Love Story

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

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%…

Ocelot Conservation Day

Ocelot Conservation Day was celebrated this past weekend in the U.S. – the purpose of the annual event is to raise awareness, and money, for this very beautiful and highly endangered small wild cat.

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Otto, an ocleot from Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (Photo: Andrea Hennings) – All Images from Felid TAG on Facebook unless otherwise stated

In the U.S. Ocelots are found in South Texas, the few surviving numbers are concentrated in the shrub-lands at or near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (LANWR), however a lone male Ocelot was spotted by camera trap in Arizona near the proposed site of the controversial Rosemont Copper mine.

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Ocelot Female OF 287 walking through the Texas thornscrub (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ocelots can also be found in South America and Central America, Mexico and this year Argentina had its first sighting of the rare cat in 10 years.

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An Ocelot was sighted in the northeastern province of Corrientes by camera trap – Image FOX NEWS Latino

Researchers from the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research’s Sub-Tropical Biology Institute confirmed the sighting by chance while monitoring for giant anteaters. Sebastian di Martino, coordinator of Conservation Land Trust’s species-reintroduction program says that he hopes that there are more Ocelots in the area which would enable “the species to reproduce instead of being just the last Ocelot remaining from an extinct population.”

In the past Ocelots were hunted for their fur to make coats and while illegal poaching of the cats can still happen, another major factor contributing to their demise in Argentina, like elsewhere, is habitat destruction.

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Captive Ocelot – Image Wikipedia

The Caribbean Island of Trinidad, which is thought to have a very small population of Ocelots, is unique in the fact that it offers researchers the chance to study a top predator that isn’t influenced by larger cats like pumas or jaguars. It is hoped that the Ocelot can become “the face of forest conservation on the island – raising awareness and inspiring policies to protect these animals and their habitat.”

If you are interested in volunteering your time to help Ocelots, the EarthWatch Institute offers a unique volunteer experience to help monitor them on the island of Trinidad. With illegal hunting and habitat loss posing a major threat to the species researchers are trying to gather information to help better protect them and the tropical rain forests they inhabit.

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 in The Backyard

In July of 2014 a family in Grafton Ontario spotted a rather big cat enjoying their backyard.

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Cougar tracks in the garden – all images Toronto Sun unless otherwise stated

The Wilson family spotted the Cougar in their backyard, resting under their deck and taking in a shady spot when these stunning pictures were taken. The Cougar had been seen wandering around the area for a week and was thought to be domesticated by the way he had been acting.

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The Ministry of Natural Resources were called in to set a live trap which was baited with steak and chicken. The trap was set up in the Wilson’s family yard and eventually hunger got the better of the cat as he headed right into it.

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The Wilson family stayed clear of the trap to keep the cat calm while Ministry officials were called.

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Cougars are notoriously shy and do not like to be around people but this cat was exhibiting behavior that showed he was used to being around humans. Ministry officials concluded that he must have been captive and it was suspected he belonged to a man who had a number of wild animals and operated a private sanctuary in the area.

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It was later confirmed the Cougar, named Charlie, was a resident of the private game reserve near Grafton and had “escaped”. After being trapped and checked out Charlie was sent to the Zoo sauvage de Saint-Feelicien in Quebec where he had two root canals, due to broken canines, and was released into a 4,000 square foot enclosure with other Cougars.

Cougars have been making a comeback in Ontario and one was photographed, after years of reported sightings, by trail cam on Lake Huron’s Manitoulin Island in 2014. Rick Rosatte, senior research scientist and cougar specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Ontario told The Muskokan online that “There has never been a confirmed attack of a cougar on a human in Ontario, however, if a person encounters a Cougar they should slowly back away from the animal, stand tall and try to look as large as possible. If necessary, throw objects and yell at the animal.” and Despite having more Cougars around, Rosatte said there is no reason to believe your cat, dog or livestock is in particular danger.

The species is native to Ontario but was all but wiped out over a century ago because of hunting and habitat loss. Despite their recent growth, the Cougar is still considered an endangered species in Ontario.

Have You Spoken Up For Lions?

This year I took part in, and helped organize the Global March For Lions Toronto event. It was a great day with lots of people coming out to bring awareness to the practice of Canned Hunting and the plight of African Lions who are being bred in captivity only to be killed by trophy hunters.

This is a short video from the event day and it tells you why we were out braving the Canadian cold.

To all readers, and especially if you are in the USA, please take time to contact the USFWS to ask them to ban all importation of Lion Trophies into the USA and to list the African Lion as Endangered. Killing is not conservation and allowing hunting of Lions will not save them.

Comments are being received here until January 27, 2015 so please speak up and share widely to help prevent this magnificent species from heading into extinction.