Monthly Wild Cat News
A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
by W. Angermeyer
Before moving on in my series of posts on conservation programs for endangered captive cats, I would like to go in to a bit more depth on the American Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums (AZA’s) conservation programs in order to provide some updated information and answer some questions ISEC received.
In the past couple of years, the AZA has made some changes and they are phasing out Population Management Programs (PMPs). All of the felid PMPs have been changed to Species Survival Plans (SSPs) which are now designated as one of three colors: green, yellow and red. If an SSP is green, that means that the population in captivity is predicted to be sustainable with a high percentage of genetic diversity (at least 90%) for at least the next 100 years based on genetic analyses. If an SSP is yellow, then the population of that species in AZA zoos is OK now but is not sustainable. These populations need work if we want the species to persist in zoos long-term. Finally, red SSPs are populations that are nowhere near sustainable (less than 50 individuals with poor genetic diversity) and need a lot of help or may be extinct in zoos in the very near future.
The original purpose of an SSP was to get zoos to communicate and cooperate when managing animals to ensure that the captive population of each species was healthy so zoos weren’t constantly taking animals out of the wild or inbreeding to produce individuals. Genetics certainly played a big role in influencing this purpose. Now the purpose (also genetics driven) is to achieve sustainability within the captive population so that we have healthy populations in the long-term. One reason is to have a reserve of animals to help supplement the wild population in case it is ever necessary. Although zoos and researchers still have much to learn about how to effectively reintroduce animals back into the wild, the possibility to do so is a goal and is a reality for some SSPs such as the Mexican Wolf, Whooping Cranes, Vancouver Island Marmots or the Amur leopard. An SSP species may not be considered endangered in the wild but might require better management in captivity to improve the genetics of the captive population.
Captive individuals that are part of an SSP breeding program may or may not be on public exhibit depending on the availability of space at the institution. A shortage of space tends to be more of an issue with mammalian species. Some institutions do have off-exhibit space and utilize this space as necessary. Whether or not breeding stock will be on exhibit depends on how imperative privacy is for breeding and births. If public display is detrimental, then it will be a priority for off-exhibit space to be created. A lot of species that zoos have had success with breed fine while on exhibit. Each individual animal’s temperament would need to be considered as well. For zoos in temperate or sub-arctic climates, there would also be seasonal considerations and limitations for housing.
It could be said that all AZA institutions participate in all SSP programs because at some point they are likely to communicate about an SSP species such as when they are considering bringing in a new species They must agree to follow the rules of the SSP which vary according to the color designation. For example, all AZA zoos have to follow the breeding and transfer recommendations of a green SSP (however, keep in mind that recommendations are never made without considering the wishes and wellbeing of each zoo). Zoos are not forced to follow the recommendations of yellow or red SSPs if they choose not to, but it is strongly encouraged. Any zoo housing an individual member of an SSP species participates to some degree in the program.
Lastly, there was a question regarding fundraising for SSP animals regardless of whether the institution houses that SSP species. Any zoo may fund raise for any species regardless of whether there is an SSP designation for that species and any SSP can (and with the exception of extenuating circumstances probably will) accept funds raised by anyone regardless of whether they are an AZA accredited organization.
So in short, I guess you can think of the AZA Felid Tag as a very complex and involved dating service for cats. I wonder if there are some cats out on blind dates or taking the plunge in an arranged marriage for Valentine’s Day?
Thanks for providing updated information on the AZA’s SSPs and TAGs to:
– Dan Dembiec from the Jacksonville Zoo, Serval SSP Coordinator/Studbook Keeper and a Felid TAG Steering Committee Member
– Pam Pritchard, Animal Collection Specialist at the Calgary Zoo
Thank you to Mr Guilt for the Clouded Leopard photos.
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)
Sometimes you just have to shake your head (or bang in on the table) about the way things work in the world.
A couple of years ago, the government of India announced an ambitious plan to reintroduce cheetahs to India. Cheetahs there had been been hunted to extinction centuries ago, and tiger numbers in that country continue to plummet. The plan sharply divided the wild cat conservation community, but is apparently going ahead. See our previous posts on the subject here and here.
Over the course of the reintroduction, or translocation as the plan should be called, 60 cheetahs will be moved from Africa to three sites in India.
One of the sites choosen is the Kuno Palpur wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Predesh. This also the site that the government has chosen for the translocation of Asiatic lions from Gujurat. The sanctuary already contains tigers and leopards.
In Africa, lions and leopards are direct threats to the cheetah population, killing and eating cubs whenever they find them. Tigers can now be added to the list of predators on cheetahs.
The idea of moving cheetahs to India was bad enough in the first place, a politically motivated plan with more thought towards publicity than cheetah survival. Now they choose to move them into an area where they’re putting lions, snuggling them in next to the existing tigers and leopards.
India also has six small cat species – caracal, jungle cat, Asian wildcat, leopard cat, clouded leopard and rusty-spotted cat – the latter two very endangered. Has anyone thought about looking after the conservation of the cats they’ve already got, before adding the already endangered cheetah to the mix?
You can read more on the Indian cheetah reintroduction here. Let us know what you think of the whole idea.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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…:-)
Posted by Pat Bumstead
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 email@example.com.
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
Well, this is just going to make your day. Nearly four minutes of Rusty-spotted cat cuteness from the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in the UK. Enjoy!
Along with the Black-footed cats, Rusty-spotted are considered the smallest wild cat species in the world. Adult Rusty’s weigh in at about one kg (2 pounds) and are about 35-48 cm (14 – 19 inches) in length. They are found only in India and Sri Lanka, and their exact distribution there is unknown.
For me, the most intriguing and magnetising thing about small wild felines is their sublime mysticality.
If you gaze into the eyes of a wild cat, looking beyond their striking coat, further yet – beyond their deep intelligence, you may see something of a mysterious aura, perhaps more spiritual than visual, that is the very essence of these animals.
My appreciation for nature began at an early age. My parents used to take my sister and I to the coast on a weekend, and when the tide was out we would go exploring all the little rock pools. We also went on holiday a few times every year, usually abroad, and would always spend plenty of time outdoors. It was this adventurous start in life that helped shape me into who I am today, as I’m sure most of you will have similar stories of your own.
It’s never too late to be inspired by nature, by our planet.
Cat conservation still remains heavily focused on the big cats. When I became involved in the field of conservation, stories such as that of the rare bay cat and elusive Andean cat enticed me to learn more about the felids which share our world. Today, the more I learn about these stunning predators, the deeper my intrigue and amazement. And we still have so much more to learn. Research is ongoing. Preservation efforts continue.
Perhaps until we know everything there is to know about small wild cats, then felines such as the endangered Bornean bay cat, whose habitat remains a mystery, will continue to elude and mystify people for many years to come.
Researchers suspect there are less than 2,500 mature bay cats left in the wild. The species is endemic to Borneo and rampant deforestation is the main threat.
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.
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.