Saving Arizona’s Wildcats

Trophy hunting has plagued wildlife for generations and, it is a hot topic that elicits intense reactions from people regardless of what side you are on. While people tend to associate trophy hunting with African wildlife like lions, many are shocked to find out that right here in North America our own wildcats like the mountain lion continue to experience heavy and often extreme persecution. Despite the fact that we now have the knowledge, science, and the common sense to know that the practice of hunting undermines true conservation and wildlife protection, in many places these animals continue to be viewed and treated in the same manner as they were centuries ago.

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Early photo shows a cougar hunter when a bounty was paid for killing the cats in the U.S. Photo is undated but possibly from the early 1900’s.

There are those that cling to the idea that it is their right or part of their culture to kill for sport and, any move made to end the practice or even discuss ending it, is seen as a threat. The other side looks at it as evolving and adapting to the times we live in, when it makes sense to end a particular tradition or practice that no longer serves us or wildlife. For example, in Kenya it was a long-held tradition and part of the culture for a young Maasai Warrior to spear a lion as proof of his manhood. Today the Maasai have acknowledged that Africa’s lions are on the verge of disappearing, there are only an estimated 15,000-20,000 left, and have made the move to partake in the Maasai Olympics instead of killing lions.

Even though the true status of mountain lion populations is unknown, some will argue that they are not endangered or in danger of extinction, but must we wait until they are in the same predicament as the African lion before we do something? Do we not have a moral obligation to end a cruel practice that is clearly not beneficial to the species?

The time has come to make the move towards ending hunting and trapping of mountain lions and all wildcats. Here in North America we have seen some progress made in places like Colorado where a federal wildlife killing program, that called for the death of bears and mountain lions, has been halted and more recently in California where the U.S. Appeals Court upheld the States ban on killing mountain lions for trophies. Now, in Arizona, a new ballot initiative has been introduced in hopes of restricting trophy hunting and trapping of Arizona’s wildcats including bobcats, mountain lions, jaguars, lynx and ocelots.

Arizonans for Wildlife is spearheaded by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and is backed by numerous organizations, groups and individuals who support progress and conservation that does not involve the killing of their wildlife. Advocates of the proposed initiative will have to gather more than 150,642 valid signatures on petitions to get the issue on the ballot by July 5, 2018 to quality for the November 2018 election.

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While the Arizona ballot has a tremendous amount of support behind it, it also faces opposition by those who will do everything in their power to keep the status quo. To find out more about the ballot, and address some of the misinformation being spread, I interviewed Kellye Pinkleton, the Arizona State Director for the HSUS and project lead on the Arizona ballot initiative.

What are the origins of the Arizona ballot and how did the coalition, Arizonans for Wildlife, come together?

Due to the lax hunting regulations around mountain lions and bobcats in Arizona, we began looking at this issue long before filing the committee. We do not move forward with a statewide initiative without listening to the concerns of Arizonans and groups that protect wildlife. We ensure that it is given thoughtful consideration, we gauge in-state support as well as citizen attitude’s and current legislative culture. In addition, significant time is also spent reviewing the best available science and talking with experts on the issue well in advance. More on the state of the mountain lion can be read in a thorough commissioned study that was published by the HSUS in 2017.

Polling was conducted and we met with groups that were also concerned about this issue. We strongly supported a bill introduced in the state legislature this past 2017 session that would prohibit the trophy hunting of wildcats, but it did not even receive a committee hearing. The legislature was not willing to open a process for hearings or public comment to consider the measure.

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“What we overwhelmingly found was that the current AZ model of hounding and trapping of our wildcats was not supported.” Image – Arizona Game & Fish Department

We found that in recent years wildlife groups, conservation nonprofits and outside (in-state) interest groups that wanted to protect our state’s wildlife from cruelty have been consistently ignored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the state agency. There seems to be a reluctance for the department to actively work with groups beyond hunting and sportsmen organizations. Additionally, the best available science was found not to support the current management plans being implemented in AZ.

