International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

White Tigers vs. Species Survival Plans

Tired TigerEarlier this month, Slate posted an article titled “Why White Tigers Should Go Extinct.” It is one of the few explanations of the problems white tigers represent in popular media. While zoos often list them as “critically endangered,” these do represent a distinct subspecies. While individuals may exist in the wild, they are, by and large, the product of breeding at zoos. Unfortunatley, this leads to in-breeding, and problems that go along with that. Most white tigers are cross-eyed in one or both eyes. The breeding of white tigers distracts from larger conservation efforts, and take space in zoos for truly endangered animals that would truly benefit from conservcation efforts. Since 2011, the Assocaitation of Zoos and Aquaiums (AZA) has banned its members from breeding white tigers.

One of the things I found truly surprising was the comments. Overall, there was ignorance about white tigers. Most thought they really were a distinct species, a view which may not be fully discouraged when they visit a zoo.

Happy Tiger!So how do zoos breed for conservation purposes? For an endangered species, the AZA creates a Species Survival Plan (SSP). They maintain a studbook and match viable animals with each other. They ensure the genetic lines remain strong and diverse. For example, Namfon and Cutter, two fishing cat cubs born in the National Zoo in Washington, DC, were born as the result of an SSP-facilitated match between the zoo’s female, Electra, and Lek, a male born in the Cincinnati Zoo. What’s more, the SSP creates non-breeding plans, to prevent certain gene lines from being over-represented in the captive population.

Maintaining an endangered species in captivity is a delicate balance, and requires coordination among zoos. However, in doing so, they can ensure strong gene pools, and prevent in-breeding.

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How many days until Christmas?

by W. Angermeyer

6a010535647bf3970b0153927b9eba970b-500wiIt is getting to be crunch time if you have procrastinated on your Christmas shopping like I have. I think even the most organized holiday shopper probably has a few of those small last minute gifts left to purchase. Most of the people on my list are cat lovers like myself so if I find a cat themed gift that I like, it usually goes over well with the recipient. I have found something that not only will please the ailurophiles on your list but also the bibliophiles – young and old alike!

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has partnered with Simon & Schuster to publish another book: ZooBorns CATS! It is a beautiful little book with stunning photographs that showcases the newest and cutest kittens and cubs born at zoos and aquariums around the world. Highlighting each baby as an individual, they include their name, date of birth, home zoo, and fun facts about their unique personality as well as the conservation challenges faced by their species. Just as with the site, the authors seek to build awareness about the ways breeding programs at accredited institutions help support conservation efforts in the wild. Additionally, 10% of all ZooBorn’s proceeds from the sale of every book goes to support the AZA’s Conservation Endowment Fund. By the way, ISEC Canada is included in the list of acknowledgements!

The book is available in many bookstores or as an Ebook as well as through the Zooborns website.

While on the subject of last minute gifts, how about ISEC’s beautiful Small Wild Cats Calendar. Please refer to the post at the top of the page for ordering information. As well, you might consider an ISEC membership which goes towards wild cat conservation and ensures that the lucky recipient receives a gift every month in the form of our newsletter!

Happy Holidays! (and good luck with your shopping)

Sunda Clouded Leopard Filmed In Wild

A Sunda clouded leopard, one of the world’s most elusive cats, has been captured in close-up on video shot by a vacationing biologist in Malaysia.

Footage of a young female leopard relaxing in the forests of Borneo is only the second time a Sunda clouded leopard has been captured on film.

Clouded leopards in Southeast Asia are the smallest members of the big cat family (or the biggest members of the small cat family) and the Sunda clouded leopard was only determined to be a distinct species in 2006. The Sunda clouded leopard is rarely seen or photographed, but wildlife videographer and biologist Jyrki Hokkanes was in Malaysian Borneo exploring the forest at night using a flashlight when he spotted something.

Iberian Lynx – this is truly endangered!

