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
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)
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.
by Wanda Angermeyer
November 11’th is Remembrance Day in Canada and on that day we take a moment from our busy lives to honor the courageous men and women who have fallen protecting the rights and freedoms that we enjoy as Canadian citizens.
As I pause to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice these people made, it makes me think of the finality of death, especially when numerous deaths could mean the extinction of a species. When one thinks of extinct cat species most of us automatically think of the prehistoric saber-toothed cats. More recently extinct cat species include two lion sub-species (Cape & Barbary) and three tiger sub-species (Bali, Caspian & Javan). The Javan Tiger was only listed as extinct as recently as 1972!
In an effort to try to spotlight all of the world’s small wild cat species from time to time on our blog, the ISEC directors each have a list of 7 or more species to focus on. My list includes a couple of species listed as “least concern” and a few that are listed as “vulnerable” or “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List. I also have one species that was upgraded from “vulnerable” to “endangered” in 2008; the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).
The Fishing Cat, once locally common in some areas of eastern India and Bangladesh, has become increasingly difficult to locate throughout their range. The scarcity of recent records suggests that over the past decade, they have undergone a serious and significant population decline. Even in protected wetlands and former Fishing Cat study areas, researchers have been unable to document their presence.
Wetland destruction is the primary threat facing this species, as over 50% of Asian wetlands are under threat and disappearing. Other threats include pollution, hunting and indiscriminate trapping, snaring and poisoning are also taking a toll. A more recently recognized threat was identified in an ABC news report from April 24, 2012 which stated that Thailand shrimp farming is threatening the Fishing Cat. Biologist Namfon Cutter has been conducting research on this species for eight years and claims that the farms threaten the cats in two ways. First through the loss of habitat and also when local villagers kill the cats for preying on their livestock as an alternate food source. Unfortunately it is our consumption of shrimp here in North America that drives the Thailand shrimp farms economy.
It seems like a bleak and tragic future for these amazing little swimming cats but there is some good news. Working with government officials, researchers have had the Fishing Cat made part of the provincial natural resources protection policy, and an extensive public awareness conservation campaign is underway. There has also been some success with captive reproduction of this species. Some of the institutions that celebrated Fishing Cat births this year were the Newquay Zoo in the UK, the National Zoo in Washington and Curraghs Wildlife Park.
Perhaps in the future we will see captive bred Fishing Cats released back in to their natural habitat. For now, I intend to do my part by making an informed decision when purchasing frozen shrimp and checking the country of origin on the package. Hopefully we do not have to ”Paws” to Remember the Fishing Cat as an extinct species in the future.
(Don’t forget to go to our web site for more information on Fishing Cats and other small wild cats.)
Photos of the kittens born at the National Zoo in May of 2012.
Canada Lynx are the most common and widespread feline in Canada. They are easily recognizable cats with their black ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and very short tail. They can only be confused with the closely related Bobcat Lynx rufus in the southern part of their range. A closer look, however, reveals a number of differences. The Lynx has longer legs and broader footpads for walking in deep snow. Their ear tufts are longer, and the facial ruff is more developed. Their tail has a black tip, while the Bobcat’s is more striped and white underneath. These two cat species seem to have divided the continent up between them, with the Bobcat being limited by snow depth to southern Canada through to Central Mexico, and the Canada Lynx in the northern forests.
The usual background colour of the fur is a silvery grey or grey brown, but can vary to yellowish‑grey and rusty or reddish‑brown. The fur is usually white tipped, giving the animal a frosted appearance. Their thick, soft pelt can be variably marked with more or less distinct dark spots, and sometimes small stripes. A rare pallid colour phase suggesting partial albinism is known as the ‘Blue Lynx’. There is a distinct ruff of long hairs framing the face; the ears are large and pointed with irises of a yellow brown to a light yellowish‑green. The legs are long, with the rear limbs longer than the front ones, giving the body a tilted forward or slightly stooped appearance. The footpads are broad and well furred, and the tail is very short and black tipped.
The ears have long, erect tufts of dark hairs, and black backsides towards the tip. These tufts are just as sensitive as their whiskers, and the slightest breath of wind can be detected by the cat.
Canada Lynx live mainly in boreal forests or in mixed deciduous/boreal woodlands, but can live in farmlands if they are interspersed with wooded areas. They favour forests with dense undercover vegetation such as thickets and deadfalls, with marshy areas and rocky outcrops.
Their total range in North America is 7.7 million km2, and their historic range is largely intact, although it has shrunk in the south due to human settlement and forest clearance.
Their range follows that of their main prey species, the snowshoe hare. The Canada Lynx is the only known felid to undergo prey-driven cyclic population declines. Densities peak at 17-45/100 km2, falling to 2-3/100 km2 during the low cycle.
Lynx have been recorded travelling long distances, up to 1,200 km, seeking out patches of hare abundance. A study in the Yukon found home ranges increased from 13.2 km2 to 39 km2 when the hare population was low. Several cats abandoned their home ranges during this period, and many dispersed 250 km or more.