Discussions and polling demonstrated that Arizonans do NOT approve of the cruel hounding and trapping of our wildcats currently permitted in the state. Over two-thirds support prohibition on hunting wildcats and interestingly, 65% thought it was illegal. In general, we know that nationally, the public does not support senseless trophy hunting or killing primarily for the purpose of displaying a body or body parts or simply for bragging rights. Finally in late Sept, 2017, the Arizonans for Wildlife committee filed with the AZ Secretary of State’s office.

What is the main reason mountain lions and other wildcats are targeted in Arizona?

Hunters that hunt our wildcats are not hunting them merely for subsistence. These cats are hunted for several reasons, primarily as trophies whether for their bodies/heads or with bobcats, for their fur. Livestock predation is rare, as well as any attacks on humans.

Why it is so important to address the inherent cruelty of trophy hunting, trapping and hounding of wildcats in Arizona?

It is important for citizens of the state know how their wildlife is being “managed” and often, we find, citizens just do not realize the methods and the cruelty involved.  65% of Arizonans thought the practice of hunting wildcats was illegal and we find people are shocked when they learn how mountain lions and bobcats are hunted.  Wildlife is not just the property of a state agency, it is a resource for all citizens and we all have an obligation to protect wildlife and not needlessly or cruelly kill them. Hunters represent a very small portion of the population in AZ and nationally, yet wildlife management is geared towards the hunting community.

Currently, Arizona places NO limits on the number of bobcats that can be killed. In fact, an average of over 4,000 bobcats have been killed each year over the past five years. Although Arizona voters resoundingly said “no” to the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, body-crushing traps, and snares on public land with Proposition 201 in 1994, thousands of bobcats are still trapped every year using these barbaric devices on private land, and with cage traps on public land. Trapping mountain lions is prohibited in Arizona, but records show that mountain lions are routinely trapped inadvertently in other states where trapping them is illegal because these devices do not discriminate between species. While in the trap, animals sustain serious injuries, including broken limbs and broken teeth, dislocated shoulders, lacerations, fractures, amputation of paws or whole legs, or even chew off their limbs trying to escape, or die from exposure. Because trappers are only required to check the traps once a day, animals could be stuck in excruciating pain for hours.

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Bobcat in trap. A quick internet search will bring up numerous disturbing images of bobcats and other animals suffering in traps – Image Wyoming Untrapped

Mountain lion mothers spend up to 24 months raising and provisioning for their kittens. If a mother is killed by a trophy hunter, her kittens will likely die from predation, dehydration, starvation or exposure. As biologists have found, kittens are unlikely capable of dispatching prey until they are 12 months of age. This means that trophy hunters routinely kill not only the mother, but also her orphaned young kittens, who cannot survive on their own until they are one year old.

I do want to address the cruelty and set up the context. Specifically, that mountain lions and bobcats are legally killed using extremely cruel and inhumane methods.”

The Arizona Game and Fish Department also permits hounding of our wild cats. An unlimited number of radio-collared, trailing hounds are permitted to chase mountain lions or bobcats. Both the hunted animal and the dogs can be exhausted by the extreme heat in Arizona during the high-stress chase. In addition to being cruel, this method of hunting puts the dogs at risk of being mauled, and if dogs get lost during a hunt, they are often abandoned and left to be killed by other animals or dumped into shelters.

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Mountain lion hunting with hounds, a cruel and sadistic practice. Click here to see video and images of hounding by an Arizona outfitter. One look and you will understand why this blood sport must be banned.

The intention of this ballot is not only to protect mountain lions and bobcats, but also other wildlife like the ocelot, jaguar, and the Canada lynx

Ocelots and jaguars are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and lynx are listed as threatened. While these cats have federal protections, they still face serious threats from trophy hunting and trapping. Some hunting dogs will target species other than mountain lions or bobcats. Arizona’s rare cats may also be accidentally chased or killed by hounds during state-sanctioned mountain lion and bobcat-hunting seasons along with other vulnerable wildlife, like ungulates such as elk or mule deer, who are killed or startled and flushed by hounds. As hounds do not understand boundaries, many stray on to lands where they do not belong including private property or on National Park Service lands.

Traps are notoriously indiscriminate and often catch other non-target animals, including endangered species or even livestock or wild ungulates. Because of the inherently indiscriminate and cruel nature of hounds and traps, jaguars, ocelots and lynx remain at imminent risk of being accidentally caught and/or killed by hounds or in steel-jawed leghold traps set for bobcats on private lands.

