Paper Wildlife

For your caturday viewing pleasure – a miniature world of paper wildlife with an important message.

From the National Geographic Short Film Showcase: “Paper predators and prey spring to life in this visually stunning short from directors Dávid Ringeisen & László Ruska. An ordinary desk and typical office supplies are the backdrop for this micro-universe that carries the macromessage of wildlife conservation. While humans are left out of the piece, their impact is still present in a discarded cigarette butt that sparks an imaginary forest fire and an overflowing wastebasket that pollutes a fantastical rolling-chair river. This piece is part of the filmmakers’ MOME thesis project, the animation department at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary and was created for WWF Hungary.”

Click here or on image to view video

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Image: National Geographic. Short Film Showcase: Step Into a Miniature World of Animated Paper Wildlife

Saving Africa’s Dappled Beauty

On my trip to Africa last year I had the amazing fortune and privilege to see a handful of leopards which are unbelievable in person with their relaxed, enigmatic, graceful beauty even in the extreme heat. I will be posting more photos of my trip at a later time but wanted to share this one of a lovely young female from Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. She had just had her Impala stolen by the famous resident one-eyed male known as Kataba – more on him later as well, who was sitting in a tree not more than five feet from her!

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Right now Panthera pardus needs your help, they have been over-hunted and persecuted to such an extent that South Africa has extended the ban on hunting them into 2017. This means there is a zero quota which has stayed in place since last January. While it doesn’t protect them from illegal hunting, retaliatory killings, poisoning, poaching etc…eliminating at least one form of mortality is a decent step. Leopard numbers are not known and to continue to allow these animals to be killed for sport is just not acceptable.

How you can help

Until midnight on January 30, 2017 the USFWS will be taking comments on leopards. We are asking to protect them from both hunting and the trade in their body parts. What the leopard needs is a reclassification to an Endangered status. If you could take a few minutes to visit the link and leave comments based on the following below.

Please try to modify with your own words but include some of the scientific facts and references as the USFWS will only consider comments if they include this important information. You may leave your comments with your name or as anonymous. Just click the blue ‘Comment Now’ button on the upper right corner! We urgently need more comments before the deadline – please share!

I strongly support the reclassification of the Leopard (Panthera Pardus) to Endangered Species. I support this for the following reasons:

  • First, scientific data shows that leopards are the most persecuted cat species in the world and that there is a major lack of data on the actual number of leopards remaining. Camera trapping surveys conducted during a study period indicate that leopard population in Southern Africa is declining rapidly and at a very concerning rate.
  • One of the major causes of leopard mortality, trophy hunting, can be stopped immediately. It is known that trophy “off take rates” are exceed and that corruption in the release of permits for trophy hunting occurs on a frequent basis making hunting these big cats for sport simply unsustainable.
  • Along with Trophy hunting there is illegal hunting, trapping and snaring, poisoning, killing for skin, legal destruction, farm livestock protection, revenge killings all pushing leopards to the brink of extinction. Leopards are also victims of Climate change and drought, which has an impact and threatens the leopard population worldwide.
  • Leopard habitat has greatly decreased which also threatens the leopard population worldwide; this creates conflict with growing agriculture, livestock farming and urbanization. Fences and fragmentation of the leopard habitat will in turn reduce the reproduction rate of the species.
  • Unreported and illegal killing of leopards is widespread across Southern African countries all of which have inadequate legislation and poor control to persecute illegal killings and manage the leopard population.
  • Another growing problem is the illegal trading of leopard parts – like with other big cats the trade is not adequately punishable or discouraged by the countries where the leopard is an indigenous species.
  • Finally enforcement is weak, incompetent, under-staffed and dysfunctional. Conservation departments are simply unable to monitor a particular elusive species such as leopard.
  • For these many legitimate reasons I am asking that Leopards be immediately reclassified as an Endangered Species and all hunting and trade of this highly imperiled species cease.

