Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Curious snow leopard investigates a camera trap in India

By Earth Touch October 13 2015

Be they domestic tabbies or wild lions, curiosity almost always gets the cat. Take this inquisitive snow leopard cub, who decided to investigate a camera trap in India's Hemis National Park.

The trap was set by the Snow Leopard Conservancy during filming for the PBS special Silent Roar. The film celebrates over a decade of conservation work in the park, which has seen these endangered animals bounce back in this part of their native range.

Because of the leopards' elusive nature, counting them has proved exceptionally tricky in the past, so camera traps like these have done wonders to help us better understand their movements and hone in on problem areas.

Not many humans share this extreme mountain environment with the so-called "ghost cats," but even their small presence is enough to make a big impact on leopard numbers. Livestock herding and poaching in the area have led to ever-increasing human-wildlife conflict, even within officially protected areas. Because livestock directly competes with snow leopards' natural prey for sparse grasses, there is often less for the big cats to eat in areas close to pens. In turn, the hungry leopards will turn to domestic animals for a quick meal.

"The biggest problem is multiple losses," says conservancy director Dr Rodney Jackson. "A leopard will enter a livestock pen at night — the pen keeps the livestock in, but not the predator out — and its hunting instinct will be triggered repeatedly. It can kill 30, 50 or 100 animals, and that is a catastrophe for the livestock owner."

The team relies on community-based education and works with locals to create a more harmonious existence with their feline neighbours. This includes building leopard-safe pens for livestock and creating eco-tourism programs that allow park visitors to accompany researchers on leopard-tracking trips. "Our job is to transform conflict into coexistence," says Jackson. "We involve the communities right from the beginning – from women and children to elders."


Canada lynx has been seen on Isthmus of Chignecto

Nature Conservancy working to provide homes for large cats

AMHERST – In advance of Canada’s general election, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is hoping people get to practice voting by helping raise money for Maritime habitat of bobcat and provincially-endangered Canada lynx.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has entered the Aviva Community Fund to conserve habitat and provide homes for large cats like the Canada lynx that is endangered in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Mike Dembeck – For the Citizen-Record

NCC is taking part in the Aviva Community Fund contest. It will invest a total of $1 million in community initiatives across Canada. Fifteen “ideas” that receive the most votes in each funding category (five from each category) will become finalists.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is running in the Community Resilience category which covers the environment, climate, disaster relief and prevention. To vote, people can visit https://www.avivacommunityfund.org/ideas/acf32832 and register. They may vote daily until Oct. 23 and are encouraged to share with their friends.

In order to quality, the Nature Conservancy of Canada must receive enough votes to advance to the finals, where a judging panel with select grand prize winners to share $1 million in funding.

Should the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s idea be accepted by judges, funding will go towards its habitat conservation that help provide homes for large cats. “Big, beautiful cats like the bobcat and Canada Lynx have had their lands affected by fragmentation as a result of development, road-building and logging,” said Craig Smith, Nature Conservancy of Canada Program Director in Nova Scotia. “By focusing on habitat conservation we stand a chance of stemming the rapid decline of the big cat population and positively affecting the health of the entire ecosystem they inhabit.”

Canada lynx are endangered in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and have been recorded roaming through the Chignecto Isthmus which connects the two provinces.

The current breeding population of lynx is considered to be highland areas such as northern New Brunswick and Cape Breton.

Historically, they used high elevation places such as the Pictou Uplands, Cobequid Mountains and Musquodoboit Hills as well as Cape Breton and extended into the North and South mountains of the Annapolis Valley.

NCC is protecting large forested areas that provide habitat for bobcat in places like the Musquash Estuary, west of Saint John, along with the Miramichi watershed. Bobcat use forests across Nova Scotia except the highland plateau in northern Cape Breton where there is thought to be no permanent population.


Big Cat Public Safety Act: Proposed Bill to Free Captive Tigers and Wildcats in the U.S.

Oct 12, 2015  | By Alexis Villarias
Orangutan babysits tiger cubs
Orangutan babysits tiger cubs like they were his own babies in South Carolina. (Photo : YouTube)

According to a report by Huffington Post, it is said that there are more captive tigers in the United States than in the wild worldwide.  In an effort to free these wild animals, the Big Cat Public Safety Act would ban most private ownership of lions and tigers and other family of these species. 

Carole Baskin's ideal world would be no lions and tigers in cages even if that means letting go of her facility, a certified sanctuary called Big Cat Rescue in Tampa Florida.

Baskin's facility Big Cat Rescue is home to 89 lions, tigers, ocelots sand cats, bobcats, cougars and other big cats.  Baskin keeps records of how each animal was put under her custody together with information about the animals she has been called about but has not taken in.

Circumstances are bleak leading to each of the wild cats' captivation.  One involves a bobcat kept as a pet but whose owner no longer wants him.  Another involves a coatimundi losing his home because his owners decided to divorce.  A tiger and a lion which used to be in a circus are also some of the Big Cat Rescue's residents.

