Virtual Jaguar

Last week I had my first Virtual Reality/360 experience appropriately called Living With Jaguars. It was an immersive presentation produced by VICES’s Motherboard that took the participant into the heart of the Brazilian Pantanal where jaguar densities are the highest in the world.

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Living with Jaguars – TIFF Bell Lightbox Toronto

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Putting on the VR headset for the first time was a really odd sensation and I have to admit there were moments where I actually felt as if I was moving, this odd feeling was quickly overcome as I was whisked into the heart of jaguar territory. Overall I will say it was a really cool experience and my favorite part was the moment when a jaguar appears to walk right up to you.

“Through cutting-edge 3D scanning and photogrammetry techniques, Living With Jaguars creates an environment that allows you to explore first-hand the deeply connected worlds of jaguars, ranchers, conservation researchers, and ecotourism operators.”

Jaguars, like other big cats, are facing immense pressure from people, livestock, habitat loss, development and persecution. Living With Jaguars highlights Panthera’s Pantanal Jaguar Project which aims to save jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal while their Jaguar Corridor Initiative is helping to create on the world’s largest and intact jaguar corridors. Panthera is working with a variety of stakeholders, both public and private, including cattle ranchers and ecotourism operators with the goal of creating connectivity for jaguars, which is vital for ensuring gene flow and ultimately survival of the species. The two main goals are to protect main jaguar populations and help them navigate safely through human dominated areas over their entire six million km2 range.

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Living With Jaguars can be watched below in 360 at home, even if you don’t have a cardboard VR headset, using Google Chrome or Firefox.

More on the film and Panthera’s Jaguar corridor project can be read here.

Tea-Time with Leopards

Next time you sit down to enjoy a cup of tea, and if it happens to be a tea from India, know there is a very good chance that leopards at one time or another may have inhabited the tea garden where the leaves were harvested. Of course a literal tea-time with leopards is never recommended, but the reality is they are a very common resident of many tea gardens in the country.

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A recent study from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) showed that leopards are partial to tea gardens in north-eastern India, but their presence does not necessarily mean conflicts with people. The study, a collaboration between the WCS, the National Centre for Biological Sciences-India, Foundation of Ecological Research Advocacy and Learning, and the West Bengal Forest Department, was done in highly populated areas that included tea gardens and forested area in the West Bengal state. The approximate 600 km area is part of the “East-Himalayan” biodiversity hot spot which includes small protected areas along with tea gardens, villages and agricultural fields. The study showed that leopards will avoid highly dense populated areas, but are partial to tea gardens as they provide ideal vegetation cover. Out of the four large cats in India which include tigers, lions and snow leopards, the leopard is the most adaptable and able to live in protected forests as well as on the edge of urban areas overlapping with humans.

The study mapped more than a 170 locations where people were injured by leopards and interviewed approximately 90 of those injured between 2009 and 2016. More than 350 leopard-human encounters were reported during this period, with five resulting in human fatalities.” No significant relationship was found between the probability of attack and probability of habitat-use by leopards.  Researchers noted that in the case of a rare attack it was accidental or defensive rather than predatory resulting in only minor injuries. Attacks were also likely to occur during the day, while people were working and in areas where the tea shrubs were shorter, denser and the land was relatively flat. The majority of the attacks happened between January and May when large sections of the gardens were disturbed for maintenance like pruning of tea bushes and irrigation.

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Leopard is scavenging on a dead gaur, a species of wild cattle. Credit: Kalyan Varma Image

Like elsewhere in the world the study highlights the problems when human dominated spaces are shared with large predators like leopards. It identified particular hotspots of “conflict” and confirmed the importance of testing new methods to reduce human-leopard conflict. An early warning system, like making loud noises, alerting the animals to the presence of humans would provide enough time for them to move away, an approach that has already worked well in other areas.

In Assam, India’s northeast area, tea companies have already begun to implement practices to reduce conflict between humans and elephants, as well as prevent the loss of crops in a non-violent manner. Recognizing that as more habitat is lost due to humans wildlife will continue to seek refuge in the tea gardens and, by using fencing, corridors and specially built tiny reserves it will save the lives of both wildlife and people.

In a place where leopards have become “part of the tea garden habitat” tea estates are embracing policies and taking steps that promote co-existence. Many are certified by the Rainforest Alliance and abide by the Sustainable Agriculture Network which help to ensure that no wild animals were harmed or killed in the tea gardens.

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.

Winter Stroll

About a week ago I posted a clip of this video on Instagram but thought it was just too beautiful not to share in its entirety. It was taken in 2013 in Northern Ontario by YouTube user ReelEdgeProductions on a Sunday afternoon as they were BBQ’ing on their back deck. What a privilege to see these amazing cats causally taking a winter stroll through your backyard.

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a medium-sized cat characterized by its long ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and short, bobbed tail with a black tip, unusually large paws that act like snowshoes in very deep snow, thick fur and long legs, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs. Lynx are generally found in moist, boreal forests that have cold, snowy winters and a high density of their favorite prey: the snowshoe hare. The southern portion of their range historically extended into the US into the northern Rocky Mountains/Cascades, southern Rockies, Great Lakes states and the Northeast.

Lynx mate during the winter and the females give birth once a year. Lynx ARE NOT considered species at risk in Canada and sadly are killed for their fur pelts, which occurs in 10 of 12 range provinces and territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador). Lynx harvest is prohibited in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Lynx were extirpated from Prince Edward Island in the late 1800s.

In the US they are listed under Endangered Species Act and can no longer be legally trapped in the lower 48 states. However, they have not fully recovered from population declines, and remain at serious risk. Primary sources of mortality to Lynx are starvation, predation, and human-related causes, as well as habitat loss to Boreal forests (this includes logging, road-building and high traffic volume, housing developments, resource extraction such as oil drilling and mining, and winter recreation).

Climate Change is also a threat as the deep snow, that Lynx have an advantage over other predators in, becomes less predictable.

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.

Mountain Lions in Washington Need Your Help

Mountain Lions in Washington need your help. This is a chance for all US residents, as well as people outside of the US, to speak up for North America’s big cat.

Via The Cougar Fund – a petition filed to ask Governor Inslee to reverse the Wildlife commission’s decision to increase the hunting quota for Cougars to tragic and unsustainable levels.

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  • In April 2015, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission raised the hunting quota for Cougars (Puma concolor) by 50 to 100 percent in areas of the state where wolves also live.
  • The Commission made this decision without providing prior notice to the public, and without the benefit of a formal presentation of Cougar population dynamics by the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s own biologists.
  • On June 30, animal welfare, conservation organizations filed a formal petition that asked the Commission to reverse this arbitrary decision.
  • On August 21, the Commission voted 7 to 1 to keep its controversial decision in place, ignoring more than 1,300 citizens and several non-governmental organizations.

“According to 13 years of Washington–based, scientific research, the Commission’s April 2015 quotas will harm some Cougar populations and increase mortality to dependent cougar kittens. If a hunter kills a nursing female Cougar, her young kittens will die from starvation or dehydration. Additionally, when hunters remove the stable adult cougars from a population, it attracts young male cougars to these vacancies. The immigrating young males often times will kill the kittens from the previous male so they can sire their own. In the process, however, females defending their kittens are also frequently killed too. It’s not just the one Cougar in the hunter’s crosshairs who dies: hunting causes a harmful domino effect in Cougar populations.”

Please contact Governor Inslee using this easy to complete FORM and urge him to support the appeal and reverse the Commission’s ill-considered decision.

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Image – The Cougar Fund – Facebook

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.