Tag Archives: feline

Kodkod.

There’s still hope to stave off extinction for the smallest cat in the Americas, study shows

The smallest cat in the Americas is struggling under huge pressure as clear-cutting destroyed its habitat and farmers defend their chickens with deadly force.

Kodkod.

Image credits College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences – CFANS.

This being the Internet, cats are in charge. I don’t make the rules, I just report here. So get ready to have your socks blown clean off because today we’re talking about the cutest bit of cat this fair planet has ever spawned: prowling under the name of kodkod or güiña (Leopardus guigna), this is the tiniest cat in the Americas.

Sadly, though, we’re driving them extinct.

Kitten-sized hopes

The güiña wildcat of Chile is also known as the little tiger cat, little spotted cat, or Chilean cat. It’s absolutely as adorable as those names make it out to be, reaching about half of the size of a domestic cat at adulthood. It’s also listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, which shows “a high risk of endangerment in the wild” and is just one step shy of being endangered.

According to the IUCN, there are only about 10,000 individuals left in the wild. It’s got to this point because much of Chile’s tropical rainforests, which form most of the güiña’s habitat, have been chopped down for farmland in the last decades. The tiny feline is also at risk from human persecution over fears that it might hunt livestock.

However, new research led by researchers from the University of Kent, UK, shows the animal is able to survive near human settlements on agricultural land. The biggest threat it faces, the paper reports, is being squeezed out when large farms are broken down into smaller ones.

“This is because there is a higher risk of human interaction and persecution in areas where there are more farms; a greater pressure on natural resources through increased timber extraction and livestock grazing; and even competition for food from domestic animals kept as pets,” said lead author Nicolás Gálvez.

Over the last 25 years, Chile has lost over two-thirds of its temperate rainforests. However, through a combination of questionnaires, camera-trap footage, and remote-sensing data, the team found that this isn’t the main stressor on the güiña — in fact, the felines seem remarkably adaptable to forest loss, and have been seen in pine or eucalyptus plantations or close to agricultural areas.

Surprisingly, large, intensive agricultural areas may actually be suitable for the güiña and shouldn’t be dismissed as poor quality habitat for the species, they add. This is thanks to areas which are left unfarmed and offer refuge, food, and suitable conditions for rearing young.

However, the issues of illegal killings by humans and farm subdivisions go hand-in-hand. Questionnaires revealed that around 10% of rural inhabitants had killed a güiña sometime in the last decade. The cat is viewed in a bad light in such communities, mostly out of fear that it will kill chickens. Large, farms that practice intensive agriculture on wide, open fields do provide adequate environments for the güiña. As farmers break these entities down into smaller farms, they also switch to less intense agriculture and rely more heavily on livestock — setting the stage for a conflict with the tiny carnivores.

“This suggests that persecution is much less of a threat to their survival than the subdivision of farms,” said co-authod Zoe Davies, a professor at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent.

The findings could be used to better inform conservation efforts and keep the güiña from going extinct. It could also help conservation efforts for other medium-sized carnivores across the world.

The paper “A spatially integrated framework for assessing socioecological drivers of carnivore decline” has been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Scientists say cheetahs should be on the endangered list

It’s bad news for one of the most iconic creatures on Earth: a comprehensive assessment of cheetah populations reveals that the big cats’ numbers have decreased dramatically. Researchers now want to list the fastest land animal as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Cheetahs grooming each other. Image credits: Stolz, Gary M., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An international team led by Florian Weise of the Claws Conservancy and Varsha Vijay of Duke University, working with National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative, analyzed more than two million collared cheetah observations as well as 20,000 observations from both the research community and the general public. They concluded that across 789,700 square kilometers in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, a prime area for cheetahs, only 3,577 adults remain. They believe this justifies changing the classification of the animals from Vulnerable to Endangered.

“This collaborative, multiyear effort sounds the alarm about the state of cheetah populations in southern Africa, shining a light on the imperative need to protect these majestic predators,” said Gary E. Knell, President and CEO, National Geographic Society.

