Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The Cat Clan at Laohu

I inherited many farm cats when we bought the 17 defunct sheep farms in Philipollis (south africa).

At Villa TigerLi, there was Mommy (I named her so because she was the source of all the other cats), her son -Mau, her daughter- Sissy, and litters after litters of all of their adorable offsprings.

At Stuart's Cottage, there was the adorable King Cheetah Cat, and a grey striped one. These two beautiful and friendly cats both sadly disappeared before I finally made my home at Laohu Valley. Fingers crossed that they found good homes who took them in.

I started my campaign to befriend the cats at Villa TigerLi asa I start making extended stay there. Mommy was relatively easy. She is a beautiful cat with colors that hint at a combination of wild african cats, blackfooted cats and ginger cats. She got a moon face with dark eye circles. She wanted interaction, even though she was scared of this new human after a long period of human absence in this house. She was more difficult to approach when she had a litter of six ginger and grey striped cute kittens, which were grabbed by the towns people who would queue up to obtain one of them.

During one stay, I enticed her in and shut her inside the house. She was surprisingly attached to me and spent the whole night with her little head sleeping purringly against mine. Since then, I was a friend to her and eventually, she accepted my whole team. When she had the most adorable litter of six kittens again, she promptly made herself home on top of a sofa at our staff's house. No amount of effort could make her stay in her maternity ward- the carton box. What surprised me most was when I went to visit her and her one week old babies, unlike other cat mothers, this ex-feral cat proudly purred when I picked her kittens up, showing them off to me! Our staff kept two of her kittens- Tiger and Nikitta. Their father must have been wild african cat -given the coloring, and the big size of these cats.

Then there is Mau, who just one day showed up at Villa TigerLi. I was told by towns people that he was living at the current staff house that we inheritated and when the last residents of the house vacated, he just walked the 6 km all the way to Villa TigerLi to find human company again. There was no need to tame him- he behaved as if he always lived inside Villa TigerLi. When our new staff moved inside their house, he promptly walked back again, since there were more company there! What a human loving cat!

Sissy was a more difficult case. She clearly wanted attention, but ran away whenever I tried to touch her or pick her up. She is the most beautiful of all-with her mothers' face and markings of blackfooted cats and a tiny size ( she most likely carries that wild blood!)..

I did succeed to get Sissy inside my house from time to time when I visited. With time she improved but felt still scared. Like her mother, she seemed to be very proliferic. Her kittens were always so pretty and wild and we could only admire them from a distance or hear them on my roof.

Last June, on my way from the airport to our reserve, I was informed by my staff gleefully that they managed to catch Sissy and neuter her the previous week, so she won't mate with the wild cats anymore to polute their genes. I sighed: wish we had a litter of kittens from her first!

I saw Sissy that evening. Interestingly she seemed to be a lot more approachable now. She did not resist when I picked her up and took her inside and like her mother, she refused to loose sight of me. She wouldn't even eat the deliciously fresh locally made biltong and dried sausage if I was not immediately next to her. She also has this intriguing habit of pushing her head against my hand or head before she eats the food as if thanking me, a trait she most likely inherited from her equally polite mother-mommy.

Next morning, while I was working on the laptop, I thought I heard some kitten's miuaos incredulously. I gimpsed this image of a cat fromm the corner of my eyes. To my amazement, it was a tiny little kitten cast in the image of Sissy! A battle ensued between me and the tiny kitten who fled to a bathroom. I had to throw a towel over her at the corner to catch her and tried to retrieve her from from the middle of the towel. She sank her sharp little teeth inside my thumb and I had to squeeze her little jaw to tear my thumb away. I finally managed to hold her tight in my blood stained towel and put her inside my huge bathroom.

Sissy came miuaoing to ask being let inside the bathroom and the kitten was certainly very pleased to be united with her mother and suckled on her. The kitten could not be more than 4 or 5 weeks old so our staff had unwittingly neutred Sissy without knowing she just had a new litter of a baby. I could only guess that Sissy, having been neutred, became friendly to me in the hope of getting human help on feeding her baby, knowing that she might or might no longer produce milk due to the neutre..

