Friday, October 24, 2014

Family of 4 Mountain Lions Caught on Video in Mountains Above Glendora




About 2 1/2 years after he set up his first surveillance camera along a game trail in the backcountry of Angeles National Forest, Robert Martinez got footage of Southern California wildlife even he couldn’t believe.


Three of four mountain lions caught on camera Oct. 17, 2014, in Big Dalton Canyon above Glendora are shown in a video still. (Credit: Robert Martinez)
Three of four mountain lions caught on camera Oct. 17, 2014, in Big Dalton Canyon above Glendora are shown in a video still. (Credit: Robert Martinez)

He had seen mama bears and their cubs, ringtail cats, foxes, and even a mountain lion dragging a deer. But footage one of his cameras caught on Friday showed what he described as a family of four mountain lions at once.

That video, posted to YouTube Monday, was “by far the most exciting,” Martinez said. It showed four big cougars loping across the leaf-covered ground, followed by another large mountain lion that appeared later that night.

Martinez, who started erecting his set of eight Bushnell trail cameras in the area around Big Dalton Canyon above Glendora in spring 2012, goes to the area every few days to download the footage. Sitting with his MacBook on the forest floor, he got a thrill seeing the family of “completely new” animals crossing right in front of his camera.

One of four mountain lions caught on camera Oct. 17, 2014, in Big Dalton Canyon above Glendora is shown in a video still. (Credit: Robert Martinez)
One of the four mountain lions paused very close to the camera. (Credit: Robert Martinez)

“I sat up straight,” Martinez recalled. “They were just there a few days ago? Holy …” Martinez said his videos are intended to bring awareness to local wildlife, especially mountain lions. He said he wants them protected and their “legacy” kept safe.

He also wants to show that it’s safe for humans to be in the same habitat as the seemingly fearsome creatures. “I can go out there too,” Martine said. “They’re not sitting in the bushes lying in wait. … They want to survive.” 

The best videos are posted on the YouTube channel “Parliament of Owls,” so named for an Elliott Smith song lyric and on Martinez’s Instagram account. When he got his first mountain lion footage just six weeks after setting up his first camera, the 41-year-old Glendora native and longtime hiker said he became “really obsessed.” 

The trail cameras in Big Dalton Canyon above Glendora have captured a variety of wildlife, including a mama bear and cub shown here in still from video posted Aug. 17, 2014. (Credit: Robert Martinez)
The trail cameras in Big Dalton Canyon above Glendora have captured a variety of wildlife, including a mama bear and cub shown here in still from video posted Aug. 17, 2014. (Credit: Robert Martinez)

Last summer, when he posted the video of the mountain lion dragging a dead deer just minutes before Martinez arrived on scene, he got attention from the media website LAObserved, and in turn was covered by local TV new stations. The cameras he uses are posted on a game trail (general area map) on which he occasionally sees a weekend hiker when he’s downloading video, but he says it’s not an area heavily used by humans. 

A mountain lion is caught staring into the camera, which the animal then sniffed before cautiously back away on May 12, 2012.  (Credit: Robert Martinez)
A mountain lion is caught staring into the camera, which the animal then sniffed before cautiously back away on May 12, 2012. (Credit: Robert Martinez)

The cameras have attracted followers online — and attention in the wild too. He often posts video of curious animals investigating the recording devices.

Mountain lions are not uncommon in the San Gabriel Mountains, though their fellow cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains and Griffith Park have gained more fame. Humans who encounter mountain lions should make themselves look large, stand their ground and never run away, state wildlife officials advise. More information on mountain lion encounter safety is on the state’s “Keep Me Wild” website.

Top five safari parks for seeing lions in the wild

As The Lion King celebrates its 15-year anniversary in London this week, our safari expert reveals Africa's top five parks for lion spotting 



Top five places to see lions in the wild

1. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Renowned as the home of walking safaris, this beautiful wooded valley offers the opportunity of approaching lions on foot – albeit from a safe distance. Or you can see them on a regular morning or afternoon game drive. Lions share the Valley with a big leopard population and you should see both of these magnificent carnivores during your stay. Excellent choice of camps including Tena Tena, Tafika, Puku Ridge. Chinzombo and Kuyenda.
When to go: Best for lions is October when all the game is concentrated along the Luangwa River.

2. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The greatest slice of wildlife real estate in Africa and renowned for its lion prides. This is where the BBC filmed “The Big Cat Diary” and where Disney filmed “African Cats.” The Musiara Pride (aka The Big Cat Diary’s Marsh Lions) still rule the roost near Governor’s Camp. Notch, the famous Musiara pride male is no more but his four feisty sons are still around.
When to go: Any time except during the long rains of April and May.

3. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania


At least as big as the Serengeti but less well known in spite of a flourishing lion population. Ruaha itself is as wild and remote as you could wish for. To get there, fly first to the Selous and then go the extra mile. You won’t regret it – especially if you stay at Mwagusi Safari Camp in the pulsating heart of the Ruaha’s prime lion country.
When to go: Any time except during the long rains of April and May.

4. Okavango Delta, Botswana


Set in the midst of the Kalahari thirstlands, Africa’s biggest oasis is an earthly paradise for all the big cats with its abundant prey and bountiful waters. Mombo, a five-star camp in the depths of the Delta, likes to call itself the predator capital of Africa, and Duba Plains is renowned for its confrontations between hungry lions and big herds of buffaloes.
When to go: July to September.


5. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania


One of the few places in Africa where lions are not in decline. Latest figures put the Serengeti’s lion population at around 3,000. The biggest prides occupy the open plains in the south of the park between the Naabi Gate and the Seronera River. If you’re lucky you may find them posing on the granite kopjes that rise like ruined castles from the grass.
When to go: Between December and March when the wildebeest are calving.

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Cam Traps of Bigger Cats (Videos)



 A cougar from the Olympic National Forest



Bobcat photo-captured during Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation outing to the Olympic Peninsula

Adorable! Leopard & Cub Crossing The Sabie River


 

Just the cutest video you will see ever! It shows Leopard and cub crossing the Sabie River.
Taken on the H4-1, near Lower Sabie in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

For Bhutan, it Takes a Community to Save the Snow Leopard


The snow leopard, like most of the world’s big cats, survives by keeping a low profile. Yet its secretive nature and penchant for living among some of the steepest, remotest mountain ranges on the planet have not saved the cat from human intrusions throughout most of its range.

First listed as globally endangered in 1972, snow leopards have declined by 20 percent over the past two decades throughout most of the 12 Central Asian countries they inhabit, from Afghanistan in the west to Mongolia in the east. Human activities – primarily habitat destruction, poaching and retaliatory killings to avenge livestock losses – present the biggest threats to the species’ survival.

A map of the snow leopard's habitat covering a million square miles. Map copyright National Geographic.
A map of the snow leopard’s habitat covering a million square miles. Map copyright National Geographic.

Yet the prospects for the so-called grey ghost of the Himalayas appear much brighter in Bhutan, the homeland of Tshewang Wangchuk, a biologist dedicated to keeping the elusive cat a permanent fixture on the landscape he knows so well. “Bhutan,” says Wangchuk, “tells a different story.”

Tracking through Genetics

To gauge the health of snow leopard populations, biologists often survey the landscape for scat, tracks, scrapes and other potential signs of their distribution and abundance.

That approach works well enough in the drier regions of the western Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau, Wangchuk says. But the monsoons that drench Bhutan also degrade scat and tracks, already hard enough to distinguish from those left by Bhutan’s diverse assemblage of native foxes, felines and wild dogs. (See “A Haven for Tigers” below.)

Wangchuk thought genetics approaches might provide more reliable identifications, but wasn’t sure he could even get enough scat to run DNA tests. Thanks in part to funding from the National Geographic Waitt Grants Program, Wangchuk, who now directs the Bhutan Foundation, and his collaborators managed to collect hundreds of samples. Their analysis brought good news. “Much to our surprise, we found that in Bhutan, snow leopards are not only surviving, but thriving in many places.”

The team found evidence of “snow leopard hotbeds,” Wangchuk says, with multiple groups of three or four cats at a time. Since the species prefers a solitary lifestyle, Wangchuk thinks the groups were likely mothers with grown cubs.

The team also discovered that it’s not practical to rely on tracks, scat and other signs to monitor the cats because the rich diversity of similar-bodied animals confounds identifications. Even Wangchuk’s most experienced trackers would swear that a scat came from a snow leopard out in the field only to be proved wrong more than half of the time by DNA tests back at the lab.

