Path of the Puma

Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion by Montana wildlife biologist Jim Williams is about his work with mountain lions in North America and assisting with puma conservation in South America. Accompanying Jim’s personal stories and interactions with colleagues, ranchers and hunters are a number of wonderful photographs and maps, including one on the inside cover of the book which shows the mountain lions former range, their known current range and likely path of dispersal.

Path of the Puma, Book Review, Jim Williams, Puma, Mountain lions, Conservation, North America, South America

If you need an introduction to what impacts predator conservation and recovery then Path of the Puma will provide a good overview – politics, livestock, loss of connectivity, climate change, industry, habitat loss, poaching, over hunting of prey species and lions by humans and, general cultural attitudes towards the species. All of these things, which you will find  intricately woven through each of the chapters, in combination or on their own have the ability to threaten mountain lions everywhere.

As Jim recounts his work on the Mountain Caribou Recovery Project in British Colombia, a controversial project that wrongfully targeted predators like mountain lions as the cause of declining caribou numbers, we are reminded that “it’s a whole lot easier to blame the predator” rather than limit our own activities that affect wildlife. Path of the Puma also tells us that the science and research demonstrates mountain lions are able to self regulate their own populations through territory, they do not wipe out their food sources or prey species and, there are greater threats to people than the very rare lion attack.

Perhaps one of the most controversial topics that is discussed in the book is the role that sport hunting plays in conservation and how the majority of wildlife agencies use it as a management tool. Even with the evidence telling us they don’t need to be managed and that sport hunting does have negative repercussions, by causing more conflicts than it solves, mountain lions are hunted almost everywhere in the western U.S. and Canada. The old world attitudes are still very much alive and entrenched in the minds of those that determine the fate of mountain lions who continue to appear to be a sacrifie to appease special interest groups.

Mountain lions were once widely distributed throughout North and South America right up through to northern Canada until they were eradicated from much of their historical range, the result of government bounties and perceived threat to livestock. Today while it can be argued populations have some stability in the western U.S. and Canada, their numbers are no where near to what they were historically. Are mountain lions really beating the odds? I know it is something we hear often and it is the message in this book, but I have a very hard time buying into that. To believe that mountain lions are somehow exempt from having their numbers dangerously reduced to the point of being pushed towards extinction, is foolish on our part. These animals are resilient, but they are not invincible.

Path of the Puma is a great read full of valuable insight on mountain lion behavior and  human behavior, with an interesting mix of science and contradictions. Mountain lions are a remarkable species that can continue to thrive if we allow them to, but it requires us to work towards a more progressive model of wildlife management where conserving them is a priority.

Path of the puma is published by outdoor company Patagonia and can also be purchased from Amazon.

For more on the book check out an interview with Jim and The Explores Club NY on Facebook, the hour long presentation can be seen here.

Seeking the Andean Cat

The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is the most threatened cat in the Americas and is  found in South America mainly in the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia, north of Chile and northern Argentina. There have been only 10 recorded sightings of these secretive cats in 25 years which means researchers, along with the general public, know very little about them. The rarer the cat the harder they are to study and protect, but the nonprofit organization the Andean Cat Alliance (Alianza Gato Andino, or “AGA”) is hoping to change that.

Members of the AGA have released the first ever Andean cat documentary in hopes of raising awareness, locally and globally, for this extremely threatened species. “Seeking the Andean Cat is a multidisciplinary network of volunteers consisting of conservationists, communication experts and wildlife advocates. It is time that people around the world get a look into the secretive world — and the survival difficulties — of this beautiful cat from the Andes Mountains.”

“After 15 years of searching, conservationists found the perfect place to film this very elusive cat in the Andes Mountains. The Andean cat is the only cat listed as Endangered in the Americas by the IUCN with less than 1400 mature individual adults throughout its range.

Once you have watched the documentary please go to the Ladera Sur page and  vote for the film by scrolling down to the bottom and picking Seeking the Andean Cat. Voting remains open for the next two weeks!

To find out more about these unique wild cats and the important conservation work being done to protect them, be sure to follow Seeking the Andean Cat on Facebook and Instagram.

Sofa Premiere: The Return of the Wildcat

If you are looking for more cat content while self-isolating at home, make sure to schedule time on Friday April 17 to learn about one of Europe’s most elusive and endangered wild felines, all from the comfort of your own couch.

The Return of the Wildcat will be free to watch for 24hrs on Vimeo and all you need is a good internet connection. The film is in German, but English subtitles are available by clicking the CC button on the bottom right hand corner of the Vimeo player. Good news, the film can be watched world wide and will air at 7 pm (CEST) which is 1 pm (EST) or 10 am (PST).

“In this 40-minutes-documentary the ecologist and filmmaker David Cebulla is on a quest to find one of Germany‘s shyest and most endangered species: the European wildcat. During a scientific pre-study, by chance, he made the first record of a wildcat in an area near his hometown Jena. Thereupon he dedicates a whole year to get the genetic evidence and a really splendid film recording of a free-living wildcat.”

Director and film maker David Cebulla took some time to answer a few questions about his work and the documentary which will be his first ever ‘sofa’ premiere.

Please tell me about your background and how you got into film making

I used to be a musician and got into film making after releasing my first album when I, among other things, produced a video clip for one of the songs. This was in 2014. Since then I have had different jobs on a variety of film projects. I started as a set runner on productions for German television, worked as set manager, production manager and first assistant director. For about two years I did artist and social media management for Andreas Kieling who is one of the most famous and most popular nature film makers in Germany. I also did my own films and ordered projects, but the most important step was my debut film “Hidden Beauty – The Orchids of the Saale Valley”.

Why do you primarily focus on nature and science content?

My passion for nature goes back to childhood so it was always an important part of my life. Often this was in the form of orienteering or climbing, but to me the experience of nature has always been as equally as important as seeking knowledge. I decided to study biology at university and specialized in ecology during my master’s degree. In addition to film making I am also a scientist, as I love to work in nature and to capture its beauty. I remember a moment when I was working on “Hidden Beauty” filming a time laps of the Milky Way and it was just me at night in nature. I had to clap my hands occasionally to keep the wild boars away and I thought – “This is exactly what I want to do!” I am glad that I found this way to combine scientific research and nature film making.

What first got you interested in making a documentary on the European wildcat?

I had the opportunity to combine my passion for science and film making when I did a study on wildlife as part of my master’s degree. I started monitoring with a single and very simple trail camera. By chance I made the first record of a European wildcat for my area of investigation.

Why is it important for you to make this film now?

It is common knowledge that we are living in a time of huge environmental problems. We have to face the impact we are having on the planet – environmental pollution, human-made climate change, the isolation of habitats because of road networks and agriculture. What better way is there to create awareness than to show the very things that are endangered and worth protecting? This film is a visual appeal for the conservation of nature and species. It was my special interest to show great and stunning captures of nature. We need to act. And we need to do it now.

Did you work with any specific organizations or individuals?

