On September 2nd, 2013, Bandhu, meaning “friend” in Nepali, was born. He began his life quite small, weighing a pound and 12 ounces at 5 weeks of age. He lives at the Wild Cat Education and Conservation Fund in the heart of a redwood forest in California.
I remember the first time I laid eyes on this peculiar fishing cat. When I arrived at the compound, he was napping for a second or two, a necessity in order to recover from an hour of play. As he heard strange voices he scampered out of his carrier and hid behind a box. For a moment he managed to suppress his curiosity, but soon he faltered and peeked his head around to snatch a look at me. His eyes were glossy and arranged very close together, a useful quality for a cat who fishes most of his life. Four distinct stripes of a dark brown hue trailed down his forehead. White linings complimented his eyes both from above and below like stretched clouds on a lazy day, blending with his fluffed blotches of black and brown fading at the tips. His ears were rather small and geometric in comparison to his head. He was covered in the type of fluff that only a kitten can boast. A splash of pink and white highlighted his permanent smile, accenting his youth as his whiskers flicked this way and that. After a few moments of taking me in with his eyes, Bandhu put forward a paw, then another and another, softly resting each of his pads on the floor as he slinked towards me to investigate me in my entirety.
It took awhile for Bandhu to feel comfortable enough to play with me that day. But, as a kitten, engaging in games using his new and exciting uncharted body is irresistible. He was soon rapidly darting and flinging himself across the floor, eyes focused on feathers attached to the end of a string. More than once he overestimated the distance between himself and his target, resulting in a loud tumble and a roll across the floor, an experience most kittens ignore regardless of the impact. He had a particular way of moving that caught my eye. Of course, being only a few weeks old, all of his movements were rather chaotic and clumsy, but there was a unique way that he oriented his hips. In between tumbles I thought I caught a flicker of a natural sway, but just as soon as I had considered the thought, it was gone.
My mentors, Rob and Barbara Dicely were sitting in their chairs watching Bandhu and I as we both remained completely focused on the game, ignoring the world around us. Rob and Barbara have dedicated both their hearts and their souls, as well as decades of their lives, to educating children and adults about the wild cats of the world and the conservation of the cats who are closer to becoming extinct than either of them can stand. The most exhausting part of their lives is when there is a kitten in the house. Kittens never stop – I think we can all agree to that. And each kitten that tip toes into their lives becomes their baby forever. Today, Bandhu became another life-long child, but also a key element to the survival of his brothers and sisters in the wild.
Soon, Bandhu slumped to the floor, panting, a tummy growl rumbling inside of his round kitten belly. I knew exactly what was on his mind; food. Barbara saw it too and began making his meal, mixing this supplement as well as that supplement into his formula, ensuring he gets every vitamin he needs to feed his baby bones. I couldn’t help but chuckle. He seemed to have forgotten his fatigue as he slinked his way over to her, licking his pink lips. When Barbara was done mixing his formula and testing the temperature of it, she handed it to Rob who sat down in his classic green chair, one that had been stained by hundreds of formula spills, preparing himself to feed his little fishing cat friend. All the while this exchange was occurring, Bandhu followed, impatiently fidgeting the entire way until he was able to suck down his food from the bottle Rob held for him. Any other kitten would have expressed his urgency in a series of utterances, but, being an unusually quiet kitten, Bandhu didn’t say a word.
Something about play and food makes a kitten unable to hold their head up. Bandhu, with formula splattered on his little chin, allowed Barb to wipe his face before he made his way over to my lap where I sat on the kitchen floor. I tried to engage in play with him but all he did was half heartedly thrust out a paw and then curl himself up into my lap. He was resting in one of the folds of my jacket, his little face turned towards mine with one of his eyes half open while the other was rapidly falling shut. His whiskers twitched involuntarily, showing me his flushing pink tongue as it curled into a satisfying yawn. As I gazed at him, unable to wipe a silly grin off of my face, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of cat he would grow up to become. As far as we know, he would become the only outreach fishing cat in the country, sharing with the world the wonders of this incredible species and the challenge they are now being forced to face at the destructive hands of humans. But at that point in time, Bandhu would sleep. He had a lot of growing up to do.