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 rainforest floor. Rarely seen in the wild the clouded leopard is both acrobat and mystery.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clounded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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 Anthony 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.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S, clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

“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.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

Arkive, wildlife photography,breeding clouded leopards,clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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

Arkive, wildlife photography,breeding clouded leopards,clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S, clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard, saber tooth cat

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.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard, poaching, illegal wildlife trade, leopard skins

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.

SSP, breeding clouded leopards,clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa, Sunda Clouded leopard, Project Neofelis, endangered species, Carvinores.org, Anthony Giordano, wild cats, small cats, Borneo, Sumatra, Indochinese leopard

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.

Advertisements

The Last Lioness

An extraordinary lioness known as Lady Liuwa who lived in Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, has passed away. She was discovered having died of natural causes on August 9, 2017 one day before World Lion Day, she was thought to be 17 years old. Lady Liuwa was well-known as the lioness who survived the odds as the last of her species in a place where every other single lion had been wiped out by hunting and poaching. She survived alone without a pride, seeking out human companionship in her profound loneliness. African Parks made several attempts to reintroduce other lions to the area beginning in 2007 and, after living for over 5 years without hearing or seeing another lion, Lady Liuwa finally had a chance of being with her own kind. Never able to have cubs of her own, she helped raise the many cubs from another reintroduced lioness named Sepo.

The story of her early years was told in the National Geographic documentary The Last Lioness.

Since the film was released other lions had been reintroduced back into the park but not without complications and loss. Despite the insurmountable odds Lady Liuwa survived, a true symbol of strength, courage, forgiveness and tolerance. Importantly she did not die alone and leaves an established pride that is a sign of hope for her species if humans are willing to work together to allow them to live as they should, wild and free from persecution. I believe that stories like this, and unique animals like Lady Liuwa, are not coincidences but rather a gift sent to impart a lesson for humans to learn and evolve from.

A touching tribute to this great lioness was posted by African National Parks, the full dedication Remembering Lady Liuwa can be read here.

“Lady Liuwa was a truly exceptional lioness, so much so that it is impossible to do justice to her in words” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “Oftentimes she would lie just five meters away from our camp-fire in the middle of the park. When it came time to go to bed, she would follow, walking parallel to the path and then fall asleep in front of one of our tents. In the mornings, we would find her in a tree, just watching but never threatening us. After years of being solitary, and after several reintroduction’s and careful management, we were finally able to unite her with her own kind. While her passing saddens us all, she leaves behind a legacy of survival in the small but growing pride in Liuwa Plain”.

Tribute by Rob Reid, prior Park Manager of Liuwa Plain – “As you meander slowly over the crisp earth towards them you can always recognize Lady from a distance, the way she cocks her head to the side, waiting for you, expecting you; that’ll be Lady. And it was true; she didn’t look at you like a lion – there was none of that bone chilling stare, head held high, alert “through you” sort of look. She would give you a sort of gentle titled head view, a relaxed and familiar pose. A look that had seen it all, and been through thousands of nights of loneliness. But that look – the sharing of space, with you – an outsider; there was that…She was an anomaly, an orphan, that had somehow survived the odds of the harshness of the African bush. And although her entire pride had been wiped out by illegal hunting, she found friendship in humanity, and later with an adopted pride. She was a bridge perhaps between what should have been in our Eden and what we see so much around us today.”

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.

Lions, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, Gorongosa Reborn, Bob Poole, National Geographic Live, Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise, Africa, Wildlife, PBS,

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.

Lions, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, Gorongosa Reborn, Bob Poole, National Geographic Live, Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise, Africa, Wildlife, PBS,

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.

Lions, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, Gorongosa Reborn, Bob Poole, National Geographic Live, Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise, Africa, Wildlife, PBS,

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.

Lions, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, Gorongosa Reborn, Bob Poole, National Geographic Live, Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise, Africa, Wildlife, PBS,

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.