“The National Geographic Society is proud to support such a comprehensive assessment and similar efforts aimed at safeguarding our most precious species, their habitats and the planet we call home.”

The area they studied isn’t the only one to host cheetahs, but it does host the largest free-roaming population on Earth. In other, more remote areas, the paper believes 3,250 cheetahs still roam. Together, that’s less than 8,000 individuals, which is disturbing and not nearly enough for a healthy population.

“Around the world, big cats are suffering big losses and having big trouble in more and more human-dominated landscapes,” says study co-lead author Florian Weise of the Massachusetts-based conservation group Claws Conservancy.

The only encouraging news from this study comes from the methodology. The fact that researchers were able to incorporate so many observations, both from a professional setting and from the general public, could enable us to better understand big cat populations, which are struggling in most parts of the world.

“We have a larger degree of certainty in the lower estimate because it is based on those areas where we have recorded estimates of cheetahs,” says study co-lead author Varsha Vijay, who specialises in geospatial analysis for The Pimm Group at Duke University.

“There is greater uncertainty in the higher estimate because it assumes the very optimistic scenario that all the areas we identified as potential cheetah habitat are occupied by cheetahs at similar densities to the areas with confirmed cheetah presence,” Vijay says.

The cheetah’s complete home range. Image credits: Al Pereira / Wikipedia.

But for the cheetahs, things don’t really look so good. Humans have altered around 90% of their historic habitat, and with cheetahs having ranges of tens to hundreds of square kilometers, cornering them in can have devastating consequences. In prehistoric times, the cheetah was distributed throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. Gradually, they vanished from Europe and started to retreat more and more in the face of an expanding humankind. Nearly 500 years ago, the cheetah was still common throughout Africa, with an estimated range of 25,344,648 km2 (9,785,623 sq mi). As of 2015, their range has decreased by 89%. Nowadays, cheetahs exist mostly in eastern and southern Africa, with only fragmented, isolated populations in Iran, Afghanistan, and India. People are repurposing the land cheetahs used to prowl for agriculture. Farmers won’t hesitate to kill cheetahs, which they see as a threat to livestock. Cheetahs are also sometimes hit by cars and poached. This sum of threats might just be too much for the cheetahs to handle.

The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. IUCN is the main authority on animal conservation, with both animals and plants potentially included on the list as Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered. An endangered species is a species which has been categorized as very likely to become extinct. Generally speaking, the IUCN will move a species from Vulnerable to Endangered if there’s a decline in 50 to 70 percent of the population over 10 years or three generations (whichever is longer). But even if they are reclassified, this might not improve things significantly. Just 18.4 percent of the southern African cheetah range lies within protected lands. Farmers will still continue to change the land according to their needs, they will continue to shoot cheetahs on site, and poachers will continue to poach. That’s where action needs to be taken if we want future generations to grow up in a world with emblematic big cats.

“The future of the cheetah relies heavily on working with farmers who host these big cats on their lands, bearing the heaviest cost of coexistence,” concludes Weise.

The study was published in the journal PeerJ.

Hundreds of snow leopards are being killed every year, and that’s unacceptable

The snow leopards is buckling under pressure from human killings, with hundreds of the cats falling prey to farmers and poachers in the remote mountains of central Asia each year.

There might be less than 4,000 of them still alive in the wild.
Image credits Marcel Langthim / Pixabay.

Fluffy, adorable, and exceedingly deadly, there are an estimated 4,000 snow leopards still living in the world. While getting an accurate head count of the elusive, solitary felines is pretty difficult, we’re pretty confident that the species has lost a fifth of its members in the last 16 years. Now, a report looking into the state of the endangered snow leopard estimates between 220-450 annual deaths of the big cats, putting the species in a precarious position. It also warns that this number is likely even higher, as killings by farmers and poachers in remote mountain areas of central Asia often go undetected.