These large creatures are lucky to get to Tampa since Big Cat Rescue is such a nice place where lions and tigers spend two weeks a year on vacation.  They are then removed from their large enclosures to one of the two 2.5 acre enclosure which is a perfect picture of their wild habitat.   However, this isn't happy enough according to Baskin.

Currently under the federal law, private ownership of big cats in the United States is alarmingly under regulated.  The Humane Society of the United States has estimated that about 5,000 to 7,000 tigers are still in captivity at any given time.  That figure is about twice as many as the estimated 3,200 tigers in the wild.

Baskin hopes that with the passing of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, little by little, even the big good sanctuaries will no longer exist in time."There is no amount of space, no amount of enrichment, no amount of love that will provide an exotic cat with any semblance of existence they were designed to master," Baskin said. "There is no good way to keep a wild cat in a cage. They are hardwired to be free."


Conservationist discusses her successful effort to protect lions

October 12, 2015 • 

In the last 20 years, the population of lions has been cut in half and the animals have gone extinct in about 33 countries, researcher Amy Dickman said during an appearance Monday night at the St. Louis Zoo.

There are only about 10 lion strongholds left in the world, Dickman said. In total, there are fewer lions than rhinos, with a population of only about 20,000.

Dickman is a senior research fellow at Oxford University and has worked on big cat conservation for nearly 20 years. “I’ve always been passionate about big cats,” she said.

In an effort to develop a community-based lion conservation initiative, she established the Ruaha Carnivore Project. Ruaha is a national park in the East Africa country of Tanzania, a nation that supports a tenth of the world’s lions as well as globally significant populations of other threatened carnivores.

The Ruaha landscape has traditionally had a high rate of lion and other big animal killings. The challenge for Dickman was to make a community where many people live on less than $2 a day and have limited access to clean water, food, education and medical care take an interest in wildlife conservation.

Dickman learned that, for local men, killing big cats translated into wealth and status.
The Ruaha Carnivore Project used several tactics to reduce the killings, such as providing locals with guard dogs that protect the cattle. The project also provided the community with various other benefits, such as pairing village schools with U.S. and U.K. institutions. It established a village clinic, and it educated the local population on wildlife preservation.

Now villagers who maintain the wildlife cameras planted in the area earn points that can be traded for additional benefits.

Dickman said that those who are literate have gained status in the community, rather than those who are lion hunters.

One of the final steps Dickman and her team took was to expose villagers to wildlife in non-threatening situations.“The No. 1 thing we hear from people is, ‘I didn’t know lions could be gentle,’” Dickman said, noting that her project’s efforts has resulted in a 80 percent reduction in carnivore killings.

Dickman’s lecture by coincidence fell on the same day that a Zimbabwean official said that nation is no longer pressing for the extradition of Walter Palmer, an American dentist who killed a well-known lion called Cecil.

Palmer can now safely return to Zimbabwe as a “tourist” because he had not broken the southern African country’s hunting laws, Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters in Harare on Monday. Zimbabwe’s police and the National Prosecuting Authority had cleared Palmer of wrongdoing, she said.

Dickman did not bring up Palmer or the death of Cecil in her lecture.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Monday, October 12, 2015

How a sparkly collar for your cat could kill it

RSPCA warn owners that they can strangle or seriously injure their pets

  • RSPCA said that diamante collars are the most dangerous to animals
  • Also said buckles should be avoided after one was surgically removed
  • Worried owners should consider microchipping instead of using a collar 

Cats’ collars can strangle or seriously injure the animals, and owners should stop putting them on their pets, the RSPCA has warned.
The charity said that diamante collars are the most dangerous to animals, and that buckles should also be avoided.
In one case, a buckle had to be surgically removed from a cat’s neck after it became embedded in his skin.

And another cat seen by the charity was left with deep holes that became infected after diamante jewels dug into her mouth as she tried to remove her collar.
The cat, named Bea by the charity, was found some 10 days later covered in blood after contracting deadly flystrike, which causes maggots to become infested in a cut.  

Jason Finch, from the RSPCA, said: ‘Buckles and elasticated collars can be lethal if cats get stuck somewhere. 
'This serves as an important reminder to only use collars which snap open without human help.’
‘It is all very well dressing your cat up in a diamante collar so they look nice – but owners also have a responsibility to make sure their animals are safe.’
Unlike dogs, cats are not required to wear a collar so owners should stay away, he added.
The charity also warned that owners concerned about their pets getting lost and being unidentifiable should instead resort to microchipping. 
Cats’ collars can strangle or seriously injure the animals, and owners should stop putting them on their pets, the RSPCA has warned
Cats’ collars can strangle or seriously injure the animals, and owners should stop putting them on their pets, the RSPCA has warned.


#Cats save mother and baby from fire

Policemen put oxygen masks on the three cats who suffered ...
Policemen put oxygen masks on the three cats who suffered from smoke inhalation. Víkurfréttir/Hilmar Bragi

A fire started in an apartment at Ásbrú in Reykjanesbær, south Iceland this morning and according to police, cats alerted the inhabitants of the fire.

