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Wild Cats Of The Jura Mountains

Switzerland, a country known for its picturesque and mountainous landscapes is also home to some of the world’s most elusive and rare felines. Wild cat enthusiast, camera trapper, photographer and passionate citizen scientist Lars Begert is helping to tell the story of the small wild cats that call Switzerland’s Jura Mountains home. His hope is that by sharing his photographs and knowledge he will give them a voice, helping to inspire others to appreciate and protect these unique and important animals.

I recently interviewed Lars about his life long passion for nature, wildlife and his participation in the Wildcat Monitoring project that is doing important research not far from where he lives.

How did your passion for photographing wild cats start?

It all started as a child when my parents showed my brother and I the beauty of nature and love for wildlife early on.  We lived on the edge of the forest and in my spare time I would visit the ponds and pools to watch amphibians. We also went to the Swiss National Park for at least 2 weeks each year to watch animals. Relatives often gave me animal books for my birthday and I can remember one specific book very well, it had a tiger on the front cover, and I spent hours studying the different animal species. My grandparents always had domestic cats at home and I loved playing with them so I guess this was where my relationship with the cats started. As a child I always wanted to be an animal researcher, but lost interest for a short time while growing up. When I met my wife back in 2000 we started to look for wildlife on our vacations, because she also has a big interest in animals.

Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation, Swiss Federal Law on Hunting and the Protection of Indigenous Mammals and Birds

The Swiss Jura is one of the three distinct geographical regions of Switzerland, the others being the Swiss plateau and the Swiss Alps. Wikipedia

The big push really happened in 2011 when I started to wonder whether there were any lynx in the Aargau Jura. There was some indication that they were, but there wasn’t really much information about it so I started putting up cheap trail cameras. However, I had to wait over a year for the first lynx to run into one of my cameras. Also during that time I recalled a vacation from 2005 when we were in Kenya, so I decided to fly there again. It was just wonderful, I had a great guide and we saw so many wild cats but I was not so happy with the pictures, so I bought a better camera and went again in the same year. Since then, we always plan our vacation around wild cats. I can’t really describe it, but I am somehow quite attracted to them.

How did you become involved in camera trapping?

I started with cheap trail cams going after the Eurasian lynx and when I saw the pictures I was happy, but being quite the perfectionist I was also not happy. I mean you could identify the species, but for a great capture it was just not the right device. I recall seeing the captures of Sebastian Kennerknecht*, Steve Winter’s capture of mountain lion P-22** and the beautiful Eurasian lynx captures of Laurent Geslin*** and I thought I want to take pictures like this!

It took me a lot of time to find out how to work and create a stable, reliable setup but when I finally had my first capture of a pine marten I was so happy and it really opened up a whole new world photography wise. So I really started with DSLR camera trapping about 2 years ago and I am still learning a lot. I also had, and still have, a lot of setbacks. In the beginning I had a lot of technical issues and sometimes still do, particularly after heavy rainfall or storms. I also had quite the bad luck when it comes to the Eurasian lynx, last year it passed one of my camera traps 4 times and during that time the camera trap didn’t work, but when I finally did get a capture it was all worth it!

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Back to the cats 😺: Finally the young, male, Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx carpathicus) B622 is back ! When it comes to lynxes and dslr cameratrapping, i wasn‘t very blessed with luck .This lynx appeared first in our area in october 2018. Since then he passed almost every month at one of my best spots, until June 2019. A long time, i was too scared to install a camera trap there, because it is also a hiking path and i didn‘t wan‘t to disturb Hikers/Trail Runners/Hunters/Mountain Bikers and was scared of theft or destruction. In may, i finally decided to place a dslr cameratrap there and i also found another place, where he appeared every 2 months and placed two dslr cameratraps too. The Lynx came by 4 times in june, but i had 1 defective battery at one place and because of a thunderstorm two defective PIR sensors at the other site. Since June the lynx only appeared once again at a different place i found and was dissapeared since, until last week. As it happened in the same way since i started to monitor Lynxes in our area at the end of 2015, indidn’t expect that he was coming back again – it was always the same pattern – A lynx appears in our area for 3 to 6 months every month and moves then to the western solothurn jura mountains, as our area is not the absolute prime habitat of the lynx. I am quite happy that he is back and finally passed one of my cameratraps and i hope that our area stay part of his territory. Time will tell. 🤞😺 . Captured with: Nikon D3300 | Nikon AF-S 35mm DX | Nikon SB-80DX | Fireking KKS-2 Hardcase | SensePi Motion Sensor by @appikoorg | Pixel Flash Adapter . #schweiz #suisse #lynx #lynxlynx #wildcat #wildcats #cameratrapping #cat #cats #catsofinstagram #catsofworld #wildcatsofinstagram #picoftheday #pic #wild #wildlife #wildlifephotography #wildlifeonearth #wildlife_vision #wildlifeplanet #nature #naturephotography #naturelover #naturelovers #nikonphotography #nikonswitzerland #wildgeography #wildphoto #speuzerlochs