For your reference I am providing the following references:

  • Kahler & Gore, M.L. 2005, Local Perceptions, Human-Wildlife conflicts in Namibia
  • Minin-Fraser-Slotow-McMillan, Understanding the preference of tourists for big game species. Implication for Conservation, 2013
  • Nadal &Aguaio, A review of the Economic Analysis of wildlife trade, 2014
  • Richardson-Loomis, The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species, 2009
  • Ripple-Estes-Beschta, Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores, 2015
  • St John-Keane, Identifying indicators of carnivore killing, 2012
  • Swanepoel-Lindsey-Somers, Extent and fragmentation of suitable Leopard habitat in South Africa, 2013
  • Thorn-Green-Scott, Characteristics and determinants of human-carnivore conflict in South African farmland, 2013
  • Wilson-Spaeth, Governments are not doing enough to stop wildlife crime, 2017
    http://city-press.news24.com/…/governments-are-not-doing-en…
  • Cameron, Bustling trade in illegal wildlife products at Johannesburg market, 2016
    https://www.biznews.com/…/watch-bustling-trade-in-illegal-…/
  • THE COMPREHENSIVE STUDY PRESENTED TO THE FWS ON THE 25TH OF JULY 2016 BY HUMANE SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL –USA
    https://drive.google.com/…/0BxP8B7Q8gpNZeEZjTm5ia3FDZ2M/view
  • EMS Foundation Comments to the Department of Environment Affairs/Leopard Trophy Hunts
    https://www.dropbox.com/…/EMS%20Foundation%20Comments%20on%…

Buy It, Give It – Holiday Edition

Here is the 2016 Holiday Edition of Buy it, Give it! With just a few weeks left to pick up those last-minute gifts I have listed some of my favorite picks for the holidays or anytime because you never really need an excuse to pick up some cool cat themed merchandise. Happy shopping!

As always I am including a t-shirt and this year my pick is Friends of P-22, available for men and women, from gurlRun on Etsy. It is a unique print featuring a silhouette print of everyone’s favorite mountain lion from LA

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Olive & Rye Cat Art –  Whatever you decide to go with you can be sure it will be fun and colorful. There are totes, like the Catroyoshka Tote Bag pictured here, mugs, pouches, t-shirts, leggings, scarfs and more

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Olive & Rye also offers amazing custom cat portraits like this one that was done of my cat Spinner

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The perfect stocking stuffer idea from Areaware is the Fauna Pouch featuring a tabby cat print inspired by early style photography

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Socks are always a fun, affordable and practical gift ideas. First pick is the My Cat is Cool as F&^%$ Socks by Blue Q

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For a more family friendly holiday inspired style, also available in kids sizes,  Sock It to Me Jingle Cats

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Just in time for winter, the Cat Scarf by Archie Mcphee available in store or online at Rolo Store. What I really like about this scarf is all the cats are looking up at you

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For the big cat lover the African Cats Pendant by New York designer Alex Woo, its beautiful and charitable with a portion of the proceeds from all sales going to help with conservation of African wildlife and wetlands

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For the cat parent who is looking for a new way to photograph their cat there is the Animal Adventures Pet Photobooth

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or, Cat Selfies by NPW because everyone including your cat are into selfies

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It wouldn’t be a holiday without a special hat and the bonnet by Archie McPhee is the newest in head wear for felines that takes us back to a simpler time

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Get retro with this fun and portable pinball game from Ridley’s Utopia Cosmic Cat Pinball

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For the home Lili Chin’s Exotic Cats Duvet Cover on Society 6

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Cat Nap pillow cases by Xenotees which come in various colors

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For the cat lover who also loves to bake a laser cut cat rolling-pin by SugaryHome on Etsy

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Finally for the literary cat lover, there is Shop Cats of New York – a photographic book of New York City’s most iconic felines

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When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors

If you are the most famous mountain lion in LA (arguably all of North America), have safely crossed two of the busiest freeways in the U.S., been immortalized in a now iconic photo in front of the Hollywood sign by Steve Winter, and, have become the spokes cat for your species and the center of a national campaign to help wildlife, you would think that you had nothing left on your list to accomplish. If however you happen to be P-22, it’s only logical that you end up gracing the cover of a book.

