Out of passion to cats – an interview with Mariusz Smoleń, the founder of the Save Wild Cats Foundation
Mariusz Smoleń – founder of the Save Wild Cats Foundation – talks about the beginnings of his passion for cats, the main goals of the foundation and the plans for its development.
Julia Smoleń: You completed zootechnics at the University of Technology and Life Sciences in Bydgoszcz. Later, you became involved with business and modern technologies for many years. Can the establishment of the Save Wild Cats Foundation be treated as a return to the passions from the student years?
Mariusz Smoleń: Yes. Although I was fascinated by cats even before I started studying zootechnics. However, it really was the experience and passion associated with animals that made me decide to start a foundation. Although the idea of supporting cats came much earlier – at that time it financed from the funds of companies I manage. However, at the turn of the first and second quarter of 2019 a foundation was established, and its purpose is to save cats and raise funds to achieve these goals.
You mentioned that you became interested in cats before you even started studying – how did developing this passion look like in your childhood and youth?
I don’t remember what my fondness came from. However, I remember very well that as a little boy, in the time of socialism, when there was no internet and no free access to books, I already listed all cat species – their Latin names, characteristics, size, reproduction. I obtained this information by searching in libraries.
Did you find your favorite genre during this search?
Yes, since then I have been fascinated with marbled cat, which is still my favorite cat today. And, among other things, that is why we would like to first take care of the survival of this species.
MARBLED CAT Pardofelis marmorata – read more
How urgent is the problem of protecting wild cats?
Well, first of all, it’s a multi-faceted problem and that’s how you need to look at it. Many species are already on the verge of biological survival, due to the shrinking of their natural environment, constant decrease of food resources and hunts organized by farmers who are very disturbed by the proximity of small predators. Their survival is also not helped by the fact that many species are caught “for parts”, which according to beliefs have magical properties.
The only chance for them to survive is that we obtain sperm and egg cells from living individuals, then artificial reproduction and reintroduction into the environment with increased education in their native countries. This is an extremely urgent matter, because if we do not do anything, perhaps the last, very rare individuals will become extinct in the next few years – it is worth recalling the example of Sudan, the last white northern rhino that passed away in 2018.
Fortunately, thanks to the collected genetic material it may be possible to restore the species. This shows how important it is to collect and store breeding or genetic material of endangered animal species. The Save Wild Cats Foundation was established to prevent the above situation from happening to any of the species and subspecies of cats. Saving through learning. I think that would be a good slogan for our organization.
What kinds of cats will focus on the protection of the Save Wild Cats Foundation?
We focus primarily on the less known species of cats. Mainly because these animals are seen as not very attractive to the general public. People want to watch their “famous” cousins – lions or tigers. It is also easier to break into the media by organizing a collection to help large species whose situation, thanks to education and the dissemination of knowledge, significantly improves. With their smaller cousins it is different, information about them is poorly available. We want to show that cats like Margay, Flat- headed Cat or Marbled cat are fascinating, not only because of their appearance but also how they hunt and function.
MARGAY Leopardus wiedii – read more
Can the foundation conduct educational activities?
Yes, of course. An increase in awareness is needed. Some people go to the zoo and mistake a caracal with a little tiger.
What is the main goal of the Foundation?
In a nutshell – our main goal is to obtain genetic material (sperm and egg cells) of all species and subspecies of cats. First of all, it should be the previously mentioned marbled cat. Then, artificial insemination, implantation of fertilized cells into the domestic cat’s genital tract must be carried out. In practice, she would give birth to genetically pure wild cats from endangered species. We also plan to create a bank for reproductive cells of all species and subspecies of wild cats.
My dream is something like the “ark” that was created on the Svalbard archipelago. It contains plant seeds, stored in the event of a cataclysm. Looking at the rate of destruction of other wild cat species, I believe that such actions are absolutely necessary.
Are the cats that will be born thanks to your treatments going to come back to their natural environment?
Yes, we want our activities to help rebuild populations in their countries of origin. We also know that this is a big challenge, because very often these countries have not only low environmental awareness, but also problems far more important than protecting the environment and wild species. Cats are often perceived merely as pests that damage livestock farms.
FLAT-HEADED CAT Prionailurus planiceps – read more
How are you going to get the first materials?
I’m planning a trip to Malaysia in February or March. We have contacted the Polish embassy in this country. We want to meet representatives of a center in Taiping that holds in captivity, among others, the marbled cat. We would like to talk to them about cooperation and assess the opportunities and costs of obtaining genetic material.
It all sounds like a considerable challenge. The plans are extensive, and what steps and resources will be needed to realization them?
Funds will be needed mainly for the travels of specialists (veterinarians, scientists) who will collect egg cells and sperm. Then, for transport to Poland and maintenance of this genetic material in the form of a genetic material bank. We also plan to finance work related to reproduction support. The Foundation has a contract with the Catherdral of Reproduction and the Clinic of Farm Animals at the University of Life Sciences in Wroclaw.I am talking to Professor Wojciech Niżański, who is one of the best experts in Europe when it comes to reproducing small cats. We hope that thanks to this cooperation we will be able to create a foundation bank of reproductive cells and contribute to scientific development in the field of felidae reproduction – not only in Poland.
What is the cooperation inside the foundation so far? Who is working for future effects?
In fact, the foundation is working thanks to volunteers (mainly employees of the capital group that I manage) and enthusiasts (also volunteers). I mainly mean dr. Karolina Kijek, a veterinarian, who specializes in dog and cat diseases.
How do you plan to expand the volunteer program?
We want to cooperate with volunteers, but we’re still in the process of creating the program. The most important goal for today is to find a center with a marbled cat – we have already succeeded in this. Then I want to sign an agreement with this center and convince them to cooperate. If we know the general conditions, we will think how we could get specific help from volunteers. We would like to establish contacts with centers that keep numerous felidae species. This would allow cells to be collected from multiple individuals in one place.
I would like veterinary students, or young veterinarians who are passionate about this topic, to participate.
It is already possible to make a donation through the foundation’s website. As a thank you for paying a small amount of money we receive a photo. Who is their author?
These are the photos I have taken. Their copyrights have been transferred to the foundation. I have taken them during my travels. Of the hundreds of photographs, of course, cats occupy the most space, but you can also find ones with large mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even fish.
Where do these photographs come from?
I have taken them in various countries and centers that breed wild cats.
So can you say that one of the reasons for establishing the foundation was also the passion for photographing cats?
Probably not. I think that cats are first. It’s out of passion that I started to photograph them.
Thank you so much for the interview.
Interview conducted by: Julia Smoleń
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