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Tell me about the Wildcat Monitoring project you are currently involved in?

In 2008-2010 the Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland project was carried out to determine the distribution of the species in Switzerland for the first time. The monitoring was based on one systematic survey of wildcat occurrences in the Jura, unfortunately I wasn’t involved back then. Ten years later, the second survey is to be carried out to monitor developments in the wildcat population, both in terms of distribution and hybridization. The purpose of the inventory on behalf of the FOE (Federal office of environment) is as follows:

    • Distribution map of occurrences of wildcats in the Jura and in the Central Plateau up to the Pre-alps, status 2018-20201
    • Estimation of wildcat density2
    • Estimation of the rate of hybridization of wildcats
    • Changes in the distribution, density and hybridization rate in large carnivore management in the Jura compared to the first monitoring survey

Since you can’t tell the difference a 100% between a domestic cat (Felis catus) and the European wildcat (Felis silvestris) you have to find out through a DNA Analysis. This  means you need hair from the cats.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image © Lars Begert @lynxlynx.ch – hair trap installation

In this Wildcat Monitoring project there are specific square kilometer habitats defined and, on every square kilometer you have to set 3 wooden pickets on an animal trail. You treat the picket with a knife that the hairs get stuck to when the cat rubs on the picket. To attract them you spray the picket with Valerian. Wildcats, as well as other animals, are quite attracted to Valerian especially during mating season which is January to March.

To date, what species of wild cats have shown up on your camera traps?

In Switzerland we have two species of wild cats: the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) and the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx carpathicus). The Eurasian lynx was eradicated during the 19th century and reintroduced in 1971 again with individuals from the Carpathian mountains, while the European wildcat was strongly reduced but never became completely extinct in Switzerland. So far I am happy that I have been able to capture both of our wild cat species with my camera traps. This fact makes me particularly happy as the area in which I operate the camera traps is the direct “back-country” of my home, as well as a peripheral region for these two animal species.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – wildcat footprints or not?

As a citizen scientist what do you hope to contribute to wild cat conservation where you live?

I hope that I can collect as much information as possible about the distribution and density of the wildcat in our region to support and help the scientists. With my captures I hope that I can inform people that these wild cats actually exist, as many people don’t know about them and when I do show them pictures they feel that it is a domestic cat. I want to make them aware that we have a great little wildcat in the woods with us, that it is worth protecting and that we need to be aware of the importance of protecting nature including our forests. In the next few years I would like to create a picture book about the beautiful nature we are surrounded with and focus on our two wild cat species.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert @lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

What is next for the monitoring project?

For the next 2.5 months I will manage the hair traps, that means I have to check every 2 weeks if there are hairs at the pickets and treat the pickets again with a knife and Valerian. I already found hairs on two of my pickets this season, but of course don’t know yet from which animals the hairs are from. I personally set a camera trap in front of every picket so I already know that at least on one of the pickets a phenotypic****Euorpean wildcat went by and examined the picket, but I also know that there were 4 other species rubbing their body on the picket. The lab will sort out and analyze the hairs and with some hairs they can already tell, by the structure, that it is not a wildcat.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

I expect to have the first results, which determine whether the hair has wildcat DNA or not, by August/September this year. During the second step they analyze all the remaining wildcat hairs to determine the hybridization level. By the end of 2021 the project will be over and we should have all the relevant data. My work will be completed by end of march as I only work in the field, but my camera trapping will continue.

Why was it so important to become involved in helping document the presence of these animals?