This film is based on monitoring I conducted myself. I interviewed experts that I worked with and they are also part of the film. I interviewed Silvester Tamás, from the NGO NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union), who managed a wildcat monitoring project in my area in previous years. I also collaborated with Matthias Krüger, head taxidermist at the Jena Phyletic Museum, who has great knowledge on the dead ‘found’ wildcats the Museum received in the past decades.

What did you learn about the European wildcat while making the documentary?

Probably, how fascinating it is that they managed to survive. Although they used to be hunted, and were almost exterminated, we still have free living European wildcats today.

What do you hope your film will help accomplish for these cats?

This is a question with many answers. First, I hope to inform people about the European wildcat by contributing to environmental education on the topic. Hopefully viewers will consider what impact their own decisions may have on the wildcat – do I put my dog on a leash when walking it in a forest? Do I obey other rules when I am visiting a nature conservation area? Importantly the film will draw attention to the wildcat and show what problems they are facing and that they cannot be solved by any one individual. On another level the wildcat is a fascinating animal and, when we protect the wildcat we are protecting its potential habitats therefore also protecting the flora and fauna in those habitats as a whole.

What are your plans for the film after the premiere?

The premiere will start at 7 pm (CEST) which is 1 pm (EST) or 10 am (PST). It will only be available for 24 hours to watch for free either on our website or directly on Vimeo. Afterwards it will be on Vimeo On Demand for rent and purchase. Later this year we will also add it to Amazon Prime in Germany, the USA, the UK and Japan.

Anything else you would like to add?

I am looking forward to the premiere and appreciate anyone who is interested in watching and recommending the film!

For more updates on David’s work be sure to follow him on Instagram

Pumas of The Chilean Forests

For the most part mountain lions remain misunderstood by the majority of the public and, in most places in North America these cats are still very highly persecuted. Naturally shy with complex social lives, mountain lions (sometimes called cougars or pumas depending on geographic location) are animals that would really prefer to avoid humans if at all possible. In a world dominated by a singular powerful species they are doing their best to try to coexist and navigate through a web of set rules that they cannot possibly hope to master. Survival for these wild cats has become that much harder with mounting pressure in the forms climate change, habitat loss/fragmentation, prey loss, human-wildlife conflict, hunting, animal agriculture, and even media sensationalism – all which threaten their existence. Thankfully more and more research, which also confirms their invaluable role as ecosystem engineers, in North America is helping to shed light on why we need them and why we need to protect them. But what about the species lesser known relatives in South America?

Proyecto Carnívoros Australes is one group currently conducting studies in central Chile in an area that is relatively new to puma research, a region that is also designated one of the world’s top biodiversity’s hotspots. I recently interviewed project leader Christian Osorio, a PhD student of Dr. Marcella Kelly’s Wildlife Habitat and Population Analysis Lab*in Virginia, to find out more about his groups important work and what they hope to accomplish for the species in central Chile.

Why did you decided to focus on Pumas in central Chile?

Pumas are the most successful terrestrial mammals in the whole world with a range extending more than 100º latitude from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan. They live in a huge variety of habitats such as forests, deserts, shrub-lands, timber plantations and elevations from the coastline up to 4,500 meters above sea level. Nevertheless, puma research and conservation in Chile primarily focuses in the southernmost part like Torres del Paine National Park and surrounding areas and recently in the northernmost areas of the High Andean Plateau.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Mountains

Camera-trap on high-elevation Andean grasslands within a private Natural Reserve, central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

The anthropogenic pressures in central Chile, specifically in the Maule Region from sea level to the high Andes, is increasingly strong and landscapes are heavily fragmented with extensive intensive timber plantations. Livestock breeding is a primary industry in this region which means that livestock-carnivore conflict is increasing and, I have known of several retaliatory shooting events against pumas which are often not reported. Natural reserves and protected areas are key to providing habitat as well as a safe-space for wildlife, but it’s the private productive lands that compromise areas far larger than the protected areas in Chile. Proyecto Carnívoros Australes focuses on conducting science-based conservation and management in both protected and unprotected areas with a strong emphasis on human-wildlife conflict mitigation.1

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor,

Puma (Puma concolor). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

How did Proyecto Carnívoros Australes come about?

I created Proyecto Carnívoros Australes during my doctoral research when I noticed there was a great need for carnivore research and conservation in central Chile, within the Chilean Winter Rainfall and Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot (CWR&VF). While working in the CWR&VF I had noticed that the threatened wildlife inhabiting the area required a long-term conservation effort far beyond a Ph.D. dissertation so, I decided to conduct long-term research and management in the area after I graduated. It was then that I also realized that it would require further funding and, after meeting with some colleagues I founded Proyecto Carnívoros Australes which we expect to turn into a lawful non-profit soon.

What is the Chilean Winter Rainfall and Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot and why is it important to conduct research there?

The CWR&VF is considered one of the worlds 25 biodiversity hotspots and this designation provides guidelines for global prioritization of conservation efforts. ‘Hotspots’ are areas that are biologically rich which means they have high variety of species, habitats and genetics, but they also tend to have high habitat loss and degradation rates. Thus, the CWR&VF comprises areas in which conservation and management are urgent.2,3

How does your study differ from research being done in southern Chile?

There are many differences between my study and others being conducted in southern Chile by Panthera, Fundacion Patagonia and others, all of which are very important and valuable by the way! I think with our research the most important difference is the situation and the surrounding context – besides natural reserves our study sites are located in productive areas with high human pressure, habitat fragmentation and very strong human-wildlife conflict, which differs slightly from the human-wildlife conflict in surrounding natural reserves. To my understanding the most interesting part of our project is that we are working in the natural protected reserves, to include all the wildlife there, and we are putting about half or maybe even more of our effort and energy into science-based conservation and management in the productive, non-protected areas.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor

Project leader Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop) setting camera trap on a private Natural Reserve, Andes Mountains of central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

What are the threats pumas face in Chile?

Pumas major threats in Chile are similar to the threats faced by them in the rest of the species distribution range – habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching of their wild prey, and retaliatory hunting due to actual or perceived livestock predation. Nevertheless, most of these threats are very complex and vary significantly from place to place. The human dimensions of conservation becomes key to understanding human-wildlife conflict and managing it properly. We understand that effective wildlife conservation goes far beyond biology, thus the work by our team-member Dr. Solange Vargas on human-dimensions will be key to the success of our conservation efforts.

Do you hope your research helps to foster better public attitudes towards pumas?

Our work with Dr. Vargas specifically aims in the direction of transforming conflict and generating a positive attitude by the community towards pumas and wildlife in general. We hope that appropriate management of conflicts decreases livestock predation rates leading to a more positive perception about wildlife while promoting coexistence. For that reason, we want to work on direct management and also education with adults, youth and children. We already generated a project to work on that and we hope we will have a positive response to move ahead in that direction in the next few years.

Is it a priority to encourage local ranchers to coexist better with pumas?

Yes, that is my hope especially as livestock ranchers are often affected by puma predation, which can be successfully prevented. That is our most important objective regarding conflict management. We want to help them to protect their livestock successfully from predators, with non-lethal management strategies which have been recently proven to be successful in Chile. Thus, we will be able to protect human activities and wildlife at the same time promoting coexistence.