A mother had been putting her baby daughter down for a nap in her bedroom at 10 am this morning when she heard her three cats scratching heavily on the bedroom door. When she opened the door to see what was upsetting the cats she was met wih a lot of smoke and a blazing fire. They managed to get out of the bedroom window but police had to save the three cats who suffered from smoke inhalation and were found passed out on the bedroom floor. "The cats were saved through the bedroom window. Policemen put oxygen masks on the cats and resusicitated them. They were then taken to the local animal clinic," writes local paper Víkurfréttir. All cats are recovering.

According to Víkurfréttir, the fire started in a pot on the stove.


Kittens Who've Just Been Adopted (Don't 'cha want one?)

Your Daily #Cat

Anoither cub on the rock 

Anoither cub on the rock by Tambako The Jaguar

Cecil the lion: Zimbabwe will not charge US dentist over killing

Zimbabwean environment minister says Walter Palmer’s big-game hunting trip was legal and he could not be charged 

Another lion with a bow and arrow by the American dentist Walter Palmer, left, with the help of Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter. Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Zimbabwe will not charge American dentist Walter Palmer for killing a prized lion in July because he had obtained legal authority to conduct the hunt, a cabinet minister has said.

“We approached the police and then the prosecutor general, and it turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe because all the papers were in order,” the environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, told reporters, adding that the American could not be charged.

Palmer, from Minnesota, has always maintained that he believes he acted legally. Last month he told the Associated Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he was stunned to find out his hunting party had killed one of Zimbabwe’s treasured animals.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Deaths of California Mountain Lions Spell Trouble for the Struggling Species

Ecologists fear that the species is in jeopardy if the big cats can’t make it to reproductive age.

P-34 in December 2014. (Photo: National Parks Service/Flickr)
Oct 10, 2015
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor and helms TakePart's weekend coverage.

Tragedy has struck California’s mountain lions once again, with three deaths in as many weeks highlighting how difficult it is for the big cats to survive in an urban national park.

Three young mountain lions have been found dead in the Santa Monica Mountains over the past few weeks, according to Friday’s press release from the National Park Service. The most recent death was a young female called P-34. She was found dead on Sept. 30. Although she had minor wounds, likely from a fight with another cougar, she appears to have died from ingesting rat poison.

A 2012 study from the National Park Service found that 11 out of 12 mountain lions tested positive for exposure to rat poison, with two dying as a result. The majority of coyotes and bobcats tested were also infected.

What’s rat poison doing in a national park? It likely worked its way up the food chain. When rodents consume the blood-thinning poison set out by humans, they don’t necessarily die right away. Often they first slow down and become easy prey for larger animals, which can then also become sick or die. When the poison doesn’t directly kill the mountain lions, they become more susceptible to diseases such as mange.

Poison isn’t the only problem for these mountain lions. The Pacific Ocean and roadways have left the big cats boxed into the Santa Monica Mountains, resulting in heightened intraspecies conflict. Last month, the Park Service found two dead three-month-old kittens, P-43 and a previously unknown sibling. Another animal, possibly a mountain lion, killed them. P-34’s sibling P-32 died in August of this year after traversing four highways to get out of the Santa Monica mountains and develop his own range free from other male cats. He was struck and killed by a car when attempting to traverse his fifth freeway.

P-43. (Photo: Santa Monica National Recreation Area/Facebook)
“If you’re a mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains, this is just not an easy place to grow up,” Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist for the National Park Service, said in the release. “From our roads to rat poisons to potentially increased interactions with other mountains lions, it is very difficult for young animals to make it to adulthood, establish their own home range and reproduce.”

Mountain lions are essential to maintaining the ecosystem. The top predators, they feast on herbivores and thereby indirectly influence vegetation growth. They also eat coyotes, helping maintain a balanced ecosystem in California.

Park officials are working on a wildlife crossing for the mountain lions over the 101 freeway. As for ingesting rat poison, the National Park Service advises humans to stop using poisons that contain anticoagulants or find an alternative way to control pests.


You Know Your Cat Is A Total Creep When... (video)

Your Daily #Cat

Profile portrait of Sithle 

Profile portrait of Sithle by Tambako The Jaguar

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Your Daily #Cats

Happy running white lion 

Happy running white lion by Tambako The Jaguar

Portrait of a tensed white lion

Portrait of a tensed white lion by Tambako The Jaguar

New Zealand cat Toffee lost in Australia-Help find his owners!

Tauranga cat Toffee has been found in Brisbane, but where are his owners?

Tauranga cat Toffee has been found in Brisbane, but where are his owners?
After 12 years Toffee the cat is a mature, well-travelled feline.
But now he's in limbo after being found in poor shape in Brisbane, a long way from his home town of Tauranga.
A flea-ridden Toffee was recently found in Yeronga, a suburb of Brisbane, by a group of students who took him in.

