7:30 am Wake up, shower, get dressed, tie up hair, check I had the essentials… tiger balm, water bottle, keys and phone and out the door of the volunteer house, I’d always head over to the outside benches for breakfast which was either toast, cereal, fruit or yogurt (a good variation!). Once breakfast was done it was time to jump on my scooter and drive round to the cat garden. On the way I might need to head to the mountain (were some of the Thai staff worked and you collect the raw meat from) to pick up more chicken or pork for the cats, then I’d drive through rescue where I’d wave to my fellow volunteers and call funny noises out to all the rescue animals as I went past!
8:00 am Unlock all the padlocks to the enclosure doors so we could let out the Leopards! Go in and have cuddles and a quick play with the cheeky siblings Somying (female) and Somchai (male) before preparing the chicken. Usually on Cat team there was between 2 and 3 of us working in a day so whilst someone is smashing and chopping the chicken up and preparing the medication (which goes into chunks of pork) the other person can be sweeping out the cats over night enclosures then hosing them out and changing their water.
8:30 – 9:30 am The truck arrives with Pocky (female lion) and Lucky (female tiger). During the night these two stay at a different enclosure and are brought to the Big Cat garden during the day. We would keep these two inside and feed them their first whole chicken each, whilst the leopards stay in the outdoor enclosure for the meantime.
9:30 am The leopards come in for training and Pocky and Lucky can be let outside. We clicker trained the cats to keep there minds working, they are very smart creatures and we wanted to keep them stimulated to prevent them getting bored and also it kept good interaction between us. During training we would put their chicken into a meat bag (tied around your waste) and every time they responded to a command such as ‘sit’ ‘spin’ ‘down’ or ‘ma’ (come in Thai) we would click once and feed them a piece of chicken, if they were getting a bit pushy or turning training in to playtime then we would use ‘Mi’ which is ‘No’ in Thai.
11:00 am Pocky and Lucky come in for training and eat their second chicken of the morning.
After this the cats would be rotated to go into the outdoor enclosure every hour and a half and in that time we would go in a play with the cats giving them plenty of interaction!
Rescue Cats. As much as you would love to jump in and cuddle these guys, unless you want to be breakfast before the chicken has even reached them I wouldn’t suggest it! These guys were not hand reared but good fun to interact with through the fence, especially Sanova one of the Females who was great and sneak attacks and would run up the side of the enclosure right as you walked past making your heart jump out your chest! I would spend much time tiring myself out running backwards and forwards with her making a game out of it. The rescue cats each got fed their chicken and would need there enclosures cleaning. To do this we would move them into a back cage using their piece of pork with their meds in and then close the shutter not allowing them back into their enclosure until we had swept and hosed it down, refilling their water and scattering their chicken in hidden spots or places they may have to work to get to it. We would also sometimes go in with new toys or enrichment for the cats to play with through out the day, trying our best to keep them entertained.
This was the standard morning procedure and by the afternoon it was all very similar, feeding for all cats and training for the younger ones until the truck would come to take Pocky and Lucky back to their night enclosure and then we would lock up and head back to the volunteer house for tea.
There was a couple of mornings we were able to help the Thai staff with the safari cats, this was great fun as we were able to go onto safari and play with the grown leopards Petch, Ploy and Tibtam 3 previous members of the cat garden. Until the cats are 6 months they stay at cubs, from 6 months to a year they stay with us a big cat garden before moving to the safari for a much bigger outdoor enclosure and less interaction with people and more with each other! A lot of the safari cats we would not be able to go into the enclosure with as they are to wild though the cats that have been through cat garden are more than used to familiar faces and human interaction and even though you mustn’t underestimate them you can certainly have some fun and playtime with them! they are also very happy to see you too!
During the day customers would pop by and visit the cats, some customers had packages which meant we as volunteers would take them inside the outdoor enclosure with the cats after explaining the basic rules and giving them a toy to take in with them,with a package it meant the customers could get a more up close experience and we would take photos for them. The customers with out a package would usually pop by to see the impressive creatures and get a few photos before moving on!
Lunch was always eaten at the garden, one person goes to collect every ones lunch box and I hope you like chicken and rice because that’s what your diet will mostly consist of… I always quite liked the meals, believe me I have had worse!
During the day was endless amounts of fun and not something I would call work! We were able to go inside and play with the cats, hiding and jumping out on them! that’s if they haven’t already caught you! They were all very good at sneak attacking you the minute you took an eye off one and being that their was always 2 cats outside at a time you needed your wits about you! Cheeky faces like this might be watching your every move!
Sometimes if you just wanted a cuddle, catch them in the right mood (usually mid day/afternoon) and they can be big cuddly bears too especially our male leopard Som chai he was always very good for a cuddle!
We could also go into the jungle and collect materials used to make enrichment for the cats such as bamboo, coconuts, banana leaves etc.. Some of the things we would make were coconuts filled with honey, shit balls (as gross as it sounds they cats loved them!) which is elephant poo wrapped in straw and tied together like a parcel using a vine, straw creatures which is where we made animals such as deer out of straw and would stand them up in the enclosure and the cats would become very curious of them! We also made present boxes which was just a cardboard box with treat inside and we sprayed the box with perfume. Anything smelly enough (good and bad) the cats loved! so the more scents and the more messy it was the better for the cats! we would even collect placentas after a zebra had been born and take it down to the garden to feed to cats, it was good for them to get some red meat even though it meant we had to chop the smelly placenta into pieces! They also loved boiled eggs and cat food which we would find/make multiple things to hide them inside for the cats to find and try to break into before they could eat their prize. Simple things to brighten the place up a bit was to go around the safari park and collect giant fresh green leaves.. often from banana or coconut trees and decorate the garden, the cats loved to grab and chew on them! and little things like keeping the bath tub outside full… Lucky especially loved the water like tigers do! She spent lots of times in there chilling or playing, winding up Pocky leaping out the tub onto her dripping wet! (lions are not so keen on the water!) We also had Kong toys which the cats LOVED they are Big cat sized toys that actually hold a chance of surviving more than one play time with these mighty fur balls.. and Kong company after seeing some of these pictures also arranged a donation of free toys for the animals at the park! Amazing!
If during the day the cats were asleep and not very interested in any playtime you had to offer them you were always able to take a visit to rescue and give them a hand… they are always making fun things for the monkeys and birds like fruit smoothies or bamboo ladders etc.. or you could even go to visit the adorable cubs at the front of the park! Prepare for cuteness overload!
or you can always fill your time with more decorating and do some painting on the outside wall of the big cat garden or attempt to weigh the tiger…
Which lets face it… with just scales that was never going to happen. But one thing is for certain when you are a part of the big cat team… you will fall in love with every single one of your cats and imagining the day where you don’t get to see them every day will break your heart! These 4 mighty babies stole my heart if I wasn’t inside playing with them you could sit contently and watch them for hours, their eyes were mesmerizing and their body language entertaining but it was funny after such a small time of being with them everyday by looking at they’re eyes and watching their body language they became predictable and you started to feel a connection, that really is a magical feeling! As you were learning to read them they were also learning to trust you and from then on my journey at the cat garden started as a family with myself, the cats and the rest of cat team this was the happiest I could ever be!
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