was found, it’s possible that the mother was moving her kittens, when one slipped out of her grasp as she was running across the street. The fact that the kitten was rescued and not run over was a miracle!
I was met by X and her family, and after a brief exchange of “how do you dos” and so on, and another quick background check to make sure I was indeed the person she spoke to on the phone (again, very impressive, considering many people would fake their identity to get their hands on these kittens), X gave me all the details once again, and showed me where she found the kitten.
X then handed me a box of tissue. I panicked thinking that I had something dangling out of my nose. Taking the box from her very gingerly I noticed a large hole cut out at the top, and peering inside I saw a tiny ball of fluffy down, and suddenly, a little head poked out and went SQUEAK! For a kitten that tiny, it sure had a massive set of lungs.
Another peeved squeak emitted from inside the warm confines of the box. These were hungry squeaks. A kitten this size needed to be fed at least every three hours, and this little bean hadn’t had anything for more than 12 hours!
The drive back home seemed endless. Every traffic light seemed to turn red as we approached. It was like some sort of conspiracy! Meanwhile the bean slept in her little box amidst some soft cloth that was meant to be a crude representation of her mother. She woke up just once, and that was my fault. The fact that she was so still and quiet worried me, so I lifted her to make sure she was okay. Bad mistake. I was met with some very annoyed hungry squeaks, before she settled back down to sleep again.
Once we got home, I got my kitten-feeding instruments and formula. But before feeding her she was weighed (190g), sexed (female) and her temperature was taken (normal). Her overall outward appearance looked ok, apart from her being dehydrated, so the feedings began. Feeding a kitten that young is a painstaking and meticulous process. Everything needs to be sterile and the way the formula is mixed needs to be exact. One little mistake and you’re in trouble. Every feed must also be followed by the kitten defecating and urinating with the mother’s help (aka a good bum lick). The mother at the time was me and as much as I loved it, there was no way I was going to lick that fluffy bum. So I came prepared with my box of cotton balls and a bowl of warm water.
The bean spent a few hours with me, slowly but surely getting rehydrated and gaining her strength. When she was pottering around a lot more between meals and snoozes I decided it was time to hand her over to the DWC team.
It was a bitter sweet goodbye. I couldn’t help but get attached to her, so leaving her was hard, but I knew she was in good hands. Hopefully in a few months she’ll be roaming around in a wetland herself. The future of her species.
(Kitten photos by Anya Ratnayaka)