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The enormous pressure wildlife faces from humans and human development means they either learn to adapt to survive or, as we have seen with many creatures, vanish. We are bombarded almost on a daily basis with these negative and depressing stories which for many, including myself, can be very overwhelming. Instead of focusing on those aspects which we often feel helpless to change, When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors does the exact opposite by highlighting the inspirational – what is being done to help wildlife and what can work if we decide to take action. Today it is not only the scientist and researcher making a difference it is people like you and me, the everyday citizen who will ultimately play a key role in helping wildlife prosper and survive.

Being one of my most anticipated reads of this year, I reached out to author and California Director for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Beth Pratt-Bergstrom to talk more about her book, wildlife in California, the handsome cover boy P-22 and the campaign to get the worlds largest wildlife crossing built.

Lets start off with where you at with the Save LA Cougars Campaign (which for readers who don’t know is the national campaign to raise funds to build a safe and desperately needed wildlife crossing at LA’s 101 freeway)

It is going forward, the crossing is going to get built and there is a lot going on. Right now we are at the planning and compliance stage, which is funded through early 2017. We need to raise 10 million by middle of 2017, then balance by mid 2019 to have the crossing built by 2021.

We are having P-22 Day and Urban Wildlife Week October 16 through to the 22 to raise awareness for the crossing fundraiser and to announce leadership gifts – big online fundraising. Before hand I will be hiking the same route P-22 took (40-miles) from the Santa Monica Mountains to where he has been living in Griffith Park. This event will be a big milestone in the Save LA Cougars campaign.

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If you live in LA be sure to check out P-22 Day and Urban Wildlife Festival October 16-22 – Image P-22 Mountain Lion of Hollywood Facebook.

Interestingly there has been a study released that has confirmed what we have been saying – there is empirical evidence that if we don’t do something now and help mountain lions in California, in 50 years it certain they will go extinct. So it’s like ‘we told you so’ it’s both good and bad, we have to get the crossing built we have no time to lose. The best worst case scenario is mountain Lions go extinct in 50 years if we don’t, this is based on facts from modeling but it doesn’t take into account other mountain lion fatalities from vehicles and rodenticides poisoning. In the case of rodenticides people are seeing what mountain lions and other animals have suffered and want to make change. In California there is something here, a value and call to action, and I hope other people in other places can do the same.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors is positive in its message and very accessible – meaning anyone can read it. How important were these aspects when you were writing the book?

The goal was to make it about the positive as all of us are exposed to so much of the negative, I get battered down with the bad news, so I wanted it to focus on what was working and how you get people inspired. For instance, I was inspired by Born Free and being taken whale watching by my dad – It is the good news that inspires people. This also helps getting people who aren’t already converted as it is easy to get burnt out.

It was also important to make it accessible –  not academic. We want people to learn about science, but we do this by tricking them into learning about it. It is difficult for science based organizations like NWF and researchers to be non-scientific like when I first mentioned to National Park Service wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich about ‘P22 dating’ he said please they (mountain lions) don’t date…but they eventually got it..that it makes it easier for to the average person to relate to the predicament P-22 is in, which is the lonely bachelor looking for love.

Besides being an awesome cover boy, mountain Lion P-22 plays a major role in the book

The book is actually the reason why I work on the Save LA Cougars Campaign – it was a very different book initially, then when P22 came on the scene it changed the whole book. I thought that this was the story it was about urban interface. P-22 shouldn’t be where he is but I had this great epiphany – who am I to judge if this is the only way the cat can live? We need to share our human spaces with wildlife, if we don’t share our spaces they aren’t going to be here. The study of wildlife in urban environments say they are stressed…but so are people! it doesn’t mean that wildlife can’t live there. This is a big shift and it’s catching ground a lot, LA is leading the way. I use it as a challenge – if LA can do it what’s anyone’s excuse.

P22 is a modern lion in many ways, including being socially savvy, he fits perfectly into a media obsessed culture

He is the reason that the film The Cat that changed America is being made. The headline is a modern story that people can relate to on social media, it is about having a day-to-day relationship with wildlife and he has shown that wild predators can live rather peacefully with us. People can relate to P-22, it has set this model and the world has been watching. In my mind he is the cat that changed the world, people are asking ‘what’s going on in LA with a mountain lion…and they are OK with this?’.