How is your study is being conducted?

Our project has two main areas the first is puma ecology and research and, second is human-wildlife conflict management and mitigation. For the puma ecology part we aim to estimate puma density in different sites (productive-unprotected and protected areas) and assess habitat use/preference, which will be done mostly relying on camera-trap data. We need lots of camera-traps, currently we have around 60%-70% of the units we need, and we hope we will have the remainder by the end of this year.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Guigna, Leopardus guigna

Kodkod or guigna (Leopardus guigna). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

For the human-wildlife management part, besides perception assessment mainly using focus-groups and predation report data provided by the government, we aim to set non-lethal predator deterrents (FoxLight) devices. These lighting devices help to prevent livestock predation by carnivores without harming them avoiding retaliatory killing against pumas.

Have you considered partnering with a larger organization or wildlife conservation photographer to help tell the story of pumas in central Chile?

I am actually a wildlife photographer myself and I keep teaching a wildlife photography class at VT, but have kept my camera in the bag for a while for this project. I am open to collaborating with any person or organization willing to do it, but big NGOs like Panthera are prioritizing their work on other areas, which is good and necessary. I have received significant support from the Wild Felid Research and Management Association, of which I am an active member of, through some grants I have been awarded as a graduate student. I am currently working with independent film-makers in Chile in order to create a documentary film about the project, which hopefully will be available this year or early next year. Personally, I think it is important to focus on priority areas in which large wildlife conservation agencies are not currently working, like central Chile. There is a great need and there are great people willing to work on and support this conservation effort

What has the local support for your project been like?

This project is being conducted in direct cooperation with the local and national wildlife authorities, whose technical and logistical support has been essential to our work. Two wildlife biologists in addition to myself, two wildlife veterinarians, an archaeologist and two professional film-makers are currently are on our staff. One private natural reserve within the study area has provided significant financial and operational support, like horses, vehicles and guides, and, the private owners of the timber plantations within the study area have shown a really good attitude toward our project by allowing us access to their lands and providing valuable operational support.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Mountains

Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

You recently shared a study about non-lethal deterrents. Can you briefly explain how it will help pumas?

The study, published by Dr. Omar Ohrens et al, is a keystone of conflict management in Chile. I had the joy to work with Dr. Ohrens years ago in the first years of his research at the Chilean Andean Plateau. His study provides scientific evidence that the use of non-lethal lighting devices successfully prevents livestock predation events by pumas, which is very important because it goes beyond the functionality of the device itself. It proves that these devices are actually used by people and that they can be introduced into the traditional livestock-ranchers culture, which is the most critical issue with any management tool we could provide. It doesn’t matter how effective a management strategy is if the people in the community do not accept and apply it, it will be useless. Dr. Ohrens and his team demonstrated the factibility of this management approach and provided methodological guidelines to apply it and assess its success. Studying different scenarios of human-wildlife conflict and the available management tools, in the context in which Dr. Ohrens conducted his study, is the most similar to the situation in my study area. In comparison, the livestock breeding style in southernmost Chile in which the use of guard dogs has proven to be a successful deterrent, is somewhat different.

Tell me about the Proyecto Carnívoros Australes GoFundMe campaign

Crowdfunding support is very important because even though we are constantly applying most available grants only allow us to purchase equipment, they do not allow us to fund operational expenses like gasoline or food and if they do it is only allowed in limited amounts. Thus, we often spend our personal funds to buy batteries, food, load gasoline into the vehicle (which we borrow from a generous person) or to change oil. This means the funds received through our GoFundMe campaign are vital to help fund these and other operational expenses. We plan to keep the GoFundMe campaign open through the duration of the project.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor

Camera at burned timber plantation, coast of central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

Do you think there is a potential in the future for puma friendly tourism in central Chile similar to that in southern Chile?

I am not sure yet, I need to have robust data on puma abundances, population densities and trends before answering this question confidently. However, I think it might be doable if the pumas are doing good in the mountain ranges of central Chile and specifically in a couple of private reserves we are partnering with.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Timber plantations

“The coastal ranges of our study area in central Chile were affected by huge (human caused) mega fires in the summer of 2017, which destroyed native forests and timber plantations. In the photo, burned land is being restored with native forest by Universidad de Chile.” Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

Anything else people should know about pumas in central Chile and your work?

There are two things – the first being that pumas share the habitat with smaller carnivores in the study area such as the Andean fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) and at least two small wild felids, the kodkod or guigna (Leopardus guigna) and the Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo). The second important part of our work is regarding the major human-caused wildfires that occurred in the summer of 2017 in central Chile. The fires burnt a large area of native forests besides the timber plantation and we are still trying to understand if carnivore populations were impacted by this event and whether it may further impact conflict with humans.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Fox

Andean Fox (Lycalopex culpaeus). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

For more on this project and how you can support their work to help pumas and wildlife in central Chile please follow Proyecto Carnívoros Australes on Twitter and on Facebook. Their GoFundMe campaign is ongoing and will continue to accept donations during the project.

References

*.Marcella Kelly Wildlife Habitat and Population Analysis Lab

F1.Guarda, N., Gálvez, N., Leichtle, J., Osorio, C., & Bonacic, C. (2017). Puma Puma concolor density estimation in the Mediterranean Andes of Chile. Oryx, 51(2), 263-267. doi:10.1017/S0030605315001301

F2.Myers, N., R. A. Mittermeier, C. G. Mittermeier, G. A. Da Fonseca and J. Kent. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403(6772):853–858

F3.Zachos, F. E., & Habel, J. C. (Eds.). (2011). Biodiversity hotspots: distribution and protection of conservation priority areas. Springer Science & Business Media.

Bobcats, Trapping and Trophies

I don’t often re-post other blogs, but I recently came across a fantastic piece on the Wyoming Untrapped website that addresses trapping, trophy hunting and to borrow a phrase – the subjugation of wildlife. Please read Ken Bouley’s post, share it and, if you live in Wyoming, have family or friends there consider supporting Wyoming Untrapped.

My thanks go to Ken Bouley for granting permission to share his work including photographs, all content is reproduced below with some formatting changes. To view Ken’s wonderful photographs in full size, which I suggest, please visit his original post here.

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

Bobcats are always themselves. I live near a national park where I see them frequently, Lynx rufus californicus, along with badgers, coyotes, owls, otters, and more in the wild. I am always thrilled, and I savor the idea of another creature, out on its own, fending for itself, as they say, executing its evolved nature with the tools time has willed to it.

Though I sit inside at my desk right now, the bobcat I photographed last weekend is at this moment somewhere among the chaparral, resting for its next hunt, or sheltering from the rain under a boulder, or swiveling its ears to locate a coyote chorus on the next ridge, and gauge its distance. Last Sunday this cat stalked, caught, and ate a gopher in front of me, licked its paws and then walked away.