Unable to continue caring for him, they contacted Rescue Cats and Kittens Brisbane for help.
Cat foster carer Eloise Thorpe took on the care of Toffee and took him to a vet.
"He was in pretty poor shape, really flea ridden, a bit thin, his teeth were quite bad."
The vet discovered Toffee was micro-chipped. As well as containing the cat's name, the chip revealed his address was in Tauranga - nearly 2,500km away.
Thorpe called the number for his owners, but it was disconnected as they appeared to have left New Zealand for Australia at some point.

Thorpe then looked up listings in Brisbane with the same surname, but with no luck.
"I started calling people randomly asking if they've lost a cat."
She has even signed Toffee up to a find-a-cat service provided by the RSPCA that costs $50 a month.
"They rang me and said I'm the only person who had used it to try and find someone else's pet."

With no leads and unable to publicly release the owner's names, Thorpe has turned to social media to try and find Toffee's owner.
"He's used to being inside a house and he's quite social. When I found out what his name was he loved that, we can't shut him up now.
"For someone to go to all the effort to bring him over to Australia, I'm sure he's well-loved."

Anyone with information should email rcakb01@gmail.com.


High Hopes for Smithsonian Sand Cats Thor and Lulu: Photos


New Arrival

There's a new addition to Smithsonian National Zoo's Small Mammal House: a female sand cat named Lulu. She was brought in as a mate for the resident male Thor. The hope is that kittens will soon follow.
Let's learn a bit about sand cats, starting with what they are, and then find out how the two are getting along.

Desert Survivors

Here Thor says "Hello" in sand cat. As their name implies, sand cats live in deserts and are the only cats to live primarily in such environments. They live in deserts of Central and Southwest Asia, as well as those of North Africa.
They're well suited to the hot and cold swings of temperature in the desert and will burrow into the sand to keep cool.
Smithsonian researchers say they're tough animals to study, in part because their presence is hard to spot. They have fur on their foot pads and leave barely a trace in the desert sand.

Best Buddies

Here's Lulu striking a pose. (Hint; you can tell it's her from her oval-shaped face, compared to Thor, whose mug is a bit more horizontally inclined.)
Early reports are that Lulu has already established herself as the more dominant and feisty of the two, while Thor is outgoing with zoo staff and is happy to try his best in training sessions.

Early Risers

The cute cats are very active early in the morning, scooting around their enclosure and playing with their toys. Catch them at noon, though, and they're likely to be napping.

Find the Food

Zoo staff say they help the cats keep up with their natural behaviors by hiding some of their food in puzzle feeders, as shown here. It keeps them busy remembering how to claw and dig at things to get a meal.

Kittens on the Way?

If the stylish pair produces kittens, it will be the first experience of parenthood for either cat. Their introduction went "incredibly well," according to zoo staff. So there may well be babies in the offing!
In fact, the zoo has recently separated Lulu from Thor, while veterinarians determine whether or not she is indeed pregnant. Thor's presence, say staff, could stress out Lulu if she's going to have kittens.
Every little new kitten helps the species, too. Sand cats are currently listed as "Near Threatened" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's "red list" of threatened species.


Ecotourism can put wild animals at risk, scientists say

Ecotourism, in which travelers visit natural environments with an eye toward funding conservation efforts or boosting local economies, has become increasingly popular in recent years. In many cases it involves close observation of or interaction with wildlife, such as when tourists swim with marine animals.

Now, life scientists have analyzed more than 100 research studies on how ecotourism affects wild animals and concluded that such trips can be harmful to the animals, whose behaviors may be altered in ways that put them at risk.

The research is published Oct. 9 in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Protected areas around the globe receive a total of more than 8 billion visits each year. “This massive amount of nature-based and ecotourism can be added to the long list of drivers of human-induced rapid environmental change,” said Daniel Blumstein, the study’s senior author and professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA.

The presence of humans changes the way animals behave, and those changes may make them more vulnerable — to poachers, for one, but also in less obvious ways, said Blumstein, who is also a professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability in the UCLA College.

When animals interact in seemingly benign ways with humans, they may let down their guard, Blumstein said. As animals learn to relax in the presence of humans, they may become bolder in other situations; if this transfers to their interactions with predators, they are more likely to be injured or killed.

The presence of humans can also discourage natural predators, creating a kind of safe haven for smaller animals that may make them bolder. For example, when humans are nearby, vervet monkeys have fewer run-ins with predatory leopards. And in Grand Teton National Park, elk and pronghorns in areas with more tourists are less alert and spend more time eating, Blumstein and his colleagues report.

Interacting with people can cause significant change in the characteristics of various species over time. “If individuals selectively habituate to humans — particularly tourists — and if invasive tourism practices enhance this habituation, we might be selecting for or creating traits or syndromes that have unintended consequences, such as increased predation risk,” the researchers write. “Even a small human-induced perturbation could affect the behavior or population biology of a species and influence the species’ function in its community.”

Ecotourism has effects similar to those of animal domestication and urbanization, the researchers argue. In all three cases, regular interactions between people and animals may lead to habituation — a kind of taming. Research has shown that domesticated silver foxes become more docile and less fearful, a process that results from evolutionary changes, but also from regular interactions with humans, Blumstein said. Domesticated fish are less responsive to simulated predatory attacks. Fox squirrels and birds that live in urbanized areas are slower to flee from danger.