Lynx in short grassby J Kerrison, Information taken from the IUCN RED LIST

Red List Category & Criteria:  Critically Endangered C2a(i) ver 3.1  Year Published:  2008

Justification:   The Iberian Lynx occurs only in isolated pockets of southwestern Spain, and its continued survival in Portugal is uncertain. There are only two known breeding populations in Spain, and the latest survey results suggest a minimum of 84 and a maximum of 143 adults surviving in two breeding populations (in the Coto Doñana and near Andújar-Cardeña in the eastern Sierra Morena). The Doñana population numbers 24-33 adults and the Sierra Morena is the stronghold of the species with an estimated 60-110 adults. These populations are isolated from one another making them even more vulnerable. None of the remaining potential populations in East Montes de Toledo, West Sistema Central and some areas of central and western Sierra Morena is thought to include animals that breed regularly. Current numbers are not sufficient for the survival of the species in the long term and experts agree the cat is now on the brink of extinction (IUCN 2007).

With a total population of 84-143 adults, the Iberian Lynx qualifies as Critically Endangered under C2a(i). There has been a continuing decline due to severe depletion of its primary prey, the European rabbit, by disease and over-hunting, with additional threats of high rates of non-natural lynx mortality and habitat destruction and fragmentation. The effective population size of the largest subpopulation (Sierra Morena) is likely less than 50 mature breeding individuals, based on the general measure for felids (the proportion of the adult population contributing to the gene pool through successful raising and recruitment of offspring is 50%: Nowell et al. 2007).

History:

  • 2010, Critically Endangered
  • 2006, Critically Endangered (IUCN 2010.2)
  • 2002, Critically Endangered
  • 1996, Endangered
  • 1994, Endangered (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990, Endangered (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988, Endangered (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986, Endangered (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)

Does this list bring the countdown from the old child’s song of One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians to mind?  Not politically correct, but somehow appropriate, don’t you think?

Picture from ISEC website

Caturday Feature: Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopards are so named because of the large, blotchy, cloud-like markings on their body, head, legs and tail. There may also be some smaller, solid spots on the head and legs. The rather long, slim body is usually greyish brown to yellowish brown in colour, and the cheeks and neck are striped with black. The underparts and inner sides of the legs are white or pale tawny in colour. The long and rather narrow head has a broad muzzle; irises of brownish yellow to greyish green; and ears that are short, round, and dark on the backs with white central spots. The legs are rather stout, with the hind legs noticeably longer than the front, and broad paws. The long, well furred tail is marked with rings, is tipped with black or grey and can reach 1 metre in length.

Flexible ankle joints enable Clouded Leopards to climb down trees head first, a trait shared with the Margay Leopardus wiedi, of Central and South America. Their upper canines are relatively longer than those of any other living cat, and may be an adaptation to holding onto prey caught in the trees, a more difficult feat than catching it on the ground.

clouded leopard cubs

Clouded Leopard cubs at Nashville Zoo © C. Barilleaux

Distribution

Clouded Leopards are found from 2,500 metres in the Himalayan foothills in Nepal, though mainland southeast Asia into China. They are strongly associated with tropical evergreen rainforest, but there are records from dry and secondary logged forests.

From 1998-2002, researchers from Texas A & M carried out the first field study of Clouded Leopards in a nature sanctuary in Thailand. Two males and two female cats were radio-collared and tracked 7-17 months.Their annual home ranges were 22.9 -51.9 km2, and there was no difference in the range sizes of the sexes. The cats travelled an average of 1,932 metres per day, and intensively used a 3.6-8 km2 core area of their range.

A further Thailand study a national park in 2003 showed home ranges of females to be 22-25.7km2, while those of the males were 29.7-49.1 km2. Core ranges were smaller, possibly indicating a higher number of available prey species.

In both studies, the ranges of the males overlapped those of the females, and there was some evidence of male overlapping ranges.

In 2006, the Clouded Leopard population was split into two separate species, based on genetic analysis. Those on the island of Borneo were given the new species status of Neofelis diardi, and called the Sunda or Diardi’s Clouded Leopard.

Ecology

Animals in Thailand showed a strong preference for dense evergreen forest, and were active day and night, with significant activity increases at dusk and dawn. Activity was also recorded in savannah, an abandoned orchard, along streams and main paved road.