He is figuring out how to adapt to human interface  – not every mountain lion could be this successful in Griffith Park, but P-22 is a modern cat and has worked it out. He also shows us they are individuals and have personalities like people and that is a game changer, he is the right cat for the right time to be an ambassador for his species. You have P-22 who has adapted to LA, and LA who has adapted, and for the two to coincide is remarkable.

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P22 last year looking good after recovering from a bad case of mange – Photo National Park Service

There is the message in the book that mountain lions aren’t the big scary threat that media so often makes them out to be

I am all for anthropomorphism, they are not exactly like us but they are like us, however there is a balance  –  we want people to be familiar with their typical behavior but also know when to be scared. We want people to learn about them and to know that mountain lions aren’t waiting ready to jump out of the woods at any moment at people. If you become familiar with these animals and build a relationship that is a good thing. I think that’s where science has done a disservice in the traditional mode in teaching us that they are just as numbers, but you don’t want to go to far into familiarity and have people feeding them and petting them or thinking they are pets – they are not pets.

So it’s a fine balance and we want the public to establish a relationship with them but doing this by maintaining a distance recognizing that and respecting that they are wild animals as well. We tend to go to far down either extreme when we over-estimate or underestimate the risk – they are cute or they are vicious murderers – no they are not in fact, they rather not eat us. It’s a fine balance that we need to strike if wildlife is going to have a future – it can’t be hands off and it can’t be that we are in utter terror all the time.

Predators like mountain lions were demonized by the first settlers, why do you think that mentality still exists even when we know more about them today?

I try to sympathize with people who didn’t know anything about them. I live in mountain lion country, every wild animal that lives in California is in my yard, bears, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, etc…but I live in a secure house, have a fenced yard and I don’t have a farm. So I sympathize to a point and I get why it was dark and scary at the time of the first settlers, although if they had listened to Native Americans it would have been different.

If you don’t know about mountain lion behavior and see a snarling cat near you although he is probably not a danger, you are going to think he is. I think it (fear) is innate in some people, however most are fascinated and in awe with wildlife  – seeing wildlife is remarkable for most people. I don’t know why at this point the fear still exits giving the relative comfort we live in and the given the risks we should be frightened of everyday… we actually should be shuttering in our feet everyday about cars more than mountain lions. It is a very emotional thing, wolves are also a great example of how these myths have persisted. They have been demonized for no reason and this hatred has persisted even though when you look at rate of attacks on humans which is almost nothing and livestock depredation rates disease and domestic dogs take out more.

We are creating new myths and P-22 is part of that story telling, that is what matters now. We have science to back it up, but how we actually feel about predators like P-22 matters more than the science so he is forging new grounds for mountain lions.

Your book (and Heart Of A Lion by William Stolzenburg) are part of a new movement giving people a new way to look at these animals

There is a whole new genre about animals in general it is really challenging preconceptions about what an animal is  – books pointing to science telling us what many of already know. I am a person of science so you do want the rigorous science but I am glad it’s coming out. Look at Black Fish, that was science based and looked what happened the Sea world model collapsed and people look at killer whales differently. Challenging the preconceived notion that animals just eat and mate and have no emotional lives beyond that – it’s basically what animal lovers already knew but it’s great to have the science behind it.

Your book features a lot of other wildlife in California as well as how people are helping

P-22 is definitely the lead story but I could have done 10 volumes because there are so many great stories. The take away is the wildlife crossing is a grand sweeping and visionary, it will be the largest in the world when built – other stories illustrate what stuff  you can do in your backyard and business, it’s not just all about grand projects – we collectively make a difference for wildlife doing some easy things. For example the Facebook Foxes, they made a home on campus for the foxes and it is one of my favorite stories. They don’t pet or feed them but they just accepted them as part of the campus and the foxes have adapted are comfortable, it’s a success story.

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Move fast and fox trot – (photo credit @mzajko) Facebook Foxes page

Another favorite story is the Marine Core who raise baby desert tortoise and train 30,000 Marines a year on tortoise conservation when they come through boot camp. So many simple stories like city of Martinez who let the beavers stay…regular citizens doing things, it shows it’s simple things we can do collectively to make a huge difference for wildlife. We are restoring habitat in our own backyards that has been lost and the conservation impact on that can be high if we all do it.