Over two hundred years of records from the Hudson’s Bay fur company show that the Lynx population fluctuates in an eight to 11 year cycle, in response to fluctuations in the numbers of the snowshoe hare. Hares breed profusely through several summers when food is plentiful, and may reach 1,800/km2 at the peak of the cycle. Overpopulation means they eventually wipe out their food supply and their numbers plummet. Lynx populations follow the hare cycle with a lag of one or two years.
Lynx favour mid-sized prey in order to compensate for the immense amount of energy expended to catch it. Other prey species may be taken opportunistically, or when hare numbers are low. It takes 50 voles to equal the food energy from one snowshoe hare, however, and the voles live beneath the snow cover in the winter. Hares are active year round.
Lynx are mainly terrestrial and nocturnal, although they may also hunt during the day if prey is scarce. Lynx are thought to hunt mainly by sight and hearing, relying on smell to a lesser extent. They usually stalk their prey to within a few bounds before pouncing, but they are also known to wait in ambush for hours.
Although classed as solitary animals, researchers often see groups of paired females. Female kittens establish home ranges close to that of their mothers, and travel and hunt co‑operatively.
Mating occurs in late winter to early spring in most areas (March ‑ April in Alaska, April ‑ May in Alberta). The female mates with only one male, and the receptive period can last from one to ten days. Mating usually takes place at night, and the males are especially vocal at this time. Dens can be made in hollow logs, at the base of trees, in rocky areas or in dense vegetation. One to six kittens are born after a gestation period of 63 ‑70 days. In years of low prey availability, females may not conceive at all, or may spontaneously abort in response to the body’s poor nutritional condition. Lynx kittens average 197 ‑211 grams at birth. Their eyes open between ten and 17 days, and they begin to walk at 24 ‑30 days. The kittens nurse for three to five months, but begin to eat some solid food at one month of age. The young remain with the adult female until the following winter mating season. Young lynx may remain together for some weeks or months after separating from the female, travelling and hunting co‑operatively. Sexual maturity is reached around 23 months, although in periods of prey abundance, sexual maturity at ten months has been recorded. Captive Canada Lynx have lived up to 21 years, and life expectancy for wild animals has been recorded at 15 years.
Throughout Alaska and most of Canada, the Lynx is managed for the fur trade. During the cyclic low in the 1980’s most areas reduced harvests. From 1980-1984 an average of 35,669 pelts were exported from Canada and Alaska. That number fell to 7,360between 1986-1989. The population is considered stable in the northern portion of their range. Canada Lynx are rare and protected where they occur in south-eastern Canada. They are classed as regionally endangered in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where researchers have reported fertile hybrids between Canada Lynx and the Bobcat. The primary threat to the cats in these areas is the expanding population of the eastern coyote.
A project in the Adirondack Mountains of New York in 1989-1992 saw the reintroduction of 83 Lynx, but the population did not prove to be self sustaining. Thirty-six of the Lynx were killed by automobiles, and it is doubtful any of the cats survived
From 1999 onwards, 204 Lynx from Canada and Alaska were relocated into the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado. This population has become well established, and researchers are reporting increasing numbers of kittens born each year.
As a species, Canada Lynx are classified as Least Concern (2008).
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!
A young Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis has been rescued from a construction site of a hillside in Taiwan. A woman spotted the orphan wildcat covered in mud near a few working excavators in the vicinity. She thought it was a domestic cat and took it home to her care. Later, she discovered that what she brought home was in fact a Leopard Cat, a small wild cat often seen in East Asia. She contacted the local wildlife rescue center where the wild kitten was checked out by a vet and given the proper care it needs.
The kitten is estimated to be 2 months old and healthy. They are currently rehabilitating the little wildcat and getting it ready before releasing it back to the wild.
Source: Taiwan Environmental Information Center and Lovemeow.com
We hope you enjoyed our Black-footed Cat Blitz throughout the month of February! Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Alex Sliwa and the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group, we were able to share a wealth of little-known data on these smallest of wild cats.
There is still so much more to be learned about these vulnerable little felines, and the researchers need your help. Even the smallest donations add up, so if you’re a Black-footed fan, please Donate Today. 100% of funds raised go directly to the conservation of these tiny cats.
Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!
Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website
There are so many different aspects to the conservation of small wild cats that it is sometimes completely overwhelming. Habitat loss, poaching, hunting for fur – these are the standard threats they face, and we are used to hearing about those.
Every once in a while though, something comes across the internet that just flat out makes us nauseous.
Many of the fact sheets on small wild cats mention in passing that the animals are considered food items in some countries. To our North American sensibilities this is just impossible to imagine, but it does happen. I have purposely not included a photograph of the cat species mentioned below – the mental image is bad enough.
A chef in Hanoi was caught red-handed killing an endangered leopard cat to serve at his restaurant. The chef said he killed the cat following a request from his manager, district police chief Nguyen Ba Hung said.
The manager told police an acquaintance in Phu Tho province gave him the cat to look after. He only decided to have it killed when a customer asked him for cat meat. He intended to sell the meat at a price of 41 dollars per kilogram. The animal weighed 3.5 kilograms.
Both the manager and his chef have been arrested and will be punished, Hung said.
The cat, scientific name Prionailurus bengalensis, is slightly larger than a domestic cat and has distinctive leopard-like spotted markings.Vietnam lists the animal as a species in danger of extinction and it is illegal to hunt or sell it.