Andy Goldfarb, Clouded Leopard Project Vice President and Staff Biologist at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, is resuming his annual stint as relief project manager for the Clouded Leopard Consortium breeding project at Thailand's Khao Kheow Open Zoo. If his Internet connection allows, he'll send a few updates during his two months there. If the rest of his time is like his first week, it promises to be entertaining. Here is his account:
What a rough first week.
Hey there gang it's Andy again writing to you from the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand. I'm back for my fifth time to work with the clouded leopards for the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium.
Right from the start this trip was going to be special because Ken Lang from the Smithsonian was going to be there along with Rick Passaro, the main manager of the program and the guy I'm giving a break to. This would be the first time that all three of us would be together. Ken Lang was the first person to begin work in Thailand on this breeding program back in 2002. Now those two guys weren't going to stick around long cause they're on vacation. Still it was cool to talk about all the crazy stuff that goes on at this place. Also to see the reactions from some of the cats that Ken worked with because he hasn't had the chance to return to Thailand for three years. Many of the cats are new to Ken but his first cat "Noname" was very happy to see him. Unfortunately for me the special part ended very quickly when I started to get sick. This was my first time ever really getting sick here in Thailand. I got this sore throat that was brutal, I had everybody looking at and they said it was scary looking. On the last night that the guys were all here I couldn't go out with them cause I was in rough shape. Finally I did what I would always do when I’m here and get hurt, I went and saw a vet. Hey they're doctors. They said it looked like a type of frog was in the back of my mouth and gave me some antibiotics. I hoped the drugs would work right away.
So even though I was feeling lousy I wanted to start working on a clouded leopard exhibit. Some of the climbing logs had fallen down and we needed to put some new ones in. These logs are about 18 feet long and weigh a couple hundred pounds at least. We have to lift these trees by hand a good 15 feet in the air. Want to know the way that we do this? …Well let me just say it isn't safe and I always seem to get stuck with the heaviest end and in the hardest position. While balanced on the edge of a rock wall holding this log up I was trying to yell something to one of the guys who was going to be securing the pole in place when a beetle flew right into my mouth! It was a good 95 degree humid day and I my mouth was just the nastiest pasty thing around and that bug stuck to the middle of my tongue like a fly on one of those nasty sticky strips. Now you have to remember that both my hands are above my head holding this beast of a log and I was standing ten feet off the ground. My first thought was to just drop the damn thing and hope nobody got hurt, but I didn't. I figured I could cough the wiggly thing out of the trap. No such luck, I didn’t have lung power great enough to dislodge this bug from my tongue and this little guy started to make his way towards the back of my throat. I was gagging at that point and the guys were laughing saying things like "Mr. Andy- he going to vomit!!" They thought this was the best thing ever. So I just swallowed the little bugger, it was gross but I wasn't going to "vomit" for the boys. So we got the log up and everything went alright. I have to say the next day I felt 100%, the guys say it was the beetle I ate that cured me.
The bug fun was just three days after I got here. On the fourth day, a very clear and of course hot day, I needed to paint some metal poles in preparation for another project we were working on. I was getting very hot painting in the sun so I decided to take my shirt off to finish up the job. Now this couldn't be a big deal, a very white guy coming from the state of Washington in the middle of February getting a little bit of sun. Wrong! Holy Cow, was I cooked. You always tend to feel cooked here but it wasn't until I went to my house where three adorable three and half month clouded leopard cubs were waiting for me. At this age the cubs are really starting to climb and jump. Oh boy they love to jump and the best thing to jump on is the barbequed back of their new dad. Naturally they have to use their claws as well because the cubs are in training… lucky me. I about jumped to the ceiling myself when the first cub attached itself to my back. Then I was spinning around trying to get him off my back. It had to look like a scene from a bad movie. To punish myself more I told the guys the story and showed them my back. They laughed and muttered some words in Thai to each other one of which I understood "Crab" they said I looked like a crab, great.
On my sixth day I woke up feeling like I was in the groove of my job here again and things were looking better. I went down stairs to check on the cubs. When I looked inside the cub room there was only two cubs. I got a twinge in my gut. I went in and was looking at the cubs staring up at me from the floor and I turn to look behind me when a furry animal jumped on my face. It was the third cub and she had hooked me in the corner of my mouth and sliced me down to my chin. It wasn't aggression at all. What she had managed to do was climb up the door and find this one spot to sit on but then most likely couldn't figure out how to get down until I walked in and she had her chance. It was just real bad timing on my part that she landed right on my face. I knew she got me good cause I was bleeding all over the place and then I looked in the mirror and thought this is just wonderful, the guys are going to love this. I went up to the breeding center and the boys were good they felt sorry for me but then one of them started to laugh and said "Mr. Andy look like the Joker from Batman." What a first week.