Monthly Wild Cat News
A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
Black-footed Cats are nocturnal, and their activity varies with the length of the night over the season, leaving returning to their dens within 30 minutes of sunset and sunrise. During the colder winter months they occasionally hunt from first light to late afternoon. They spend the day in one of the many abandoned burrows or rocky crevices found in their territory, generally using a different one each time.
Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website
Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!
Once researchers have identified a Black-footed cat via spot lamp searching, the next step is to capture it for radio-collaring. On occasion, the cats would find a den system dug by an aardvark, ground squirrel or springhare and escape into it. They would be either captured by exposing them after digging or lost to the capture team by escaping deep into the den system.
Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website
Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!
Last week an Indian newspaper reported the rescue of a wild cat from a well. It was taken out alive by the neighbours with the help of the officials from the wildlife department.
The Rusty Spotted Cat is a very rare species in the cat’s family and the wild life authorities are interested in preserving them. The animal was well grown and was about 5 feet in length. The rescued Tiger cat as it is a rare species was released to a nearby jungle.
The article even had photos of the rescued feline. While the rescue is indeed good news, there are a few things wrong with the story. Rusty-spotted cats never reach 5 ft – the most they ever reach is 19″. Tiger Cat is a generic name for many cat species, used the world over.
Here is a Rusty-spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosus. These little cats weigh 1-2 kg, and never reach a length of more than 19″.
And here is the cat photo from the newspaper article.
Regular readers of this blog will easily identify the bottom picture as that of a Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus. The fact that officials of the wildlife department didn’t even know what this cat was speaks volumes.
Awareness of the small wild cats has improved enormously since ISEC Canada started in 1990. It took us two years to even gather enough information to write our first Feline Facts book, and it was a struggle to get many of the species onto two pages. The increase in field research studies on the smaller cats has generated an enormous amount of knowledge since then.
The highly visual aspect of the internet has also brought a wealth of small wild cat pictures. Unfortunately, many of the pictures available on the web are mis-identified. If you do a Google image search for a species, in fact most of the search results are likely to be mis-named.
I recently watched two wildlife shows on a high quality nature channel. One constantly referred to a leopard cat as a wildcat, and the other kept calling a margay an ocelot. Shouting at the TV did nothing to correct the mistakes.
Clearly, ISEC Canada still has a lot of work to do. Let us know if you want to help the process, or have any ideas for us!
If there was ever a story that perfectly illustrates with web of life, this would be it. It involves domestic dogs, African lions, cheetahs and man’s interference in the natural world.
In 1994, a deadly virus spread by domestic dogs had a devastating impact on the celebrated lions of Africa’s Serengeti National Park (SNP). The outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) killed nearly 1,000 lions, or about one-third of the third of the population. In response, conservationists launched “Project Life Lion,” a campaign to vaccinate dogs in villages around the Serengeti in a bid to halt the spread of the virus to lions and other wildlife. A new study, however, suggests that such vaccination campaigns, while good for lions, could be bad news for the Serengeti’s cheetahs.
Full the story at Vaccinated To Extinction
All cat paws are not created equally.
Sand Cats from the hot deserts have fur on the pads of their feet to protect them from the scorching sand. These same fur-covered footpads make it difficult for researchers to track them as they don’t leave very distinct marks in the sand. Their claws are also blunt, due to a lack of sharpening surfaces and their digging habits.
Ben Williams captured this image of a snoozy Sand Cat under a heat lamp at Marwell Zoo in the UK. In spite of the weird lighting caused by the lamp, you can clearly see his fur-covered pad.
In contrast, the tropical forest dwelling Fishing Cats need bare, pliable footpads for gripping slippery rocks and branches near the water where they feed. Their claws are also very sharp, to aid in catching their slippery prey.
It’s often stated that Cheetahs have claws that don’t retract like those of other cats, but they actually have the same claw retraction mechanism as all the felid species. The difference is that their claws protrude beyond the fur, and cheetah claws lack the sheaths that cover the claws of other cats.
Cats that live in the grasslands and savannahs have rough, hardened footpads from constant movement over rough surfaces. With their claws retracted when they’re on the move, the tips are kept sharp enough to kill their prey.
No matter what the adaptation, there’s no question that cat paws are the most effective food-capturing equipment in the animal world!
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.
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.
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.
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
There’s a great article in The Guardian this week about camera traps, and their increasingly important role in wildlife conservation.
Researchers the world over have embraced camera trap technology. It provides a unique view of watching wildlife in their natural habitat, and the technology has become invaluable for learning what animals live in a given area. By placing a camera on a high mountain trail, or along a game trail in a dense rainforest, scientists are learning a whole new set of data.
In recent years, the use of camera traps has led to major discoveries, including documenting an Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) in China for the first time in 62 years; proving that the world’s rarest rhino, the Javan (Rhinoceros sondaicus), is breeding, by photographing a female with her calf; rediscovering the hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) in the Malaysian state of Sabah; recording the first wolverine (Gulo gulo) in California since 1922; taking the first video of the rare Bornean bay cat (Pardofelis badia); documenting the elusive short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) preying on an amphibian in the Amazon; proving the extremely rare Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) still inhabits Cambodia; and snapping the first-ever photographs of a number of species in the wild, including the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) and the giant muntjac deer (Muntiacus vuquangensis) in Southeast Asia.
Elusive creatures that they are, the wild cats have benefited tremendously from camera trap technology. One of the projects ISEC Canada sent funding to last year, the African Golden Cat study in Gabon, produced extraordinary results with the first-ever video of one of the least known wild cats in the world.
Camera traps recently set up in Gabon took the first publicly released video of the African golden cat, the least-known feline on the continent. Unlike the other cats of Africa, the golden cat only inhabits rainforest, making it extremely difficult to spot, let alone study. University of KwaZulu-Natal graduate student Laila Bahaa-el-din captured footage of an African golden cat sitting directly in front of the camera and chasing a butterfly. On watching the videos for the first time, Bahaa-el-din says, “I felt, at last, like I was getting to know this elusive cat… The African golden cat has dominated my thoughts and energy for over a year-and-a-half now.”
Bahaa-el-din’s research is focused on understanding how the wild cat fares in pristine areas versus sustainably managed logging concessions and poorly managed logging tracts. Camera trap video footage taken in a logging concession in central Gabon that employs sound logging practices and aggressively pursues illegal hunters, indicates, says Bahaa-al-din, that “logging alone should not mean the depletion of wildlife.” The evidence from these camera traps will eventually be used to develop a conservation plan for the African golden cat, now getting its first global publicity thanks to the remote cameras.
Conservation of wild cats is accomplished using a variety of methods, often depending on the species being studied. The increasing popularity of camera traps however, has resulted in an enormous leap of knowledge on their location and status in the wild. We congratulate Laila on her tremendous success, and look forward to purchasing more camera traps for her when she returns to Gabon next year!
How Wildlife Camera Traps Are Revolutionizing Conservation in The Guardian
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
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.