Leaving Footprints

Taking nothing but memories!

Humans – the worlds worst pollutant

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You may remember from way back in November of last year that I mentioned a third study site named Biyagama; it was a patch of wetlands hidden just beyond the perimeter fence of an adjacent industrial estate. After previously having a few of the project’s camera traps moved by local people, we hadn’t been back for fear of any equipment that we may have placed could have been stolen. In order to address this the plan was to conduct an awareness talk with the locals but, until that could be organised we just toddled along to see how the site was doing. Last time the water levels had been high due to the heavy rains, and getting around the site to collect the cameras had resulted in much straddling of widened streams and over-ambitious jumps, ending in soaked feet.This time the contrast was dramatic. It wasn’t just that the water levels were low, large areas which had previously been underwater were bone dry.

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Late 2015 – Only one with long enough legs to retrieve this camera

The area is mainly fed by two streams and upon first inspection things seemed to be as healthy as we left them. The first stream, although shallow, was teeming with small fish. Due to the dryness of the site the only pugmarks (footprints) that could be found were right besides the stream but we identified porcupine, domestic dog and possible fishing cat. We moved across the area towards the main stream and were horrified to discover that it was black. A thick shiny film lay on the surface of the water which the current was unable to break, and there were clumps of white, slightly fluffy-looking stuff in the slower-moving areas. There was not a fish in sight and even the mosquitoes were absent. The only prints found beside the water were that of feral dogs: it seemed the animals were avoiding this area – and who could blame them?

We could only assume whatever was in the water was the consequence of run-off from the factory at the top of the hill. Maybe something along the line had broken and no one was aware, maybe protocols weren’t being followed properly, who knew? Luckily the owner of the factory was environmentally conscious, and the lovely management guys we deal with assured us that they would find out what had happened and rectify it. Anya was able to e-mail pictures and a video straight to them so that they could see for themselves rather than just go on what we’d said, after all a picture tells a 1000 words. Unfortunately even when this problem was fixed the effects of this leak would affect the area for a long while to come. With the water levels being so low the pollutants were soaking into the ground which meant when the rains returned they would be released and, depending how much rain fell, could affect the clean stream. If the water of the black stream had become toxin free by that point then anything that had re-colonised it would be wiped out once again.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. We were told that a security guard on the night shift had seen a wild cat walking along the fence in the opposite direction of the study site. From his description we deduced it to be a rusty-spotted cat which was just as exciting as a fishing cat. We couldn’t wait to return with our cameras.

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Author: The Travelling Cat Lady

Conservation field assistant with a massive passion for small cats, vultures and food

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