Monthly Wild Cat News
A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
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!
Andean Cats Oreailurus jacobita are one of the most beautiful of all wild cats. The fur is mainly ash grey with brown-yellowish blotches that are distributed as vertical lines at both sides of the body, giving the appearance of continuous stripes. Extremely thick, plush fur of silvery grey is very fine and soft, up to 5 cm long on the back, and the underside is pale with dark spots. Prominent dark grey bars also run across the chest and forelegs. The backs of the large, rounded ears are dark grey, and the nose is black.
The legs also have dark and narrower blotches or stripes, but they don’t form complete rings. Large feet are marked with blackish bars and spots, and the soles are greyish-brown. Their magnificent tail is about 70% of the body length. Because the underside has hair as long and as thick as the upper side, it appears perfectly round. It is ringed with six to nine dark bands, and has a black tip. The long tail is probably used for warmth, wrapping it around the body when asleep, tucking their nose inside.
The Andean Cat is a medium-sized felid; from measures of skins the total length in adults varies from 740 to 850 mm; tail length is from 410 to 485. Only two records on the weight are available, the first from a sub-adult specimen in Peru, which weighed 4 kg, and the second from an adult female which weighed 4.5 kg.
There is no variation between the fur colour of males or females, but differences between juvenile and adult specimens have been found. The juveniles have a lighter coloration and more and smaller blotches, which means the young can be confused much more easily with Pampas Cats Leopardus colocolo.
These cats are found on the high Andes of Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina and Chile. They are apparently very specialized in their habitat requirements, having been found in the rocky arid and semi arid zones above the timber line, up to 4,000 metres. Vegetation consists mainly of small scattered dwarf shrubs and clumps of bunch grass, with numerous rock piles and boulders.
In 2002, an Andean Cat and kitten were sighted in a reserve in San Juan province, Argentina, which extended their known distribution south by 500 kilometres. Field work in 2004 found evidence of these cats in the foothills and steppe on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains. These new records are the lowest ever reported, and extend their distribution to scrub habitat within the Patagonian steppe. The foothills population has a patchy distribution, and is thought to coincide with that of their main prey species.
The only population estimate available was for a 25,000 ha area in northern Chile, where it was estimated to be one cat per 5 km². Reduced genetic diversity has also been found in the northern Chile population, suggesting a small historic population size. Signs of their presence decreased with proximity to human settlement.
The total population size could be below 2,500 mature individuals, with a declining trend. Their distribution coincides with the historic range of the mountain chinchilla, which was hunted to the brink of extinction for the fur trade a century ago. Their diet reveals a preference for another member of the same family, the mountain viscacha, which lives in patchily distributed small colonies, and has also declined due to hunting pressure.
The ecology and behaviour of these cats is barely known. Most of the reported sightings of Andean Cats have been during daytime; however, current studies through camera traps and observations of a radio-collared animal indicate the activity is mainly at night or crepuscular. The activity pattern of the Andean Cat is likely related to feeding habits of its main prey species.
Researchers have found that Andean Cats are much more dependent on the viscacha than the Pampas Cats, which take a wider variety of prey. Pampas Cats were also more abundant that Andean Cats, even at higher altitudes, and competition for viscacha prey could negatively impact the Andean Cat.
The Andean Cat is perhaps a solitary species, but may be seen in pairs or with cubs during mating season and after births. Mating season, according to local people in Bolivia, is between July and August; however is possible that this period is extended until November or December due to the fact small cubs have been observed in October and April. Nothing more is known of their reproduction.
Habitat loss though extensive mining, resource extraction for fuel and cattle grazing are the main threats to the Andean Cat, followed by hunting.
Hunting by local people who consider the Andean Cat a predator of their small domestic livestock has been frequently reported. These cats are also killed by dogs accompanying local shepherds, and hunted for food and traditional medicine in central Peru. While they have full protection at national levels, law enforcement is problematic, and recently hunted specimens have been observed in the field and for sale in special markets.
Andean Cats are considered sacred animals according to indigenous traditions. Throughout much of their range, dried and stuffed specimens are kept by local people for use in harvest festivals. Hunting for such cultural practices may represent a significant threat to the species. In Argentina’s Catamarca province, 69% of people interviewed said they had hunted the small cats.