The report comes from wildlife monitoring network Traffic and was published last Friday, in anticipation of a UN meeting on the subject which will be held in New York. The animals naturally prey on Himalayan blue sheep and ibexes, but these animals are under pressure from farmers encroaching on their habitat. So, the leopards turn towards livestock for food. Traffic estimates that over half of the killings are done by farmers to stem further attacks on livestock. Around 20% of the total number are caught in snares set out for other animals, and roughly 20% are killed specifically for the illegal fur trade. Pelts from animals killed for other reasons are often sold, though, from example by farmers looking to make up for their losses — the pelts, claws, and fangs of the animal can fetch a good price on the black market.

Snow leopards’ range includes 12 nations, but over 90% of reported poaching takes place in five countries: China and Mongolia (where most snow leopards live), along with Pakistan, India, and Tajikistan (each having a population of a few hundred leopards). One of the leopards’ most powerful (and surprising) allies throughout their habitat are Buddhist monks, which patrol the grounds near their monasteries to keep an eye out for poachers.

Still, they cannot save the species alone, although they’re definitely the most awesome monks in my book. The report calls for stronger law enforcement on the issue, citing that less than a quarter of known poaching cases are investigated, with just one in seven being prosecuted. They also recommend a push for wider usage of leopard-proof corrals for yaks and horses, and insurance coverage for farmers. Such schemes are already being tested, for example in a village in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

But the insurance you really need is for one of them stealing your heart, awwww!
Image credits Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr.

Around 200 pelts are illegally traded each year, the report found, with China, Russia, and Afghanistan being the major destinations. The number has thankfully been falling sharply in the last few years, however, especially in China, due to increasing police enforcement.

“Even if there is reduced demand for snow leopard skins, the killing will continue unless we all work together to drastically reduce human-wildlife conflict and ensure that mountain communities can co-exist with snow leopards,” said co-author Rishi Sharma of WWF.

“Compensation schemes and innovative predator-proof corrals are making a difference but we urgently need to expand these to benefit communities – and snow leopards – across Asia’s high mountains.”

Not only are the cats being hunted, but they’re also at risk from climate change — they will have to abandon roughly one third of their habitat as the treeline advances further up the mountain slopes and farmers move in to claim the land.

Hopefully, we’ll leave the animals time to recover until this happens.

How bringing cougars to cities could actually save lives

Allowing cougars to re-populate back to their historic range could save hundreds of human lives and prevent tens of thousand of injuries, a new study reports. Counter-intuitive as this may seem, the numbers actually add up — while we may expect some property damage from the predators, they’d actually help us out in the end by keeping the US’s deer population in check.

Deer are most active between 6 and 9 p.m. and generally travel in herds – if you see one, there is a strong possibility others are nearby.
Image credits State Farm/Flickr

If I asked you to pick the animals with the highest human death toll between deers and cougars, which would you pick? The cougars, undoubtedly. And you’d be wrong. Sure, a cougar is fiercer than a deer, it has both teeth and claws and isn’t shy about using them while a deer is uh…a nuisance? But by sheer weight of numbers (and an inability to act when confronted with headlights) white-tailed deer in the US cause more than a million car collisions, resulting in more than 200 deaths, every year.

By the early 1900s, we pushed cougars away from our cities because they were dangerous, but a new study suggests this exact trait is why we should bring them back. Laura R. Prugh, a wildlife scientist at the University of Washington, Sophie L. Gilbert, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Idaho and several colleagues argue that allowing eastern cougars to return to their historic range could prevent 155 human deaths, 21,400 human injuries, and save $2.3 billion over the course of 30 years.

The team bases their estimations on studies they performed in 19 states including South Carolina, Maine, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Missouri. Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Illinois were historically part of the eastern cougar’s territory, however, they lack the required open forestland to support a viable cougar population today, the team reported. They also said that if left to their own devices, it’s entirely possible that the cougars will re-populate these areas on their own: over the past few decades, they’re been sighted in parts of the Midwest and more recently in the East. Dr. Prugh advocates for this kind of natural repopulation, which would face less resistance than a human-engineered one, she believes.