An increasing number of camera trap photos show activity both day and night. They are less active around midday, and in predawn hours. These highly arboreal cats use trees for hunting and resting, but use the ground for travelling and also some hunting.

In the Thailand study, researchers found all recorded locations for one male in open forest grassland were at night. The animal would rest along the forest edge until nightfall and then venture out to hunt hog deer and muntjac, which bedded down en masse after sunset.

Reproduction

Births in captivity have occurred from March through August but animals having a tropical distribution often don’t have a well defined reproductive season. Clouded Leopards are thought to give birth in nest-like structures above ground in hollow trees, but ground level dens in thick vegetation have also been found. One to five, usually two, kittens are born after a gestation period of 86 – 93 days. Kittens weigh 140 – 280 grams at birth, their eyes open after 10 – 12 days, they begin to walk at 19 – 20 days, take solid food at about 10 weeks and will nurse for up to five months. Full adult colouration is attained around six months, and independence from the female occurs by ten months of age. Sexual maturity occurs between 24 and 36 months, and captive animals have lived to 17 years.

Conservation

The illegal skin trade is a serious threat with large numbers of Clouded leopard skins seen in markets, as well as their bones for medicine, meat for exotic dishes and live animals for the pet trade.

These Leopards are sacred to some native populations of South East Asia. The Malaysians call them ‘tree tigers’ because they have been seen resting in the branches of trees. The Chinese call them ‘mint leopards’ because their spots remind them of mint leaves. Unfortunately, none of these names has helped protect them from being hunted.

Clouded Leopards are still widely hunted for their teeth and decorative pelt, and for bones for the traditional Asian medicinal market. In Sarawak, their long canine teeth are used by certain tribes as ornaments in their ears. Clouded Leopard pelts were the most commonly available felid pelts in a survey of black market wildlife traders in China in 1991. They are also featured on restaurant menus in Thailand and China catering to wealthy Asian tourists while poachers capture live animals for the illegal pet trade.

Both Clouded Leopard species are classified as Endangered (2008).

Sand Cat at the Ready

Sand cats, among the smallest cat species, live primarily in the Middle East.
Sand Cat at the Ready
This one seems to disapprove of the impending winter.

How Many Kittens Can You See?

This amazing photo of an African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) family was taken by a camera trap set up by the Cape Leopard Trust in South Africa.
african wildcats Cape Leopard Trust

As well as leopards, the researchers are also studying caracals.

The Cederberg Caracal Project was started in 2012, in collaboration with the Cape Leopard Trust, and is based in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa. The project focuses primarily on the ecology and behaviour of Caracals (Caracal caracal). The project also aims to improve the current knowledge about this elusive species in relation to a bigger predator, the Cape leopard as well as with livestock farmers.

Cederberg Caracal Project

Glückwünsche Berlin Zoo! (Congratulations on rare and significant births!)

On Aug 5, 2012 the Berlin Zoo celebrated their first Rusty Spotted Cat births. The two healthy kittens, which likely weighed 2.0 – 2.7 ounces (60 – 77 g) each at birth, are now venturing out of the den to explore their habitat.

Rusty Spotted Cats (Prionailurus rubiginosus) are slightly smaller than Black Footed Cats and Kodkods and are the world’s smallest wild cats. Adult weights are estimated at 2.0 – 3.5 lbs (0.9 – 1.6 kg) as compared to the average overfed house cat which ranges from 5 – 20 lbs (2.3 – 9 kg)! They are closely related to the Fishing Cat and Leopard Cat with the main distinguishing feature being it’s tail which averages about 50% of head to body length and is unmarked. In the wild, births usually occur in the spring in a secluded den. The gestation period is approximately  67 days with a litter size of one to three kittens.

Rusty-Spotted cats are found exclusively in Sri Lanka and India. They are threatened by habitat loss due to the conversion of wild lands to farms. The Indian population is listed as CITES Appendix I and the Sri Lankan population as CITES Appendix II. There is some encouraging news from  World Wildlife Fund camera trapping studies over the past few years which discovered Rusty Spotted Cats in the Terai Arc landscape which was a previously unknown distribution area.