Although the Pampas Cat looks quite different in other parts of its range, in the high Andes the two species look similar, to the extent that local people and scientists find it difficult to distinguish the two.
The Andean Cat has seldom been observed in the wild by scientists. However, the number of recent distribution records has greatly increased due to the efforts of the Andean Cat Alliance, a network of specialist researchers formed in 1999. There are no known Andean Cats in captivity, and few museum specimens. The Andean Cat is one of the few small cat species listed as Endangered (2008).
For more information, see The Andean Cat Alliance
By Mauro Lucherini, GECM, Universidad Nacional del Sur, Argentina
Our team has been working to contribute to the conservation of the endangered Andean cat Leopardus jacobita since 1998, as part of the efforts of a cross-border initiative called Andean cat Alliance (www.gatoandino.org) that aims to preserve this felid and its habitat throughout its entire distribution range. In the last few years, our project has concentrated its efforts in a remote area of almost pristine habitat in the high Andes of northwestern Argentina (Vilama, Jujuy province). Here we carried out interviews with local people to analyze human/cat conflicts, we worked with hundreds of children from rural schools, and we were successful at collecting a number of camera trapping photographs sufficient to prove that the population density of this cat is low and that it is not simply shy, but truly rare.
And yet, after years of field work we were still struggling to understand the reasons for this cat’s rarity.
To answer this question, a couple of years ago our team decided to accept the greatest challenge: live trapping and collaring a sample of individuals of the two small cats living together in the area (Andean cat and Pampas cat Leopardus colocolo) and track their movements. Our team started live trapping in September 2011, full of expectations, but 46 days later, when summer thunder storms forced us to stop fieldwork, we had only been able to catch a young Pampas cat, too small to wear a collar.
By last May, when we rebuilt our field camp, located at 4200 m elevation and a distance of two hours walk from the closest village, our optimism had partially faded away. When the trap alarms went off five hours after activating the traps, we thought it was a false trigger. To our total surprise, what we found was an adult male Andean cat!
This was only the second specimen of this species to be live trapped and radiocollared ever! Even more unexpectedly, a week later a Pampas cat was also captured, in the same exact spot as the Andean cat.
Our study site enjoys the typical environmental conditions of the southern high Andes: extreme daily temperature variations (from 25 to -15o C), frequent strong winds, severe dryness, and, of course, lack of oxygen in the air. In spite of this challenging habitat and climate, with the support of a wildlife vet from San Francisco Zoo (A. Mutlow) we were successful at collaring and releasing both cats, when fully recovered, at the trapping site.
We used collars with a new technology that enables on-board storage of positions obtained through a GPS receiver. By now, if the equipment had worked properly, our team would have been able to finally learn a lot more from the mysterious cats living in the wilderness of the High Andes. Unfortunately, the self release mechanisms of both GPS collars failed a couple of weeks after each capture and we were left with about 30 locations for each cat. Nevertheless, we are not giving up and are now looking for additional funding to buy new collars and tag a few more of these mysterious cats.
To help the scientists learn what these cats need to survive, you can make a donation of any amount to this project. 100% of funds go directly to the cats!
Dr. Mauro Lucherini has sent us a set of pictures that were recently obtained from one of their camera locations in the espinal area of central Argentina. According to the researchers, this is a very, very dry and hot region and cattle ranching is destroying the natural shrubland but some wildlife is still there, including cats!
The Argentine Espinal is a dry bushland, interesting, but not the most hospitable habitat in the world! Here is a picture taken by a camera trap with a thermometer. Fifty three degrees Celsius is about 127 Fahrenheit.
The most common mammals here are certainly not cats.
But with a little patience….
You may attract the attention of a Geoffroy’s Cat!
Especially when rain does not come!
While I was looking at these photos, I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth the researchers manage to find a small, house-cat sized animal in the vastness of the Argentine espinal, and learn where to place their cameras. I asked Dr. Lucherini this question, and here is his reply:
Your question is truely a good one. The vastness and homogenity of the landscapes where we work is a major challenge. We look for habitat edges, natural or created by man, such as roads or, even better small cow trails. Large trees (which are relatively uncommon) may also provide a good spot. But we also put 5 cameras in each site to increase capture probability. To understand the factors affecting carnivore presence at landscape scale, we have already sampled 23 sites (at least 5 km apart), leaving the camera traps for 25 days in each site.
