The Lions of London

The Tower of London is known for its rich and rather dark history having been a royal palace, prison, fortress, place for executions and at one time a zoo housing a menagerie of animals including leopards, a polar bear, elephant, monkeys, zebra, ostrich and lions, most of which were given as ‘gifts’ from foreign countries to the monarchy. In 1937 two very well-preserved lion skulls were excavated from the Towers moat and later confirmed, through genetic testing, to be the now extinct pure Barbary lions. Interestingly the skulls were carbon dated back to between “1420 and 1480 for one, and between 1280 and 1385 for the other, making it the oldest lion found in the UK since the extinction of wild cave lions during the last ice age.” Lions being symbols of nobility and strength of the monarchy did not prevent them from mistreatment, and the skulls revealed evidence that they suffered from nutritional and physical stress which would have been in addition to the stress caused from their initial capture, transport to the zoo and a life in captivity.

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The Royal Menagerie zoo lasted more than 600 years: An illustratation of how the zoo within the Tower looked in 1816Daily Mail online

Visitors were allowed to view the animals and apparently during the 18th century the price of admission was “three half-pence, or the supply of a cat or dog to be fed to the lions.”  The collection of animals continued to grow and expand in species until it was realized that the Tower was no place to keep them. Suffice it to say the attitude towards captive animals, and animals in general was not very good, but as people’s views of animals in captivity started to change most of them, except for those in the private collection of Keeper Alfred Cops which were later re-homed in 1835 after a series of accidents, were sent to the Zoological Society of London in Regent Park in 1831 and early 1832 to establish the London Zoo. The Tower’s zoo was officially closed in 1835.

By current standards the conditions these animals were kept in must have been appalling or close to what we see in some of the modern worlds worst zoos. Thankfully the only remaining animals on the Tower grounds today are those made of galvanized wire.

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Tower of London: The 3 Lions  sculpture is located on the site of the original Lion Tower

To celebrate the history of the Royal Menagerie, contemporary animal sculptor, and a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists (UK) and a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists (USA), Kendra Haste was commissioned to create life-size replicas of the wild creatures that were once held at the Tower.

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“Royal Beasts” exhibit include lions, baboons, a polar bear and elephant – Image – Kendra Haste

These amazing and incredible life-like sculptures were created by using layers of galvanized wire, twisted and even painted to produce the results which give a sense of “a living, breathing subject in a static 3-D form.” The result can be seen in these photos, in person one can easily imagine them coming to life a haunting tribute to those creatures, victims of wildlife trafficking, who were imprisoned and perished at the Tower.

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Image – Kendra Haste

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Image – Kendra Haste

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Image – Kendra Haste

Currently on display until 2021, this incredible exhibit is a must see if you live, or will be in London, so be sure to check it out if you have the chance.

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

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.

Heart of a Lion A Lone Cat's Walk Across America, William Stolzenburg, Mountain Lions, Pumas, Eastern Cougar, Book Review, Heart of a Lion, big cats of north america, American Lion, save pumas, Mountain Lions journey to find love,The mountain lion, who has been nicknamed Walker, was discovered to have journeyed almost 2,000 miles from South Dakota’s Black Hills all the way to Connecticut, not that far from New York City. Through DNA analysis, physical evidence left behind, eyewitness accounts and camera traps, biologists were able to trace his origin back to the Black Hills. His journey, which is the longest documented of any mountain lion, would come to an end in a place where his species had not been seen in almost a century.

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.

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

Gorongosa Reborn

The National Geographic Live Lecture season will be soon be wrapping up in Toronto and so far the series has been great. Gorongosa Reborn: A Cameraman’s Journal with Emmy Award-winning natural history cinematographer Bob Poole, has been the one lecture I have been looking forward to most since the series line up was announced last year.