The research confirmed that the expense and logistical challenges of deploying camera traps and sign surveys in the rugged, inaccessible haunts of the snow leopard make these approaches impractical in Bhutan. Collecting scat along trails for DNA analysis makes much more sense, Wangchuk says.

Photograph by Bernard Landgraf , via Wikimedia Creative Commons (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uncia_uncia.jpg)
Photograph by Bernard Landgraf , via Wikimedia Creative Commons (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uncia_uncia.jpg)

Misperceptions about Conflict

Bhutan’s forbidding landscape may make tracking leopards tougher for biologists but it also protects the rare cat from mining, illegal logging and other habitat-destroying activities that threaten the species in northeast India, Mongolia and other regions. Likewise, poaching and retaliatory killing for livestock predation, serious threats in other countries, are largely absent here, Wangchuk says. Credit Buddhist ethics that respect the predator’s place in the ecosystem, a healthy respect for laws that prohibit the killing of leopards and the enduring stories of an early king who treated snow leopards as a national treasure.

“If you talk to the older people,” Wangchuk says, “they’ll tell you about our fourth king, who in his travels across the mountains advised the people that the snow leopard is our treasure, our jewel, and that we should not kill it but protect it.”

Oftentimes, when herders lose a yak to a snow leopard, Wangchuk says, they consider it a sign that they have disappointed their protective deities. “There’s an acceptance of it that’s been happening for centuries.”

His biggest fear is that these tolerant attitudes could shift – triggered, paradoxically, by groups trying to reduce conflict. Conservation organizations have tried to implement livestock compensation programs used in Africa and other countries in Bhutan. But they’re based on notions about human-wildlife conflict that are totally foreign to the communities, Wangchuk says. “If you come in with half-baked solutions that are not delivered properly, you raise expectations and then people get annoyed and impatient.”

He’s seen herders fed up with filling out forms then waiting endlessly to get $60 for animals valued at $200. Plus, herders aren’t cash poor in Bhutan. Many supplement their income with sales of cordyceps, a fungal folk remedy that fetches thousands of dollars a kilogram. Offering paltry fees as compensation is insulting, and worse, does nothing to reduce yak mortality, he says. “It is not a solution for Bhutan.”

A better strategy would be to build on people’s tolerant attitudes and find ways to offset their losses. By spending time with the herders, Wangchuk and his colleagues have found a promising strategy to do just that. Herders lose far more yaks to disease than to snow leopards, they discovered, mostly from the “gid” parasite. Conservationists from the Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) have been working with veterinarians in Bhutan’s Department of Livestock to treat infected yaks as well as dogs, both strays and the Tibetan mastiffs that guard the herds, which serve as reservoirs for the Coenurosis parasite. “Dealing with the disease is one of the main ways of bringing down yak mortality,” Wangchuk says. “It offsets the losses and makes depredation tolerable.”

Citizen Saviors

After Wangchuk’s DNA analyses and further field investigations by the parks revealed that snow leopards are thriving in Bhutan, he turned his attention to the people who live among the furtive felines. Working with several partners, including JDNP, the Department of Livestock Services, the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division, and the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Wangchuk focused on building community relationships.

“We realized that it’s really working with the communities that could save these animals,” he says. “If there were no communities living nearby, no livestock at all, the animals would be fine on their own. They don’t need any special management techniques. We don’t need to know fancy science about them. Conservation dollars are better spent trying to get people’s buy-in.”

An effective way of doing that involves enlisting local herders as citizen scientists. The herders not only take pictures and videos of the leopards but also keep tabs on their favorite prey, the blue sheep. Their intimate knowledge of the landscape has proven a valuable resource, Wangchuk says. “They know much more than a biologist who just comes here two times a year.”

One young yak herder asked Wangchuk to bring him a phone with a high-resolution camera so he could take better pictures of the leopards he sees when he’s grazing his herd. He promised to pay Wangchuk back, not just for the cost of the camera but with documentary evidence of the cat’s whereabouts.

Herders are very excited to contribute to snow leopard conservation, Wangchuk says. He’s even talked with herders who have come upon a group of snow leopards feeding on one of their yaks only to exclaim, ‘Oh, look! There are three of them!’ ”

For Wangchuk, turning what could be seen as a liability into an asset depends on building community infrastructure, from keeping yaks disease-free to improving public health and education. “You can’t just jump in and say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t kill the snow leopard, we have to protect them,’ and leave all these other things out.”

