International Society For Endangered Cats

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Category Archives: Eurasian Cats

Meeting The Small Wild Cats

Recently I had the privelege of spending a full day working with the small wild cats of Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, in the United Kingdom. The park itself is well known for its extensive array of animals and one of the greatest selection of small cats in Western Europe. Needless to say my experience did not disappoint.

One of the first things I learned upon arrival was that the park is heavily involved with captive breed and release programmes, contributing to various wild populations around the world, therefore assisting species whose numbers are dwindling. The emphasis was strongly focused towards the welfare of the animals rather than just making profit. This is an example I wish many more zoos would follow.

Over the course of the day I had the opportunity to feed margays, fishing cats, ocelots and Indian desert cats to mention a few. Preparing “feeds” is, in itself, a fairly mammoth task which took up some part of the day and other duties included cleaning the enclosures and conducting general maintenance of the living areas. Headkeeper Neville Buck and I began constructing a new, more insulated roof for the den of a resident pair of margays – England in the winter is not ideal for warm weather cats, but every effort is made to keep each animal comfortable and healthy.

All in all, I feel my Port Lympne experience was infact quite eye-opening. As somebody who has studied both big and small cats for a while, it was a pleasure to witness several species in the flesh for the first time. Seeing a picture in a book and actually being up close looking at them face to face are two very different things. Some may be smaller or bigger than you might imagine. Though one thing is for sure – all are twice as beautiful than any photo could ever portray.

Fishing cat hides among the ivy

About the author: ISEC Canada member Brad Parsk is a conservationist and wild cat enthusiast from the U.K. He has assisted in projects throughout Europe and North America preserving threatened species and their habitats.

See more photos of the small wild cats at Port Lympne from ISEC member Ben Williams:

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Member Photos: Snow Leopard

We are always happy to showcase wild cat photos on this blog, so if you have any pictures you to brag about, please email them to  isec@wildcatconservation.org. Click on photos to enlarge.

ISEC Canada member Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more wild cat photos, this time the beautiful snow leopards at Marwell Wildlife Park in Hampshire.

Snow leopards have always been one of my favorite wild cats. When I was volunteering at our local zoo, the vet was checking two young snow leopard cubs. She picked one up, handed him to me, and told me to hold him while she examined the other one. So I’m standing there holding this young snow leopard who is chuffing away, nuzzling my neck and chewing on my hair. Another volunteer asked if she could hold him and I said no. Not my finest sharing moment, but hey – there was another one there for her to hold. And if the chance ever arose, I’d do the same thing again!

Just look at those paws…:-)

You can see more of Ben’s photographs on his website at www.naturalencounters.co.uk and to learn more about the conservation of these highly endangered cats, visit the Snow Leopard Trust website.

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Cats In China: Leopard Cat

The Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis has the broadest geographic distribution of all small Asian Cats. It is found in much of Southeast Asia.

The Leopard Cat seems to be common across much of its range, e.g. China and Thailand.  Leopard Cat populations are stable in many areas and the species’ high adaptability enables it to thrive even in altered habitats such as palm oil plantations.  However, according to the IUCN Red List (2010), the species seems to be in decline in some parts of its range. Island populations are most vulnerable, but it is also said to be declining in Bangladesh, and vulnerable in India.

© Dr. Alex Sliwa

The Leopard Cat is widely distributed over China and exists probably in relatively large numbers compared to other felid species.  With the exception of the deserts in the west, dry wilderness areas, and central parts of the Tibet Plateau, it is distributed all over the country.  In the 1990s Leopard Cats were reported from the outskirts of Beijing, where they were thought to have disappeared years ago.  However, only very few studies have really looked into the present status of the Leopard Cat.

The two subspecies P.B.bengalensis and P.B. phinensis were estimated to number 1.5 – 2 million in China in the 1990s.  Even though hundreds of thousands were trapped for the fur trade in the 1980s, Leopard Cats still seem to be fairly common.  But a decline in harvest in the last years of legal trapping may be an indication of over-hunting. Reasons for the Leopard Cat’s relative abundance in China compared to other cat species may include its use of a wide range of habitats, better adaptation to human settlements, and few large predators to compete with, since those have been overhunted or exterminated in certain areas.