Read more about the Geoffroy’s Cat
See more photos received from the research team at GECM
From November 2009 to February 2010, researchers used paired camera traps to photograph ocelots Leopardus pardalis in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (LANWR) and the surrounding area. Eleven adult ocelots (8 male and 3 female) and two kittens were photographed. One adult female and one adult male, previously unknown to this population, were documented, as well as an adult male that had not been documented in four years.
The current study and resulting population estimate builds on a long-term monitoring and research program conducted by the US Fish & Wildlife Service between April 2007 and October 2009. Eight ocelots (six males, two females) were documented during that period. One of the two identified females, known to be at least 13 years old, was found to have a large growth in her uterus and was determined to be non-reproductive. Biologists had significant concerns that if the only known reproductive female in the population died, the males might disperse in search of mates, thus negatively impacting the population. Therefore, a focused effort to survey for additional ocelots, particularly females, was designed to provide a more thorough and scientific population assessment than had ever been conducted for this population.
To reduce roadway mortality, the USFWS is working with the Texas Department of Transportation and other partners to identify high risk areas and install wildlife road crossings.
As part of a long-term ocelot recovery effort, US Fish & Wildlife continues to increase available habitat through acquisition and restoration while acting to minimize the threats such as traffic-caused moralities.
To initiate efforts to translocate ocelots into Texas populations, the Ocelot Recovery Team formed a Translocation Sub-committee in 2008 that created a plan outlining the justification, methods and benefits for the translocation of these small cats from Tamaulipas, Mexico to populations in Texas.
This survey provides the first comprehensive, systematic population estimate for ocelots in and around LANWR in southern Texas. The USFWS is committed to continuing such long-term monitoring and research in collaboration with partners to better protect ocelot populations and to advance recover of this species in the USA and northern Mexico.
Source: M.A. Sternberg and J.L. Mays, IUCN/SSC Cat News Autumn 2011
Oncillas (Leopardus tigrinus) are small cats found in the forests of South America. Weighing between 1.75 and 3.5 kg, the species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and little is known about their behaviour in the wild. In the past, most zoos have had poor success in breeding Oncillas.
At the Reproduction Centre for Small Felids in the Rio de Janiero Zoo, researchers are trying to find ways to help the cats engage in more naturalistic behaviours through the use of environmental enrichment. The hope is that encouraging natural behaviours will help the cats behave in a more natural way and improve reproductive success.
In this study, researchers used two different scents in the cats’ enclosures and then recorded the cats’ behaviour. Their behaviour was recorded using cameras, allowing researchers to take data around the clock instead of just during normal working hours when researchers were present.
Data were collected over a period of two months on eight individual cats. Each animal was observed for 360 hours. Baseline data were collected over a period of three consecutive days. After the three days, 1 g. of dried cinnamon was put into the cats’ enclosures among alfalfa and wood chips. The 1 g. of cinnamon was put in once a day for three days. During the subsequent three days, post-enrichment data were taken to analyze the effects of the cinnamon after it was no longer being placed in the enclosure.
At this point in the experiment, the researchers waited 30 days to allow the cinnamon to completely clear away. Then the next phase of the experiment began with researchers placing 1 g. of dried catnip in each of the cats’ enclosures, and following the procedure as listed above with the cinnamon.
After analyzing the data, it was discovered that there was a significant difference in pacing behaviour before, during, and after the introduction of the cinnamon. Cats paced less once cinnamon was introduced and for three days thereafter. This suggests that the benefit of this enrichment is prolonged. Researchers found no significant difference in pacing behaviour before, during, or after the addition of catnip to the enclosures. The authors were surprised by this finding but suggested it could be due to individual animals’ preferences or the way in which the catnip was presented.
Having used pacing as a measure of animal welfare in this study, the researchers conclude that olfactory enrichment can positively affect animal welfare as it decreases pacing behaviour.
This study is extremely useful for keepers of all felids as it provides good data that suggest inexpensive olfactory enrichment can improve animal welfare.