For me it was a dream, because I wanted to become a animal researcher as a child but decided then to another path work-wise. I want to help in my free time as much as I can to provide as much data as possible for the researchers and to get a better understanding of how we can help a species like the wildcat in this small, fragmented country. I wouldn’t expect that everyone becomes involved in this type of project, but it could really help to raise the awareness with people. I think we are so disconnected with nature, there has to be a change. Otherwise the nature we know will disappear.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

What are some of the biggest threats wildcats in Switzerland face and, what is being done to help them?

The main threats of the European wildcat include:

  • Habitat loss, destruction and fragmentation (road traffic)
  • Disease transmission from domestic cats
  • Hybridization with domestic cats

Although the idea of hybridization is quite controversial, some scientists see it as a threat while others are not sure because it hasn’t been thoroughly researched yet. Unfortunately there is not a lot that can be done to reduce this threat. Switzerland is quite a small fragmented country and there are some projects working to connect habitats. Even though the wildcat is never the main focus of course it will benefit. Concerning the hybridization issue there are some animal welfare organization which require neutering for free range domestic cats or feral cats, which is also considered controversial because it is quite a harsh measure.

Lars Begert, Wildlife photography, Camera Trapping, Switzerland, Jura Mountains, Wildcat Monitoring Switzerland, Europen Wild Cat, Iberian Lynx, Bobcats, conservation

Image ©Lars Begert@lynxlynx.ch – phenotypic wildcat

Please tell me about the recent Swiss hunting law that was proposed

The new hunting law has come out all wrong. “In the future protected animal species such as lynx, wolf, beaver and grey heron can be shot down before they have caused any damage and, before any protective measures for herds or flocks have been taken simply because they exist. This new law also comes at a time when biodiversity is facing its most precarious moment in the history of humankind. The congress of states and the national council already voted for it. Several Swiss nature and animal protection organizations are resorting to a referendum against the revised “Swiss Federal Law on Hunting and the Protection of Indigenous Mammals and Birds” (In German Jagdgesetz, JSG) and are fighting against this unacceptable weakening of the protection of species in Switzerland. The only things the new law would protect are agricultural interests and hunting and fishing yields.” Together with a colleague I went to the zoo Basel to collect signatures from people. I am happy that the 50,000 signatures were collected and there is now a vote for the referendum on May 17, 2020.

What is your personal philosophy with regards to conservation and photographing wildlife?

Even though I’m pretty wild cat oriented, the important thing is the entire ecosystem so every species counts. When it comes to photographing wildlife I have discovered disturbing things in the last years. There are a lot of so called wildlife photographers that are not really interested in the animal, they are interested in their capture and the fame and glory they probably will get from it. They don’t care if they destroy nature, or if the animal gets hurt or if they stage and fake the photo as long as they are getting their shot. So in my understanding there is no wildlife photography without conservation. Just observe before taking a capture.

If you had to pick a few favorite highlights while photographing wild cats, either at home or on your travels, which would they be?

It is quite hard to pick. I am very grateful, and I really appreciate, that I had already a lot of awesome encounter with wild cats. But I will narrow it down to 3 highlights:

  1. My first Iberian lynx, one of the world’s most endangered wild cats. In 2014 we went to Andalusia, southern Spain, and after 2 attempts and 4 weeks down there we finally saw our first lynx, it was just magical to see this beautiful animal in the wild.
  2. Next is caracals in Kenya In 2013. I decided to go again to Kenya, Masai Mara, to photograph wildcats. I told our guide at the camp that I’d plan to go to South Africa later that year because of caracals. He laughed and told me that he could show me a caracal if we came back again. So I convinced my wife to go to Kenya again instead of South Africa. We searched for days to see a caracal, and our guide was already quite frustrated when a colleague of his called and told him that they had seen a caracal. We hurried over and found 2 strolling in their territory. I didn’t get any proper capture, but it was again so wonderful to just watch and observe these beautiful animals.
  3. Finally my first bobcat capture in 2018. We already tried to see bobcats in 2015 in California, but weren’t successful at that time. We later flew to San Francisco where I went to the Golden Gate Bridge recreation area and, on the second morning there I decided to go a little bit earlier. I started hiking down to the sea, my camera ready when I passed by some coyotes and saw another shadow further down. At first I thought it was another coyote, but realized suddenly that it was moving like a cat. I slowly approached the animal and saw a bobcat! He was looking for rodents in the grass and walked up again another road. He turned his head and wasn’t even disturbed at my presence as long as I kept my distance. I followed him for around 20 minutes, took some pictures before he disappeared in the tall grass again. That was just another magical moment, alone with a beautiful creature!

