Monthly Wild Cat News
A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
by W. Angermeyer
We received a request generated by my last post asking which cats were listed in each of the color coded Felid Species Survival Plans (SSPs) from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Here are the species listed by program, as published in the February issue of the Felid Tag Newsletter:
Yellow: population is OK now but is not sustainable over the long term
Caracal, Serval, Amur Leopard, Canada Lynx, Cheetah, Snow Leopard, Ocelot, Puma, Clouded Leopard, Bobcat, Jaguar, Black-footed Cat
Green: population in captivity sustainable with a high percentage of genetic diversity for at least the next 100 years.
Red: population in captivity nowhere near sustainable (less than 50 individuals with poor genetic diversity)
Fishing Cat, Sand Cat, Pallas’ Cat
You need a weekend break. Give yourself an hour, sit back, relax and watch this fascinating documentary from the BBC and the Jaguar Conservation Fund. Filmed in glorious HD, this footage will satisfy even the most dedicated jaguar fan, and yes, it will make you green with envy.
Biologist Dr. Leandro Silveira and his wife rescued three tiny orphaned jaguar cubs after their mother had been killed by ranchers. Watch the amazing footage as these two dedicated jaguar conservationists raise the young cubs, train them to be self sufficient and release them back into the wild.
Click the square on the bottom right hand side of the video to watch full screen.
Thank you to AnahTereza for sharing this with us via Twitter!
by W. Angermeyer
On our blog site we often focus on felid conservation and research news occurring “in situ” or in the cat’s natural habitat. A good deal of conservation also occurs in captivity or “ex situ”. Who oversees the management of these captive conservation efforts? There are several well renowned organizations that collaborate and manage programs which focus on the conservation of many threatened and endangered species including felids.
In Part I of this topic, I would like to focus on the conservation efforts of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums which currently has a membership of 222 accredited zoos and aquariums throughout North America. Twenty years ago, AZA established the Species Survival Plan Program™ (SSP), which is a long-term plan involving conservation breeding, habitat preservation, public education, field conservation, and supportive research to ensure survival for many of the planet’s threatened and endangered species. Currently, AZA members are involved in 319 SSPs working on behalf of 590 species. Each SSP Program is managed by a corresponding Taxon Advisory Groups (TAG) within AZA. The TAG is responsible for developing a comprehensive population Studbook and a Breeding and Transfer Plan which identifies population management goals and recommendations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied AZA population. The TAGs are in turn managed by the Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee. Confused yet?
The AZA Felid TAG is a committee of advisors with expertise in issues relating to wild cats. These advisors hold regular meetings attended by people from both AZA-member institutions and the private sector who have an interest in felids. The Felid TAG provides a forum for discussing husbandry, veterinary, ethical, and other issues that apply to the wild cats housed in AZA-member institutions. TAG advisors also examine animal management techniques based on scientific studies and assist SSP coordinators in developing animal care manuals to present best practices for the care and welfare of felid species. TAGs also promote cooperation and sharing of information between AZA and other regional and international conservation programs.
One important role of the Felid TAG is to recommend the wild cat species managed by AZA studbooks, SSPs, and other zoo- and aquarium-based programs through the regional collection planning (RCP) process. The Felid RCP helps animal managers determine which species are most in need of zoo- or aquarium-based conservation programs; establish priorities for management, research and conservation; and recruit qualified individuals to carry out these activities. In developing the RCP, the TAG takes into account both the limited amount of enclosure space available and the need to maintain animals in populations large enough to ensure their long-term genetic viability and demographic stability. They also consider the potential of selected species to contribute to conservation action through education, scientific research, fund-raising to support field conservation, and managed breeding for potential reintroduction. The goal of this careful planning process is that each cat species and individual animal held at AZA zoos and aquariums has a defined conservation or education purpose.
Species may be added or taken off the TAG managed list periodically, based on what the needs of that species are and how likely it is that zoos can manage and conserve them effectively. The current AZA Felid Species Survival Plans and Population Management Plans include:
SSPs: Amur Leopard, Black-footed Cat, Cheetah, Clouded Leopard, Fishing Cat, Jaguar, Lion, Ocelot, Sand Cat, Snow Leopard, Tiger
PMPs: Canada Lynx, Caracal, Pallas Cat, Puma, Serval
For more information on the Felid Tag and participating institutions, please visit the National Zoo’s web-site.
Thanks to Mr. Guilt for the photographs!
by W. Angermeyer
It 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)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
For more information on Rusty Spotted Cats and other small wild cats please visit the ISEC website at: http://www.wildcatconservation.org/
Camera traps have captured the first-ever photographic evidence of Pallas’s cat in Bhutan’s Wangchuck Centennial Park (WCP), WWF and Government of Bhutan scientists confirmed. The species, which is listed as near threatened, has never before been documented in the region.
The WCP is located in the central north part of the country. To the east, it is adjacent to Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, and to the west it is adjacent to the Jigme Dorji National Park. In the south it is bordered by continuous biological corridor.
Pallas’s cat, also known as manul, is defined by a strikingly flat head with high-set eyes and low-set ears that enable it to peer over rocky ledges in search of prey. The cat is threatened by poaching for its fur and fat and organs for medicinal value.
“This is an exciting and remarkable discovery that proves that the Pallas’s cat exists in the Eastern Himalayas,” said Rinjan Shrestha, Conservation Scientist with WWF, who headed the survey team. “This probably indicates a relatively undisturbed habitat, which gives us hope, not only for the Pallas’s cat, but also the snow leopard, Tibetan wolf and other threatened species that inhabit the region.”