Additionally, we wanted to ensure protection of these animals and not simply leave their potential delisting up to the whim or politics of any federal administration. By including them it will help uphold the ban on killing them.

Why is it important for all Arizonans, not just those who hunt or trap, to have their say in wildcat conservation?

Wildlife in Arizona is for ALL citizens.  Every Arizonan has an interest in protecting our rich resources, including the animals that inhabit our lands. Wildlife watching far outweighs hunting in participation and revenue generated so there is a financial incentive to citizens to protect wild animals.  We find in poll after poll in the state, whether on trophy hunting or general animal issues, that Arizonans care deeply about our animals.  Non hunters are the majority of citizens in this state.

The campaign is still in the early stages, what has the response been like to date from the community?

Yes, we just launched at the end of September and held public kick-off events in October.  We have been overwhelmed with the response, especially from many organizations in the state and nationally.  We currently have over 75 endorsers and daily we are hearing from groups that believe in this campaign and want to help. We are hearing from folks across Arizona that want to not only support this measure, but to actively volunteer to gather signatures to get this on the ballot in Nov. 2018. As we talk to citizens, we find they are outraged that hounding is actually legal. Like us, they view this type of hunting as un-sportsman and unethical. People are shocked that steel-jawed leg hold traps are permitted on private land. They recognize that this is a cruel method of hunting and support the prohibition of this type of hunting.

The campaign is endorsed by some very well respected organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Born Free USA, The Cougar Fund, Jane Goodall Institute and Panthera – just to name a few

We are grateful to the support we have received from so many well respected organizations.  We recognized early on that to launch a successful campaign, we needed a broad coalition of supportive groups and leaders.  To have these groups lend their name and provide resources, such as volunteers, or whatever they can was critical to this effort.  We have a broad spectrum of groups nationally and in Arizona that represent wildlife interests, environmental, companion animals, wildcats specifically and boast memberships of all types of citizens and supporters.  We are so thankful to the groups that have already supported this and know that many more will continue to join this effort.

Do you feel that local politicians are generally receptive to the campaign and what it is trying to accomplish?

We are honored to have the support of some of our local elected officials. We know that some will not support this because they fear the retribution of hunting groups and the NRA during election time. We also know, that as the campaign moves forward, to expect others to join whether during the signature gathering phase or once we qualify for the ballot.  We have some State Representatives, State Senators and a few local officials/candidates that very early on endorsed us and said, “Yes, I believe in this.”  Politicians can face extreme pressure from pro-trophy-hunting lobby groups and the NRA (which opposes this effort) and other well-financed special interest organizations. To have elected officials and candidates this early in the campaign step up to support us speaks to their willingness to stand firm on the right side of history and not bow down to a small, but vocal community.

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“We celebrate more citizens becoming engaged in animal protection issues and believe that it is our obligation to raise awareness, educate and whenever possible be a conduit to push for changes in policy that reflect these values when they are also matched by sound science.” A mountain lion in Arizona – Image Arizonans for Wildlife

Many of those who oppose the campaign are saying it is simply based on emotions, but organizations backing the initiative are clearly knowledgeable about the species and the science

Frankly, these are typical tactics used by opponents of common-sense measures like what we are proposing. Their consistent argument is that wildlife should be managed by the state only and that we are merely being emotional.  What this argument fails to realize is that ALL citizens have a responsibility to our wildlife, and when the state is not appropriately managing wildlife or sanctioning cruel practices, it is imperative that we seek alternatives and actively engage communities that have an interest in protecting our wildcats.

It also doesn’t hold up when we look at the best available science, which we have made available on this issue to anyone that cares to read it. To paint supporters of this measure as simply “emotional,” attempts to ignore the science that supports ending trophy hunting but it also seeks to diminish citizen voices and values. This measure also upholds the public safety concerns of Arizonans – there are exemptions for personal safety, property and legitimate conservation purposes.

