Love Story

Wonderful short film from Jay Station on Youtube documenting the mating behavior of Florida Panthers. Always fascinating to watch big cat behavior!

Mountain Lions – Big Cats in High Places

If you live in the UK you may have been lucky enough to catch the BBC2 Natural World documentary Mountain Lions: Big Cats in High Places. I had only ever seen clips of it but the full documentary was recently made available by YouTube user Benjamin Phares. I came across the 58 minute video on the Klandagi: Puma Rewilding Facebook page and, as this not ‘official’ you may have a short window in which to view it. I suggest you make time to watch this as soon you can!

There is some special footage of Mountain Lion behavior that you most likely have never seen before and it clearly demonstrates that the myths surrounding these misunderstood and highly persecuted big cats are just myths. Importantly, the documentary shows just how tough the cats have it, nature is extreme and unforgiving even without mans interference, so ensuring we work to protect North America’s only big cat is important. Sadly, Mountain Lions are legally hunted throughout the USA and in two western provinces in Canada and, with all the other challenges they face sport hunting shouldn’t be one of them – It is cruel and extremely detrimental to the species overall. A documentary like this is important as it shows what these magnificent cats are truly like and why they deserve our protection just like the African Lion.

“The documentary follows two mountain mums in the Rockies of Wyoming as they struggle to raise their cubs – hunting, playing, eating and sometimes fighting”

Mountain Lions, Bob Cats and Foxes Oh My!

The camera trap video is courtesy of Parliament of Owls and has some wonderful footage with appearances by an array of wildlife. One of my favorite moments happens at the end as a Mountain Lion sits for a moment overlooking the city below before heading off into the night.

Mountain Screamer

In honor of Halloween, I am sharing one of my favorite videos of the cat who holds the world record for the animal with the highest number of names due to its wide distribution across North and South America. You may have chills run down your spine after watching this and, you will most definitely understand why this cat is called a Mountain Screamer!

This is a clip of a female Mountain Lion in heat calling for a mate with a sound that only a male Mountain Lion would find alluring. This lady gets A for effort however, her attempt may have fallen on deaf ears as they could not confirm if she was successful in attracting a male. Males are also known to produce similar screaming sounds which are used to intimidate rivals or during a fight with other males.

The video is by Parliament of Owls on YouTube and was taken from a trail cam this April. It is very cool, but loud. So you may wish to turn down the volume – or crank it up depending on your mood. The perfect backdrop for a good Halloween scare? Be sure to watch to the end….

Mountain Lions go by many names including American Lion, mountain screamer, Puma, Cougar, Ghost cat, Catamount and Panther. The names are based on their geographic location which is the largest of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Mountain Lions are a member of the Felidae family, as opposed to the Panthera family like Tigers and Lions.

The major difference between the two families is the Panthera family’s ability to roar, Felidae cats can not roar, instead they make noises such as purrs, hisses, chirps and screams. The ability to roar depends on the structure of the hyoid bone, to which the muscles of the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box) are attached.

Ghost of the Mountain

Panthera uncia, or the Snow Leopard, is a gorgeous and rare cat that lives in the mountains of Central Asia. I have long been fascinated with these mysterious and other worldly cats who seem to exude a sense of intangible wisdom and calm, perhaps this is a direct result of having evolved to live in such a harsh and remote environment. The mysterious quality is well earned as they are very hard to photograph and study. In fact, most of the photos taken of Snow Leopards are done with strategically placed camera traps, making images like the one by wildlife photographer Steve Winter, extremely breathtaking and precious.

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One of the most elusive of the big cats & rarest photographed – Image Steve Winter

Snow Leopards are known for their mystical beauty and elusive nature, and because of this they have been called the Ghost of the Mountains.  Part of their allure is their fur, which is luxuriously beautiful and practical at keeping them perfectly warm and camouflaged  in the rugged and unforgiving landscape in which they live and hunt. While Snow Leopards are found in 12 countries approximately 60% of the cats habitat can primarily be found in China.

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The snow leopard has white, yellowish and smoky grey speckled fur with dark-grey to black spots and rosettes. Image – Snow Leopard Trust

As with all cats they have physical characteristics that suit their environment, and their features do more than present a pretty picture, they serve a purpose. The round short ears help reduce heat loss and the wide and short nasal cavity heat the chilled outside air before reaching the lungs. “In the Himalayas, they are usually found between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level. In Mongolia and Russia, these cats are found at lower altitudes of 1000 meters. At the Snow Leopard’s typical elevation, the climate is cold and dry, and only grasses and small shrubs can grow on the steep mountain slopes.”

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Snow leopards prefer the broken terrain of cliffs, rocky outcrops, and ravines. Image –  Steve Tracy, Courtesy of the Snow Leopard Trust

Other physical features that make Snow Leopards suited for its extreme environment include: extra big paws that act like snow shoes; a long tail that is used for balance and also keeping warm on cold nights; short front limbs and long back limbs which are used to help the cat propel itself up to 30 feet at once and, very strong chest muscles to help it climb mountains for prey.

