Monday, March 14, 2016

The amazing fishing cats of Surat Thani

The Nation
Wason Duangmanee's cats are the starts of the 'ferntongpubtongmuang' page on facebook.
Wason Duangmanee's cats are the starts of the 'ferntongpubtongmuang' page on facebook.

Nearly 28,000 Facebook users are glued to Wason Duangmanee’s page, watching the continuing adventures of his dozen-or-so cats.

As lovingly documented in the photos and videos he posts, they do all the typical stuff - lie around luxuriously, get stuck in a tree, annoy the birds - but, amazingly enough, they also get in a boat and go fishing.

Wason, who lives on a bank of the Tapi River in southern Surat Thani, is a hobbyist fisherman. Most mornings he poles his small sampan into the current and casts out a net, then returns home to give the fish plenty of time to make their fateful decision.

Then, when the evening comes, it's showtime.

Wason's two ginger Persian cats, Thong Phap and Thong Muan, jump in the boat as he heads out to see what's on the menu as the catch of the day. Sometimes the whole gang comes along. When the net's hauled in and there's a fish flopping around, everybody gets very excited. The cats, of course, have to be physically restrained from having a sashimi dinner on the spot.

Wason's images of these antics are a huge hit online, every post drawing dozens of comments along the lines of "Happy cat!" and "Wish my cat would do that!" Cats are huge on the Web anyway, of course. YouTube would be half its size if it weren't for cute cat videos. Feline voyeurism deals mainly in footage of cats falling into full bathtubs and otherwise being uncharacteristically clumsy, but there's nothing that's not to love.

A Bangkok woman identifying herself as Bao has had huge success in the furry end of the publicity business. She has Facebook page called "Kingdom of Tigers" that's accumulated more than three million "likes", as well as an Instagram feed, has written two books about her cats and earns a lot of money attending pet events.

Our inner cynic wonders if her own pets might be getting a little stressed-out by all the attention and public activity. For his part, fisherman Wason has been on Thai Rath TV due to his popularity on the social media, but he's not hoping his pals will become the next viral superstars like Grumpy Cat or Lil Bub. At most he's out to convince people that cats make good fishing partners.

Chinese fishermen train cormorant birds to dive in the water and catch fish for them (with a rope around their neck to stop them swallowing the fish). Well, you're not going to get the average cat to jump in the river for you, no matter how you tie the rope. Thong Phap and Thong Muan are special, however.

"Cats always know where the fish are," Wason says. "When they leap onto the gunwale, that's the tip-off that there are fish nearby waiting to be caught."


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