I observed the kitten, who continued the motion of suckling off Sissy, but I was not sure if there was still any production of milk. I laid out the dry food. The kitten ate a little. She was so adorable with that cute little moon face that I felt the urge of picking her up. That proved to be not an easy task and she always won in my battle to catch her.

I called our reserve manager Peter about this exciting news. Peter was on his way over. While I was waiting for Peter, I saw another little Sissy appearing in my living room-the kitten must have escaped from the bathroom! Just when I chased after her, Peter arrived and joined my effort. While Peter followed the kitten again into the guest bathroom, the cleaning lady came shouting: "Cat! Cat!". I knew she was scared of cats. I told her not possible- the cat is in the bathroom. "No no! In the kitchen!"

I hurried over there and indeed there was yet another little Sissy! Peter, having caught the last kitten and put him in my bathroom, joined me in this frenzy. With broom and towel, we managed to catch this one too.

When we brought this kitten to my bathroom, we saw all together there were three little kittens in the image of Sissy. Obviously after a night of absence from their mother who was kept in my room, the kittens traced her down and followed her scent inside my house one by one...

I decided to tame these kittens while I stayed at Laouhu for the next four days, while discussing with my staff what to do with them. I kept them in my big bathroom with concrete floor- therefore easy to clean. I gave them cat food and water. I took any breaks from work to go in and watch them. I tried to cuddle them against their show of rejection- their snarling little faces which I found most entertaining and adorable. I was most amazed to find, after the first night in my bathroom, all the pooh was at or near the sink hole of my shower! I could not believe what a civilized cat family this is. Sissy never makes a sound throughout the night-she always waits till I wake up in the morning to ask me to let her out for her daily routine. And now we have her well behaved kittens!

Next we had to decide what to do. Every one of our staff members had enough cats already, mostly from the Mommy clan. I reluctantly agreed to finding homes for two kittens but would keep the little male, who seemed to be more comfortable in my arms. Having been mother-reared up to now, they might never be that tame, so we agreed that the potential onwers must have had exprience with semi-wild cats and be patient with their independence.

I had to leave for jouburg on business. But it didn't take any time at all for Ronel, Peter's wife, to find two enthusiastic local families to adopt the kittens. I felt relieved to know they were good homes and one of the ladies had a semi wild cat which had died sometime ago.

When Ronel called me to report that actually three ladies showed up (one mother and daughter team) I knew it spelt trouble. I was pursuded to part with the little boy kitten. Reluctantly I complied- he would have more love with someone who is always around than from an absentee owner like me- though it was a decision I always regreted.

When I returned to Laohu a few months later, Sissy became scared of humans again. I tried using her favourite dried sausage to coax her inside but it was difficult-almost as if bearing grudges against my decision to take her babies away. I persisted in my pursuit with but just a little progress.

When I returned a few months later in january this year, I continued my endevours. Sissy might have forgiven me - asa I got hold of her and put her inside my bedroom, she just seemed to be tagged to my legs-following me everywhere in the house.

Soon she was able to spend the night on my bed. Soon, she began to stretch out-a sign of feeling comfortable and relaxed. In May this year, I accompanied the new tiger 327 from China to South Africa. One morning, I noticed my right shoe was wet. Sissy had urinated on this shoe- which had been grabbed hold of by 327 the day before! Sissy had started defending her territory-my bedroom! One day, she also brought me a dead mouse. Not knowing whether I liked her tribute or not, she was hesitant. She ran out with it when I chastized her, for which I felt guilty for days after.

Now whenever I return to Laohu, I can count on her punctually wait for me at 6.30 inside my house-Villa TigerLi, as if relishing the time I am there and tries to spend as much time with me as possible. She purrs nonstop if I pick her up. She pushes heads with me. When I am not at Laohu Valley, I worry about her being alone. I was so relieved to know she had continued to come inside the house to spend the night. She is finally feeling at home.