Blumstein hopes the new analysis will encourage more research into the interactions between people and wildlife. It is essential, he said, to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how various species in various situations respond to human interaction and under what conditions human exposure may place them at risk.

The study’s co-authors are Benjamin Geffroy, a postdoctoral researcher with France’s Institute National De La Recherche Agronomic in Rennes; Diogo Samia, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of ecology at the Federal University of Goias, in Brazil; and Eduardo Bessa, a professor at the State Unversity of Ponta Grossa, also in Brazil.

source: Science Blog

Lion Cubs are Adorable! (video)

We need to study leopards outside their habitat: Expert

BENGALURU: "There is an urgent need to conduct scientific studies on the behaviour and distribution of leopards and elephants outside protected areas to gain a better understanding of conflict situations. Most studies today focus only on forest areas while an increasing number of wild animals is found outside." This was one of the suggestions made by wildlife conservationist Dr Vidya Athreya at a workshop on Friday.

Vidya, senior research fellow, Wildlife Conservation Society, has been studying leopards for years. Big cats are always in the news and often for the wrong reasons, she observed. "In India, carnivores like leopards have a larger prey base outside forests - cattle, goat or sheep. Leopards are the most adaptable big cats found in a variety of habitats; this is why we hear about them everywhere. Through radio collaring, we have found they are capable of living among a high density of people. They often prey on dogs," she explained.

Commenting on the need for a greater understanding of conflict cases, Vidya said traditional methods of fencing protected areas should be relooked. "Wild animals don't follow man-made boundaries, they will go wherever there are resources for them," she added.

Dr Prithiviraj Fernando, an elephant expert from Sri Lanka, said 70% of the jumbos in the island nation lives outside protected areas and the government should involve communities to deal with conflict situations. "Conflict between humans and elephants arises because of planned and unplanned development without no appropriate safeguards in place. Fencing of villages is only a short-term measure. Land-use planning should be done based on human development and elephant needs," he pointed out. 


3 Young Mountain Lions Found Dead In Los Angeles Area

“If you’re a mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains, this is just not an easy place to grow up,” a wildlife ecologist said.

LOS ANGELES – Three young mountain lions have been found dead in the mountains surrounding the Los Angeles area, highlighting the challenges the big cats face as they try to navigate the dangers of an urban landscape, wildlife officials said Friday.
The deaths cast a shadow over what has become a roller coaster cycle of good and bad news regarding the mountain lion population that has somehow taken root in the Santa Monica Mountain range, which folds into and around greater Los Angeles.
“If you’re a mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains, this is just not an easy place to grow up,” Seth Riley, wildlife ecologist for the National Park Service, said in a statement. “From our roads to rat poisons to potentially increased interactions with other mountains lions, it is very difficult for young animals to make it to adulthood, establish their own home range, and reproduce.”

Mountain lion P-34

Mountain lion cub P-34 found dead on hiking trail. NPS

P-34’s body was discovered on a hiking trail in Point Mugu State Park on Sept. 30. Wildlife officials said the animal appears to have died as a result of rodenticide poisoning.
The big cat gained fame on local news telecasts after hunkering down under a mobile home in Newbury Park.
But like many predators up the food chain, P-34 fell victim to consuming prey contaminated by poison.
Rodent control poisons have also been blamed for killing coyotes and are associated with a severe disease epidemic in bobcats, the National Park Service said.
P-34’s sibling, P-32, was struck and killed in August while trying to cross a busy L.A. area freeway.

Mountain lion P-43 and sibling

P-43 as a kitten. NPS

When P-43 was discovered in the Santa Monica Mountain study area earlier this year, the photographs of her hiding in brush gave Los Angeles the feels. Likely, so will her death.
Her remains — as well as those of a previously unknown sibling — were discovered in a remote forest area. P-43 had been marked by biologists at three weeks old, and at the time was presumed to be the only kitten of the litter.
Forensic tests show P-43, just three months old, was killed along with her sibling and partially consumed by another animal, according to the park service. DNA testing at UCLA should reveal what killed them.
Both litters born to P-43’s mother, P-23, have now been killed by other animals. Cases of infanticide are not uncommon among mountain lions that are hemmed in by Los Angeles’ vast network of freeways, limiting their ability to establish territories large enough to avoid direct competition with each other and inbreeding.


Biologists are currently tracking 10 mountain lions across the greater Los Angeles area.


New pictures of slaughtered lion's cubs looking happy and as 'fat as ticks' emerge as hunter accused of helping U.S. dentist shoot animal begins trial today

Cecil's pride: 

  • Theo Bronkhorst faces up to 15 years in Zimbabwe jail for guiding Palmer 
  • Dentist killed Cecil, who was collared and monitored, with a bow and arrow
  • Sparked international outcry and put spotlight on 'trophy hunting' industry 
  • Trail begins as researcher reveals cubs and brother Jericho are doing well

New pictures of Cecil the Lion's adorable cubs looking happy and 'fat as ticks' after feasting on a zebra have emerged - as the hunter which led the expedition to kill their father goes on trial. 