Pictured: statistically less dangerous to you than a deer.
Image credits Wikimedia user Dcoetzee

They looked at the number of individuals to see how deer populations grow in each area, how many car crashes involve deer and how they increase as the deer population grows. They looked at cougars’ hunting behavior, and settled for an average of 259 deer kills per individual per average lifespan of 6 years, and an 850 square miles area of forested land needed to sustain a wild population of the felines.

They then tested several mathematical models to calculate the cougars’ effect on the deer population. The first question they needed to consider was if cougars would prey on the deer that are too starved, old, or sick to survive and don’t actually cause accidents. Dr. Prugh calculated for a “conservative” 75% of deer kills as animals that would’ve died anyway.  They also considered that as adult deer decrease in number, more fawns survive — so killing deer doesn’t immediately shrink the population.

But it’s not all roses. The catch is that we’re dealing with dangerous, deadly predators here, which are perfectly capable of killing humans. Their population would stabilize at considerable numbers in some states — about 1000 in New York and Wisconsin each, around 350 in Missouri and between 8-15 in New Jersey, the team estimates. They also expect to see livestock loss of around US$2.35 million per year in the areas, and some pet loss, though the team wasn’t able to estimate this — since there is little data on what happens to pets after they are lost.

The scientists also estimated that we could expect less than one victim per year, for a total of under 30 lives lost, far less than the number of lives saved. But they admit that the emotional response to predators is one element they can’t factor in — no matter how many people are saved in the end, death by deer is very different to death by cougar.

“The idea of being killed in a car crash with a deer just doesn’t scare people the way the idea of a cougar leaping on your back in the woods does,” Dr. Prugh said.

But she hopes that if cougars do return to the Eastern states, an understanding that they could bring tangible benefits will make people “a little more accepting, even if they are still scared.”

The full paper titled ” Socioeconomic benefits of large carnivore recolonization through reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions” has been published online in the journal Conservation Letters.

An extraordinarily well preserved Panthera blytheae skull.

Oldest “big cat” fossil discovered is four millions years old

An extraordinarily well preserved Panthera blytheae skull.

An extraordinarily well preserved Panthera blytheae skull.

Paleontologists have unearthed skull fragments in Tibet belonging to an ancient “big cat” species, which apparently may be the oldest discovered thus far. The fossils have been dated between 4.1 and 5.95 million years old and belong to a previously unknown species “similar to a snow leopard”, according to US and Chinese palaeontologists.

“This cat is a sister of living snow leopards – it has a broad forehead and a short face. But it’s a little smaller – the size of clouded leopards,” said lead author Dr Jack Tseng of the University of Southern California.

Using both anatomical and DNA data, the researchers characterized the fossils and thus found that these didn’t match any known records. The newly discovered species has been dubbed  Panthera blytheae. Since these are the oldest big cat fossils found thus far, they provide substantiating evidence that this great family originated in Asia and not in Africa, as it’s currently widely assumed.

“This ties up a lot of questions we had on how these animals evolved and spread throughout the world.

“Biologists had hypothesised that big cats originated in Asia. But there was a division between the DNA data and the fossil record.”

The Pantherinae subfamily or “big cats” as they’re commonly called includes living species today like the lions, jaguars, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards. Other felines like cougars, lynxes, and domestic cats are smaller cousins belonging to the Felinae family, which diverged from Pantherinae some 6.37 million years ago.

[RELATED] Seeing the world through the eyes of a cat

The new big cat species is believed to have been similar to today's modern snow leopard. Image courtesy of snowleopard.in

The new big cat species is believed to have been similar to today’s modern snow leopard. Image courtesy of snowleopard.in

The first skull fragments belong to the newly discovered  Panthera blytheae were made in 2010 at the remote Zanda Basin in southwestern Tibet. Some 100 bones were unearthed, including crushed fragments of skulls belonging to at least 3 cats. One of the skulls is nearly complete, according to the team of paleontologists involved in the research.

“This is a very significant finding – it fills a very wide gap in the fossil record,” said Dr Manabu Sakamoto of the University of Bristol, an expert on Pantherinae evolution.