Very few zoos display and breed this species so these kittens are a vital and important addition to the captive population. To see these cats in action watch the video of Rusty Spotted Cats from the Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4f8Wv6UAUs&feature=player_embedded&noredirect=1

For more information on Rusty Spotted Cats and other small wild cats please visit the ISEC website at: http://www.wildcatconservation.org/

Sources:

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Prionailurus_rubiginosus/

www.zooborns.com/zooborns/2012/10/first-rusty-spotted-cats-in-168-years-at-the-berlin-zoo.html

www.wwfindia.org/?7322/Camera-traps-capture-exciting-animal-behaviour-across-India

“Paws” to Remember

by Wanda Angermeyer

November 11’th is Remembrance Day in Canada and on that day we take a moment from our busy lives to honor the courageous men and women who have fallen protecting the rights and freedoms that we enjoy as Canadian citizens.

As I pause to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice these people made, it makes me think of the finality of death, especially when numerous deaths could mean the extinction of a species. When one thinks of extinct cat species most of us automatically think of the prehistoric saber-toothed cats. More recently extinct cat species include two lion sub-species (Cape  & Barbary) and three tiger sub-species (Bali, Caspian & Javan). The Javan Tiger was  only listed as extinct as recently as 1972!

In an effort to try to spotlight all of the world’s small wild cat species from time to time on our blog, the ISEC directors each have a list of 7 or more species to focus on. My list includes a couple of species listed as “least concern” and a few that are listed as “vulnerable” or “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List.  I also have one species  that was upgraded from “vulnerable” to “endangered” in 2008; the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).

The Fishing Cat, once locally common in some areas of eastern India and Bangladesh, has become increasingly difficult to locate throughout their range. The scarcity of recent records suggests that over the past decade, they have undergone a serious and significant population decline. Even in protected wetlands and former Fishing Cat study areas, researchers have been unable to document their presence.

Wetland destruction is the primary threat facing this species, as over 50% of Asian wetlands are under threat and disappearing. Other threats include pollution, hunting and indiscriminate trapping, snaring and poisoning are also taking a toll. A more recently recognized threat was identified in an ABC news report from April 24, 2012 which stated that Thailand shrimp farming is threatening the Fishing Cat. Biologist Namfon Cutter has been conducting research on this species for eight years and claims that the farms threaten the cats in two ways. First through the loss of habitat and also when local villagers kill the cats for preying on their livestock as an alternate food source. Unfortunately it is our consumption of shrimp here in North America that drives the Thailand shrimp farms economy.

It seems like a bleak and tragic future for these amazing little swimming cats but there is some good news. Working with government officials, researchers have had the Fishing Cat made part of the provincial natural resources protection policy, and an extensive public awareness conservation campaign is underway. There has also been some success with captive reproduction of this species. Some of the institutions that celebrated Fishing Cat births this year were the Newquay Zoo in the UK, the National Zoo in Washington and Curraghs Wildlife Park.

fishing cat national zoo

fishing cats national zoo

Perhaps in the future we will see captive bred Fishing Cats released back in to their natural habitat. For now, I intend to do my part by making an informed decision when purchasing frozen shrimp and checking  the country of origin on the package. Hopefully we do not have to ”Paws” to Remember the Fishing Cat as an extinct species in the future.

(Don’t forget to go to our web site for more information on Fishing Cats and other small wild cats.)

Photos of the kittens born at the National Zoo in May of 2012.

Caturday Feature: Caracal

caracal with loppy ear tuftsCaracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish. Large, tapering ears with five cm erect tufts of black hair, used for communication, are the most unique feature of this cat. (Well, usually they’re erect – this little girl at Cincinnati Zoo is an adorable exception!)

Black-backed ears, dark spots on both sides of the muzzle, black spots above the eyes and a black stripe from the eye to the nose break up an otherwise uniform tawny-brown to brick-red colouring. Eyes are large and yellow brown. The short, dense coat is slightly longer and whiter on the underside. Females are smaller than the males.