Is there anything else you would like people to know?

Go out enjoy nature and wildlife! Appreciate this amazing planet we have and help to protect and conserve it. Get your connection to nature back – It gives us so much in return. Nature needs all of us now.

For more wild cats, camera trapping photos and other wonderful images of wildlife like amphibians, be sure to follow Lars on Instagram at @Lynxlynx.ch.


*Sebastian Kennerknecht

**Mountain lion P-22

***Laurent Geslin

F1.Unit: occurrence probability per km2

F2.Number of wildcats per km2, incl. 95% confidence interval

****.Phenotype

Ghost Walker

Ghost Walker: Tracking a Mountain Lion’s Soul Through Science and Story is a book by Leslie Patten, an established landscape designer from California with a background in horticulture and botany. A citizen scientist and trained naturalist, Leslie has also assisted with wildlife studies and authored multiple books including the most recent Ghost Walker where she draws on her personal experiences and quest to understand mountain lions better. The book includes scientific research, history, myths as well interviews with biologists, trackers, hunters and conservationists.

Ghost Walker, Leslie Patten, Mountain Lions, Cougars, Pumas, California, Wyoming, Yellowstone, Panthera Teton Cougar Project, American lions,

The book concentrates on stories and science from Wyoming, where Leslie resides, and California

Sparked by a set of paw prints in the snow one morning while hiking with her dog Leslie sets out to answer the question: “What does it feel like to be a mountain lion?”. These tracks lead her, and the reader, on a physical and spiritual journey to understand how mountain lions live and struggle to survive in a world that is full of natural and man made threats. For those who are new to mountain lion conservation, or have a general interest in the species, the book is interesting and accessible while providing a background on the cats history and current status in the western states. It will also introduce you to the key players and research that is shaping mountain lion conservation. If you already have a good knowledge and passion for these animals consider the book a welcome addition to your reading list.

Mountain lion conservation is still riddled with challenges and contradictions and, in many places it is almost non-existent although views and policies are slowly improving as we have seen in California. Ghost Walker examines many of the factors that continue to influence our relationship with these highly misunderstood cats and it tells us that it will take a collective effort to ensure their long term survival. Including the non-consumptive public, who have historically been shut out of the decision making process, in decisions that impact these cats will be an important place to start. Change and reform for the better can happen, we simply have to want it bad enough.

Despite the onslaught they have suffered at our hands mountain lions have demonstrated they are willing to adapt and coexist. Are we now willing to do the same?

Ghost Walker: Tracking a Mountain Lion’s Soul Through Science and Story is available for purchase on Amazon. To read about the stories that did not make it into the book be sure to follow Leslie’s blog The Human Footprint.

A Party For A Mountain Lion

Los Angeles, a city known for its celebrities and beautiful people, has begun hosting a yearly party for one its most beloved and famous stars who is a real survivor and a hero of the four-legged kind. This year marked the fourth annual P-22 Day, a festival to honor mountain lion P-22 who crossed 2 of the busiest freeways in the U.S. and took up residence in Griffith Park. The journey he made was incredible and so is the overwhelming support he has received from LA and, from people from around the world. P-22’s story inspired the Save LA Cougars campaign which will raise money to help build, what will be, the world’s largest wildlife crossing in LA. The crossing will help save endangered mountain lion populations as well as help restore connectivity benefiting nature and all wildlife.

As a long time fan and supporter of P-22 and the Save LA Cougars campaign I decided to take a trip to see what a party for the world’s most famous mountain lion, was like.

Modern look for a modern lion. Created by Phil Yarnell for the 4th Annual P-22 Day Festival 2019. Image P-22 on Facebook

Part of the week long celebration, and Urban Wildlife Week, leading up to the festival is 5 day hike following in the footsteps of  P-22. The hike, which is lead by NWF California Regional Executive Director Beth Pratt, makes its way through the Santa Monica Mountains tracing a route that P-22 most likely took to get to Griffith Park. With some portions of the hike open to the public I decided to join on day 4 and complete 6 miles which started at TreePeople park and ended at the Hollywood Bowl overlook. The hike took us through trails, busy neighborhoods and roads ending at the point where P-22 would have made his final crossing to get to Griffith Park. While we didn’t have to play ‘frogger’ with LA’s deadly traffic we were exposed to a mere fraction of what it was like to walk in the shoes, or paws, of one very brave mountain lion. I came away with a better understanding and appreciation for just how extraordinarily difficult life is for these predators even when you have an entire city rooting for you.