Their habitats are used as seasonal grazing grounds for yaks from late-spring to mid-autumn and are also visited by people collecting cordyceps, a fungus that is prized for its medicinal properties.
The cameras were placed from late November 2011 to early June 2012 as a part of the Department of Forests and Park Services’ and WWF’s survey of snow leopard abundance in the park. The cat was first found on January 17, 2012, then on February 19, April 1 and April 18. In one close-up photograph, the cat appears to be sneaking into the bottom right hand corner of the picture, staring directly into the camera.
Pallas’s cats possess behavioral traits that help them survive even in the cold deserts of Central Asia. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed Pallas’s cat as “Near Threatened” because their populations are declining globally and they are disappearing from some areas such as the Caspian Sea region and Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
Pallas’s Cat Photo © WWF-Bhutan
Throughout history, people have been fascinated by black animals that were often perceived to be mysterious or magical because of their colouration.
In reality, this stunning coat colour is caused by an over-development of dark colored pigment in the skin, which is a condition called melanism. If either parent carries the melanistic gene, a single litter can contain both normally coloured and melanistic babies. A lack of this same pigment causes albinism, or white, animals
In the wild cat family, 11 of the 37 species have been recorded as having melanistic coats. The most well known are the black panthers, which can be either a leopard or a jaguar. Although their coats are black, you can still see their spots, as on this jaguar cub.
Coat colours and markings are important in preventing a hunting cat from being seen, and black animals blend into the shadows. Melanistic leopards and jaguars are more often recorded in humid tropical forests where closed tree canopies prohibit light from reaching the forest floor.
While stripes, spots or blotches help cats disappear in dappled light, the unmarked fur of desert animals helps them blend into the background of their desert homes. A black sand cat, for example, would stand out like a beacon in the Sahara.
Among the small wild cats, four South American species have a melanistic form. As well as the cat below, melanistic Oncillas, Pampas Cats and Kodkods have been reported.
In the forests of Southeast Asia, melanistic Asian Golden Cats or Jungle Cats are not uncommon.
Africa also has melanistic Servals, although they are rarely seen. Servals are normally classed as cats of the marsh in grassland areas, but with a coat colour like this, the cat below must live in a higher, more thickly forested area.
There has never been a recorded instance of a melanistic cougar anywhere throughout their range in North or South America. These cats obviously evolved to hunt in more open areas, and their colouring matches that of the mountain slopes and rocky areas they inhabit.
Bobcats are another animal of open areas, but they can be found in every type of habitat. Their colouring of dark spots on a light background is well known, but in Florida where the vegetation in the Everglades was once impenetrable, 3 black bobcats have been reported in the last 100 years.
And of course the 11th black cat species is our beloved domestic cat. I’m sure many of our readers have been owned by their very own little black panther!
Previously thought to be a small island form of the Asiatic Golden Cat Pardofelis temminckii, genetic testing has revealed the Bay Cat is a unique species, and therefore a highly endangered one.
About the size of a large house cat, Bay Cats have uniform, dark, chestnut red fur faintly speckled with black markings, and spots on the lighter golden brown underside and limbs. A second colour phase of dark, bluish slate-grey has also been recorded. The short, rounded head is dark greyish brown with two dark stripes originating from the corner of each eye, and the back of the head has a dark ‘M’ shaped marking. The backs of the short rounded ears are dark greyish. The underside of the chin is white and there are two faint brown stripes on the cheeks. Their long, tapering tail has a yellowish streak down its length on the underside, becoming pure white at the tip, which is marked with a small black spot. Body proportions and the extremely long tail give it the look of the New World Jaguarundi Herpailurus yaguarondi.
The Bay Cat is found only on the island of Borneo. It appears to be widely distributed on the island, but seems to be concentrated in the interior of the island. They have been reported from hill, lowland and swamp forest, as well as highland areas of rocky limestone situated on the edge of dense jungle, hill forests up to 500 metres. There are also a few reports of Bay Cats in regenerating logged forest.
In 1992, an adult female Bay Cat was brought into the Sarawak Museum, alive but at the point of death, dying soon after. The cat had apparently been caught by native trappers and held in captivity for some months. The appearance of this specimen offered the first opportunity to look at a whole animal.
In 1998, BBC Wildlife Magazine published the photo photograph of a live Borneo Bay Cat. This cat was weighed, measured, photographed, given a physical examination, dewormed and released back into the forest.
During their study of the five felids on Borneo, researchers from the Bornean Clouded Leopard Program obtained camera trap photos of the Bay Cat, which were obtained at midday, early morning and at night.
Outside of protected areas, habitat loss due to commercial logging and oil palm plantations is the main threat to the Bay Cat. A collaborative effort between an Indonesian timber company and the Nature Conservancy is providing sustainable development, which includes monitoring the impact of tree removal (5 trees per hectare) on wildlife.
Scientists from this project observed two Bay Cats at night on the roadside in an area that had been selectively logged ten years previously. Road edges contain dense small trees and high numbers of rodents, making them ideal hunting areas. With the growing number of scientists working on Borneo, the number of sightings of Bay Cats has increased but a detailed field study on the Bay Cat is urgently required.
Wildlife traders are aware of the cat’s rarity, and they have been captured illegally from the wild for the skin and pet markets. The Bay Cat is one of the few small cat species classed as Endangered (2008).