Lions, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, Gorongosa Reborn, Bob Poole, National Geographic Live, Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise, Africa, Wildlife, PBS,

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.

When Sharing is Not Caring

For anyone who lives in the USA – this is a very important wildlife Action Alert. I hope that you will take a few minutes to contact your Senator to ask them to oppose The SHARE Act or Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.

The SHARE Act (H.R.2406) revises a variety of existing programs to expand access to, and opportunities for, hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. This is backed by the NRA as well as Safari Club International and will be devastating to already vulnerable wildlife. Among other things it will open up land to hunters where currently no hunting or trapping is allowed.

ban trapping, ban sport hunting, ban trophy hunting, save big cats, save wild life, killing is not conservation, usa, conservation, cecil the lion, animals matter, save lions , year of the lion, stop animal cruelty, Stop the SHARE Act,

The SHARE Act – When ‘Sharing is not Caring’

Animals 24/7 “The National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and allied hunting industry lobbyists on February 26, 2016 advanced closer than ever before, in eight years of trying, to push through Congress an omnibus package of special favors for trophy hunters, pack hunters, ivory dealers, and users of lead ammunition…The SHARE Act provides enhanced access to public lands while limiting punitive regulations promoted by ‘animal rights’ extremists. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.”

ban trapping, ban sport hunting, ban trophy hunting, save big cats, save wild life, killing is not conservation, usa, conservation, cecil the lion, animals matter, save lions , year of the lion, stop animal cruelty, Stop the SHARE Act, Elephants, Ban Ivory sales

Elephants Family – Amboseli national park, south Kenya. – Image Benh LIEU SONG – Flickr

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, writes in the Huffington Post that the “SHARE Act is not at all about sharing or any sort of peaceful coexistence, but rather about killing an increasing number of nonhuman animals (animals) in places where they should be and have been relatively safe, namely, on public lands. The Act also allows the use of traditional ammunition, containing lead, which of course is bad for the environment.”

ban trapping, ban sport hunting, ban trophy hunting, save big cats, save wild life, killing is not conservation, usa, conservation, cecil the lion, animals matter, save lions , year of the lion, stop animal cruelty, Stop the SHARE Act, Save mountain lions

“Why is protecting animals ‘extreme,’ while wanting to kill them is not?” – Marc Bekoff

Marc Bekoff goes on to say that enjoying the great outdoors does not need to involve killing and there has to be some areas where “animals can live in peace and safety and where people who frequent these areas can also enjoy nature in peace and safety.”

The SHARE Act is a death sentence for countless animals and is bad for the environment.

ban trapping, ban sport hunting, ban trophy hunting, save big cats, save wild life, killing is not conservation, usa, conservation, cecil the lion, animals matter, save lions , year of the lion, stop animal cruelty, Stop the SHARE Act, Wolves

Image – Wikipedia

From the Animal Welfare Institute some of the provisions included in the bill:

  • Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture from regulating lead—a potent and dangerous neurotoxin—in fishing tackle and ammunition. An estimated 10-20 million animals die from lead poisoning each year in the United States after ingesting lead shot, bullet fragments, and sport fishing waste.
  • Take the unprecedented step of defining trapping as a form of hunting. This would open up more federal lands to the setting of steel-jaw leghold traps and other body-gripping traps that pose grave risks to public safety, wildlife, and even companion animals.
  • Declare that millions of acres of public lands are automatically open to hunting and trapping without any scrutiny. Public land managers seeking to disallow these activities in order to protect wildlife, habitat, and the public would face huge bureaucratic hurdles.
  • Compel the National Park Service to allow private hunters to shoot bison in Grand Canyon National Park as part of its management plan.
  • Halt the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to protect elephants from poaching and to curb the demand for ivory.
  • Allow the importation of polar bear carcasses. This provision rewards hunters who raced to kill polar bears for trophies before their listing under the Endangered Species Act. Granting waivers such as this sets a dangerous precedent and signals to trophy hunters that they can flout the law.
ban trapping, ban sport hunting, ban trophy hunting, save big cats, save wild life, killing is not conservation, usa, conservation, cecil the lion, animals matter, save lions , year of the lion, stop animal cruelty, Stop the SHARE Act, Polar Bears

