November 10, 2006
Just finished editing a CD of the sounds of Thai wildlife. The birds, insects, frogs and squirrels were easy as I have literally weeks’ worth of recordings to choose from. For most of the mammals, however, I had to resort to recording in wildlife sanctuaries as you don’t often hear them in the wild. The last one I recorded was the binturong, or bear-cat. I had been visiting this group in the early morning when their food arrived expecting to hear them call then but day after day they remained stubbornly silent. Then one day I was passing around midday and I heard them yelling (of course I didn’t have my recorder with me). I went back yesterday and they obliged with a series of cat-like mewing, shrieks, growls and wails that far exceeded my recorder’s ability to cope with the decibel range. I had already recorded a number of big cats including the tiger, clouded leopard, leopard panther and leopard cat and listening to some of the extraordinary sounds they made got me thinking about the noises my own cats make. One day I must get round to recording them, too, as I am a long way from understanding what they mean.
Only one makes the traditional miaow and that is when she is trying to tell us something. One has a plaintive miou with a rising tone when she wants to be let out or in. One tries to miaow to us but no sound comes out but she wheezes and snores like a trooper when she’s sound asleep. Saddam makes a mixture of duck-like quacks and waaa sounds when he calls us and a gargling sound when he wants to play with one of the other cats. He is the loudest purrer but the others do on occasions when they are stroked. The purring seems to be a sound reserved for humans as they don’t purr when, for example, they are preened. One of them growls like a tiger if a stranger or enemy cat approaches the house. If play gets too rough they hiss, again just like a small tiger. Miao has a loud insistent call when she’s anxious (if I go for a walk away from our usual route, for example.) Finally there are the eerie wailing sounds they make when threatening or defending themselves against another cat. One day I will stop trying to learn people languages and attempt to understand some cat language.