I suspect our evolution includes being enthralled by carnivores.  For one thing, we should find them (at least) interesting for our own well-being, lest we become prey. But for another, their presence signposts a healthy environment including food, water, cover, etc. So, they’re meaningful to us, whether the message is a threat or a reassurance. This is just an idea, and sometimes in evolutionary biology people are guilty of constructing what are called “just so” stories, which sound plausible but are not disprovable, and therefore don’t count as scientific theories.

Recently I’ve been concerned with trapping and hunting, especially trophy hunting and killing contests. I struggle to understand it. I recommend an article by Todd Wilkinson called A Death of Ethics: Is Hunting Destroying Itself? Hunters are not all the same, it argues, and should not all be tarred with the same brush (or rather shot with the same shotgun). I think that’s right to a certain extent.

Embedded in the article is an unsettling photograph of a dead or dying coyote, which I won’t attempt to describe here, but which revisits me, unexpectedly and against my will. The article also includes a video of someone hunting a coyote—successfully, I regret—with a snowmobile. Note I said with a snowmobile, not from a snowmobile. I know it’s not easy but just think about that. I know someone who won’t look at that picture after I described it to her. I myself have not (yet?) watched the video (and am re-conveying its content only from the written description).

The photograph and the video both come to us via social media, where the context, by the way, is conquest, not prosecution (or even just shame). In other words, whoever did this unspeakable act doesn’t mind speaking about it and is so callous (and, as I will argue, ethically crippled) as to brag about it. He has probably done it again since, who knows how many times. I can pity the “hunter” almost as much as the coyote, but I can only empathize with the canine.

How can this be? How can someone do such a thing, and be unconcerned with the dreadfulness of it?

Of course, we know there are psychopaths in our society, who are constitutionally incapable of empathy. But I don’t think that’s what this is. For one thing, there are too many people entirely cold-hearted towards animals for us to dismiss it is as neurologically crossed wires. Many of these people appear to be morally normal in other respects. You may have heard about the Florida teacher who drowned two raccoons and a possum in front of his students, as part of a lesson. Or the Idaho game commissioner forced to resign after killing an entire family of baboons with bow and arrow in Namibia (and yes, boasting about it on the web). And you know about Cecil the lion. Just a few days ago customs officers in India found a weakened leopard cub in a man’s luggage. Less anecdotally, Bobcats are legally “harvested” for the fur trade in 38 US states, and in seven Canadian provinces.

And whereas serial killers (of humans) don’t form social clubs, don’t solicit sponsorship for killing contests, and don’t generally run classroom demonstrations, there is evidence linking zoosadism with violence towards people. Some of the literature characterizes zoosadism as a precursor to psychotic behavior, rather than as a form of it.

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

In Wilkinson’s aforementioned article, he carefully differentiates classical hunters in the Teddy Roosevelt tradition, who follow a clear code of ethics built around fair pursuit, no wanton waste, and respect for the animal, from the thrill-seeking, bloodlust, snowmobile crowd. (If you doubt the prevalence of the latter, just google “killing contests.”) This seems the main point of the article.Although those differences are important, there is something in common between the two groups.

Consider this argument:

  • Premise 1: It is wrong to cause suffering unnecessarily.
  • Premise 2: Trapping and hunting, especially trophy hunting, cause suffering unnecessarily.

Conclusion: Therefore, trapping and hunting, especially trophy hunting, are wrong.

In logic, an argument is called “valid” when, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. An argument is called “sound” if it is valid and its premises are true. If it’s sound, then its conclusion is true – it’s right, and there’s no getting around it. Reading the above syllogism, it’s hard to see how it could be invalid except in some technical, esoteric sense. But it could fail to be sound if one or both of its premises are wrong.

One way that could be is if some hunting or trapping is necessary (then the second premise is false). “Necessary” here could mean the activity is subsistence, a matter of survival. In 2019, in the United States anyway, you would be pressed to substantiate such a claim, but for the sake of argument let’s say we admit some hunting is a matter of survival and perhaps some trapping is literally the only available livelihood for some people in some circumstances. Such cases are excluded. Trophy hunting and killing contests are certainly not.

(By the way, sometimes you encounter this reasoning: if animals hunt, it’s natural, and people are part of nature; therefore hunting by people is not wrong. But firstly, most hunting by animals is subsistence. People don’t need to eat meat at all. More to the point, moral questions don’t arise in the first place unless there is choice involved. We can’t say if animals do it then it’s OK, otherwise, we include infanticide, rape, cannibalism, etc.)

The more significant and relevant challenge to the argument is if the first premise is false, which would be the case if animals don’t suffer, or if only human suffering matters. In his now famous work, Practical Ethics (1979), Peter Singer writes:

“The basis of my belief that animals can feel pain is similar to the basis of my belief that children can feel pain. Animals in pain behave in much the same way as humans do, and their behavior is sufficient justification for the belief that they feel pain. It is true that, with the exception of a few animals who have learned to communicate with us in a human language, they cannot actually say that they are feeling pain – but babies and toddlers cannot talk either. They find other ways to make their inner states apparent, however, demonstrating that we can be sure that a being is feeling pain even if the being cannot use language. To back up our inference from animal behavior, we can point to the fact that the nervous systems of all vertebrates, and especially of birds and mammals, are fundamentally similar. Those parts of the human nervous system that are concerned with feeling pain are relatively old, in evolutionary terms. Unlike the cerebral cortex, which developed only after our ancestors diverged from other mammals, the basic nervous system evolved in more distant ancestors and so is common to all of the other ‘higher’ animals, including humans. This anatomical parallel makes it likely that the capacity of vertebrate animals to feel is similar to our own.”
Peter Singer, Practical Ethics

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

I’m tempted to omit any adjudication but will say it’s equally easy to produce old testament quotes to justify genocide (of humans). Of course, it’s not just Christian societies which have traditionally battered animals as if they were inanimate and insignificant. But the first quote is just the kind of anachronism the Enlightenment shed light on, exposited via such insights as offered in the second quote.

There’s an idea contained in the second quote which I think is worth pondering, and this is how I try to answer the question of how someone can kill a coyote with a snowmobile and brag about it. Some people don’t care about animals because they don’t think of animals as anything to care about. As implied in the second quote, and of course well past 1789, some people thought it was ok to enslave Africans because they didn’t think of Africans as anything to care about. Women were once property; at one time children were rather beaten than heard. One can conceive of the entire progress of ethics and regard for justice in human society as an ever-expanding sphere of consideration, from the self to the family, to the clan/tribe, race, nation, and not-quite-finally, to the global community. “Not-quite” because if you accept that you must be morally concerned with anything capable of suffering, then the species boundary is arbitrary, and must fall.

Incidentally, if that is right, then “nationalists” could be considered in some sense morally evolved by virtue of the ability to care about strangers, to feel a kinship with their countrymen… although of course, the ugly reality of it includes jingoism and xenophobia. I wonder if people involved in wildlife killing contests are more likely to be concerned with “illegal aliens” and supportive of border walls and the like.