Polar Bear in Churchill Canada – Image Wikimedia Commons

There is still time and hope, please share with family and friends to help wildlife. Ask your Senator to oppose the SHARE Act today. Find and contact your U.S Senator HERE

For more on the SHARE Act please read “U.S. House Gives Stocking Full of Gifts to Most Extreme Factions of the Hunting Lobby

Big Cats in High Places

If you live in the UK you may have been lucky enough to catch the BBC2 Natural World documentary Mountain Lions: Big Cats in High Places. I had only ever seen clips of it but the full documentary is now available on Daily Motion, the previous version on YouTube had been taken down. Updated link below!

There is some special footage of Mountain Lion behavior that you most likely have never seen before and it clearly demonstrates that the myths surrounding these misunderstood and highly persecuted big cats are just myths. Importantly, the documentary shows just how tough the cats have it, nature is extreme and unforgiving even without mans interference, so ensuring we work to protect North America’s only big cat is important. Sadly, Mountain Lions are legally hunted throughout the USA and in two western provinces in Canada and, with all the other challenges they face sport hunting shouldn’t be one of them – It is cruel and extremely detrimental to the species overall. A documentary like this is important as it shows what these magnificent cats are truly like and why they deserve our protection just like the African Lion.

“The documentary follows two mountain mums in the Rockies of Wyoming as they struggle to raise their cubs – hunting, playing, eating and sometimes fighting”

Family Day

In honor of Family Day, which is a holiday here in Canada, I thought I’d share a few North American feline ‘family’ videos courtesy of strategically placed cameras. Camera traps are a great tool when it comes to giving us a glimpse into the lives of these amazing creatures who all have families of their own. Happy viewing!

Kittens gone wild via the CougarFund

Mountain Lion kittens! New Mom Limpy The Lion Returns! Via Parliament Of Owls

Bobcat mother and kitten walking silently on Fall leaves via lbretreat

Bobcat family on trail camera in Durham, NC via Piedmont Wildlife Center

The Cecil Factor

On Saturday February 6 the Worldwide Rally for Cecil took place with over 30 cities from around the world speaking out against trophy hunting. The main rally was held in Las Vegas to coincide with the world’s largest trophy hunting club, Safari Club International, which was hosting a 4 day “Ultimate Hunters’ Market”.

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation,

The convention drew about 25,000 members with signs describing the event as the “THE BIGGEST THE BEST”. The Safari Club’s goal was to “auction off a total of 301 mammal hunts across more than 30 countries that will result in the killing of at least 600 animals, according to the Humane Society’s analysis of the convention’s listings. The targets include baboons, grizzly bears, cougars, African lions, coyotes, wolves, jackals and many other mammals.” – The Guardian

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto

Graphic The Guardian (Source: Humane Society International)

Toronto was one of the Canadian cities to host a rally to show support and to speak out against all forms of trophy hunting whether it’s Lions in Africa like Cecil, or wildlife here in North America. The purpose was to inform and educate people on the cruelty of trophy hunting as well as to encourage the changing of laws – in Toronto 650 signatures were gathered on a petition to ask our Government to help by banning the importation of hunting trophies coming in to Canada.

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto

Gathering signatures – Rally for Cecil – Toronto – Image Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

Participation in this event was important as Canada is connected to the trophy hunting industry by allowing sport hunted wildlife into the country and, by allowing hunting of its own wildlife for sport. While the USA is the largest importer of hunting trophies, a recent report released states that American hunters import an average of 126,000 animal trophies a year or 345 a day, many will be surprised to learn that Canada tops the list as the biggest source of trophies for our neighbors to the south. Our low dollar, easy access and list of coveted species like wolves, bear, moose and mountain lions, make Canada a one stop shop for American trophy hunters.