Cecil's six cubs were spotted sitting in the dappled sunlight with the pride in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, while their uncle Jericho, Cecil's brother, was seen nearby. In one heartening image, two of Cecil’s cubs appear to be ignoring each other as they sit side by side, with their eyes tightly shut.   

Scroll down for videos
Playful: There were fears Cecil's cubs may meet a grizzly fate after his death, but these adorable pictures, taken last week, show they are thriving under the protection of their uncle Jericho
Playful: There were fears Cecil's cubs may meet a grizzly fate after his death, but these adorable pictures, taken last week, show they are thriving under the protection of their uncle Jericho
Safety: Cecil's cubs were said to look happy and 'fat as ticks' after feasting on a zebra as Cecil's brother Jericho, looked on. All of Cecil's six cubs are female, meaning they are safer than if they were male cubs
Safety: Cecil's cubs were said to look happy and 'fat as ticks' after feasting on a zebra as Cecil's brother Jericho, looked on. All of Cecil's six cubs are female, meaning they are safer than if they were male cubs
Protected: Cecil the lion (bottom) was shot with a crossbow in July by U.S dentist Walter Palmer after he was allegedly lured out of a game reserve, where he was being monitored in an Oxford University study
Protected: Cecil the lion (bottom) was shot with a crossbow in July by U.S dentist Walter Palmer after he was allegedly lured out of a game reserve, where he was being monitored in an Oxford University study
The pictures were taken by Brent Stapelkamp, who was the lead researcher in charge of monitoring Cecil before his death at the hands of American dentist Walter Palmer in July.

Cecil, who was collared and monitored as part of the Oxford University research project, suffered a long and agonising end after Palmer, armed with a bow and arrow, failed to kill him outright.

‘Three lionesses and all six cubs looking fat as ticks after eating a zebra,’ Mr Stapelkamp reported after spending two hours observing the group in the park. 

The shots prove the cubs are thriving despite fears for their survival as it is common for the cat taking over the pride to kill his predecessor's young, This is often the case when males are killed or forced to flee in clashes over a lioness or hunting areas. 
However, the cubs - who are aged between two-and-a-half and three - are all female, which may afford them some more protection.

'The fact that all the cubs were female also offers more hope for their future, Mr Stapelkamp said.

‘Yesterday was the first time I have really spent long enough with them and seen them clearly enough to sex them all. 

'They all looked like females to me and so when they are reproductive they will be safe,’ he added.

Accused: The trial of professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst, pictured at court, began today. He is accused of leading American dentist Walter Palmer on an illegal hunt, which ended in the death of Cecil the Lion
Accused: The trial of professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst, pictured at court, began today. He is accused of leading American dentist Walter Palmer on an illegal hunt, which ended in the death of Cecil the Lion
Killer: U.S dentist Walter Palmer went into hiding from his practice in Minnesota after news of the hunt which killed Cecil, who was protected, sparked global outrage 
Killer: U.S dentist Walter Palmer went into hiding from his practice in Minnesota after news of the hunt which killed Cecil, who was protected, sparked global outrage 

Mr Stapelkamp was also able to offer a positive update on Jericho, Cecil’s brother, who has been sighted with the pride, despite reports that he had abandoned them following the Cecil’s death. 

A second pride was also under the control over the brothers, who had successfully fought off rivals to dominate hunting areas in the park and have the pick of lionesses.

‘I tracked and saw Jericho this morning....looks great,’ Mr Stapelkamp wrote alongside a picture of the large male, who had been feasting on a buffalo.

The pictures emerged as Theo Bronkhorst, the hunter accused of helping Palmer shoot Cecil, appeared in court today in Zimbabwe for the first day of his trial.

He faces up to 15 years in a fetid Zimbabwean jail for guiding Palmer on the ill-fated hunt. 

Palmer was forced into hiding as the news of his death caused global outrage and sparked protests at his dental practice in Minnesota.

When he finally broke cover some weeks later and returned to work he expressed regret that he had taken the life of Africa’s most feted big cats, for which he paid £32,000.

Although Zimbabwe’s wildlife authorities issued a threat to extradite Mr Palmer and try him for illegal hunting, no action has been taken.

However, 52-year-old Bronkhorst has remained defiant in the wake of the killing, insisting that hunting is essential to preserving Africa’s wildlife.

His lawyer today called for the case to be dismissed, arguing that ‘the charge is not clear and the circumstances do not constitute a chargeable offence’.
Hunter: Bronkhorst has defiantly defended hunting, saying it is essential to preserving Africa’s wildlife. He told journalists in August the backlash following the killing of Cecil had been 'traumatic'
Hunter: Bronkhorst has defiantly defended hunting, saying it is essential to preserving Africa’s wildlife. He told journalists in August the backlash following the killing of Cecil had been 'traumatic'
Court appearance: Bronkhorst legal team is expected to try and get the charges against him, relating to failing to prevent an illegal hunt, thrown out of court today
Court appearance: Bronkhorst legal team is expected to try and get the charges against him, relating to failing to prevent an illegal hunt, thrown out of court today

Regional magistrate Dambudzo Malunga adjourned the case until 15 October when she said she would rule on whether the case against Bronkhorst could proceed or not.