Another noteworthy aside is that some people who apparently don’t feel it necessary to grant any sympathy to wild animals nonetheless genuinely love their own pets (sometimes these are hunting dogs).  So, the same person who will sleep with their dogs and send them out to tree a mountain lion ahead of their taking the heroic shot will genuinely mourn if one of those dogs is killed by the beset cat. The apparent inconsistency is not on its face problematic and might be explained by considering that the dog is accepted into the tribe, so the ever-expanding sphere of consideration is not actually strict with respect to species but uses other criteria.

Anyway, I am suggesting that categorically excluding (wild) animals from any moral consideration is a necessary aspect of a classic, Roosevelt hunter or Voyager trapper as much as it is of a less palatable and courser death-fetishist as would hunt a dog with a snowmobile. The former is less objectionable to the populace, and is woven into our cultural history, and would rather the latter go away so as not to scrape at the veneer of tradition.

The former, too, maintains that respect for the animal is necessary (one of the three pillars of the hunter’s moral code), and this is a serious point. I wonder, however, if one can respect a wild animal and kill it.

I realize one can pull the trigger or release the bowstring with an attitude of respect, and I have no doubt this is often the case. But is that what’s important, the frame of mind around the act?

If that’s the important part, then, of course, one could commit murder with an attitude of respect, or capture a slave that way, or beat a child that way, etc. Should a judge be more lenient if she believes you indeed robbed a shop owner, but with an attitude of respect? Can you really fire a bullet or shoot an arrow through the ribs and into the heart or lungs of a living creature… with respect? Is respect merely an emotion or can it be judged objectively? Put differently, if hunters are willing to ambush and shoot-dead creatures they respect, what are they willing to do to those they don’t respect? The fact remains that for the coyote (or elk or cougar or grizzly), whether you are trampled under a snowmobile by a braggart trailing empty beer cans or shot from a legal blind with marksmanship and proper attendant piety, you may suffer terror and pain — especially if it is not a clean shot. Cecil the lion was shot with an arrow but not found again and finished off until the next morning, 10 to 12 hours later. And of course, the rest of your life is denied you—with respect.

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

If wild animals have intrinsic value and are sentient beings who can suffer, this supplants a popular sentiment heard from sincere, liberal people with conservationist impulses. I always get a little uncomfortable when I hear a defense of wildlife or wilderness based on the anthropocentric notion of commonwealth (natural resources, land of many uses, good planets are hard to find, etc.) Wildlife belongs to everyone, you will hear, and if you over-hunt this area now, or clear-cut it, or flood it with a boondoggle dam, we’ll all be denied beauty and recreation, and my grandchildren will inherit a less healthy, ecologically impoverished world. There are mindfulness and justification in that sentiment. However, it limits the sphere of concern, still, to people only, and does not oppose any kind of cruelty unless there is some consequence to people, some ricochet to be dodged. But wildlife belongs to itself and we should not arrange our ethics such that it admits of slaughtering innocent creatures so long as there’s plenty of them.

Wyoming Untrapped recently cosponsored a study which found that bobcats in Yellowstone are worth about 1,000 times more alive than dead. Such studies are quite useful in certain arenas and certainly there are many agencies and constituencies where such a finding will sway officials and policy, and this is good. Note this is a prudential argument, not a moral one. But hypothetically, what if the numbers had come out differently? The numbers might, in fact, come out differently for rhinos or pangolins or skunks, or Tule elk (as in Point Reyes National Seashore). Trophy hunters make similar claims in reverse for the net effects of their hunts (that the fees collected do more good than harm compared against the “taking” of the trophy animals), and the most common rebuttal is that they have the math backward. But once you accept a commercial set of terms, the chips will fall where they will.

Seemingly, things are improving, though not fast enough. I believe hunting and trapping will eventually go the way of slavery, segregation, corporal punishment, and frontier justice. I realize abhorrence of these is not quite universal, but as a society, we have sworn them off, and we presume private holdouts are a dying breed, if asymptotically. You can see parallels in the trends, with fewer defenders, fewer practitioners and mounting opposition in various public spheres. And as Steven Pinker points out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, there are tipping points — things can change quickly. It was not long ago when people in many cultures attended public executions, on a Saturday afternoon, as entertainment, jeering at the doomed on display.

Pinker “The way to explain the decline of violence is to identify the changes in our cultural and material milieu that have given our peaceable motives the upper hand.”

We are not genetically any different from our recent ancestors who were doing the jeering. Our grandparents and great-grandparents likely had beliefs and practices we find reprehensible, and an interesting question is, what are the things we do or tolerate now which will be similarly reviled by the generation about to be born. I hope there are many because it will mean progress.

Groups such as Wyoming Untrapped, Project Coyote, the Center for Biological Diversity, embody “the changes in our cultural and material milieu that have given our peaceable motives the upper hand.” They are gathering momentum, exposing cruelty and injustice, amplifying and channeling growing public sentiment, and influencing policies and legislation. There is a new bill right now aiming to make animal cruelty a federal offense.

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Image ©Ken Bouley

I encourage anyone motivated at all by the plight of wild animals who are hunted and trapped to do three things

  • vote accordingly;
  • reach out to support at least one group like those just mentioned;
  • and don’t be afraid to let people know that you think it’s wrong and has to stop.

“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” – Ed Abbey

Personally, I’m allergic to confrontation, but the more I think about the immense suffering caused by hunting and trapping, the more I force myself to speak up.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  – Winston Churchill

Of course, if you are not motivated by this suffering, it’s unlikely an ethical argument is going to change that. Some people miss the good old days and would attend those public executions if only they were still on. Some are motivated only by self-interest and prudential arguments; some will simply obey the law; some are moved by fear of shame. The demographics of relevant attitudes, motivations, and practices are undoubtedly complex. And yet progress on the social scale seems inexorable.

Last Sunday as I was headed home after watching that bobcat, I saw another cat on the side of the road and stopped, got out slowly and quietly to peer over the raised shoulder and into the field where she (I think) was sitting still. I was fortunate to have two extraordinary sightings in one short afternoon. She saw me—they always do—and I was careful not to get too close. You never want to disturb a hunt or other essential activity (well, mostly, they hunt.) She wasn’t hunting though, but yawned, groomed, squinted, and stretched, much like my house cats do. (I’ve never heard a bobcat purr, but I read that they do.) This cat was free and relatively safe in a national park. Many more are in very different situations where they can be hunted or trapped without limit, where they are considered ‘furbearers,’ nuisance species, varmints. It’s not right, and it has to stop.

Text and Pictures by Ken Bouley

The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife: Failures of Principle and Policy

The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife by author, and Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Calgary, Dr. Max Foran, takes an in-depth and honest look at wildlife management policies in Canada like no other book has done before and, it is a book that should be mandatory reading for anyone who has an interest in Canadian wildlife. It is for those who wish to better understand our relationship with wildlife, where we went wrong and what needs to be done in order to put an end to our ongoing, often violent, assault on them. If you live outside of Canada, particularly if you live in the U.S., you will find this book worth a read as all of North America shares an almost identical history when it comes to wildlife conservation.

