One of the advantages of focusing on habitat conservation is that a project to save a habitat will protect a number of interesting and relatively little-known species, as well as the so-called charismatic species.
In a new blog entitled ‘Barnes’s bestiary’, nature writer and World Land Trust (WLT) Council member Simon Barnes will introduce readers to some of the more unusual species that can be found in WLT’s projects, starting with Geoffroy’s Cat.
There’s a scene in the film Diamonds Are Forever when James Bond is faced with his great enemy Blofeld and not one but two Persian cats. He uses one of these cats to initiate violent action, but it doesn’t come off. Blofeld sneers: “Right idea, Mr Bond…”
Bond completes: “…but wrong pussy.”
I was reminded of that priceless moment when visiting my old friend Christina in Zambia. Christina, known to friends as Gid, possesses one of the roomiest hearts in Africa. She was currently looking after two orphaned African Wildcats. So far as domestic life went, right idea, Gid…
When you see pictures of any kind of wild cat, of any size up to a Siberian tiger, you are struck by their pussy-ness: by their very obvious relationship to the cats we take into our homes. When you meet one for real – of any size down to Geoffroy’s Cat of South America – you are struck by their completely lack of pussy-ness.
For a start, they don’t give a stuff about you. They have not been selectively bred for gentleness and affinity with humans. They evolved for the wild: they are hard, tough and wary. They are not seeking love: they are seeking survival. That’s a little frightening to see up close.
There are small wild cats all over the world, most of them adept at keeping out of sight. I remember finding one with the delightful name of Flat-headed Cat when visiting a WLT project in Borneo with Bill Oddie and Nicola Davies: not a moggy to stroke but a small, fearsome survival machine.
Geoffroy’s Cat can be found in the WLT project protecting Patagonian Steppe habitat in Argentina. They have suffered from destruction of forests and grasslands. They are also hunted for the exotic pet trade and the fur trade – theirs is the second most traded pelt on the planet, after Bobcat.
Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire was an 18th century French naturalist. He started off training for the church, changed his mind and by 21, he was a professor of zoology. His cat (there are also five bird species named for him) lives on where it can.
One of the thrilling things about supporting WLT is the way you keep finding yourself looking after things you’ve never even heard off. Just occasionally in life, it’s a case of right idea and right pussy…