Since Snow Leopards are hard to study researchers have relied on camera trap technology which has helped them understand more about the cats than ever before. However, their ghost like presence has still made it impossible to determine exactly how many exist and, estimates have put this endangered cat at only 3,500 – 7,000 individuals. Snow Leopards are listed on CITES Appendix I which offers the highest level of protection and means all international trade that is primarily for commercial purposes is prohibited. They are also legally protected from hunting by national legislation across most of its 12 range states and, in 2009 Afghanistan gave the cats legal protection by listing the species on the country’s first Protected Species List.

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The Snow Leopard Trust has documented one cat who walked 27 miles in just one night.

While Snow Leopards tend to be ‘crepuscular’, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk their behavior has noted to be influenced by the presence of humans. It has been found that were there is less human population they are active in the daytime and when there are more people nearby their territory, they become ‘nocturnal’ or active at night.

The cats communicate over vast distances either by marking, which is done by scraping the ground, or spraying urine on ridges and cliffs along the mountains. Solitary animals, once mating season is over the male and female part ways leaving her to raise the cubs until they reach about 2 years old at which time the cubs will leave to look for their own territory. A Snow Leopards territory can be hundreds of square km and overlap but, researchers believe that the amount of space each cat needs may differ between the landscapes and availability of prey.

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Snow Leopards from the Zurich Zoo – Image Flickr

While Snow Leopards can purr, mew, hiss and growl they cannot roar instead, they are known to make a puffing sound called a ‘chuff’ just like Tigers. The ability to roar does not exist in Snow Leopards due to the physiology of their throat, or structure of the hyoid bone.  To hear what the chuffing sounds like check out this video of a Snow Leopard from Big Cat Rescue.

What is also important to note is that these cats are not aggressive towards humans and, there has never been a confirmed Snow Leopard attack on a human being. Instead they have a reputation for running away rather than defending themselves if disturbed. Like all cats, they may however become aggressive during an encounter between two males or if a female’s cubs are being threatened.

While Snow Leopards may not be the most photographed of the big cats, never before seen footage has been released in time to celebrate International Snow Leopard Day which is marked today October 23. The WWF has released photos and video to coincide with a report that highlights the fragile connections between Snow Leopards, People, Water And The Global Climate. They say that a third of the cats habitat is at risk from climate change.  Images in this video were taken in Nepal and Mongolia.

As with all our big cats human activity is a major threat to the survival of this species, this includes poaching for their fur, retaliatory killings for livestock loss, loss of habitat and prey, mining activities and lack of resources to protect the cats. If that wasn’t enough, climate change will now add another immediate threat to the survival of Snow Leopards. WWF-UK tells International Business Times that “The Himalayas region will face a major crisis if we choose to ignore climate change. Not only do we risk losing majestic species such as the snow leopard, but hundreds of millions of people who rely on water flowing from these mountains may be affected.”

The leading organization on these cats the Snow Leopard Trust, founded in 1981, is at the forefront working diligently to save them while offering ways for people to help Snow Leopards by either donating, volunteering, shopping or becoming a partner. They also have a wealth of resources about their work and research available online including their report on how Climate Change could speed up the Snow Leopards demise.

The Snow Leopard Trust has put together this wonderful two-part infographic fact sheet which can be shared and downloaded from their site, it is a great educational tool to inform others of this amazing cats plight and help them understand why they are worth saving.

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Panthers in the Backyard

Amazing footage of a family of Florida Panthers captured on camera in a residents backyard. You can hear the cats before you see them. You will also notice some typical cat behavior when they head for the trees. Wait for the 3 minute mark when the action starts, you won’t be disappointed.

The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals on earth, it is estimated that there are approximately 100-180 adults and subadults in south Florida, which is the only known breeding population. “They once lived in woodlands and swamps throughout the Southeast, but when European settlers arrived in the 1600s, the clear-cutting, building and other human activities that destroy, degrade and fragment habitat began, and the fear and misconceptions that led to panther persecution took root.”

“Their historical range was once across the southeastern United States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. Now, the breeding population of Florida panthers is found only in the southern tip of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River.” – Defenders of Wildlife

Habitat loss, human development, prey loss and inbreeding are some of the challenges the Florida Panther faces.

Big Cat and the Spotted Skunk

Proof that even the big predators, carnivores like Mountain Lions, can be chased off their kills by smaller animals. Watch a tiny Spotted Skunk temporarily send this big cat packing right at about the 4:15 mark.

This is a supplementary video for an article published in The Canadian Field-Naturalist and was taken with a motion-triggered camera.

“Encounter competition occurs frequently over food resources and may include kleptoparasitism, where scavengers usurp prey killed by carnivores. Scavenging may have important adverse effects on carnivores and may result in higher than expected kill rates by predators. We placed a camera trap on a Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) carcass killed by a Cougar (Puma concolor) in California. We then documented a series of encounters in which a Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis) temporally usurped the carcass from the Cougar, and also successfully defended the carcass when the Cougar returned and attempted to feed. The Spotted Skunk was about 1% of the mass of the Cougar, and this video documents the largest published size differential of a mammalian species engaging in successful encounter competition.”