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What an amazing day hiking the path that @p22mountainlion took to get to his final destination in #griffithpark a total of 6 miles with the most fantastic group of people lead by Beth Pratt. What a great way to experience a small part of what it took for a #mountainlion to navigate trails,roads, houses, people & deadly traffic to make it to his final destination. #LA needs this #wildlifecrossing to ensure there is #connectivity for mountain lions & all wildlife. Please continue to support @savelacougars & their work! Next stop today is the #p22dayfestival2019 😸 . . #savelacougars #p22day #p22hike #savelions #savehabitat #betheirvoice #pumas #california #losangeles #caturday #savebigcats #coexist #libertycanyon #builditandtheywillcome #urbanwildlifeweek #leadingbyexample

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After an invigorating hike the next stop was the P-22 Day festival. I wondered what the magic formula was that made so many people from different ages, walks of life, and backgrounds support a cause so passionately? More than just a party, the P-22 Day Festival and campaign around it, is like nothing seen before. This initiative has solid research to back it up, but it is also based on tolerance, coexistence and love for wildlife. If the rest of the world is willing to learn from what is happening in LA, there is a lot we can take away and apply to help wildlife where we live.

​It turned out to be a perfect day for a party and thousands turned out to celebrate. There were exhibitors aimed at educating people about urban wildlife, nature, mountain lions, coexistence and of course the importance of connectivity. There was also dancing, demonstrations, arts and crafts for kids and experts ready to answer your questions about wildlife. P-22 Day is an all ages event, but they really gear activities towards kids and families to enjoy together which is key to inspiring and teaching the next generation.

There were many fun activities throughout the day and a few highlights include the P-22 song On The Move Again performed by 3rd Rock Hip Hop, a group that teaches kids about environmental awareness and, for those wanting to see the world through a mountain lions eyes The Save LA Cougars Virtual Reality experience, which can be experienced at home by downloading the app for your phone or by watching via your web browser.

There were also a few surprise announcements including the giving match challenge which is inspiring people to do their part to help LA’s mountain lions. Generous donors are currently matching donations, which can be made here, by individuals up to $50K to support the wildlife crossing.

P-22 Day Festival, LA, Los Angeles, Urban Wildlife Day, Wildlife Crossing, Mountain lions, California, P-22 Mountain lion, Hollywood,

Limited Edition Plush Toy – Save LA Cougars

For those wanting to go home with some cool P-22 merchandise, there was no short supply. Whether an adorable stuffed plushy complete with a GPS tracking collar, a new t-shirt, tote bag, or official collectors pin, 100% of the proceeds go back to support the wildlife crossing. If you couldn’t make it to the festival all merchandise can be purchased directly from the Save LA Cougars website.

If you missed P-22 Day this year not to worry, the festival will be back next year and If you are contemplating going I highly suggest you do, especially if you live in LA, are a fan of wildlife, connectivity and P-22.

Keep up to date on all things P-22 by following his facebook page and, for an update on the campaign and wildlife crossing be sure to check out a recent interview with Beth Pratt from In Focus California: SoCal.

The Interview

Polish historian and political scientist Jerzy Targalski conducts an interview with the Dutch  news program Niewsurr while his big orange tabby cat Lisio, steals the show – literally. I have no idea what he is talking about, but I don’t think that matters.

Whatever is being discussed, if there is a cat involved know that everything will be alright. Happy Caturday!

Via LaughingSquid

Caturday, News, Laughing Squid, Orange Tabby, Polish historian and political scientist Jerzy Targalsk,

Pumas of The Chilean Forests

For the most part mountain lions remain misunderstood by the majority of the public and, in most places in North America these cats are still very highly persecuted. Naturally shy with complex social lives, mountain lions (sometimes called cougars or pumas depending on geographic location) are animals that would really prefer to avoid humans if at all possible. In a world dominated by a singular powerful species they are doing their best to try to coexist and navigate through a web of set rules that they cannot possibly hope to master. Survival for these wild cats has become that much harder with mounting pressure in the forms climate change, habitat loss/fragmentation, prey loss, human-wildlife conflict, hunting, animal agriculture, and even media sensationalism – all which threaten their existence. Thankfully more and more research, which also confirms their invaluable role as ecosystem engineers, in North America is helping to shed light on why we need them and why we need to protect them. But what about the species lesser known relatives in South America?