Wangchuk just returned from the second Jomolhari Mountain Festival, where community members celebrate their culture and traditions – all while paying tribute to the dappled grey ghosts of the high mountains. For Wangchuk and his collaborators, community building goes hand in hand with snow leopard conservation. “We’re here to save the snow leopard through the community,” he says.

———————————-

A Haven for Tigers

Recent discoveries show that Bhutan is also a hotbed for tigers (Panthera tigris), the closest evolutionary relative of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia). Biologists are finding tigers at 2,500 to 4,000 meters in Bhutan’s mountains, Wangchuk says, offering new insights into the biology of one of Earth’s most endangered big cats. Bhutan offers contiguous habitat from the Indian foothills all the way up to the glaciers, which may explain why one national park with an area of only 1730 square kilometers harbors more than 25 tigers. Finding so many tigers in Bhutan puts a different face on the diversity of cats in Bhutan, Wangchuk says. “It’s mind-blowing actually. That’s why my colleagues at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment want to posit that Bhutan presents the last refugia for wild Asia.”

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Wildcat Studies Big Cats

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
 
Alicia Walsh ’15 did not need to learn the Oshiwambo dialects—the most widely spoken languages of Namibia—before heading to Africa this summer to study big cats at the Cheetah Conservation Fund. But the biomedical science major and aspiring veterinarian did need to become proficient with the tools of her trade—namely, a 310 genetic analyzer, Geneious software, enzymatic purification, Big Dye Terminator chemistry and the Qiagen stool extraction kit, among other equipment and processes— which she used to analyze the scat samples of African carnivores, in search of clues about what they eat.

If that all sounds a bit too high-tech, perhaps some of the other tools Walsh used will resonate: a washing machine and a toaster oven.UNH senior Alicia Walsh '15 analyzes the scat of African carnivores
“I put the scat samples into a nylon stocking and then ran them through a regular cycle on the washing machine—no detergent, just cold water,” she says. “The process breaks down the scat and leaves behind its various contents, like bone fragments and hair fibers. It’s a really effective way of getting down to the scat’s contents.”

The Franklin, Mass., native’s research project on the feeding habits of the black-backed jackal, mongoose, hyena, leopard and cheetah was more than curiosity; knowing more about these African carnivores’ diets could help save the endangered cheetah. There are only 10,000 of the cats left in Africa and Asia, and conflicts with farmers continue to be a cause of their decline. CCF’s education staff will take the findings of Walsh’s analysis to farmers to raise awareness and, hopefully, reduce the number of cheetah kills.

Preheat oven to 108˚

When her initial scat analysis revealed bones, Walsh used a microscope and the naked eye to identify the prey species by their skeletal fragments. But when the initial analysis revealed hair fibers, Walsh used another common appliance to identify the prey animal. First, she would make an imprint of the hair follicle by placing it on a plastic cover slide secured between two glass slides, which she would then “cook” in a 108-degree toaster oven for four to five minutes. “This causes the cover slide to melt over the hair and mold around the hair cuticle,” Walsh explains. After it cooled, she removed the hair from the cover slide using forceps and compared the resulting imprint to samples in order to determine which species the hair belonged to.

The process revealed some enlightening results that will give CCF educators solid footing in their efforts to defend the cheetah. Find out what Walsh discovered in this video about her African experience.  

Alicia Walsh conducted her research using a grant from the International Research Opportunities Program  of the UNH Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research.

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Mountain lion is said to prowl village street

Big cat sighting reported to police, but chief says evidence is lacking
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, AUG. 9--FILE--A cougar strolls along a log in a protected cougar area of Northwest Trek, a wildlife park near Eatonville, Wash., in this 1998 photo. Once hunted nearly to extinction, cougars are on the rebound from the Pacific to theRockies in an ecological success story that's causing both celebration and nervous glances over the shoulder. Worries are growing that cougars are getting too comfortable around the booming human population that shares their habitat. (AP Photo/NorthwestTrek, Dick Milligan) Photo: DICK MILLIGAN / NORTHWEST TREK
ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, AUG. 9--FILE--A cougar strolls along a log in a protected cougar area of Northwest Trek, a wildlife park near Eatonville, Wash., in this 1998 photo. Once hunted nearly to extinction, cougars are on the rebound from the Pacific to theRockies in an ecological success story that's causing both celebration and nervous glances over the shoulder. Worries are growing that cougars are getting too comfortable around the booming human population that shares their habitat. (AP Photo/NorthwestTrek, Dick Milligan)

Social media sites lit up Wednesday after a small police department in Washington County posted an unconfirmed report that residents had spotted a mountain lion on a village street and in a nearby cemetery.
Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell said he had no evidence to back up two alleged Monday sightings on North Union Street. The village of about 1,800 residents is near the Vermont border, about 30 miles northeast of Albany.

