Justin's Blog Entry: About me and my date with Fire Lily

Greetings Urban Caracal Project supporters! I am a proud new member of the Urban Caracal Project team- the first full-time volunteer to work on the project. I recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in science from Washington University, and post-graduation was eager to work abroad and be exposed to science, research, and conservation challenges outside of the US.  So, last month I traveled from the USA to stay in South Africa and work on local research projects. While initially I'd planned to work on the baboon study in Tokai, the February/March fire threw a wrench in those plans.  But the unexpected hitch led me to the Urban Caracal Project, which I am loving! With research interests in the fields of spatial ecology and population dynamics, especially in the context of urbanization and climate change, this project is particularly well-suited to my interests.  And having started only last week, I am fortunate enough to have already seen my first caracal, Fire Lily... 

I get butterflies in my stomach not from public speaking, not from catching the eye of that pretty girl across the room, and not from staggering heights. Instead, I get them from moments in life where the raw and unequivocal perfection of nature exposes itself and forcefully reminds me of our place on this earth and how fortunate we are to share our home with so many amazing creatures.

 Fire Lily (aka, TMC#03) just after capture, awaiting darting so that she could be fitted with a radio-collar as part of the Urban Caracal Project.

Fire Lily (aka, TMC#03) just after capture, awaiting darting so that she could be fitted with a radio-collar as part of the Urban Caracal Project.

I experienced this feeling recently during the capture of a caracal, where the strength and beauty of one of the world’s least know felids manifested itself in the form of an aged female who had unknowingly wandered into one of our field traps. Euphoria, anticipation, and anxiety burned across my mind like wildfire as I stood just meters away from this elusive African cat and waited for the sedating effects of Dr. Bruce Stevens’ (project vet)  tranquilizers to take its course and lull it into a temporary nap. As the cat was retrieved from the trap and its vitals began to be monitored, I was reminded of the childlike excitement I used to feel at chasing lizards and from coming across miniature life in the tide pools as a kid. That excitement was rekindled in this moment, not only from having the rare opportunity of being inches away from a wild carnivore, but knowing that this was the big leagues – and that the mission of better understanding these cats in order to protect them might allow future generations to be able to experience this same childlike wonder.  

Having the fortune of assisting the Urban Caracal Project, I began transcribing various measurements and ensured that her vitals remained stable while a GPS collar was affixed around her neck and her ticks were removed. As samples were collected for genetic cataloging, a sense of calm washed over me as I watched the rhythmic expansion and contraction of her lungs within her dreamless sleep. Seeing one of nature’s perfect killing machines in a state of absolute rest gave me chills up my spine, reminiscing over the millions of years that had transformed her species into a most formidable predator.  After everything was in order and all the notes had been made, she rose from her sleep and groggily made her way into the bush. She paused a few times, looking over her shoulder with eyes filled with confusion. Surely, she would be filled with memories of this day that she would never understand, but thanks to her participation the future of her species is only looking brighter.