Proyecto Carnívoros Australes is one group currently conducting studies in central Chile in an area that is relatively new to puma research, a region that is also designated one of the world’s top biodiversity’s hotspots. I recently interviewed project leader Christian Osorio, a PhD student of Dr. Marcella Kelly’s Wildlife Habitat and Population Analysis Lab*in Virginia, to find out more about his groups important work and what they hope to accomplish for the species in central Chile.

Why did you decided to focus on Pumas in central Chile?

Pumas are the most successful terrestrial mammals in the whole world with a range extending more than 100º latitude from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan. They live in a huge variety of habitats such as forests, deserts, shrub-lands, timber plantations and elevations from the coastline up to 4,500 meters above sea level. Nevertheless, puma research and conservation in Chile primarily focuses in the southernmost part like Torres del Paine National Park and surrounding areas and recently in the northernmost areas of the High Andean Plateau.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Mountains

Camera-trap on high-elevation Andean grasslands within a private Natural Reserve, central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

The anthropogenic pressures in central Chile, specifically in the Maule Region from sea level to the high Andes, is increasingly strong and landscapes are heavily fragmented with extensive intensive timber plantations. Livestock breeding is a primary industry in this region which means that livestock-carnivore conflict is increasing and, I have known of several retaliatory shooting events against pumas which are often not reported. Natural reserves and protected areas are key to providing habitat as well as a safe-space for wildlife, but it’s the private productive lands that compromise areas far larger than the protected areas in Chile. Proyecto Carnívoros Australes focuses on conducting science-based conservation and management in both protected and unprotected areas with a strong emphasis on human-wildlife conflict mitigation.1

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor,

Puma (Puma concolor). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

How did Proyecto Carnívoros Australes come about?

I created Proyecto Carnívoros Australes during my doctoral research when I noticed there was a great need for carnivore research and conservation in central Chile, within the Chilean Winter Rainfall and Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot (CWR&VF). While working in the CWR&VF I had noticed that the threatened wildlife inhabiting the area required a long-term conservation effort far beyond a Ph.D. dissertation so, I decided to conduct long-term research and management in the area after I graduated. It was then that I also realized that it would require further funding and, after meeting with some colleagues I founded Proyecto Carnívoros Australes which we expect to turn into a lawful non-profit soon.

What is the Chilean Winter Rainfall and Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot and why is it important to conduct research there?

The CWR&VF is considered one of the worlds 25 biodiversity hotspots and this designation provides guidelines for global prioritization of conservation efforts. ‘Hotspots’ are areas that are biologically rich which means they have high variety of species, habitats and genetics, but they also tend to have high habitat loss and degradation rates. Thus, the CWR&VF comprises areas in which conservation and management are urgent.2,3

How does your study differ from research being done in southern Chile?

There are many differences between my study and others being conducted in southern Chile by Panthera, Fundacion Patagonia and others, all of which are very important and valuable by the way! I think with our research the most important difference is the situation and the surrounding context – besides natural reserves our study sites are located in productive areas with high human pressure, habitat fragmentation and very strong human-wildlife conflict, which differs slightly from the human-wildlife conflict in surrounding natural reserves. To my understanding the most interesting part of our project is that we are working in the natural protected reserves, to include all the wildlife there, and we are putting about half or maybe even more of our effort and energy into science-based conservation and management in the productive, non-protected areas.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor

Project leader Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop) setting camera trap on a private Natural Reserve, Andes Mountains of central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

What are the threats pumas face in Chile?

Pumas major threats in Chile are similar to the threats faced by them in the rest of the species distribution range – habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching of their wild prey, and retaliatory hunting due to actual or perceived livestock predation. Nevertheless, most of these threats are very complex and vary significantly from place to place. The human dimensions of conservation becomes key to understanding human-wildlife conflict and managing it properly. We understand that effective wildlife conservation goes far beyond biology, thus the work by our team-member Dr. Solange Vargas on human-dimensions will be key to the success of our conservation efforts.

Do you hope your research helps to foster better public attitudes towards pumas?