But that did not stop people from commenting on the police department's Facebook page that gave notice of the sightings, with some saying that they had seen mountain lions before, while others dismissed such accounts as mistakes. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has long maintained that there are no breeding populations of the big cats in the state, but that isolated cases of released pets or young male cats passing through areas in search of mates and territory are possible.
"I wanted to err on the side of caution," Bell said. "It is unlikely, but a possibility. What if someone is walking around and comes across it?" He also said he did not want to encourage residents to take up arms in a search-and-destroy effort against wildlife.

Bell said his office had received sighting reports last year in that same area of the village that led to suspicious tracks. Upon examination by DEC, they turned out to be from a bobcat, a native cat that is much smaller than a mountain lion. And so far in that part of northern Washington County, which contains many farms with cattle and other livestock, there have been no reports of animals being devoured by mysterious large predators, Bell said.

Mountain lion sightings are not uncommon, but DEC will only investigate reports where physical evidence such as tracks, scat or hair exist, or when a captive animal has been reported to have escaped, according to the DEC website.

Most cases involve misidentification, according to DEC, with cougars "commonly mistaken for wild bobcats, fishers and coyotes, as well as domestic house cats and dogs."

"There is no evidence of a breeding population of mountain lions in the state," said DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach, citing absence of cats being run over by cars, lack of scat, fur or farm animal predation. "But if people see something, can get some pictures, they can give us a call."
Public speculation over cougars is so prevalent that DEC also has had to officially deny rumors that the agency has deliberately released the big cats to control the whitetail deer population.

Official policy aside, there were more than 40 posts to the Cambridge-Greenwich Police Facebook page debating whether the cats are really in residence, with people claiming sightings in Bennington, Shushan and Spiegletown. Others mocked the idea as akin to a "redneck" fantasy or seeing a Bigfoot.

In late 2010, a 140-pound wild mountain lion passed through Lake George, coming within a 10-minute car drive of the Village Hall. State officials recorded cat tracks in the snow that were the size of saucers but did not inform local officials the predatory cat was on the prowl.

Federal wildlife officials later used DNA to trace the young male's origin to South Dakota, and said its 1,800-mile cross-country trip went through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan on the way through the Capital Region and beyond.

The following June, the animal was hit by a car and killed crossing a highway in Connecticut. DEC officials acknowledged it was the same animal.

Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. There have been about 100 recorded attacks in the U.S. and Canada during the last century: about a tenth of those were fatal, according to the Arizona Fish and Game Department.

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Phuket Tiger Attack: Big Cats Enclosure Shuts at Tiger Kingdom After Mauling

Tigers at play on the day Tiger Kingdom opened in July last year
Thursday, October 23, 2014
 
PHUKET: The Big Cat enclosure of Phuket's Tiger Kingdom was closed today in the wake of an attack on an Australian tourist on Tuesday. Visitors were able to access cages containing smaller tigers.

One Thai newspaper claimed today that Australian Paul Goudie, 49, was bitten because he stood on the tiger's tail.

However, in an exclusive interview with Phuketwan yesterday, Mr Goudie, from Werribee near Melbourne, said he had no inkling of why the mauling occurred.

The truck driver and his son Jake, 16, both praised the handlers at the Phuket animal attraction and did not wish any harm to come to the tiger, a 15-month-old male.

At Phuket International Hospital yesterday, nurses were still draining blood from around Mr Goudie's wounds to his left leg and stomach.

Jake said the leg wound beneath bandages was still open and surgery would follow once the risk of infections had been reduced.

Mr Goudie's right leg was also bitten but to a less serious extent.

''The tiger couldn't get a good grip on my dad's stomach,'' Jake told Phuketwan.

Mr Goudie said he had been in pain from the tiger's teeth but that the reaction of Tiger Kingdom staff had been ''absolutely fantastic.''

The tiger was tasered as Mr Goudie was rescued.

Phuketwan broke the story of the mauling yesterday and was the only news outlet to speak to Mr Goudie and his son.