Dressed in traditional khakis, the experienced hunter refused to speak to reporters, but has insisted in previous interviews that he had obtained all permits required to kill a lion outside the boundaries of the Hwange park.

The owner of the land on which Cecil was killed is among five state witnesses listed to give evidence against Bronkhorst.  

However, even if the hunter escapes conviction or jail in relation to Cecil’s death, he has another legal battle ahead.

Bronkhurst, whose operation is called Bushmen Safaris, last week appeared in court for illegally breeding and attempting to smuggle 42 sable antelopes, apparently for hunting. The offences were committed while he was on £600 ($915) bail on the illegal hunting charges.

He was remanded in custody after being charged – news that was met with glee by anti-hunting activists who claim the increased lawlessness in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe has allowed controversial hunting practices to thrive. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

There Are More Captive Tigers In The U.S. Than In The Wild Worldwide. This Bill Could Change That

Big cats, big problems. 

In Carole Baskin's dream world, there would be no lions and tigers in cages. That includes at her own facility -- a certified sanctuary called Big Cat Rescue, in Tampa, Florida.

Big Cat Rescue is home to 89 lions, tigers, ocelots, sand cats, bobcats, cougars and other big cats. Baskin keeps a spreadsheet of how each animal got to her, along with information about the animals that she's been contacted about but hasn't taken in.

It's a grim read. There's a bobcat kept as a pet, whose owner no longer wants him. A lioness seized in a drug raid. A tiger and a lion who used to be with the circus. A coatimundi losing his home because his owners are getting divorced. A cat merely identified as a "hybrid" found in the back of a U-Haul, along with a dead bobcat. Three tigers who need to go somewhere because the zoo where they're living says they can't afford to feed them anymore.

If they get to Tampa, these guys are lucky. Big Cat Rescue is such a nice place that its lions and tigers get to spend two weeks a year on vacation. They're removed from their already-large regular enclosures and dispatched to one of two 2.5-acre enclosures filled with grassy knolls, ponds, trees, hiding spots, toys -- all sorts of things to help keep them as happy as possible.

Which Baskin thinks, even with this, isn't happy enough."We absolutely believe that wild cats don't belong in cages and everything we do is working toward the day that we don't have to exist," she said.

Her newest effort is campaigning for a bill introduced in Congress last month. The Big Cat Public Safety Act would essentially ban most private ownership of lions and tigers, and a handful of other big cats.

Zoos certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the most-respected accreditation organization, would be allowed to keep and breed big cats. Certain sanctuaries, universities, wildlife rehabilitators and -- this one's a political nod -- some traveling circuses, would also have exemptions.
On Tuesday, this bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands -- nowhere near the end of the line, but a promising step.

Currently under federal law, the private ownership of big cats in the United States is shockingly under-regulated. A 2003 law called the Captive Wildlife Safety Act restricts the interstate transport of big cats, but exempts big cat owners who hold licenses from the United States Department of

Agriculture. Some states and cities also restrict the keeping of big cats.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are still 5,000 to 7,000 tigers in captivity in the United States, at any given time. That's about twice as many as the estimated 3,200 tigers in the wild.

Fewer than 400 of these amazing creatures are at zoos that are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Most of the others are in situations far worse than what they'd experience at Big Cat Rescue.
Last year, the World Wildlife Fund wrote that the captive big cats are under "continued lax management," living in backyards, truck stops, roadside zoos and a variety of other likely dismal, largely unregulated circumstances."In many jurisdictions, people can legally keep a tiger on their property without reporting it to local officials or neighbors," WWF noted. "In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter."

Lisa Wathne, the Humane Society's captive wildlife specialist, told HuffPost that no one knows how many lions there are, nor is there any census of where these animals live. As with tigers, some are in roadside zoos, some are pets, some are even part of the exotic meat trade.

This would change, if the current legislative effort goes through.

"Wherever you go, go with all your heart" - Confucius

Baskin is hopeful it will.

On top of Big Cat Rescue and the Humane Society's longstanding advocacy campaigns, the general public seems to have become more invested in big cat issues, too, since Cecil the lion's killing. A new documentary, "Blood Lions," could bring more recognition to these issues.

Increased public awareness, Baskin hopes, will lead to political action. Supporters are urged to contact their members of Congress, to show them that constituents care about this issue.
She's seen before that this process can work."The Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which took six years, but passed unanimously in 2003, shows that if Congress ever hears our bill, it will pass," Baskin said. Until that happens, and the most egregious segments of the captive big cat industry are shut down for good, Baskin would like to see advocates taking smaller steps.

