Photographs + Story by: Matt Hunt
No two days are exactly the same for Wasan Duangmanee, a former landscaper now living in a small house and going fishing with 40+ cats along the Tapi River in Surat Thani, Thailand, daily.
Before devoting himself to full-time cat rescue, Wasan, now 64 years old, always maintained a close relationship with nature, and his daily life still reflects his appreciation for it. His lush and sometimes dangerous backyard is a mix of reclaimed wetland swamp and the dense mangrove forest ecosystem that Surat Thani is well known for.
At the end of a hard-to-find, dead-end road, the sanctuary Wasan has made for himself fits his introverted personality. He spends almost all of his time at home relaxing, gardening, watching TikTok, and managing the “command center” for the cat rescue he has built to stay busy during his retirement.
Currently, over 169,000 people follow the Facebook fan page Wasan has grown to support his work with the cats. The page, categorized as “Just For Fun,” was something he created to just have fun by sharing photos of his cats and the seasonal drama of Thailand’s inclement weather in his backyard.
Over years, however, it has become a crucial asset for his cat rescue efforts, as well as a personally therapeutic tool for the introvert that is not shy to admit that he “loves his fans.”
With constant negativity at every turn we take on the internet, the community of the ใบเฟิร์น ทองพับ ทองม้วน fan page shines as a rare enclave of positivity and support, 100% of the time. His community page functions more like a fandom, with regular comments on photos asking for updates about specific cats, calling them by their names, leaving colorful GIFs and fun, Thai-style stickers showing love and support for Wasan’s work. The fans on social media also support Wasan with donations for the ongoing care of the cats, like food and routine medical care.
The most common question is where all the cats come from. Some cats come and go daily, and others are brought to him by people in the community that know about his work. Wasan would rather everyone know that no cat is turned away; many just show up and decide to stay forever.
Over the last year, I’ve gone on several fishing trips along the Tapi River with Wasan. The following is a glimpse into the morning routine of Wasan Duangmanee, the catfisherman of Surat Thani.
Every morning, Wasan Duangmanee lets a parade of cats out of their enclosures, which are inside of a raised shelter next to the Tapi River in Surat Thani, Thailand. Some of the rescue cats stay overnight in enclosures to prevent the untimely fate that many outdoor cats before them have met, including predators, natural disasters, and human issues like car accidents.
The cats know it’s time to eat. They leave their house in a single-file line, some heading for the plates of food, and others going straight for the fishing boat.
The cats get fed a mix of wet and dry food for breakfast.
Wasan walks into the Tapi River and moves his fishing boat towards the shore–his backyard–while calling to the cats to come and join him on the boat. Amongst the cats he has rescued, there is a specific group that shows a clear interest in going on the boat, some of which were already there waiting for him to get going.
Balance is key on the little fishing boat he uses every day. Typically, it’s just Wasan, his equipment, and up to six cats. On the trips that I’ve taken with Wasan, we’ve learned how to stay in sync with the tide, our movements, and how not to flip the boat, which is dangerously easy to do.
Wasan turns on the motor to go check out one of the spots he hasn’t been to in a while. The tide is low, and his luck with finding the fresh catch for the cats has been, too.
As he gets closer to the area where he wants to cast the nets, Wasan switches to rowing the boat with a wooden oar. The cats stop hiding from the engine and move to the back of the boat. They know it’s time.
And now, we wait. The cats scramble, making laps between the front and back of the boat, looking for fish and also for an occasional spot to cool off. There’s a lot of drama between cat personalities on the boat, which is usually calmed by Wasan telling the cats he “doesn’t want it.” These simple words, spoken in Thai, bring them to a standstill, every single time.
At long last, Wasan pulls in a single fish from the Tapi River. The boat turns to almost immediate chaos as Polly, one of his trainees, snatches the prize.
Wasan gives one of his cats a tube of wet meat as a reward for finishing the trip.
Wasan is finished with the morning fishing trip. The cats run off to rest as he takes care of his plants and updates his fans about the latest drama from his morning trip on the river.
Like most days, he’ll repeat this fishing trip two more times before calling it a day.