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto

Rally for Cecil – TorontoImage Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

As the main purpose of the rally was to draw attention to all types of trophy hunting, I opted to highlight Canada’s only big cat, the mountain lion or cougar, which is legally hunted in our two western provinces British Columbia and Alberta. The plight of these highly misunderstood and long persecuted cats has all but gone unnoticed and, in a report released in 2011 by the BC based Raincoast Conservation Foundation titled Cougars: BC’s neglected carnivore reveals that we are dramatically failing to protect them from all forms of mortality including trophy hunting.

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto, North American Lion, Americas Lion, American Lion,

Numbers of cougars killed by humans due to legal hunting in BC have varied from 127 to 506 per year, and average 257 per year (1976-2008 BC Ministry of the Environment, unpublished data).

Hunting regulations in BC do little to avoid overexploitation of cougar populations. BC cougars are hunted for trophies with incomplete knowledge of population size and little control over the number and distribution of cougars that are killed. Although illegal to kill a mother when she is in the company of her kittens, killing a mother while she has left her kittens in the safety of a nursery or rendezvous site is legal.”Raincoast Conservation Foundation Cougars: BC’s neglected carnivore 

Out of the estimated 4000 cougars that live in Canada the largest remaining populations, an estimated 3500, reside in BC which has become the last strong hold for a big cat that once roamed from the west to east coast of Canada. Disappointingly the BC government who is responsible for their conservation has not yet made an effort to properly study or create strategies to protect them. Authors of the Raincoast study state that is a race against time with regards to saving the cougar and ask why trophy hunting of cougars is even allowed as it is not for sustenance, but simply for “sport or trophy”.

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto

Talking trophy hunting and mountain lionsImage Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

Interestingly, a joint report on newly compiled data was just released by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International and, the analysis for a ten-year period revealed that the USA is the largest importer of foreign mountain lion trophies the majority of which were sourced from Canada.

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto, North American Lion, Americas Lion, American Lion,

There are no borders when it comes to wildlife like mountain lions as we saw late last year when a GPS collard female mountain lion named Sandy, being studied by biologists, trekked 450 miles from BC to Montana only to be shot and killed by a hunter. Regardless of who is doing the killing, it is clear that both countries will need to do much better when it comes to protecting North America’s lions if they are to survive. Banning sport hunting of these magnificent cats would be a good first step in the right direction.

Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto, North American Lion, Americas Lion, American Lion,

The timing as the say has never been better and the ‘Cecil Factor’ has given all wildlife a voice like never before so I was thrilled to be able to participate in Saturday’s rally and help bring much-needed awareness to North America’s Lion. Overall it was a really positive day speaking with many supportive people not just from Toronto but from all over including:

  • Ireland
  • Los Angeles – which meant I got to talk a little about mountain lion P22
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Alberta and British Columbia – two individuals who had both seen mountain lions
  • Minnesota – a gentleman who had participated in protests at Walter Palmer’s dental office
Cecil the lion, Rally for Cecil, Worldwide rally for cecil, rally to ban sport hunting, rally to ban trophy hunting, save lions, year of the lion, save big cats, save mountain lions, Big cats in Canada, Big cats in USA, killing is not conservation, Toronto

It is inspiring to know that the overwhelming majority of people, no matter where they were from, could agree on one thing – that killing wildlife for sport needs to stop. What we will lose is far too valuable for us to stand by and do nothing, so reminding ourselves that we are not alone in our fight will help on those days when we are confronted with the seemingly endless cruelty that is trophy hunting.

For more on North America’s Lion and Canada’s only big cat continue to check back and be sure to follow me on Facebok, Twitter, Instagram for more info and action alerts.

A thank you goes out to the California-based Mountain Lion Foundation for providing assistance with putting together information for the rally.