Habitat

In China, the Leopard Cat’s habitat varies widely.  It occupies temperate, subtropical and tropical habitats, including primary and secondary forest, hill forest, shrub and grassland, but it is thought to prefer secondary forest and forest fringes.  It is less common in the arid areas of the north and the north-west, as well as high mountain shrubland and highland grass habitat.  It also lives in man-made economic forests (e.g. rubber and tea plantations and pine forests etc.) and agricultural landscapes, and is often seen near villages.

Main threats

In China, commercial exploitation has been heavy for the last several decades, especially in the southwest. The earliest available harvest numbers are from 1952 and add up to around 14,000 skins.  By 1981 this number had risen to 38,000 skins. In 1985-1988 very high estimates sometimes exceeded 400,000 skins and at least half of these skins came from Yunnan and Guizhou Province alone.  Many of these skins were exported to Europe until their import was banned in 1988, due to concerns over the species’ status.  Skins were also exported to Japan (50,000 skins in 1989), as well as surrounding regions (e.g. Nepal, Kashmir).

While export numbers were still high in 1988 (nearly 200,000 skins), they started to decline from less and 100,000 skins in 1989 to 8,000 in 1992 until export was suspended in 1993.

Major threats for this species in China in the past were over-harvesting and habitat loss with the strong deforestation during the rapid expansion of the human population.  Nowadays, the extent of direct persecution in form of illegal harvest and of indirect persecution through secondary poisoning of rodents is not known.  The Leopard Cat may profit from the human rural exodus, the reforestation and the decrease in commercial harvest, but there is no study available on the long-term population trends.

Current and future protection

Chinese export of Leopard Cat skins was suspended in April 1993.  At that time, the Chinese authorities declared a stockpile of roughly 800,000 skins and said that there had been no legal taking of skins since 1989.  China’s CITES Management Authority stated that export of skins or products not already held in stock was not permitted until a previously announced field survey had been completed, and a succeeding management program established.  Because the field survey had not been completed, after the old stockpile from the 1990s had been exported to exhaustion, no export permits were issued in subsequent years.

There may be limited consumption in China’s domestic market, but the number should be low (perhaps a thousand or so yearly).  This may indicate that the hunting pressure on the Chinese Leopard Cat population has been dramatically reduced in recent years.  China’s massive natural forest protection campaign since 1998 may also be tremendously helpful for habitat recovery, which should be beneficial for the Leopard Cat.  Nevertheless, until comprehensive status and trade surveys supported by population ecology studies have been carried out, the status of the Leopard Cat remains unclear.

Source: IUCN Cat News Special Issue Autumn 2010, Author Yu Jinping

Member Photos: Amur Leopards

We are always happy to showcase wild cat photos on this blog, so if you have any pictures you to brag about, please email them to  isec@wildcatconservation.org. 

Our wandering member Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more wild cat photos, this time featuring some of the big guys. These Amur leopard photos were taken at the Cat survival Trust in Hertfordshire, UK. Click the photos to enlarge.

On a personal note – as Director of ISEC Canada, I am naturally partial to the smaller wild cats. 🙂 However, the first leopard photo here has absolutely captivated me. I find myself again and again, enlarging the picture and just gazing at it… I don’t know why this photo is affecting me this way, but I do think Ben has outdone himself with this one!

You can see more of Ben’s photographs on his website at www.naturalencounters.co.uk

With a total population of 30-35 individuals, the Amur or Far Eastern leopard is one of the most endangered wild cats on earth. Read more about the vital conservation programs for them on the Amur Leopard Conservation website.

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Cats In China: Eurasian Lynx

The Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx is widely distributed from the northeast to the northwest and has been reported in the Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve, according to local reserve reports.  Specific distribution sites were confirmed by local field surveys when nature reserves were established.  In northern China the Eurasian lynx is distributed only in the mountainous areas surrounding Daxinganling Mountain.  Distribution areas include the forest in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces and the northern part of Inner Mongolia in Northeast China.   In the northwest the lynx is seen almost everywhere in Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai provinces as well as western Inner Mongolia and Tibet.  Lynx are not reported in southern China, indicating that the Eurasian lynx in a palaearctic species adapted to cold weather regions.

Threats and conservation

Two decades ago factors threatening the lynx including shooting, snaring, poisoning and removing cubs from dens.  Since the Wildlife Protection Law was enacted in 1988, hunting activities have been banned.  Strict limits on personal firearm possession since 2000 and associated punishments reduced field hunting sharply.  From 2003 to 2008, 31 lynx pelts, 27 small-bore rifles and 19 home-made Tibetan powder guns were confiscated in Qiantang Nature Reserve in Tibet.