Like Leo Politi Elementary the school that transformed a concrete pad into a wildlife friendly habitat, it’s a great story – save wildlife and ourselves. It’s like if mountain lions disappear and the Eco-system is out of whack and what’s next – we have collapse. The school built a community and it benefited kids, test scores went up and their health improved and even their parents got involved – it built a community. It connected wildlife and people they are the perfect illustration of how all of it works together.

The message is people in California want wildlife in their cities, but other cities are doing things to like Chicago who passed an ordinance to looking at non-lethal solution for urban coyotes, Austin Texas where the NWF has a community wildlife certification program, Baltimore is a certified wildlife city doing a lot with city gardening. I think there are a lot of signs of hope and it seems to be catching on, lets hope it becomes a real movement.

What is up next now that your book is out and P-22 Day is scheduled?

My job is a mix of programs, research, fundraising and continuing working on projects for cougars, foxes, pika, fissures and frogs to push more initiatives forward and help to fundraise. My sweet spot is engaging people and getting out in the field, I want to be out there to get people involved, but the biggest project is getting the crossing built but we are going to get there.

Will I write another book? I’d love to, as I have many more stories, it will just be under different circumstances when I have more time!

What are your personal experiences with mountain lions?

I have seen them four times, most out while hiking, but I have been very lucky and seen one collard and up close. My favorite sighting was one with parents who moved 2 miles down the road from me. My mom has a bird bath and one night they called me up to say they saw a mountain lion take a drink from the bird bath and I said no they don’t do that in full view people, this happens for 2 nights. On the third night I go back and sure enough there the cat was! It was remarkable but sad as the drought at the time was so bad that he had to go to a house in daylight to drink. He wanted nothing to do with us, he just wanted water.

Finally what are your thoughts mountain lions outside of California

I see signs of hope that other places are recognizing the importance and benefits of predators like mountain lions and wolves but there is still  a long way to go, but I am seeing signs of hope. Wildlife is also making tentative first steps (like the cat that is profiled in Heart of A Lion) my hope is that other places come to the realization that it is possible to live among predators, we can achieve balance and they need to be an integral part of the landscape for Eco-system health.

Values are shifting and we will get there for practical reason like the study that shows if you bring mountain lions back you can help prevent Lyme disease. I am hopeful even though it is sometimes hard, but I do think people no matter where you live, have an awe and connection to wildlife that will prevail at some point.

I really do think views are changing we already see that in some places and, I think this will be a non-issue in 50 to 100 years in most places.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors is an inspirational and educational read. It is filled with interesting accounts and stories (including what African Lion poop has to do with bears in Yosemite) for the dedicated city-dweller or nature lover, no matter you live. It is part of my Recommended Reading List and can be purchased at online retailers like Amazon.

If you are looking for ways to support the wildlife crossing you can make a donation to the Save LA Cougars campaign. If you live in LA be sure not to miss P-22 Day Festival and Urban Wildlife week October 16-22.

Heart of A Lion – A Lone Cat’s Walk Across America

On June 11, 2011 a mountain lion was struck and killed by a car in Connecticut, for most his death would go unnoticed, a cat that was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, another causality of urbanization. For scientists his death would eventually reveal an incredible and ultimately tragic journey, while giving hope to the idea that mountain lions could one day reclaim their former territory in the Eastern U.S. where they have been considered officially extinct for decades. For wildlife journalist and author William Stolzenburg this young male mountain lion would become the extraordinary and unlikely hero of his book Heart of A Lion.

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Heart of A Lion pieces together Walkers short but extraordinary life as he made his way across dangerous and challenging territory complete with urban sprawl, busy roads, and, people who would want him dead simply for existing. The reason for his journey can be found coded in his DNA, the deep biological need to seek out and establish his own territory and, to find a mate. This search would take him east across six U.S. states, and at one point north into Canada and my home province of Ontario. What he couldn’t have known is that he would never encounter a female. With no established mountain lion populations in the east and the fact that females do not undertake long distance journey’s, instead sticking close to their home range (there has been one documented exception), Walker’s search would sadly prove futile.

