Wildlife conservation is a funny thing. People are all for protecting animals and saving the planet but rarely think past the cute fuzzy emblem. As the human population continues growing rapidly and parasitizing the world, more and more habitats are being destroyed leaving innumerable species under threat (I know! Quite a dark beginning for one of my posts, but it gets happier –I promise). Unfortunately species conservation, although beloved by billions of people worldwide and becoming more and more important in governmental policy making, is not possible via happy thoughts alone: funding is required. There are a number of funding bodies around to which wildlife projects can apply for grants, and obviously, the money pot is not bottomless, hence competition is fierce. Each year thousands of applications for grants are submitted and are either approved or rejected according to stringent criteria.
As with any other conservation project, Anya has to apply yearly for funding in order to continue the great work of the Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project. One of the many funding bodies that applications can be submitted to is The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (MBZ http://www.speciesconservation.org/). This organisation had helped with funding the previous year. Before additional funding is approved it is essential to provide an update of project progress and a breakdown of how the previous funds were used. Usually a written report is submitted, but as luck would have it a workshop on dugong and seagrass conservation was being held in Colombo which brought a crew from MBZ over from Abu Dhabi, and they wanted to see and film the project.
It can be difficult getting the importance of a project across via the written word, let alone your passion for the cause, being presented with an opportunity to explain in person was a godsend –although both Anya and I were worried we’d come across as absolute nutcases! The focus, as it should be, was all on the cats and (luckily for me) it was Anya’s project so I could hide from the cameras.
The day arrived and the 6-strong crew, thankfully, turned out to be lovely. The main lady was an absolute sweetie and made both of us feel really at ease, which was great as Anya and I hate having cameras near us. As a bonus the cameraman turned out to be a cat enthusiast (awesome! another one to pull away from the big cat dark side!). The first thing they did was attach a mic to Anya. Oh crap! We would really have to try our best not to let the usual stupid stuff fall out of our mouths, or to get distracted by every passing bug or
colourful piece of dust. Conscious of our moronic capabilities locked up inside we walked the crew through the city study site. Avoiding the camera was difficult as the cameraman seemed to be a reincarnation of the road runner from the Looney Tunes. I have no idea how he was able to scramble around so fast without falling arse over elbow, maybe he possessed that skill that has continued to elude me –balance.
Important areas were shown and relevant stories were told. We seemed to be pulling off this sensible conservationist façade pretty well, at least until we came to the spot of our fishing cat sighting. You remember the one? I mentioned it in my third blog post. After managing to avoid being in front of the camera as much as possible, I’d somehow ended up smack bang in front of it next to Anya. As they asked us to recount the story of that amazing day we reverted to our usual 90’s child-high-on-e-numbers personas. We couldn’t help it. It was such a fantastic experience that it still spreads a Joker-sized grin across our faces.
As we broke for lunch I had a very rare surge of brainpower, and mentioned that unless they wanted the full Anya experience (food chomping and loo break) they should probably turn off the mic attached to her. After scoffing down some Vietnamese we headed to Thalawathugoda. Due to the size of our group we required 2 boats to row across to the islands. Completely forgetting that the film crew weren’t used to rowing, Maduranga and I (as usual) climbed into the same boat and zoomed off oblivious, leaving them to fend for themselves, oopsie! A few minutes later we realised our mistake. We watched with great amusement as the other boat, quite a distance behind us, bounced between the islands. What is it they (yes, the ever- mysterious ‘they’) say? ‘It’s not about the destination but the journey’. HA HA HA! At least they weren’t rowing in circles!!
We landed on one of the islands to let them see a different habitat and how we look for signs of fishing cats and other animals. As Anya gave all the poo-poking details I noticed a very ominous cloud looming in the distance. I checked my watch, it was approaching 5pm, – the usual time it starts chucking it down; the camera was not going to like that! The storm approached quickly and just like a scene from an apocalypse film, flocks of birds were flying in the opposite direction. The crew all seemed to notice at once and it was panic stations. The camera was hurriedly packed away in a waterproof case and the crew scrambled for the boats. Anya, Maduranga and I strolled after them, after all it was just a touch of rain, plus, unlike the stuff in England, it’s warm rather than freezing. It was such a shame things had to end so abruptly, as there were a few other islands at the site that showcased other habitats, but overall we were happy, information about fishing cats was finally getting out.