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.
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:
These gorgeous photos were sent to us by wildlife photographer Phil Perry, who is located in Swaziland, South Africa. His travels have also taken him to Brazil and India so we present a variety of wild cat photos, all taken in the cats’ natural habitats. Thank you Phil, for sharing!
Serval with rodent prey – South Africa
Jungle Cat out hunting at Dusk in Kanha National Park, India
Tiger walking through jungle – Kanha National Park, India
Male Puma at night (attracted to call of female) – Pantanal, Brazil
Jaguars Mating at night on a sand bank on River Cuiaba, Pantanal, Brazil
Female Jaguar at forest edge – Pantanal, Brazil
More of Phil’s Pantanal jaguar photos on Wildlife Extra News
Reprinted with permission of the Andean Cat Alliance, a group of professionals from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru working to develop coordinated actions for the conservation of the Andean cat and its habitat.
Andean cats show up in photos and paintings in Lauca National Park, Chile
By Agustin Iriarte, Rodrigo Villalobos and Nicolas Lagos
During the first half of 2011 we have been very active in the Region XV of Arica and Paranicota, with education campaigns and new surveys. The team produced new, colourful education materials in Spanish and Aimara, the native language, including 1000 posters and 1000 brochures with information about Andean cats and the fauna and flora of the High Andes. We distributed these materials among 12 rural schools and discussed with students about the threats Andean cats face and why it is import to protect them. In the schools of Ticnamar and Putre the children created amazing paintings depicting animals of their region in great detail and with bright colours.
At the same time, Andean cats made themselves visible in 10 of our camera-traps, distributed in 31 sites over an area of around 2,000 km². Our intensive work, with a sampling effort of 5,842 trap-nights, was amply compensated by images of seven different Andean cats, among them two kittens!
The Itinerant Exhibition spreads the plight of Andean cats in Bolivia
By Gabriela Aguirre
Through informal environmental education the Itinerant Exhibition brings information about Andean cats and High Andes biodiversity to many students, to the general public in El Alto city, the local Zoo Vesty Pakos Sofro and to Sunday fairs in La Paz. Our main objective has been to raise awareness of the need to protect Andean cats and the High Andes ecosystem as a whole, and to create positive attitudes towards conservation.
As a result, more people know about Andean cats and are aware of their conservation challenges, mainly from hunting. When people possess the knowledge needed to develop a positive attitude, they become active conservation subjects themselves, wokring in favour of the protection of Andean cats and their habitats. This is a versatile education strategy that the Andean Cat Alliance will soon implement in other regions and countries.
Protecting Andean cats from persecution in the Patagonian steppe
By Susan Walker, WCS Argentina – Patagonian and Andean Steppe Program
The population of Andean cats of Patagonia was only discovered in 2005. Genetic analysis indicates a long history of isolation of this population from the cats of the Andes. In Patagonia, Andean cats are killed by goat herders who consider them a threat to their goats. During the past year we documented numerous recent killings of Patagonian cats, especially in one large plateau of southern Mendoza. Here at least 12 herders have seen Andean cats, and at least 10 of the cats have been killed since 2008. Given the natural rarity and low density of this species, and that we have probably not documented every cat killed, this rate of killing could result in extinction of an important sub-population, interrupting connectivity with the southernmost cats in Neuquén province.
We are seeking to prevent this local extinction through a pro-active approach to immediately stop killing of Andean cats in the plateau, including “payment for services” to herders when photos of Andean cats are taken on their lands, in addition to continuing to provide them with assistance for reducing predation losses.
Establishing the foundations for long-term conservation of Andean cats in Bolivia
By Juan Carlos Huaranca and Lilian Villalba
Our efforts are giving fruit and we can now confirm the existence of an Andean cat population in the area known as Ciudad de Piedra (Stone City) in the department of La Paz. Our camera-traps captured three different Andean cats and eight Pampas cats, with a density estimated at 0.018 and 0.049 individuals per km² respectively These results coincide with those from studies in other regions, which showed Andean cats to be the less abundant of the two felids.
Equipped with a set of camera traps, we are now planning to survey other areas in the country, in collaboration with the Institute of Ecology at the University Major de San Andres and Wildlife Conservation Society.