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Leopard cats not pets, conservationists say

A leopard kitten sits in a cage at PPAWS
A leopard kitten sits in a cage at PPAWS last week in Phnom Penh after it lost the use of its hind legs and had to be rescued. PPAWS

Leopard cats not pets, conservationists say

After a crippled kitten was delivered to a conservation NGO last week, animal experts and conservationists across Cambodia are warning against people keeping leopard cats as pets.

By the time the 4-month-old animal was handed over to Wildlife Alliance last week, it was unable to use its hind legs. According to the NGO’s director of wildlife rescue and care in Cambodia, Nick Marx, it could yet die.

“We don’t know yet what’s going to happen to it,” he said yesterday.

Marx said the Wildlife Alliance receives up to a dozen of the animals every year; a figure that belies the frequency with which they are kept in communities living near their forest habitat, or as prestige pets among city dwellers.

Their appeal also extends abroad, with Michael Meyerhoff of the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) saying he once had a man from Brazil come to his office looking to take one home.

But while leopard cats are appealing because of their looks and similar size to domestic cats, their untamed nature makes them unsuitable and potentially dangerous in a domestic setting – facts that frequently see them sold for their meat or fur, or abandoned once they become unmanageable.

That was not the case with the kitten currently fighting for its life, which was taken for treatment after an accident in the home where it was living. According to Nou Chamnan, the vet at the Phnom Penh Animal Welfare Society (PPAWS) who initially treated it, the owner was oblivious to the fact he should not have such an animal.

Chamnan said the animal had been picked up in Preah Vihear province two or three months ago, after apparently being found abandoned. According to Meyerhoff, it is a common misconception among people who find the kittens alone that they are abandoned.

“Maybe the mother hides it in the wild somewhere, then people find them and think they need to be rescued,” he said.

Experts also advise against buying such an animal from a vendor to rescue it.

“Buying wildlife actually prolongs the trade,” said Marx. “You are ensuring that that animal will be replaced by another.”

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