Our opponents will use fear, they will use misinformation and they will seek to delegitimize supporters by any means necessary. They recognize that public support of cruel, unsporting and unethical hunting practices is not on their side and they also know that the numbers of hunters, especially big-game hunters, are declining. They are protecting their own interests, certainly not the interests of the state’s wild cats. Surely they know that trophy hunting is increasingly coming under scrutiny and as Americans become educated on this issue, they will not support the killing for parts, bragging rights, or a selfie with a hunter and carcass from a mountain lion from a recent kill.

Do you see the ballot being part of a movement towards a more compassionate conservation model in AZ?

Yes, I think we definitely see that in Arizona, nationally and certainly internationally.  When Cecil the lion was mercilessly killed by a wealthy American in Zimbabwe in 2015, we recognized that this was a transformational moment and the horrors of trophy hunting were becoming much more known by everyday Americans.  People could not fathom this type of cruelty inflicted of our majestic creatures. It propelled people to become more educated not only of trophy hunting abroad, but also right here in their own backyards.  Collectively, the citizenry seems much more aware of these issues and no longer will stand idly by as animals suffer from cruel hunting practices so that someone can have bragging rights or take the head or hide of an animal. It is not sustainable, it is not ethical and it goes against the values of many.

Do you believe that if this ballot passes it can help set a precedent to reform hunting and trapping policies outside of Arizona?

Certainly, our focus is on Arizona, but we do know that nationally, there is a movement from scientists, advocates and American citizens who want to change current hunting practices and put an end to the needless suffering of animals, specifically they want policies that do not support hunting for trophies.

How can people help support this initiative?

Currently, we need 150,642 VALID signatures to qualify for the Nov 2018 ballot which means we have to gather more signatures to ensure we have enough. We are building an army of volunteers but need more help. People can:

  • Sign up to Volunteer
  • Visit and like our Facebook page
  • Donate – an initiative like this take significant resources to be successful
  • Share information about the campaign with friends, family, circles of influence- especially those in Arizona.
  • Endorse – we would love the support of more organizations that wish to join this movement.
  • For anyone outside of Arizona, they can donate, share, endorse us or contact the campaign at info@azforwildlife.com for more information or ways to help
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The Lion and The Leopard

For those of you who follow Purr and Roar on Facebook you would have seen this post this morning. At first glance I thought it was fake, but turns out to be an unbelievable, legitimate, sighting. If there weren’t the photos to back it up no one would believe it. Article as published in BBC News. Enjoy!

A never before seen sighting of a lioness, called Nosikitok, a mother to her own three cubs born in June, spotted nursing a leopard cub thought to be about the same age as her own cubs.

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Lion expert Dr Luke Hunter told the BBC the images are a once-in-a-lifetime sight– Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

This is unheard of as lions and leopards are natural mortal enemies, most lions will kill leopard cubs if given the chance as a way of eliminating the competition. The lucky person who photographed the pair was Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

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Lion expert Dr Luke Hunter told the BBC the images are a once-in-a-lifetime sight – Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

The lioness is fitted with a GPS collar and is part of the KopeLion project which aims to “to foster human-lion coexistence in Ngorongoro Conservation Area.” Unusual animal pairs are not uncommon but this is something that has baffled and surprised the experts.

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The lioness Nosikitok recently had her second litter of cubs
– Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization which supports Kope Lion, told the BBC the incident was “truly unique”. He also goes on to say that he is not aware of this type of relationship having ever occurred between different species of big cats.

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The local safari lodge says that there is a resident female leopard in the area who they think may have cubs. With luck, the tiny leopard will soon be back with its natural mother – Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

Dr Hunter says that she found the leopard cub not far, about a kilometer, from where here own cubs are hidden. “She’s encountered this little cub, and she’s treated it as her own. She’s awash with maternal hormones, and this fierce, protective drive that all lionesses have – they’re formidable mums.”

They are anxiously awaiting the outcome and, fingers are crossed that this little leopard finds his or her way safely back to mum.

Cost of Doing Business: Rubies and Water

Around the world there are numerous projects that have already or will impact the environment and wildlife. While Arizona grapples with the possibility of a yet to be built copper mine, across the world in Mozambique a ruby mine operates near to one the largest wild areas in the province, the Niassa Reserve.