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“The first photographic evidence of a cougar in Wisconsin that would eventually travel all the way to Connecticut. This photo was taken by an automatic camera in a cornfield in Dunn county, Wis. on December 22, 2009.” Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via LiveScience

The saying To walk a mile in someone’s shoes, comes to mind when reading Heart of A Lion and I don’t think it makes a difference that in this case the someone happens to be a mountain lion, especially if his story helps readers identify with and feel empathy for him and the plight of his species.  Despite traversing his way through highly populated areas he would rarely come into contact with humans, revealing himself only to a lucky few, a testament to the elusive nature of his species. He did not bring harm to nor was he a threat to humans, and he was most definitely not the blood-thirsty killer that mountain lions are so often wrongly labeled as. Walker’s story sends us a message and it’s one that we have heard before – that co-existing with these cats is possible and in some places we are already doing that.

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“A cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota prowls forest land in Clark County, Wis., Automatic trail camera snapped this early-morning shot on January 18, 2010. In June 2011, the same cougar was hit by a car and killed in Connecticut, DNA tests showed. The cougar’s  journey from South Dakota to Connecticut blew previous cougar travel records out of the water.” Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via LiveScience

Heart of A Lion doesn’t rely on portraying these cats as the stereotypical ‘beast’ to tell an intriguing story. Instead, it shows us a side of these animals that rarely makes headlines, the side that research and science is discovering is the norm rather than the exception – mountain lions are shy cats who avoid humans when given the space and opportunity to do so.

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Walker’s journey came to an abrupt end on Wilbur Cross Parkway, Milford in June, 2011. (Courtesy Connecticut State Police)

In addition to the main story the book also explores the history of the mountain lion, including how they were treated as vermin, right up to present day and the pressures they face from current day hunting policies. The book is guaranteed to stir up emotions, which may be a good thing especially if gets people thinking and pushes us towards changing outdated attitudes towards North America’s lion. It’s OK to celebrate Walker’s journey and mourn his passing, I know I did.

Whether you already love mountain lions or you are just starting to learn about them, the book is an important read and a new way of looking at these amazing animals, one that I hope becomes a trend. Heart of a Lion can be purchased at various online retailers including Amazon and is part of my Recommended Reading List.

An interesting note is the story of a GPS collard female mountain lion named Sandy who was being studied by biologists in British Columbia. Sandy had made a never before documented journey for a female walking 450 miles from BC to Montana before her life was taken by a trophy hunter in December of 2015. Just how far she would have gone and where she would have ended up, will never be known.

The Zoo Dilemma

There is a very good chance that at some point, almost every person either as a child or adult has visited a zoo and, held the belief that zoos were a good thing, acceptable ways in which to educate people about wild animals that they could never hope to see outside of the confines of a man-made world created to house them. We have learned that zoos help ensure the survival of certain species in captive populations that are both genetically diverse and stable, and a captive animal is better than an extinct animal.

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Over the years opinions on zoos have greatly changed, as has the belief that forever in captivity is acceptable while we allow species to go extinct in the wild. While natural extinction events have occurred throughout the earth’s history we are currently in the 6th mass extinction, and this time around the cause is directly related to humans. If the current rate of extinction continues and we cannot save habitat or preserve wildlife in their natural environment, is it beneficial to continually breed species into a life of captivity?

A male lion at a Japanese zoo was filmed trying to pounce on a little boy with his back turned, and in this video the lion can be seen crashing into the protective glass wall. Similar videos have been shared and deemed “cute” or “funny” when in fact it is not as lions like most big cats, see small kids similar to prey. This lion is acting on instinct but meets with frustration when he cannot fulfill his natural tendencies. It is now excepted that keeping predators like lions in zoos is not only cruel but potentially dangerous.

Are zoos really doing something positive or are they having the opposite effect on people, and can zoos ultimately survive as people change their views of them? The Toronto Zoo, which has been in operation since 1974, has seen a drop in visitors as well as revenue in recent years. Typically that’s when they make changes, bring in new animals or start new programs to attract visitors. Bringing in new animals or making changes costs millions, which the zoos will hopefully make back, but do any of these initiatives truly help conservation?