Poaching is presently the main threat to lynx.  Poachers do not intend to snare lynx particularly, but are seeking species of high economic value such as red deer, roe deer, goral, antelope and gazelle.  Snares are left in the open and present a year-round danger to all wild animals.  Some of the nature reserves conduct snare removal efforts.  At Hunchun nature reserve, volunteers collected 308 snares and traps in 6 days during December 2005, during another 4-day search in January 2008 located and confiscated 511 snares and 3 clips.  At Saihanwula Nature Reserve we conducted trap removal efforts during the winters of 2007 and 2008; over 300 snares were collected.  Higher penalties were imposed on 11 poachers; those snaring for hares were fined 2000 Yuan and for deer 5000 Yuan; this is about half a year’s income for local farmers.  These penalties curbed poaching behaviour effectively; the footprints of lynx appeared steadily in the core protected areas during 2008.  But poaching is still the primary problem for nature reserve managers.

Although the national Law of Wildlife Protection was enacted in 1988 and the provincial governments were issued management regulations, law enforcement is always complicated by the personalized network of relationship and connections.  The situation is more difficult in minority communities such as in western Sichuan, Tibet and Xinjiang, where local minorities consider clothes or garment decorations from wild animal pelts to be symbols of cultural tradition and higher social dignity.

Although more and more land is being set aside in nature reserves, the lynx populations within the reserves are being impacted by the fragmentation of habitat due to expansion of human activities in rural areas.  Populations are becoming isolated from one another.  How inbreeding will influence genetic diversity in the long term is an open question.

The Eurasian lynx is listed as a national second class key protected species under strict protection of the Law of Wildlife Protection in China.  Lynx habitat has been enlarged thanks to the implementation of the project of Wildlife Conservation and Nature Reserve Construction.  As of 2008 there were over 2500 different classified reserves n the mainland, additionally, the quality of staff, facilities, and the checking stations are much improved.  Some of the nature reserves have implemented monitoring programs addressing predator-prey relationships and food supply, which have helped ungulate recovery.  These monitoring programs revealed that takin, giant panda and mainland serow increased more than 3% at Changqing nature reserve and the provisioned feeding accelerated the blue sheep population’s recovery.

Source: IUCN Cat News Special Issue Autumn 2010, Author Bao Weidong

Cats In China: Chinese Mountain Cat

The Chinese mountain cat Felis bieti is found only in China and has a very limited distribution.  Little to no information exists regarding the status or abundance of this elusive species.  Although it has been widely reported across western China, many records are unconfirmed or erroneous.  These authors examined museum specimens and reports from across China and concluded that the only confirmed specimens of the Chinese mountain cat came from the eastern and north-eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai and Sichuan.  These two provinces account for all confirmed records of the Chinese mountain cat.

A dubious record from Sichuan province claimed that the Chinese mountain cat occurs in the same area as  the giant panda, in montane bamboo forest.  However, extensive camera trapping in panda habitat has never yielded a single photograph of a Chinese mountain cat.

Most reports are for skins collected in markets or villages rather than from actual observations.  Often the true origin of specimens or skins is unknown and thus not recorded.  Skins collected in one area and sold in another have led to confusion regarding the distribution and habitat of the Chinese mountain cat.  Specimens such as those found in Sichuan are speculated to have come from the local area or from the borderlands of the extreme western edge of Sichuan Province or from the Tibetan Plateau.  There are no records of occurrence in any protected areas, and there is no information regarding population trend.

Habitat

The first photographs of a wild Chinese mountain cat were taken only very recently by camera traps during light snow in May 2007 at 3570 m altitude.  Actual pictures were taken later in that year.  These photographs were taken in rolling grasslands and brush-covered mountains.  The Chinese mountain cat occurs in high-elevation steppe grassland, alpine meadow, alpine shrubland and coniferous forest edges, between 2500 m and 5000 m in elevation; it has not been confirmed in true desert or heavily forested mountains.  Six Chinese mountain cat burrows were located at 3000-3600 m above sea level.  The Chinese mountain cat copes with extremely high and low temperatures, and moves easily through snow in a windy and seasonally inhospitable habitat.

