A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
How Do You Study Black-footed Cats?
February 1, 2012Posted by on
These tiny wild cats live in open, sandy grasslands with sparse shrub cover. How do you find them in the first place?
Once Dr. Sliwa captured his first black-footed cat in 1993, he got closer and closer to the cats each night, eventually observing them from 15-30 metres away. After several weeks of habituating individual cats to the sound of the truck and the shine of the low powered spotlight (always held behind them) he could follow them for most of their nocturnal activity periods.
He has returned to the study area in subsequent years to track and study the cats, utilizing three capture methods:
Spot lamp searching. A 4×4 vehicle drove along dirt roads at a speed of 20 km/hr while looking for the bright eye shine of cats. Usually two people stood on the open back of the vehicle, operating two spot lamps.
Positive Identification. Once black-footed cats have been located by using their eye-shine with spot lamps, their species identification was confirmed with binoculars. If positively identified, they were pursued by the vehicle for a short distance between 100-600 m, which resulted in the cat squatting low to the ground in front of the stopped vehicle. One or two people with fish landing nets got off the vehicle and netted the cats. On other occasions, the cats would find a den system (dug by aardvark, ground squirrel, springhare) and were either captured by exposing them after digging or lost to the capture team by escaping deep into the den system.
Live trapping. One type of trap had a fixed frame covered with galvanized mesh, the trap door consisting of a solid metal plate triggered by a baited hook. The second type was a foldable trap constructed using thin galvanized wire, triggered by the animal pulling on the baited hook. Bait was either small dead birds or small pieces of larger birds, which were freshly defrosted before being affixed onto the triggering mechanism of the traps. For lure, shredded pilchards, sardines in oil, cod liver oil and urine from oestral domestic cats was used. These were smeared on the outside structure of the trap, or sprinkled inside. Each trap was serviced twice a day. In the evening traps were set and baited during the last 3 hours of daylight. Bait that was not taken was replaced every second day, due to desiccation. All traps were checked during the first two hours after sunrise and those not yet triggered, closed for the daylight hours.
Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!