Among the many other moral and ethical issues surrounding zoos, one stands out in particular – that is the dirty secret of Surplus animals. It is the hidden world of what happens to animals when they are considered ‘non-essential’ either from a genetic or profit standpoint. These surplus animals are euthanized, traded to other zoos or worse, sold to private individuals, game reserves, canned hunting facilities, circuses and even roadside zoos. The lucky ones may end up at a proper sanctuary, where they are cared for for life, but many do not.

Zoochosis is another well documented problem whereby animals are impacted psychologically by being in captivity. This stereotypic behavior includes repetitive swaying, pacing and licking or biting of walls and bars. It is all abnormal behavior and clearly demonstrates that animals in zoos suffer. Even the best zoos cannot ever hope to fully duplicate what animals would experience in the wild, all they can do is try to prevent this behavior by providing proper enrichment.

If this isn’t enough to sway your opinion on zoos, then the two very recent and disturbing events of the past few months should. The first one was the killing of two lions in a Chilean zoo after a man jumped into their enclosure in an attempt to commit suicide, then not long after Harambe the Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo was shot and killed after a young boy got into his enclosure. Animals subjected to a life in captivity by humans, then killed because of human error and oversight. Sadly these were not the first cases of animals to be killed at zoos due to breaches, and they will likely not be the last.

Then there is the purposeful killing of animals like Marius the giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo, and a 9 month old lioness at Denmark’s Odense Zoo who were both publicly dissected for ‘educational purposes’. This is also the zoos way of doing population control on surplus animals. It’s important to remember that lions are a species on the verge of collapse in the wild so the idea that any zoo would be breeding and killing healthy animals is simply preposterous.

Lion publicly dissected at Denmark's Odense Zoo. Image Vice

Lion publicly dissected at Denmark’s Odense Zoo. Image ViceNews

The case against zoos is growing and more main stream media outlets are picking up on it, the tone mirrors the way many people now view zoos – that there days may be numbered and we need to start looking at alternatives. In an article written about Orca’s in captivity, David Hancocks, ex-director of Woodland Parks Zoo in Seattle tells BBC News that he imagines “zoos of the future with fewer big charismatic animals, giving attention to small species that do well in captivity, in environments that are stimulating for them, and even with very small life form exhibits that showcase the interdependence and interconnectedness of the natural world”. He also says that it as it becomes more clear that most of the standard big star attraction animals in zoos shouldn’t be in captivity and he expects the public to “react in similar ways to the way they have reacted to the revelations about what was happening in SeaWorld.”

We also need to ask ourselves if we are really learning that much from zoos? My personal experience says not much, a few zoo visits didn’t teach me anything that I wasn’t able to learn on my own via other sources like reading or watching TV programs. Once I finally fulfilled a life long dream of seeing my first lion in the wild I knew that I could never look at a captive zoo lion again and feel right about it and, I believe deep inside most of us know it is wrong. In his book, Raising Kids Who Love Animals, child psychiatrist Sujatha Ramakrishna wondered whether a trip to the zoo is an educational experience, or if it only encourages them to treat animals with disrespect. He came to the conclusion that even the good zoos were bad after visiting different ones and noting behavior of the animals and people viewing them.

Though I hoped to find evidence to the contrary, I must conclude that zoos continue to be detrimental to animal welfare, and that they do not teach children positive lessons about animals. Kids who watch leopards pacing in mindless patterns get a completely inaccurate picture of what large predators are all about. They also learn that making sentient beings suffer for human amusement is acceptable. We want to teach kids to show kindness towards animals, not stare at their misery while eating popcorn.” – via Global Animal

Ideally in a perfect world all types of zoos would be abolished and only sanctuaries of the highest standard would exist, places where animals can live out their natural lives with the best care and environments possible. Sanctuaries will unfortunately be a necessity as there will always be wildlife to rescue and rehabilitate, but unlike zoos, they do it without breeding or exploiting animals. Reputable sanctuaries work to ensure the animals mental and physical well-being are a priority and can also play a role in educating the public.