Main threats

There are two threats to the continued existence of the Chinese mountain cat:  widespread poisoning programs and the skin trade.  Small mammal control programs using poison to eradicate pikas, voles and moles from large areas are sanctioned by the government.  Pikas are believed to compete for graze with domestic livestock.  Between 1958 and 1978, large-scale poisoning campaigns were conducted in both Qinghai and Sichuan Provinces as well as in Gansu Province and Tibet.  The program was terminated with the discovery that carnivores that preyed on pikas were also victims of poisoning.  However, smaller scale poisonings continue throughout much of the Chinese mountain cat’s range and affect both rodents and lagomorphs.  Such poisoning programs cause general environmental pollution and are likely to be a human health hazard as well.

Direct killing by local pastoralists for the skin trade and for articles of clothing and accessories is also a threat to Chinese mountain cat populations.  For instance, traditional hats are made from Chinese mountain cat pelts.  Locals kill Chinese mountain cats by either trapping or poisoning the cat.  Depending on how often such an event occurs, local pastoralists can with patience and time extirpate a local population one individual at a time.  Skins are sold openly in street-side shops and are commonly found in markets in Xining and southern China.  There are no reliable figures for the number of skins in trade and most numbers were gathered through direct observation.  In Sichuan Province, thirty pelts were taken in 1980.  In 1986, George Schaller counted sixteen Chinese mountain cat skins for sale in the markets in Lingxia, Gansu Province, but reported that they were less common than those of Eurasian lynx.

The illegal fur trade might well still continue.  In 1998 and 2001 around 50 skins were reported to be on sale at Songpan and Jiuzhaigou markets, even though the species is protected throughout China by laws. The widespread and open availability of skins suggest that local law enforcement officials are either unaware of the law or reluctant to enforce it.  Possible records form Qinghai suggest that Chinese mountain cats might also be crossbreeding with domestic cats.

Current and future protection measures

Sanjiangyuan Reserve, Qinghai Lake Reserve and Jiuzhaigou Reserve have been created within the range of the Chinese mountain cat, but most of the species’ range is not protected.

With respect to poisoning control programs, research has found that pikas reach their greatest densities and cause greatest damage when rangeland has already been significantly degraded by domestic stock, suggesting that authorities should focus their efforts to prevent over-grazing.  Healthy predator populations also limit pika numbers at no cost to humans; pikas are an important food source for a variety of carnivores and birds of prey including the Chinese mountain cat.

A survey is needed to increase understanding of the distribution and range, and to estimate the population size of the Chinese mountain cat.  Political action and law enforcement is required to limit illegal hunting and trade.

Source: IUCN Cat News Special Issue 5; Authors Yin Yufeng, Drubgyal Naktsang, J Sanderson

Member Photos: Eurasian Lynx

Many of our ISEC Canada members are keen photographers, and include both amateur and professional photogs. We are always happy to showcase wild cat photos on this blog, so if you have any pictures you would like to brag about, please email them to our office at isec@wildcatconservation.org. Click on photos to enlarge.

Our wandering member Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more wild cat photos, this time of a beautiful Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, taken at Newquay Zoo, Cornwall, UK.

These are the largest cats in the lynx family. Russia comprises 75% of their range, and they are also found in Scandinavia, China, and temperate climes of Central Asia.  Scattered populations remain in eastern and western Europe.  Eurasian lynx inhabit mainly forest areas with dense cover, cold semi-desert, tundra, open woodland and scrub up to 4700 m in the Himlalayas.

The population of these cats is considered secure, with large areas of their massive range still intact, especially in Russia where the population is estimated at 30,000-35,0000 animals. They are no longer legally hunted for the fur trade, but illegal trade continues throughout parts of their range.

Cats in China: Legal Status and Conservation

Thirteen felid species are distributed over all three climatic zones in China. Felids are numerous and widespread in China, and hence the country bears an important responsibility to cat conservation.

China is a country with a long history of agriculture and forestry, both having had a great impact on wildlife survival. From ancient times, the distribution of cats in China has gradually shrunk, and over the country as a whole, habitat deterioration and destruction are common problems that have led to population declines. In relation to the protection of wildlife and habitats, the Chinese government has proclaimed some ordinances concerning wildlife protection since 1960, issued the Law of Wildlife Protection in 1988, and is now revising this law.

