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Marion Holmes - Taking care of the Small Four

You’ve heard of the big five. Meet the small four. Cats, that is. The small black-footed cat, the caracal, the African wild cat and the   serval have found a place at the rehabilitation centre- the Cat Conservation Trust ( CCT) near Cradock.

The centre is and NPO owned by a trust and was Dr  founded byDr. Mircea Pfleiderer, a IUCN cat specialist together with Marion and Richard Holmes. Its aim is to conserve and raise awareness for Africa’s lesser known wild cats, that are often treated as vermin. Compared to the more popular larger cats such as lions, little is known about the small four.

After the accidental and unexpected death of her daughter in 1997, Marion craved to mother something. It wasn’t long until she found herself taking in a two-week-old caracal kitten to foster. It was then that her fascination for these small yet fierce cats began. Over the next fifteen years, Marion dedicated her life to studying and breeding the small cats of Southern Africa.

I follow as Marion walks around feeding the cats. The enclosures at the sanctuary are generous; comprised solely of natural materials all aimed at pleasing the kitties. Tree stumps; river sand; long grass and large rocks scatter the floor, making it sometimes hard to spot the elusive small cats. But as Marion mentions over and again “the enclosures are built for the cats, not the visitors”. Each enclosure directly borders a buffer zone of guinea pigs, and the cats spend hours watching them. Marion likes to call this ‘kitty TV’ and explains that it gives the cats some much-needed entertainment. The cats cannot get at or make a meal of, their entertainment.

HOTGR Blog double MArion 1
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“the enclosures are built for the cats, not the visitors”

With the help of Dr. Mircea Pfleiderer, Marion has had particular success in studying and breeding the black-footed cat, the smallest of the African cat species. These cats are dwarves in the cat world- one to two kilograms, for females, and three to four kilograms for males. Marion told me not to be fooled by their cute oversized eyes and cuddly exterior – the black-footed cat can hunt. They have been known to attack prey as large as the Cape hare, an animal about three times the size of the average black-footed cat. Unfortunately, the black-footed cat is listed as a CITES Appendix I animal – a species threatened with extinction.

The breeding methods Marion and Dr.Pfleiderer have pioneered have proven to be a “roaring” success. Every year Marion either releases some black-footed cats into the wild or ships some to zoos in Europe and America. By sending them to zoos and allowing them to breed with other black-footed cats, the breeders are, in fact, strengthening the gene pool of the entire species.

Marion is an educator so education and awareness play an important role in her conservation plan. By visiting local schools and talking to the younger generation, Marion hopes to put these cats on the radar and inspire the next farming generation to protect them, instead of continually trying to eliminate them. Marion is the ultimate cat lady. She’ll laugh if you point that out like it’s something she hasn’t heard before, but it’s true.

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