The lecture centers around Bob’s recent six-part PBS/Nat Geo International series ‘Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise’, in which he has documented the come back of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Gorongosa has been referred to as one of Africa’s most treasured national parks that in its heyday was home to thousands of animals including some 6,000 elephants and about 500 Lions. Scores of people, including international celebrities, once flocked to the park to view its prolific wildlife up until civil war broke out in 1977. By the time the war ended, in 1992, the wildlife in the park had been all but wiped out, and what hadn’t been destroyed by the war trophy hunters managed to finish off. After the dust had settled in the mid-90’s, the park was surveyed again – they counted a mere 100 elephants. Almost all of the large grazers as well as the predators were gone from the landscape.

Thankfully things were set to turn around for the better, and the rehabilitation of the park officially began when the Gorongosa Restoration Project created a 20 year public-private partnership with the Government of Mozambique to jointly manage the park. Then in 2007 lions were photographed for the first time since 1960 at the ‘Lion House’, wildlife was very slowly and cautiously beginning to return.

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Originally built as a tourist camp on a floodplain, the ‘Lion House’ was abandoned due to flooding in the rainy season and later taken over by Lions who were often seen lounging on the roof– Photo by Whitney Leonard/Gorongosa.org

Bob Poole had already spent two years living and filming in Gorongosa and was eager to take on the PBS project, he tells Mother Nature Network that the experience fulfilled a life-long dream for him “I was able to combine my passion for animal conservation with my love of documentary filmmaking.” He goes on to say that Gorongosa is a prime example of what can be done and that is possible to reverse the damage humans have caused, that with effort, “nature can be saved.” A rather positive and hopeful message at a time when we are bombarded almost daily with much of the opposite.

Bob’s love of the park and enthusiasm for his work is infectious, his story telling and passion translates in person and on-screen for an informative and at times very entertaining presentation. It is guaranteed to leave you wanting more, if not determined to visit the park for yourself one day.

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Bob Poole films sunrise over the floodplain. Photo credit Gina Poole – Gorongosa.org

Gorongosa Reborn: A Cameraman’s Journal is for anyone who loves wildlife, Africa, conservation and the idea that people can come together to fix what was once broken if we choose. Among other things you can expect to hear about elephants who haven’t forgotten the war; species reintroduction and breeding programs; and of course the come back of the parks great predator – lions.

Having been very fortunate to visit Gorongosa the presentation brought back great memories, especially the excitement of being in the park knowing the history and seeing what was being done. In particular, it is was wonderful to hear a mention of one very special lioness called Tripod, who at 15 years old is still going strong.

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View of Tripods back leg where she lost part to a snare. Image © Tori Dileo

She lost part of one of her legs to snaring and managed not only to survive but to hunt, raise cubs and remain a vital and successful part of her pride. In a way her strength and resilience is very symbolic of Gorongosa and the parks potential for the future.

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Tripod resting and waiting for one of the males off to the side. – Image © Tori Dileo

While Gorongosa is a story of hope and transformation the park and its wildlife face threats from poaching and snaring; illegal mining and logging; human settlements inside the park; and, the potential of conflict caused by political instability. However even with these challenges, the good news is the park is currently open for business and by supporting tourism there you are helping the park, its restoration, local communities and wildlife. I hope to be able to go back again one day and would recommend it for anyone who is looking for a truly magical and unique place in Africa to visit.

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Meeting Bob Poole after the lecture at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.

If the story of Gorongosa intrigues you be sure to check the National Geographic Events page to see when Gorongosa Reborn is coming to your city. For those in the U.S. you can catch the full episodes of Bob’s series ‘Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise’ online at PBS.

Buy It, Give It – Holiday Edition

The holiday season is well underway, and this means it’s time for a few of my favorite cat-themed gift ideas for Christmas, or anytime of the year. Some of them will even give you reason to shop for a cause. Simply click on the links or image to visit their sites. Enjoy!

I love t-shirts and they make great gifts for both men and women, here are a few that are cool, fun and give back with purchase. Squirrel Den Studio – sells mostly cat-themed tees and every month 15% of the purchase price of online sales go to a different Shelter-of-the-Month nominated by Facebook followers.

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Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Apron, Cat Apron, Etsy, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversThe Cat Tea Shop makes catnip cookie toys for cats that are handmade and Eco-friendly. 10% of their proceeds go to volunteer run cat rescues here in Ontario Canada. Their catnip is organically grown and they ship world-wide.