There were various complicated situations concerning the implementation of wildlife protection ordinances due to governmental and social attitudes and economic conditions from 1950 to mid-1980. At that time, governments at different levels had called for attacks on nature, promoting the over-use of woodlands and grasslands, and hunting fur animals etc, trying to solve the country’s economic difficulties and overcome poverty. This had serious effects on wildlife protection.

Wildlife resources in China belong to the forestry executive system, which is composed of the State Forestry Administration, the provincial Forestry Bureau and the County Forestry Bureau. Police departments are authorized to persecute and punish poaching, illegal hunting and illegal trade in wildlife.

The establishment of nature reserves is one of the most important ways to conserve wildlife. China’s nature reserves are divided into national, provincial and county level parks, manifesting different levels of importance of the protected areas. In general, the establishment of new protected areas starts at county level and is gradually promoted to provincial and national level. The different levels of protected areas are financially supported by the respective governments.

Source: CATnews Special Issue 5, Autumn 2010 Authors: Lu Jun, Hy Defu and Yang Liangliang

Next week: Status and Conservation of small and medium cats

Cats In China: Status of Medium and Small Species

The medium sized cats of China are the European lynx Lynx lynx and the clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa.

Lynx are widely distributed in northern China and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. At present the number and distribution of lynx countrywide remain unknown. Although lynx occur over a large area, there have been relatively strong human activities across their range, and so the species was ranked as a Class 1 protected species. At present we do not know how many natural reserves include lynx.

Clouded leopards occur almost all over southern China. At present the numbers of clouded leopards countywide, as well as their regional distribution, remain unknown. There are intensive social and economic activities in their range, and although it covers a large area, they exist in limited numbers so were ranked as a Class 1 protected species. Almost all reserves in middle and southern China are believed to host the clouded leopard as one of the main protected animals, but the exact number in these reserves remains unknown.

Because large cats such as tigers and leopards are so rare nowadays, their role in the ecosystem has been greatly weakened so medium sized cats can be a partial substitute for the big cats. Therefore the protection of medium sized cats becomes more important for maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Cats of small size include the Chinese mountain cat Felis bieti, the Asiatic wildcat Felis silvestris, the jungle cat Felis chaus, the manul or Pallas’ cat Otocolobus manul, the marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata, the Asiatic golden cat Catopuma temmincki, the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis and the fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus.

Traditionally, the main economic value of small cats was their fur. The main threats are habitat changes, and chemical poisons used for rodent control in agriculture, forestry and grassland. It is well known that small cats play a great role in rodent control and are indispensable in maintaining a well-sustained ecosystem, a function to which much more attention should be paid.

As of 2006, China has established natural reserves covering 15% of its total territory. Nevertheless, except in some areas where the number and occurrence of these species have been studied, knowledge of the accurate distribution and population size of each cat species is still suffering from a lack of scientific data.

Since 1995, China has conducted a wildlife survey for Class I and II protected species countrywide every ten years.  However the method was not particularly appropriate for cat surveys, leaving gaps of knowledge about cats in each province. Meanwhile the local people still have a very limited awareness of conservation, and cats still suffer form occasional poaching activities. There are insufficient funds for protection and even less for regular monitoring of wild populations, both being necessary for the effective conservation and long term survival of cats. Cat species would also benefit from increased recognition from government, academia and local communities.

Source: CATnews Special Issue 5, Autumn 2010 Authors: Lu Jun, Hy Defu and Yang Liangliang

Next week: The only endemic cat species in China

Member Photos: Asiatic Wildcat

Many of our ISEC Canada members are keen photographers, and include both amateur and professional photogs. We are always happy to showcase wild cat photos on this blog, so if you have any pictures you would like to brag about, please email them to our office at isec@wildcatconservation.org. Click on photos to enlarge.

Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more wild cat photos. This week we’re featuring the Asiatic or Indian Wildcat Felis silvestris ornata, photographed at Port Lympne Wildlife Park in Kent.

Asiatic Wildcats are another sub-species of the wild ranging Wildcat Felis silvestris, the ancestor of our much-loved domestic cat. They are found from the highlands of Central Asia to India. The various Wildcat sub-divisions are based largely on physical appearances and distribution. The group includes 19 different sub-species, including the highly endangered Scottish Wildcat and the wide-roaming European Wildcat. All are threatened by the dilution of the species gene pool through continued interbreeding with feral domestic cats.

Read more about the various Wildcat sub-species on our website

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