Day 1 started with the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), a small/medium size felid from South and Eastern Asia. As you can guess from their name they have a penchant for feeding on fish, and will, in a very un-catlike fashion, go swimming for their food. Because of this they have evolved short ears and tails, and partially webbed feet. Aquarius (our lucky volunteer cat) turned out to be a great subject as he would happily run back and forth across the platform, with the keeper calling and feeding him on one side, before I called him back and fed him at the other. I must admit, my cat feeding skills with tongs through a fence were not great to start, and he showed me what he thought by trying to grab me through the enclosure fences. I learned my lesson, and he ran back and forth until the keeper said we should stop, for fear we would soon have a rolly polly fishing cat from all the food.
|Aquarius looking a bit startled when I visited on Day 2 to get a better picture when we weren't doing science with him|
|Jack when he did appear, but only after we had packed all our kit away|
It turns out that our platform, probably due to a snow leopard at the CST marking it, was really interesting to the cheetahs leading to them spending ages sniffing, licking, chewing and rolling all over it. After a while, the keeper decided it was best to try and focus on just one, and with a bit of coaxing (bribed with food) managed to get him to walk back and forth (the cheetah, not the keeper) over the platform a few times. With that, time was up for the day with looming clouds rapidly making it too dark to keep working. Typically Jack the jungle cat was busy climbing all over the fences...
Day 2 started bright and early (and a little damp) with a new keeper, and Yazhi, a beautiful small adult puma. She, like the rest of the big cats, was initially a bit skittish around the platform, but quickly become comfortable running around her enclosure and across the platform with some food treats. She, and the other pumas won the hearts of my colleagues who have announced they are now their favourite species of felids.
|One of the pumas looking out through the glass at the crazy scientists in the rain. Photo by Viv Allen|
From the pumas, we went onto the snow leopards. They remain one of the most gorgeous cat species (in my mind), and we were luck enough to work with the female, named Laila. If you are wondering how we picked which inidividuals to work with, it was all down to the keeper suggestions on which cats would be the most amenable to the work we were trying to do/bribery to get them to do it.
|Laila walking perfectly over the forceplates|
We then went on to work with Manzi, a very large lion weighing in at 200+kg. Due to the damp conditions when we first started he was sliding about a bit on the platform, so we extended the route he was walking and put wood chips down across the platform to take some of the mud off his feet. Soon enough he had it figured out and was happily walking about for his meaty treats.
|Manzi walking off the platform|
|Spot the tiny head|
|Tula showing of the typical Pallas cat pose of just two eyes on a ball of fluff, cautiously watching the world|
Suffice to say we didn't get any data off of her, but the disappointing end did not overshadow the great amount of success we had across the rest of our time at the WHF. We have to thank all of the keepers and personnel who helped us and accomodated us with our science. I am looking forward to seeing all of the data combined, and the resulting publication that it will inevitably lead to.