Gemfields mining company has become tied to conservation in the reserve even though  they are outside of the protected area. The company has become a sponsor of the Niassa Lion Project and Dr. Collen Begg Director and Founder of the project says it sets a bench mark that a company from within the country is supporting conservation efforts as it demonstrates an interest and concern for the wilderness area that neighbors their operation. While ruby mining in this circumstance appears to be less harmful to wildlife, it’s the illegal gold mining that is said to be the greatest threat to the Eco-system, by poisoning rivers with mercury and destroying wildlife conservation efforts. In a country like Mozambique the answers to solving these problems are not so clear especially when issues like poverty and high unemployment are taken into consideration. Can this type of positive association set an example of how wildlife conservation and big mining companies can co-exist and work together? Perhaps these rubies will one day carry a ‘wildlife friendly’ guarantee similar to that of true ethically sourced conflict free diamonds.

Large projects with the potential to have adverse and destructive consequences for wildlife can be connected to moving massive amounts of earth as in mining or by diverting large amounts or bodies of water. Man-made shipping canals appear to be in a class all their own as they forever alter the landscape and those living on it by flooding vast areas of land with water and impacting surrounding areas with corresponding infrastructure. The Nicaragua canal is one such recent controversial project that if built will be “three times as long and almost twice as deep” as the Panama canal and would require the removal of more than 4.5bn cubic meters of earth which is “enough to bury the entire island of Manhattan up to the 21st floor of the Empire State Building.”

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Nicaragua-canal a $50 billion dollar project – A shipping route to connect the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. It will be able to handle supertankers that are too big for the Panama canal transforming the area into a hub for global trade.  Image – The Guardian

By sheer size alone the impact and damage caused by this mega-project is perhaps greater than that of a mine as it would literally change the lives of people and wildlife across an entire continent. The canal would cut through forests and jungles threatening endangered species causing major disturbances to aquatic life which will be affected by dredging, noise and pollution of increased traffic on the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. Victor Campos, director of the Humboldt Centre, a leading Nicaraguan environmental think tank, told The Guardian that “If the canal is built, then the Mesoamerican biological corridor is finished.”

A study by researchers at Panthera, Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and Michigan State University, warns that by cutting through a critical ‘biological corridor’ it would be a disaster for jaguars and other large mammals. They said that in the middle part of the country it is vital to have another stepping stone for jaguars to travel from north to south.  It was determined that the entire northeastern section of Nicaragua, an area considered to be the country’s wildlife stronghold, would experience the largest impact from the canal. The study concluded that an artificial lake used to fill the canal would flood most of the remaining habitat for the three endangered species including the jaguar creating a huge barrier essentially cutting off mammal populations in southern Central America from those in the north preventing vital gene flow. Loss of connectivity for these species would ultimately be disastrous for their long term survival.

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A rushed Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was done but failed to include a comprehensive biodiversity study looking at threats to wildlife.

There have been suggestions for mitigating the impact of the canal to help animals including putting small islands between the canal’s artificial lake to allow them to move and, ensuring the remaining forests in the area are strongly protected. The canal is set to be one of the largest infrastructure projects on the planet and what is at stake is the Nicaraguan wildlife corridor and extinction of endangered species.

Could the canal actually help wildlife? There are some that seem to think that it may actually help slow down the already underway environmental degradation, such as deforestation and loss of wetlands, taking place in the country. If the canal is properly managed and money from the project is used to help pay for protecting nature reserves and re-forestation it would help to alleviate some environmental damage and ensure the corridor is not lost. However Roberto Salom, the Mesoamerican coordinator for Panthera’s jaguar program, said that they would need a lot more support to guarantee that, and there has been very little interest from the government or the canal company.

The Nicaraguan government is hoping they will be able to finally eradicate poverty, create jobs and a create a source of income for the country with the canal. As of May this year it has been reported that the green light has been given to begin construction, but nothing has been done due to financial issues leading to speculation that the canal may not be built at all.