Our work with Dr. Vargas specifically aims in the direction of transforming conflict and generating a positive attitude by the community towards pumas and wildlife in general. We hope that appropriate management of conflicts decreases livestock predation rates leading to a more positive perception about wildlife while promoting coexistence. For that reason, we want to work on direct management and also education with adults, youth and children. We already generated a project to work on that and we hope we will have a positive response to move ahead in that direction in the next few years.

Is it a priority to encourage local ranchers to coexist better with pumas?

Yes, that is my hope especially as livestock ranchers are often affected by puma predation, which can be successfully prevented. That is our most important objective regarding conflict management. We want to help them to protect their livestock successfully from predators, with non-lethal management strategies which have been recently proven to be successful in Chile. Thus, we will be able to protect human activities and wildlife at the same time promoting coexistence.

How is your study is being conducted?

Our project has two main areas the first is puma ecology and research and, second is human-wildlife conflict management and mitigation. For the puma ecology part we aim to estimate puma density in different sites (productive-unprotected and protected areas) and assess habitat use/preference, which will be done mostly relying on camera-trap data. We need lots of camera-traps, currently we have around 60%-70% of the units we need, and we hope we will have the remainder by the end of this year.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Guigna, Leopardus guigna

Kodkod or guigna (Leopardus guigna). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

For the human-wildlife management part, besides perception assessment mainly using focus-groups and predation report data provided by the government, we aim to set non-lethal predator deterrents (FoxLight) devices. These lighting devices help to prevent livestock predation by carnivores without harming them avoiding retaliatory killing against pumas.

Have you considered partnering with a larger organization or wildlife conservation photographer to help tell the story of pumas in central Chile?

I am actually a wildlife photographer myself and I keep teaching a wildlife photography class at VT, but have kept my camera in the bag for a while for this project. I am open to collaborating with any person or organization willing to do it, but big NGOs like Panthera are prioritizing their work on other areas, which is good and necessary. I have received significant support from the Wild Felid Research and Management Association, of which I am an active member of, through some grants I have been awarded as a graduate student. I am currently working with independent film-makers in Chile in order to create a documentary film about the project, which hopefully will be available this year or early next year. Personally, I think it is important to focus on priority areas in which large wildlife conservation agencies are not currently working, like central Chile. There is a great need and there are great people willing to work on and support this conservation effort

What has the local support for your project been like?

This project is being conducted in direct cooperation with the local and national wildlife authorities, whose technical and logistical support has been essential to our work. Two wildlife biologists in addition to myself, two wildlife veterinarians, an archaeologist and two professional film-makers are currently are on our staff. One private natural reserve within the study area has provided significant financial and operational support, like horses, vehicles and guides, and, the private owners of the timber plantations within the study area have shown a really good attitude toward our project by allowing us access to their lands and providing valuable operational support.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Mountains

Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

You recently shared a study about non-lethal deterrents. Can you briefly explain how it will help pumas?

The study, published by Dr. Omar Ohrens et al, is a keystone of conflict management in Chile. I had the joy to work with Dr. Ohrens years ago in the first years of his research at the Chilean Andean Plateau. His study provides scientific evidence that the use of non-lethal lighting devices successfully prevents livestock predation events by pumas, which is very important because it goes beyond the functionality of the device itself. It proves that these devices are actually used by people and that they can be introduced into the traditional livestock-ranchers culture, which is the most critical issue with any management tool we could provide. It doesn’t matter how effective a management strategy is if the people in the community do not accept and apply it, it will be useless. Dr. Ohrens and his team demonstrated the factibility of this management approach and provided methodological guidelines to apply it and assess its success. Studying different scenarios of human-wildlife conflict and the available management tools, in the context in which Dr. Ohrens conducted his study, is the most similar to the situation in my study area. In comparison, the livestock breeding style in southernmost Chile in which the use of guard dogs has proven to be a successful deterrent, is somewhat different.

Tell me about the Proyecto Carnívoros Australes GoFundMe campaign

Crowdfunding support is very important because even though we are constantly applying most available grants only allow us to purchase equipment, they do not allow us to fund operational expenses like gasoline or food and if they do it is only allowed in limited amounts. Thus, we often spend our personal funds to buy batteries, food, load gasoline into the vehicle (which we borrow from a generous person) or to change oil. This means the funds received through our GoFundMe campaign are vital to help fund these and other operational expenses. We plan to keep the GoFundMe campaign open through the duration of the project.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor

Camera at burned timber plantation, coast of central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

Do you think there is a potential in the future for puma friendly tourism in central Chile similar to that in southern Chile?