Max has written an extensive list of books focusing on western Canadian urban, rural and cultural topics, but he tells me that The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife is his best and most important book to date. At its core the book is about our disconnected relationship with wildlife and failure as a people and a country to do what is both morally and ethically right. What makes this book so powerful is how it intelligently links the roles that science, culture, religion, philosophy, politics and history play in how we view and deal with wildlife. Finally, in one book we can see how they come together to influence policies, emotion, and ultimately our decisions. The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife is also very accessible which means the reader doesn’t need a background in science, history or wildlife conservation to understand and appreciate its passionate and urgent message. This is a book that we, and wildlife, need now.

We need to get away from wildlife being cute, they are not cute, they are our fellow residents and they are the ones we live with so the sooner we understand them the better we will be able to treat them. There is always going to be incidences, but we must realize that they are independent souls who inhabit the planet with us and the solution is not to kill them.” – Max Foran

Will the outdated anthropocentric views that continue to dominate wildlife management change? Will the fear, paranoia and often exaggerated “frenzied emphasis on human safety” that justifies how we treat wildlife, especially predators like cougars, continue to rule? If we are willing to evolve is society ready to put an end to the destructive and abhorrent practice of trophy hunting? Or as stated in the book, is the price of change too high?

I recently spoke to Max about his book, the interview can be heard below, and some of the themes it covers. A few of the major takeaways from my discussion include the fact that our belief system must change first and, the sooner we end the practice of trophy hunting the better. In addition, Canada and elsewhere, must banish the idea that wildlife is a resource. Wildlife agencies must embrace change and start to acknowledge the irrefutable evidence of animal cognition and that wildlife is autonomous. What else is needed? Max tells me education is part of it along with recognizing the proactive measures happening elsewhere, publicizing them and making these narratives the new norm. We must start to “see wildlife as selves” and we must create an evolved and ethical model of conservation that puts animals first. As the book says, “this is the path to our moral evolution”.

The minority who work on behalf of wildlife can do no better than blunt the raw use of power against wild creatures and to try to modify anthropocentric bias. Anything else requires a new belief system. We have a tiny window of hope.” – Max Foran

The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife is part of my Recommended Reading List and can be purchased on Amazon or as an eBook on Kobo.

Cats of The Canopy

Cloaked in cloud like patterns they traverse the forest canopy like no other cat, their beautiful coats helping to keep them perfectly camouflaged whether hanging by their back feet from the trees, or padding silently across the rain forest floor. Rarely seen in the wild the clouded leopard is both acrobat and mystery.

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Image of clouded leopards at the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand – Pintrest

Despite the fact that so little is known about clouded leopards they have often been neglected when it comes to conservation efforts, but thanks to organizations like S.P.E.C.I.E.S. this graceful and threatened cat is being given the attention and support it so desperately needs.

I recently spoke with founder and director of  S.P.E.C.I.E.S. Dr. Anthony J. Giordano, who I met at the Jackson Hole Conservation Summit, to discuss his organization and work with clouded leopards and why we must start to focus on their conservation now. We also talk about captivity, palm oil, poaching and, how people at home can help support their work to ensure that the smallest of the big cats is around for generations to come.

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The Society for the Preservation of Endangered Carnivores and their International Ecological Study

Tell me a little about your organization’s name and how you came up with it

I was trying to come up with a brand and organization, and I think my mind was subconsciously working on different names, ideas, acronyms and what they might entail. I remember waking up one morning feeling very clear-headed that the name species was something. I was able to find meaning in that acronym that encapsulated what I wanted to do and what I thought there was a niche for. S.P.E.C.I.E.S. made a lot of sense and it is something that people will remember, but it’s also who we are and what we do.

Our domain name carnivores.org was chosen because I wanted us to be found by people who didn’t know they were looking for us. I also thought it would be a better way to be found as it describes who we are in one word. Now S.P.E.C.I.E.S. as brand is synonymous with carnivores.org.

Why did you choose the clouded leopard for your logo?

It’s not a coincidence that I chose the clouded leopard as they symbolically represented all of these unanswered questions that I had about carnivore ecology and evolution. I had a particular fascination for a clouded leopard painting when I was younger which served as an inspiration for the logo and I like that the clouded leopard in our logo is perched up high looking down surveying the terrain, which is also symbolic of who we are as an organization and where we need to be in order to accomplish our goals and objectives.

Additionally, I saw S.P.E.C.I.E.S. as being a leader in trying to answer important questions about the clouded leopard and leading in their conservation because there weren’t a lot of organizations doing that. As the smallest of the big cats they are not often the priority and they kind of fall in between the gaps when organizations are deciding what species to focus on. This has done us a disservice with respect to knowing what this cat is, where it comes from and what its needs are in the modern world and larger conservation context.

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“I thought they were the feline equivalent of a question mark… I was always drawn to them because everything about them was mysterious.” – Anthony Giordano

You work with a variety of different carnivores and wild cats. Why was the clouded leopard the focus of your presentation at the conservation summit?

I was invited specifically to Jackson Hole to talk about clouded leopards and, it had a lot to do with prior conversations I had with the organizers of the cat summit which happened to be when we launched Project Neofelis (Neofils is the genus name for clouded leopards) which was around International Biodiversity Day in May of 2017. It was a very ambitious effort for us to try to establish a project, whether it was a survey to answer basic questions, a community conservation project or maybe a combination of these elements, that focused on clouded leopards as there is such an absence of information on them. In addition, we want to also try to establish one of these projects in every range country where clouded leopards occur.

How many different species of clouded leopards are there?

There are currently two distinguished species of clouded leopards and this distinction was made in 2006. We have the Asian mainland or Indochinese clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) and then we have the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) which is found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

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The name Sunda comes from Sundaland which is a term used to describe a biogeographical region of Southeastern Asia that was once an ancient land mass connecting Sumatra and Borneo as one. The Sunda clouded leopard is now restricted to these islands and is actually classified as two different subspecies the Bornean and the Sumatran clouded leopard.

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Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) – This more widely distributed clouded leopard species can be recognized by its lighter, tawny fur and larger cloud-like markings. The most remarkable feature of clouded leopards is that, in proportion to their body size, they possess the largest canines of all the cats – Arkive

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Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) – Can be recognized by its darker, grey or greyish-yellow fur and smaller cloud-like markings. On average they have even larger and more knife-like canines than Neofelis nebulosa – Arkive

Clouded leopards are well-known for being at home in the forest canopy, is there any research to show much time they actually spend there?

Clouded leopards are frequently recorded on the ground, but there is no other big cat that is as well equipped for dealing with life in the trees or as agile as the clouded leopard for moving in the trees. We know they rest and sleep there and we have reports of them hunting primates in the trees or taking species they have killed into the trees. We know all their adaptations are for a superior life there, but the real question is how much time at night do they spend in the trees because that’s when they’re active. If they are spending a lot time during the day time sleeping in the trees that doesn’t tell us much because we know other cats do that.