Zoos have been around for a long time and date as far back as ancient Greece, their history is bloody and disturbing and while in some places they can be considered to have come a long way, in many countries the horrors continue to this day. Surely the case for abolishing zoos where they are literally death camps for animals should be a priority, and working to phase them out everywhere a future goal.

In the meantime what does the future hold for zoos? This is where technology can help with something called a virtual zoo. This would bring the experience of being at a zoo without the captivity and suffering that comes with it. Landmark Interactive Virtual Experience (L.I.V.E), a company behind entertainment experiences such as Universal’s ‘Jurassic Park: The Ride,’ and ‘The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 5D’,  is planning on creating a virtual zoo and aquarium in China. This will be the first of its kind and is set to open in 2017 or 2018.

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L.I.V.E  image of a virtual zoo

Landmark Entertainment Group CEO Tony Christopher told Fortune magazine that they will have the ability to “put you in the African savannah or fly you into outer space.” Besides entertainment it also has the ability to educate without causing harm, and although it can never be a substitute for conserving animals in the wild the technology could be a big step in helping reduce the number of animals kept in zoos. While widespread use of technology like this may be a long way out, it is still good to know that one day people of all ages will be able to have the ‘zoo’ experience without the negative aspects associated with traditional zoos.

Even with technology, nothing beats the real thing and conservation of wildlife and habitat should remain a key priority going forward, perhaps the virtual zoo of the future will one day help financially benefit conservation directly. Until that time when we have finally moved away from the traditional model and no longer have wildlife in captivity, we are left faced with the zoo dilemma that can be either solved or perpetuated by the choices we make.

If you are looking for activities to do with or without kids that doesn’t involve a trip to the zoo, here is a list of six ideas that will give you all the benefits and help animals at the  same time!

  • Visit an animal sanctuary
  • Get outside to observe wildlife habitats and learn about local flora and fauna
  • Visit local parks and hiking trails
  • Watch education documentaries
  • Walk dogs or help out care for cats and animals at your local shelter
  • Read or share books on wildlife or animals with kids

Update: on June 15, since posting this piece a lion named Zawadi was injured at the Oregon Zoo while children watched. Footage shows the lion entering the training area through a hydraulic door, which then shuts chopping off the tip of his tail. The show only came to a stop because the audience started yelling.

Future Cats

Reconstructing what prehistoric big cats looked like, and to some extent how they lived, often relies on fossils finds that researchers and scientists use to piece together the past, but what if we wanted a glimpse into the distant future of big cats instead?

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From the past –  CGI recreates the famous Sabertooth cat confronted by the first humans. Image – Nat Geo WILD/National Geographic Channels

Future Cat by Nat Geo WILD has given us that glimpse by taking a different approach, using cutting-edge special effects, and creating new worlds with ‘evolved’ big cats to go along with them. The show examines how today’s Lions, Tigers, Jaguars and Leopards would live in drastically changed environments complete with ice, desserts, floods and shifting continents that could possibly have African, Asian and North America cats fighting for survival.

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CGI: The four big cats, Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, Leopards perched high above on a mountain. Image – Nat Geo Wild/National Geographic Channel

Although the show is pure fantasy with the help of CGI and imagination it manages to address some real questions of how big cats will adapt to a future earth with extreme climate changes.

Future Cat also touches on the present and how the perfect predator has inspired researchers in the lab to create a ‘robotic cat’ like the one at MIT which mimics the running of the cheetah.

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CGI: A futuristic robot cat stands in the rubble of Fukushima waiting to begin a search and rescue mission – Image Nat Geo Wild/National Geographic Channels

Big cats have been around for millions of years, they are highly adaptable and have survived some of the earth’s most extreme challenges. Researchers acknowledge that there is really nothing quit like them and that they will never be able to be completely replicated. Once big cats are gone, they are gone for good.

What does the future hold for the big cats? At present that is something only humans can answer, their future remains in our hands. Big cats have survived almost everything nature has thrown at them up until this point, however the greatest threat they face is still from us.

Future Cat has aired on Nat Geo WILD, however you can watch the show in it’s entirety here on dailymotion

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A future cat watches as comets streak through the night sky. What does Mother Nature have in store? Image – Nat Geo WILD/National Geographic Channels