I am not sure yet, I need to have robust data on puma abundances, population densities and trends before answering this question confidently. However, I think it might be doable if the pumas are doing good in the mountain ranges of central Chile and specifically in a couple of private reserves we are partnering with.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Timber plantations

“The coastal ranges of our study area in central Chile were affected by huge (human caused) mega fires in the summer of 2017, which destroyed native forests and timber plantations. In the photo, burned land is being restored with native forest by Universidad de Chile.” Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

Anything else people should know about pumas in central Chile and your work?

There are two things – the first being that pumas share the habitat with smaller carnivores in the study area such as the Andean fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) and at least two small wild felids, the kodkod or guigna (Leopardus guigna) and the Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo). The second important part of our work is regarding the major human-caused wildfires that occurred in the summer of 2017 in central Chile. The fires burnt a large area of native forests besides the timber plantation and we are still trying to understand if carnivore populations were impacted by this event and whether it may further impact conflict with humans.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Fox

Andean Fox (Lycalopex culpaeus). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

For more on this project and how you can support their work to help pumas and wildlife in central Chile please follow Proyecto Carnívoros Australes on Twitter and on Facebook. Their GoFundMe campaign is ongoing and will continue to accept donations during the project.

References

*.Marcella Kelly Wildlife Habitat and Population Analysis Lab

F1.Guarda, N., Gálvez, N., Leichtle, J., Osorio, C., & Bonacic, C. (2017). Puma Puma concolor density estimation in the Mediterranean Andes of Chile. Oryx, 51(2), 263-267. doi:10.1017/S0030605315001301

F2.Myers, N., R. A. Mittermeier, C. G. Mittermeier, G. A. Da Fonseca and J. Kent. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403(6772):853–858

F3.Zachos, F. E., & Habel, J. C. (Eds.). (2011). Biodiversity hotspots: distribution and protection of conservation priority areas. Springer Science & Business Media.

The Watcher

Wonderful video of a peaceful encounter between Photographer Jay Staton and a highly endangered Florida panther. While negative and scary headlines sell, don’t believe all the media hype surrounding these animals who are curious and shy by nature. Given space and respect they will choose to stay clear of humans. There are many reasons to share this, including the fact that the species is in desperate need of honest and positive publicity, which this footage provides.

Florida panthers face multiple pressures – from vehicles, human development and major habitat loss which means time is running out to save them. Jay is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to replace custom camera traps, that were destroyed during hurricane Irma, so he can continue to document these amazing animals and tell their story. Please consider sharing with friends and family in Florida and others who wish to see the Florida panther have a much deserved chance of survival.

“I was kneeling at a pool of water filming walking catfish in a ditch in Fakahatchee. I positioned my GoPro camera under water pointing up so I could get the fish swimming above the camera. I walked to the other side of the pool to scare the catfish to swim over my camera. I walked back around to my camera to change its direction. But before I walked back to the other side, I noticed a panther also in the ditch less than 20 feet from me. I grabbed the GoPro camera from the water and pointed it in the direction of the panther. It was set on wide angle so the panther looks further away than 20 feet. I slowly got out of the ditch and walked to my car, some 30 feet away, to retrieve my video camera. When I got back the panther was no longer where I had seen him, but instead he was sitting right where I was kneeling at the water’s edge filming catfish. I set up the tripod and pushed record on my video camera. I walked back to my car calmly, 30 feet away (you can hear my footsteps in the video) to get my picture camera. The video footage shows the panther watched me walk back to my car. I slowly returned to my video camera and took 5 or 6 pictures of the panther. I had a 300mm lens on my full frame camera and the panther was too close to get all of it in frame, so I took parts of the panther to stitch the images together later in Photoshop. The panther decided at that point to leave. I was still trying to take a couple pictures, so I didn’t pan the video camera to follow him quick enough.”  – Via Jay Staton on YouTube:

Cats Of Rome

A beautiful tribute to Rome’s feline friends by Luxmuralis. See the cats of Rome like you have never seen them before, in lights and accompanied by music. This is an absolutely fantastic display of modern street art and, one of my favorite examples of cats in art.