“The discovery presents strong support for the Asian origin hypothesis for the big cats.

“It gives us a great insight into what early big cats may have looked like and where they may have lived.”

3 legged serval rescued nearby Arizona desert

At a first glance, this doesn’t seem like much. Just an animal rescued. But if you look more carefully, I think you’ll find it’s more than this; it’s a symbol. A symbol of how people don’t care about animals, regardless of how rare they are and how well they can take care of themselves.

This three legged serval was most likely used for breeding hybrid species, Savannah cats that sell for thousands of dollars, and was dumped for being too difficult to handle, which is basically what you expect from a large feline. But the wound was really old, so it was probably dumped without one leg and left to fend for itself. It would have suffered a slow and painful death, just limping around if it hadn’t been for the Tucson Wildlife Center.

I really really recommend checking out bigcatrescue.org, lots and lots of amazing stories and a great job done by the people there. Hats of to you guys !

A fifth of Florida’s pumas were killed in car collisions

panther_next_2_mi

There are less than 100 pumas left in Florida’s wilds, and 17 were killed in collisions with cars, which is even more than in 2008 (when 10 such magnificent creatures found their death after being hit by a car) and 2007 (15). For me, it’s absolutely heart breaking to see this happening.

You’d expect people to learn, after panther numbers were down to just 20-30 in 1990. It took some serious efforts to raise their numbers by almost 10 times, but the future is once again looking dire for the felines.

florida_panther_with_cub

“If we don’t do something quickly to reduce the risks to Florida’s panthers as they move around in search of food, mates and territory, then we are facing loss of this iconic species,” said a member from Defenders of Wildlife. “The panther found dead yesterday should serve as a sobering reminder that we all have to do our part to protect the Florida panther and watch out for wildlife while we drive through their habitat.”

They also proposed some good ideas on how this could be stopped, which you can read on their site.

Siberian tigers face dramatic decline, drawing near extinction

The Siberian tiger is the biggest feline to walk the face of the Earth at the time, but if today’s trends continue, that will change in the not so distant future; and not because other species will grow bigger, but because the Siberian tiger can become extinct.

siberian-tiger

Hey guys. I don’t wanna be extinct :(

There were around 300 tigers living in Eastern Russia just 4 years ago (which is a dramatically small number), but the WCS (World Wildlife Conservation Society) estimates that the population has decreased significantly due to habitat loss (logging) and poaching. WCS say they have done this estimate in order to warn Russian authorities about what has to be done in order to protect this majestic creature.

siberian-tiger2

Really, I don’t. But there’s nothing I can do.

“The sobering results are a wake-up call that current conservation efforts are not going far enough to protect Siberian tigers,” said Dr. Dale Miquelle, of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russian Far East Program. “The good news is that we believe this trend can be reversed if immediate action is taken.”

“Working with our Russian partners we are hopeful and confident that we can save the Siberian tiger,” Dr. John G. Robinson, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science added. “The Siberian tiger is a living symbol for the people of Russia.”

siberian tiger

The remaining habitat of the siberian tiger half a decade ago

Siberian tigers are powerful predators that hunt alone, sometimes searching for prey for many miles. However, despite their reputation and killer traits, they avoid humans as much as they can. In the extremely rare cases when they do attack, it’s because they have nothing to eat.

siberian-tiger-grooming

The main problem is deforestation. The Siberian tigers requires vast territories to survive, and so does it’s prey and other numerous animals from the ecosystem. However, due to (legal and illegal) logging, its habitat decreased greatly, leaving it without food and hope. However, this is not the only hurdle they face.

Poaching is another major threat. Whether it’s for the fur, for medicinal purposes (tiger organs are very valuable in Chinese “traditional” medicine), or just for a big trophy, tigers are threatened from all directions – and this just has to be controlled more strictly. Hopefully, the Russian authorities will be able (and willing) to understand what they have to do and will take the necessary measures so we won’t have to explain to our grandchildren why there are no more Siberian tigers.