You can ask zoos to rescue big cats instead of breeding them. Boycott facilities that allow visitors to take their photos with tiger or lion cubs. Donate to sanctuaries that don't buy, breed, sell, trade or let visitors play with or otherwise make contact with the animals.
And, step by step, work toward a world where, in time, even the good big cat sanctuaries no longer exist. 

"There is no amount of space, no amount of enrichment, no amount of love that will provide an exotic cat with any semblance of existence they were designed to master," Baskin said. "There is no good way to keep a wild cat in a cage. They are hardwired to be free."

Joseph lounging on top of the big den looking down on the vacation enclosure as if he is King Of The Mountain. 

Can the Cheetah Outrun Extinction?

Habitat loss. Conflict with humans. Climate change. Limited genetic diversity. The illegal wildlife trade. The list of threats Africa’s cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) face just seems to go on and on. The famously fleet-footed felines have gone extinct in more than 20 countries and seen their population decline from 100,000 in 1900 to about 10,000 today.

Although their numbers continue to shrink, the big cats are, in a few small ways, actually doing slightly better than they were a few decades ago. “At least we know what the problems are,” says Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), who was in Portland, Oregon earlier this week as part of a fundraising tour for her organization’s 25th anniversary.

Marker has lived in Namibia—the country with the healthiest cheetah population—since 1990, but her work with the big cats actually began in the Pacific Northwest. Back in the 1970s, she established the first successful captive-breeding program at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. Later she brought a captive-bred cheetah to Namibia to see if it instinctually had the ability to hunt or if it needed to be taught. She was also one of the researchers who first uncovered the cats’ lack of genetic diversity. In the field, the CCF has established numerous successful programs to help boost cheetah populations, restore habitat, and educate farmers to help reduce human-wildlife conflict.

“We’ve done a good job of stabilizing and growing the population in Namibia,” she says. “From that we know where they are throughout the rest of their ranges. Now it’s kind of in our hands as humans to figure out the next step, which is trying to grow the populations in other places.”

It won’t be easy. Marker explains that cheetahs require enormous amounts of territory. “They cover up to 800 miles in their movements,” she says. “The reserves in Africa usually aren’t that big.”

Cheetahs also don’t do well on reserves, she says, since more aggressive lions and hyenas that are stuck within the same small territories tend to steal their food.

That leaves most cheetahs living on unprotected territory, where they still encounter competition but also come into conflict with farmers and ranchers who see the cats as a threat and all too often kill them to protect their livestock.

That same livestock creates more problems. The animals overgraze the land, leaving little left for gazelles and other prey species the cheetahs eat. “Throughout many of these areas, the prey species are also very rare and endangered,” Marker says. Poaching further depletes these species’ populations, leaving the cheetahs with little to eat.

Overgrazing of grassland also allows an invasive plant called the acacia thorn bush to take over much of the habitat. Much like mesquite, the thorn bushes have deep roots that further deplete the arid region’s already tenuous water tables. The bushes themselves, meanwhile, pose a direct threat to cheetahs as racing cats run into the thorns and blind themselves, a death sentence for the animals.

For many of these problems, though, there are solutions. “We’ve developed programs that we call Future Farmers of Africa,” Marker says. “It revolves around growing grass, not overgrazing the land, having healthy livestock, and having wildlife so you’ve got an integrated system that allows for biodiversity.” The CCF also breeds and places large guard dogs to help protect livestock from predators to reduce human retaliation and has programs to pay farmers for any livestock losses.

As for the thorn bush, Marker has started a program to harvest the invasive plants and convert them into fuel logs. “We’re trying to scale that up into biomass energy,” she says. Not only will the plan help the local environment, it could also put people to work in harvesting and production.

New threats could loom in the future, however. “Climate change is going to be a really big problem,” Marker says. “We’re in one of the driest areas in the world. We’re getting drier and hotter. We’re getting more erratic in our temperature. We’ve got predictions which show our deserts growing.”

She’s also worried about Africa’s growing human population, which is projected to double by the year 2050. “We’re going to see huge development pressure in the next 25 to 30 years,” Marker says, pointing out that this will affect wildlife species throughout the continent by eliminating more habitat, enabling more hunting and creating more opportunities for human-wildlife conflict.

Will the programs and science the CCF has developed over the past 25 years allow the cheetah to thrive over the next 25? “Well, we know the problems,” Marker says. “I’m realistic over what the challenges are. The research has shown us what to do.” Her goals include restoring grassland, building prey species populations, and finding more ways that sustainable ways to economically benefit impoverished farmers.

Still, hard decisions may be necessary. Marker says some cheetah sub-populations are so small or face so many threats that it may not be possible to save them. Meanwhile, scaling up the CCF’s programs to cover more populations and creating more public awareness about the cheetah’s plight is going to take a lot of money. Many people, she says, don’t even realize that these iconic animals are even endangered.

Marker says that’s why she’s on tour this month. “Hopefully if nothing else people will see this beautiful animal and say, wow, we could lose it. The answer to that is yes, we could. And if we do let that happen, shame on us.”

Main photo by Eric Kilby, used under Creative Commons License. Laurie Marker photo courtesy of the Cheetah Conservation Fund