Although they are called ‘desert lynx’, Caracals have longer legs, a more slender body, and the tail is considerably longer than true lynx. They also lack the ruff of hairs around the face which are so predominant in the northern cats. Melanistic Caracals have been reported, though only rarely.

Distribution

Essentially an animal of dry regions, the Caracal has a wide habitat tolerance and is widely distributed. They are found in woodlands, savannahs and acacia scrub throughout Africa; jungle scrub and deserts in India; and arid, sandy regions and steppes in Asia.

Their historical range mirrors that of the Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and both coincide with the distribution of several small desert gazelles. They are called ‘gazelle cats’ by nomads in North Africa.

Home ranges of three males in Namibia averaged 316.4 km2, and an Israeli study found ranges averaging 220.5/km2, indicating the low number of prey species in arid landscapes. In a well watered coastal protected area of South Africa, radio telemetry studies found adult male home ranges to be 31-65/km2, with females’being 4- 31/km2. Males have a home range that overlaps those of several females.

Ecology

As a desert animal, they can survive long periods without drinking. During the hot hours of the day, they rest in crevices, and hunt mainly in the cooler morning, night and evening hours. Their gait is similar to that of the Cheetah, but they are not sprinters, and take to the trees if pursued by dogs. Although they can be considered the fastest cat of their size, their hunting technique is the stalk and spring method like that of the domestic cat.

Caracals are remarkable jumpers, and can jump up to 3 meters (10 feet) into the air to knock flushed birds down with their paw. Ten to a dozen pigeons at one time can be taken this way, and the Caracal was once tamed and trained for bird hunting in India and Iran. This is the origination of the expression ‘to put a cat amongst the pigeons’. They were put in an arena containing a flock of pigeons, and wagers were made to see how many they would take down. They were also used to hunt antelope, hares, and foxes, much like the Cheetah.

A kill is often dragged into dense cover where it can be eaten without disturbance. Large prey animals are covered with grass after the initial feeding, to be consumed later. New grass or fruit is also sometimes eaten, probably for the moisture content.

Like most species of cat, the Caracal is predominantly nocturnal, travelling up to 20 km per night in search of food. Sleeping is done in burrows, rock crevices or thick bush, sometimes in trees. Vocalizations are few, mainly growls and spits in anger, and a loud barking sound used to call their partners. As with other desert animals, their sight and hearing are very good and they have a moderate sense of smell.

Reproduction

Caracals are solitary animals, and come together only for mating. In the eastern Transvaal of Southern Africa, the peak birth time for Caracal kittens is July and August. After a 78 – 81 day gestation, one to six kittens weighing 198 – 250 grams are born in a burrow, crevice, or dense patch of brush lined with fur and feathers. Newborns are darker and greyer than the adults, with reddish belly spots that fade as they age. The kittens can open their eyes on the first day of life, but they are not completely open for six to 10 days. When they are about three weeks old, the mother takes them from the birth burrow to another location, and continues to move the family on a regular basis. At four to five weeks of age the young are very active and make a chirping, birdlike vocalization. They are weaned at about ten weeks, and remain with their mother for up to a year. Sexual maturity is reached around 12 – 16 months.

Conservation

The actual number of Caracal in the wild is unknown. They are considered rare or threatened in Asia and North Africa; widespread in South Africa and hunted as a poultry raider wherever they are found. Poisoned carcasses which kill a variety of carnivores are put out by ranchers to kill predators.

Between 1931-1952, an average of 2,219 Caracals per year were killed in South Africa during predator control operations. Namibian farmers responding to a government questionnaire reported killing up to 2,800 Caracals in 1981.

A study in the United Arab Emirates found 11 of 12 Caracal scats contained domestic goats or sheep, as natural prey numbers were low or absent. In a protected area of Iran, cape hare and rodents made up the bulk of the Caracal diet, and there was no predation on livestock reported. As well, no livestock remains were found in 200 scats in a South African park where wild prey was abundant.

Caracals are most numerous in South Africa and Namibia, where their range is expanding, possibly due to extirpation of black-backed jackals by farmers. An additional threat is severe habitat loss, as people move further into their territory, and their prey species are driven out.

The Caracal is classed as Least Concern (2008).

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