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Jaguars and the wildlife corridors they use to move through Central America is threatened by the canal. Image – Wikimedia Commons

The benefit, quicker travel time, that canals provide to the shipping industry is not obvious to the general consumer, nor is the amount of goods that are transported and arrive via ships. Time is money and when shipping companies save money the savings get passed on to the consumer who ideally benefit by cheaper goods. Like mines, man-made canals are not likely going anywhere so perhaps there should be stricter protocols put into place so that wildlife like jaguars are ensured a future and companies are required to consider both wildlife and the environment in their development plans. The other option is that nothing is done and losing wildlife along with entire ecosystems like the one in Nicaragua, is considered the price paid for doing business as usual.

The final part of the Cost of Doing Business takes a look at the impact of a product that is literally in almost everything and, one we would have a hard time living without.

Leopards in High Places

Many of the big cats are known for climbing trees to escape the heat, flies, to watch for prey or to escape other predators. It is not uncommon to see them taking to heights and, in Africa leopards are commonly seen hanging out in tall trees. Although lions have been known to do the same in certain places they are not exactly designed for tree climbing and come across a little more awkward compared to the fluid and graceful leopard who is naturally at home in the heights where they will stash kills, eat and happily sleep.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Salt Pan female hangs out and catches a breeze in a large tree – South Luangwa NP. Zambia

During my trip to Africa last year I was fortunate to have many wonderful leopard sightings both on the ground and up high, in fact over a few days all I had to do was look up to see these dappled beauties looking down at me. Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy enjoying a siesta or post-meal nap.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba the one-eyed legend – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba sleeping with a full belly – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

While leopards are able to climb some very tall trees you might be surprised to know that at least one had made it all the way to the top of Africa’s highest mountain to take in a view that perhaps no other has. In 1926 on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a frozen leopard carcass was found along the volcanoes crater rim by Pastor Richard Reusch, a Missionary for the Lutheran Church. The Pastor was supposedly the first to discover the leopard which would later inspire, and be immortalized in, Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pastor made sure to get proof of his find and cut off an ear as souvenir on a subsequent climb the following year, afterwards the leopards remains were reported to have mysteriously disappeared. No reason was given as to why the leopard would have been that high, approximately 18,500 feet (or 5638.8 meters), close to the western summit at a place that would be christened Leopard point, but Pastor Reusch had hypothesized that the cat had been chasing a goat since he also found the remains of one not far from where the leopard lay. Since there were no remains and no radiocarbon dating, the leopards age along with length of time it remained locked in the once famous snows of Kilimanjaro will also remain a mystery.

Interestingly, there is a reference that notes the first report of a leopard carcass on Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German Geologist and Geographer named Hans Meyer who had seen one not far from where Reusch would later spot his. Among some of the theories included the possibility that the leopard could have come from the Kilimanjaro Mountain  Forest Reserve and took a wrong turn, or that the leopard was pursued up to high elevations by local hunters as Meyer had seen a hunting camp nearby. Officially though, nothing has ever been confirmed and to this day there has been no explanation for either Meyer’s or Reusch’s leopard.

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Kilimanjaro stands 5,895 meters high, the leopard was found at about 5638.8 meters – Image – John Reader/Science Photo Library via Earth Touch News

It does seems that leopards had an affinity for the mountains and in 1997 another leopard carcass was discovered on Africa’s second highest mountain, near Tyndall Glacier, Mount Kenya. In this case there were remains, although very decomposed, which turned out to be enough for radiocarbon dating placing the animal at about 900 years old.

There are opportunities to see wildlife during the early stages of a Kilimanjaro climb at lower elevations, but those still hoping to spot a leopard on higher slopes shouldn’t hold their breath. The high altitudes that are reached during climbs are not ones that most wild animals can survive at and if there are any, most will do their best to steer clear of humans.

If you are set on a chance to glimpse a leopard in high places it is probably best to keep your eyes on the trees and maybe, you will be lucky enough to have one of these beautiful cats reveal themselves and all their spotted splendor.

The Jaguar and the Giant Anteater

The jaguar is the largest and most powerful feline in the Western Hemisphere. They have solid, compact muscular bodies with the males weighing in at 150 to 200 plus lbs reaching lengths of seven feet – without the tail. They have extremely powerful jaws and massive heads making them a top-level predator and carnivore that keeps prey animals in check thus helping to prevent overgrazing of habitat. They are often confused with leopards but their coat pattern is very distinct made up of a yellow or orange-colored coat with markings called rosettes.