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Cat toys, The Cat Tea Shop, Catnip toys, Toronto, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversCustom Pet Portrait Pillows by Sarah Clark Art – I came across this vendor while at CatCon this year and I really loved the idea of personalizing a pillow with your cats image. This come with a bigger price tag but they are made to order and are custom illustrated based on your cats personality.

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Sarah Clark Art, Custom Pet Portrait Pillow, gifts for the home,, Cat themed t shirts, gives that give back, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversPet Interiors – They have lots of great products for cats but these two caught my eye in particular. All items are a handmade in Germany and they ship to Europe, Canada and the USA (for free).

Divan Due cat pillow

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Pet Interiors, cat beds, cat litter box, gifts for the home,, Cat themed t shirts, gives that give back, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversPoopoopeedo cat toilet

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Pet Interiors, cat beds, cat litter box, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversTo go along with the Poopoopedo – a set of all natural cat litter box cleaner and deodorizer by HouseOfCat. The products are natural, Eco-friendly and hand-made.

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Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Pet Interiors, Kitty blocks, cat tower, cat scratcher, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversCat Scratch book ends at Uncommon Goods

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Cat book ends, Uncommon goods, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversPyroPet Candle – the melting wax reveals a grinning metallic inner skeleton. Comes in grey, black and pink.

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, PyroPet Candle, Cat Candle, candles, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversCat Head Planters – handmade and offered in multiple colors

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Planters, Cat head planters, Etsy, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversGeek Kitty cat-shaped snack boxes for lunch or snacks

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Cat lunch box set, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversKitty gram by lilyandpeabody 100% of the profit from the purchase of these plush toys goes directly towards helping animals. They are also raising funds to open a non-profit no kill animal rescue. Each kitty gram is named or you can personalize your own.

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, Kitty Gram, cat tower, cat scratcher, gifts for the home, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversFor the big cat lover – film and book by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, award-winning filmmakers from Botswana who are Explorers-in-Residence for National Geographic. Educational and beautiful The Last Lions DVD and companion book are a great gift set.

Buy it, Give it, Christmas, Christmas gift list, Cat themed gifts, unique gifts for cat lovers, Cat themed Christmas gifts, holiday gift ideas for cat lover, The Last Lions, Lions, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, shopping for a cause, fun ideas for cat loversA stunning and informative photographic book – Tigers Forever by award-winning wildlife photographer Steve Winter.

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If you are not familiar with an organization contact them directly to find out how their donations are used, or search for them on sites like Animal Charities Evaluators and Charity Navigator.

Celebrating Easter With Cats

Cats of all sizes domestic and wild, know how to celebrate Easter in these fun holiday themed videos. From one of my favorite sanctuaries Big Cat Rescue, the largest accredited sanctuary in the world dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats, comes A Big Cat Easter.

Big Cat Rescue established a team tasked with the purpose of providing enrichment for the animals, thus ensuring the cats are stimulated and able to express their natural instincts as much as possible. This is key to keeping them healthy while preventing boredom or Stereotypic behavior so commonly seen in captive animals.

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Sheena the Serval enjoys her Easter Carrot – Image Big Cat Rescue

When using different enrichment techniques, the animals can be stimulated to investigate and explore their surroundings. This can be accomplished by presenting novel food items (or presenting food in different ways), as well as novel objects and smells. The presentation of new items and scents can help relieve boredom and improve the overall welfare of the animals.

How about enrichment for your domestic cat? The folks at Furball Fables show us how to craft our own Easter themed toys that are sure to please the tiniest of Tigers. A fun project for the DIY crowd using felt, piper cleaners, catnip and everyday object around your home. The simple instructions will help you create toys that are both fun and safe for your cat.

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Get crafty with these easy to make cats toys

It is important to stress that your cats should always be supervised and never left unattended while playing with toys. Be sure to keep the toys safely stored when they are not in use. Warning!!!! Easter Egg Grass is Unsafe for cats. Don’t use it in their Baskets. The plastic one is deadly.

For more Furball Fables and the cats that star in the videos be sure to head over to their YouTube channel.