We are working with collaborators to try to put collars on clouded leopards soon so we can look at the impacts that things like palm oil have on them, their activity and territory use. This research will also help to answer basic questions like how much time they actually spend and hunt in the trees. These are some of the questions we hope to answer in the years to come.

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Why is your work with the clouded leopard so important?

I think it’s because they have been left by the wayside and also from an evolutionary perspective and context they are of one of the most distinctive of the cats. What I mean by this is when you trace back the ancestry of some the modern big cats we see a clear relationship among all the other modern big cats in the Subfamily Pantherinae, of which clouded leopards are part of.

All of the other  big cats – tigers, leopards, lions, jaguars and snow leopards come together under one genus Panthera, whereas the clouded leopard is in the genus Neofelis which likely means the ancestors of the clouded leopard probably broke away a little earlier from the Pantherinae lineage.

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Two cladograms proposed for the genus Panthera – By Sainsf (Own work), Wikimedia Commons

In many respects you have clouded leopard being the most distinctive of the cats and certainly the most distinctive of the big cats. There is an additional value that I assign to that because they are part of a larger evolutionary legacy that’s been lost and now there are only two species remaining. I think they are really interesting and that alone deserves the increased focus and conservation attention that we are trying to give them.

Part of that uniqueness is their possible relation to the saber-tooth cat

When people hear saber-tooth cat they think it’s one family of cats, but in reality the saber-tooth cat evolved five different times over the last 20 million years and they are not necessarily related to one another. One of the interesting things is there were selection pressures for this saber-tooth adaptation, like Darwinian selection natural, so something about this particular adaptation was selected for again and again and again. Some saber-tooth cats went extinct while others re-evolved, some ancestors went extinct where some descendants survived. So this happened several different times and right around the time clouded leopard broke away from the remaining extant living big cats.

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We have a skull of another cat, which is also very similar in terms of its skull morphology and teeth, that suggests that it was on its way to becoming a saber-tooth and it was fairly arboreal like clouded leopards are today. So one wonders if there is a connection there, but I think we are a long way away from knowing what the ultimate connection is between these extinct species and the clouded leopard.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S. recently formed a partnership with the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and I am really excited about finding ways to look at these lessons from the past to see how we can apply them to modern conservation biology whether it’s extinction, climate change or the die off of mega fauna.

Why does the general public need to know more about the clouded leopard?

It is because of what we do know and, what we don’t know about the conservation threats. We do know that the largest threats to clouded leopards and in particular to the Sunda clouded leopard is oil palm and oil palm displacement of natural habitat. Clouded leopards are most associated with tropical rainforest more than any other cat and, these are the habitats that are being lost at the expense of expanding oil palm plantations in places like Indonesian, Malaysia, and Thailand which is also investing in oil palm. This is an insidious ingredient that makes its way into some of our favorite foods, if you like chocolate, or cookies or even the healthy substitute for butter there is likely palm oil in there.

“The worst part about it is that palm oil is not necessarily bad for you, its bad for the planet.”

The problem is that we are turning large parts of the tropics into these mono cultures of African oil palm and its making its way into our food ingredients, into our cosmetics, soap and shampoo. What more people need to do is read the label and if you see something that says palm kernel oil or something similar I advocated maybe not buying it.

What are you thoughts on sustainable palm oil and wildlife?

So the idea behind sustainable palm oil is really no more net loss of rain forest –  I think that should be the first step regardless. If the idea is to grow in areas where there were other plantations or other sources of agriculture or degraded areas and invest in palm oil there for a while, that could possibly buy us some time. However the problem is then differentiating between ethical and non-ethical and we would need to have a really transparent certification process that could be validated. My other issue is that we have lost so much rainforest already no-one is talking about restoration and connectivity.

If you look at Sumatra on a map it’s completely devastated in terms of the forest, if we are going to talk about sustainable oil palm we must absolutely talk about restoring forests. My problem is the idea of sustainable oil palm just leads to this never-ending circle where we never talk about forest restoration or forest connectivity because already today we are already dealing with a fraction of the habitat for species like the clouded leopard than we were dealing with 30 years ago. I see a hornets nest of ways it can get out of control.

What happens when all of that available land goes because we are not talking about all the larger issues like continued growth. An expanding population also means increasing consumption which is going to take place as many of these countries continue to improve their economy and improve standard of living for their people and, this is perfectly legitimate. I think there is are ways to move forward that doesn’t lead to the obliteration  of rainforest, but we need to start taking about limits, caps and strategies for re-connecting wild places and restoring rainforests. That’s something that we are not doing much of on a governmental or international level, we are not talking about global incentives at that global scale and we need to start doing more of that I think.

Is palm oil the biggest threat?

When you look at all clouded leopards together we could easy argue that palm oil is the most expansive threat. When you look at the Indochinese clouded leopard you have palm oil playing a role in term of habit loss in places like Thailand, but it’s not as much as dominant threat. Keep in mind that in places like this deforestation has already occurred, there is nothing left in a lot of these places. So in some countries continued deforestation is not necessarily the greatest threat to the Indochinese clouded leopard, I would argue that poaching might be.

We know poaching is happening for clouded leopards and they are being targeted across their entire range, but we just don’t know the levels as poaching seems to fly under the radar. One of the reasons could be that the skins of the clouded leopard might not fetch the high prices that say a tiger skin or snow leopard skins could fetch on the international market.

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It is possible that clouded leopard skins aren’t showing as much up in these international busts because maybe they are bought more locally and maybe because they can be afforded more by local people.” – Anthony Giordano

Many people have remarked to me how openly displayed clouded leopard skins sometimes are in local markets, the same markets that wouldn’t dare to openly display a tiger skin or snow leopard skin. So it makes me wonder what the level of poaching on clouded leopards is like as we know there is an international trade in them. On top of that there is also a lot of local trade which largely goes unreported because people would pay a fraction for a clouded leopard skin versus a tiger skin. It may be that the local middle class can afford to have a skin like clouded leopard hanging it in their house, but we just don’t know and that is something that worries me.

Is it a matter of time before someone trains their sights on clouded leopards, like they have with Jaguars? Does it mean that people will try to get more clouded leopards, because they are smaller, to compensate for their size? Who knows how these market changes could affect pressure on clouded leopards.

One of the things we are hoping to do is to work more closely with organizations like the EIA and to get more involved in representing the plight of clouded leopards by placing a greater focus on them with organizations like CITES. We also hope to lead the way in helping implement other potential restrictions on the trade in endangered species and local laws as well.

Are there specific strategies that S.P.E.C.I.E.S. would like to employ to help combat some of these threats?

This kind of effort requires participation of these larger groups like CITES and some of the other NGO’s, but one of the things that we want to do is to see if we can really identify more specifically what those pressures might be on local clouded leopard populations. For example, are clouded leopards sought after as final goal or objective of poaching, or are they poached more incidentally because they are caught in indiscriminate snares? How does that context change from one geographic location to the next?