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Jaguar coat                                                                                        Leopard coat

Jaguars once roamed from Argentina in South America all the way up to Texas, Arizona and California but were systematically wiped out throughout most of their natural range in the U.S. in the early 1900’s. With the exception of the few who make it across the border into Arizona, like the famous El Jefe who appeared on camera traps in the Santa Rita Mountains in Tucson, they are considered expatriated in the U.S. Jaguars are not fairing much better south of the U.S. border, Sonora in Mexico is thought to hold a breeding population currently, where they suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation, persecution from ranchers, poaching and hunting. Their numbers are estimated to be at 15,000 but it is unclear how many are left as they are highly secretive and elusive, perfectly camouflaged for the forested and woody areas in which they mostly reside.

Jaguars are loners, coming together only to mate, hunting and preferring to feed alone. They can take prey the size of small birds and frogs up to deer, alligators and domestic livestock. They are a formidable predator which knows no real threat from its prey while hunting except perhaps from the giant anteater. If you are wondering what would happen should a jaguar and giant anteater meet wonder no more. Footage taken via camera trap in the Brazil’s Gurupi Biological Reserve, as a part of a survey on jaguars, has revealed an encounter only talked about in stories, one that had never before been witnessed by humans. A giant anteater can weigh anywhere from 40 to 140 lbs, with an adult being about the size of a small female jaguar, and is a worthy and even deadly opponent when you consider their claws, which are twice as long as the infamous velociraptor. Anteaters are not aggressive to humans or other animals, but they will defend themselves if startled or feeling threatened, in fact they are responsible for the deaths two hunters in Brazil.

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Image – Giant anteater claws, which are very elongated in the second and third digits. Photo by Vidal Haddad, Jr. via ResearchGate

Researcher Elildo Carvalho Jr., of the Brazilian National Research Centre for Carnivore Conservation (CENAP) was the first to discover the never before seen footage while reviewing thousands of camera trap videos. Unfortunately the outcome is unknown as the camera was retrieved a month after the encounter and the video reviewed much later on.

 

In the southern Pantanal in Brazil anteaters make a small portion of a jaguars prey about  3 percent, but in the Cerrado, in central Brazil anteaters make up about 75 percent of the cats diet. Encounters can be very dangerous and Carvalho says it’s safe to assume that a jaguar would only attack by surprise or from behind and, that what happened in this video is the result of a surprise run in between the two species. He thinks that the two likely took a look at one another and then decided it wasn’t worth it and moved on, but there is no way to know for sure.

Despite there not being any evidence regarding the outcome of this particular video there is one photo, taken in the Cerrado, showing a jaguar carrying a large full-grown anteater.

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Image – Jaguar caught on camera trap with adult giant anteater in the Cerrado. Photograph: Edsel Moraes Jr. via The Guardian

Camera traps are allowing researchers a rare glimpses into the world of the secretive jaguar and how it shares, and is interconnected, to other species like the giant anteater. Jaguars although facing decline from dramatic habitat destruction and fragmentation, in the Amazon, the Cerrado and the Pantanal due to deforestation from cattle ranches and agriculture, are only considered Near Threatened. With loss of habitat comes loss of the jaguars natural prey which in turn can bring them into conflict with cattle leading to retaliatory killings from ranchers. Although commercial hunting and trapping has been reduced over the years, thanks to CITES controls and an Appendix 1 listing, they are still poached for their skins and teeth.

The wow moment like the one caught of the jaguar and giant anteater is thanks to the use of camera traps which are important tools in helping researchers understand jaguars in ways which they could never imagine. It doesn’t hurt that the general public benefits by getting a glimpse into an encounter that we would never otherwise have the opportunity to see.

A collection of camera trap videos from the CENAP survey in Gurupi Biological Reserve shows many other species, including rare species like bushdogs, pumas  and giant armadillos.

Wolf-Deer

Many years ago on a trip to Kenya I was very fortunate to see a serval on a night drive in Amboseli National Park. The image while grainy reminds me of how beautiful, elegant and perfectly camouflaged this animal is for its environment. It was the cats glowing eyes that gave it away and, as we stopped to watch, he or she turned around and gave one over the shoulder glance before silently padding off into the tall grass under the cover of darkness.