One place where we might want to do more of that kind of research is in North-Eastern India where we know poaching is happening, but it might require building a network of people who can report these activities. Once we perfect that model there we could then expand it into other areas. While there is already a focus on tigers, snow leopards and common leopards there is still a shocking nonchalance regarding clouded leopards, so I am hoping that we can start changing that.

Involving people on a local level is vital for these type of initiatives, how do you see public outreach in local communities fitting in with your strategy?

In that context the goal would try to recruit their participation and buy in of community leadership to see if we can take that top down approach. The challenge right now is that everything is so anecdotal, there is so much that we don’t know, we need to do more background information to be able to say that in this one area it seems like clouded leopard skins are coming in every week because that would be a red flag and, it would be enough for us to say that this in an area we should try to invest in. Then, if we could solve this problem locally we could apply the elements that contribute to our success on the ground elsewhere.

So that is something we hope to do by working with the partner organizations that are keeping track of these skins and products to get a larger landscape perspective of where the hot spots of poaching and associated communities are. We are still in our infancy in knowing so much about the clouded leopard, like in Nepal where we just started working we are still determining where they occur. It is interesting and exciting but challenging and we may be in position, for example, to re-write the range map for clouded leopard if they occur in an area we think they are now and we are able to validate it. It would change the map for clouded leopard distribution.

We hope to begin these activities this year, but there are very fundamental natural history and ecological questions we must answer before we have a better idea of how to develop effective conservation strategies for them.

Some sources quote there are an estimated 10,000 clouded leopards left

I am so reluctant to use numbers, but the source is considered valid. I try to work with the conservation community to avoid putting a number because there is so much variation at this point. To be honest there could be forests out there that we think should have clouded leopards in them and don’t.

We know they occur at low densities similar to other big cats despite the fact that are much smaller than tigers or the common leopard. Something about that suggests that clouded leopards are still patrolling these fairly large areas whether in the trees or on the ground often in the shadow of  tigers and leopards. Only on Borneo are clouded leopards the top predator, the only thing they have to worry about there is maybe an angry sun bear. They have very legitimate concerns living in areas with common leopards which could take them by surprise, but we need to understand how these larger predators impact clouded leopards to. There are a lot more questions than answers at this point but it is also imperative that many be answered quickly in the near term so that we can devise the proper conservation strategies.

It might not be as simple as just protecting a particular forest especially if the ecological interactions occurring within that forest fragment are not suitable or ideal for clouded leopard. They might be better for leopards or tigers, whereas in certain areas where we know tigers or leopards are gone clouded leopards might do better there because of that. We really need to understand all of this across a larger landscape because as we protect clouded leopard we also protect tigers, leopards and complete ecosystems.

What are your thoughts on the role of clouded leopards in captivity and, do you think zoos contribute to their conservation?

Zoos have the ability to call attention to the uniqueness of species and to allow people the chance to watch them for long periods, to see how they move, that’s something I have done that and I think that was invaluable to me. I certainly recall the first time I saw a clouded leopard in captivity and how that inspired me and, there are still a lot people out there who still don’t know what a clouded leopard is, or they think they are a type of leopard.

It is amazing how much research on captive species has a direct baring on what we learn about how to protect that species in the wild. The cheetah is prime example of what was learned as a result of direct one to one correspondence with those who were doing research in the captive world and those who were observing them in the wild when for decades there was frustrations on how to breed them in captivity. There was a similar situation with breeding clouded leopards in captivity when they had problems, which were resolved, with females being killed by over aggressive males. I am not arguing for conservation entirely in captivity, I do however think there is a role for captivity and managed collections in conservation.

“Were not managing them now for re-introduction we are managing them now mostly for genetic diversity – the jury is still out how we would reintroduce clouded leopards in certain areas.”

We still have to ask where will they come from. Will we remove them from existing populations and do we have the right to do that? Or are we going to use captive animals that are genetically similar in those cases? No one has completely answered these questions but we are hoping to. A good example is Taiwan they are waiting and that’s something we are working on, they would like to see clouded leopards back there, but we have a long way to go.

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A clouded leopard cub feeding. Hand-raising is generally not used with zoo animals as it eliminates any possibility for release to the wild. But hand-raising of clouded leopards seems to reduce the animals’ stress levels, making them more at ease with captivity, and less likely to kill mates when bred.” – Photo by Bill Wood courtesy of the Clouded Leopard Consortium in Thailand Via – Mongabay

We are already dealing with a species so many people don’t know about and some people will only get exposure through zoos – how do you replace that? How do you get people to care about clouded leopards if they are never going to see one? I would argue that for the majority of people you are not. How do we replace that revenue that zoos provide? If we remove that now we would undoubtedly see the extinction of numerous species that are largely around today because of the investment of zoos. Zoos are starting to do their part in making habitats more amenable and safer to animals and also serve as that valuable bridge to be able to say to someone look at this animal – What is that? Until we find other ways to do that I think zoos will continue play valuable roles at least in terms of international conservation.

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I do think that its important that as we navigate the ethical challenges moving forward of how to interact with other species we not do so in a way that compromises science, which is one of our biggest and effective tools for preventing extinction. That’s a challenge we also need to address I think more in the media as well. ” – Anthony Giordano

I would be a hypocrite if I said they did not somehow fuel my path. Zoos have supported a number our projects, I want to be clear so people know that I am not afraid to say that. Zoos have been giving and supportive of our efforts, including young zoo keepers who contact me because they are interested in doing more to help protect these animals in the wild. They want to be engaged, and I know in part a lot of that passion is coming from that interaction.

Of course there are bad examples of zoos, I have seen some of these zoos in war zones in the Middle East – they are completely inhumane conditions and absolute tragedies. Those need to be shut down, but compared to some zoos in North America that invest heavily in their animals, I think those are different battles.

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Maybe 500 years from now we will be living in a different society and hopefully clouded leopards will still be there along with all these other species, but I think to get to that point and ensure that right now zoos are playing a key role.” – Anthony Giordano

I think we are all trying to identify the wild animals that we see as a reflection of our beloved cat or dog – we still need to make connections with individual animals and I still think we have a long way to go before we can embrace this larger ecological connection to things. As an ecologist it’s there – I see the clouded leopard, the forest behind them and to me those things are inextricable. We want them there, but I am the overwhelming minority in that respect.

What are some ways people can help clouded leopard conservation?

People can donate directly to Project Neofelis or to Cameras4Conservation which launched last year. The program is an effort to get remote sensing cameras in the hands of conservation professionals, young biologists and young educators in clouded leopard range countries. It helps to support initiatives and projects that are in line with our mission by also helping support education and maybe even policy development, if people are using cameras to determine if clouded leopards are present in a particular forest for the first time.

Participants submit competitive applications and we would make sure camera’s are spread out across different parts of the clouded leopard range. Last year we gave out camera’s to Sumatra, Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal  – a nice diversity of countries where the camera’s will make a difference. We intend to work with these partners to standardize the data so that it is managed properly, because in the long-term we would like to make the information freely available to scientists as well policy makers in some of these areas.

For more on S.P.E.C.I.E.S., or to make a donation to their work please visit carnivores.org and be sure to follow them on Facebook.