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The name Serval is derived from a  Portuguese word meaning “wolf-deer”  or “deer-like wolf”

Servals (Leptailurus serval) are a medium-sized lesser cat, not to be grouped with the bigger cats even though they have been called miniature cheetahs, weighing between 30 to 40 pounds. Some of their distinguishing characteristics include tawny coats with black strips, splotches, spots, and, large oval ears which enable them to detect the slightest sounds and target small prey animals in the grass or in the ground. They also have the longest legs, which make them excellent acrobatic jumpers and hunters, for body size of any of the cats and are most at home in grassland and moist habitats such as reed beds and marshes, but are found in a variety of habitats throughout Africa except tropical rain forests and the Saharan desert. In North Africa a few isolated populations are said to exist in both Morocco and northern Algeria but it is thought they number less than 250 individuals, isolated in vulnerable sub-populations of fewer than 50. Therefore it is generally recognized that servals are critically endangered north of the Sahara.

If spotting a serval is lucky then catching a glimpse of the very rare melanistic serval is magic and, there are only 4 locations in Eastern Africa where you might be able to have this experience.

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Image © Alison Mees – “Interestingly, the serval spotted by Mees was foraging in the lowlands of  Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park suggesting that either these black cats are moving out of the mountains, or they are spreading their melanistic genes to populations that live at lower elevations. We’ll leave that to the experts to figure out.” via Earth Touch News Network

Melanism is a genetic condition in which an animal has an increased development of black pigmentation in the skin and hair, and even though the cause of  the condition still remains unknown, it is thought that the darker coloration helps retain body heat and provide a type of survival mechanism. Many other feline species, including bobcats, have exhibited melanism and it appears in about 13 of the 37 known feline species worldwide.

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Image © Christian Boix – Melanistic Serval in Mkomazi National Park, Tanzania via Africa Geographic

Servals are typically a solitary species with pairs only coming together for a few days to mate. The female will give birth to a litter of kittens approximately 74 days later and about a year later she will chase her young from her territory allowing female offspring to stick around a few months longer than the males. Seeing two servals together wouldn’t be surprising if you happen to be at the right place at the right time, however if you happen to witness the meeting of a regular colored serval and a melanistic serval – that would be something truly special and rare.

This is exactly what happened to Jeremy Goss, conservationist and wildlife photographer, while on a night game drive in Kenya. It was unclear if this was a courtship or simply two servals greeting one another, regardless the photographs and video show an unforgettable meeting between the two cats.

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Image © Jeremy Goss – via Africa Geographic

Melanistic serval, Serval, Africa, travel, ethical travel, safari, East Africa, Kenya, wild cats, conservation, ecotourism, Jeremy Goss, wildlife photography

Image © Jeremy Goss– via Africa Geographic

Servals are listed on CITES II appendix, which prohibits international trade without a permit, and they are currently classified as least concern on the IUCN Red List. While they are not generally considered an endangered species they are suffering like all other of the wild cats.

The primary threats come from the bigger cats like leopards, dogs and most notably the ever-growing human population. Servals are poached for their beautiful coats, which are used for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, and even for their meat which is considered a delicacy by some African tribes. Fragmentation and loss of wetland habitat means loss of main prey sources like rodents, this in addition to the burning of grasslands, overgrazing by livestock and persecution by farmers, who consider them a threat to livestock, are also greatly contributing to their demise. Servals rarely take anything larger than a bird and do not pose a threat to humans but are often wrongly blamed for killing sheep and chickens.

Even though servals are not protected over most of their home range, hunting is prohibited in some of their range countries, there is no conservation plan in place but it is clear that any would be welcome to help better understand and ensure a future for this unique and elegant feline.

The Lions of London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image – Kendra Haste

Kendra Haste, Sculpture, Lions, zoos, captivity, Tower of London, Cats in art, Lion Sculptures, Wildlife in captivity, babary lions, extinct cats, ancient wildlife trade, big cats,

Image – Kendra Haste

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Image – Kendra Haste

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