They had come to Phuket in a large family group but only Mr Goudie and two adult relatives went into the cage with the big cats.

One of the park's managers visited Mr Goudie in hospital yesterday with the District Chief for Kathu, where the Tiger Kingdom facility is located in central Phuket.

Media accompanying the pair were not allowed to interview Mr Goudie. The attack came on the fourth day of the Goudie's 15-day holiday.

'Thai Rath' newspaper reported today that the mauling came after Mr Goudie accidentally stood on the tiger's tail.

Tiger Kingdom opened on Phuket in July last year. 
 
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Rocky the big kitty on lam no more

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your Daily Cat

Two snow leopards togetherTwo Snow Leopards by Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr

Mountain Lion Looks for A Mate in Los Angeles


Mountain Lion
(Photo : wikipedia.org)
A mountain lion named "P22" was spotted crossing two dangerous freeways to get to Los Angeles to mate.

The mountain lion, also known as the "Hollywood Lion," crossed the 101 freeway that splits California's Santa Monica Mountains some 30 miles away from Griffith Park, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

The lions that live in isolation in the Santa Monica Mountains were the subject of a recent study published in Current Biology.

Based on the study, conservationists said "mountain lions become dangerously in-bred as genetic diversity diminishes in the population."

National Park Service wildlife ecologist Seth Riley and his colleagues monitor GPS-tagged big cats on the two sides of the freeway to track their numbers.

The ecologists saw P22, a male lion, from the north "making its way across the freeway to join the secluded Santa Monica cats".

P22 survived crossing the freeway and became a dominant breeding male. The big cat had many offspring and continues to procreate, Riley said in a statement.

One male lion, however, is n't enough to fix the extensive inbreeding problem plaguing the big cats. Most mountain lions can't cross the freeway due to heavy traffic, structures, barriers, walls and fencing.

Other lions have tried crossing the freeway. One was hit by a car while other turned away from unknown reasons. Others "might have initially made it across the traffic - but got turned around at a retaining wall and was struck going back across the freeway," Riley added.

An "innovative" wildlife overpass covered in plants could be a path for many animals including mountain lions to cross the 101 freeway, conservationists said. "The vegetative cover will not only help the lions to cross the freeway, but other species as well and the human population that intend to get across to the freeway," they added.

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Dear Kitten Impersona-cat


Although I personally feel Friskies and Purina are the lowest of the low rate cat foods, these folks are sure good at making commercials.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Your Daily Cat

Tigress looking upwards

Tigress looking upwards by Tambako The Jaguar

A Wildcat Amid the Wild's Big Cats

By Raymond Sanchez, NASA Space Grant intern, University Relations - Communications | 

October 20, 2014

Growing up in the Luangwa River Valley in Zambia allowed Thandiwe Mweetwa to live in close proximity to wildlife. (Photo: Alex Pompe)
Growing up in the Luangwa River Valley in Zambia allowed Thandiwe Mweetwa to live in close proximity to wildlife. (Photo: Alex Pompe)
 
Thanks to a prestigious fellowship from the World Wildlife Fund, a UA graduate student is working to study and preserve Africa's dwindling lion population.

Thandiwe Mweetwa explains how she uses radio collars to track the movement of lions in the field.
Thandiwe Mweetwa explains how she uses radio collars to track the movement of lions in the field.
Lion populations have declined from an estimated 400,000 in 1950 to 21,000 today. (Photo: Brian Scott)
Lion populations have declined from an estimated 400,000 in 1950 to 21,000 today. (Photo: Brian Scott)
 
Half a world away, in one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet, University of Arizona graduate student Thandiwe Mweetwa is hard at work preserving Africa’s dwindling population of lions. The iconic big cats are facing a daunting number of threats across the continent, and global conservation efforts have ramped up to curtail the problem.

Earlier this year, the World Wildlife Fund honored Mweetwa as one of only 26 worldwide recipients of its Russell E. Train Fellowship, a prestigious program that provides professional and financial support to emerging environmental and wildlife conservationists. The fellowship began in recognition of the need for conservation on a global scale and attracts scholars from all over the world. This is the first year that applicants from Zambia, Mweetwa’s country of origin, were considered for the fellowship.

Mweetwa is pursuing a master’s degree in natural resources conservation, with a specialization in wildlife conservation and management. Currently, she is conducting research on prides of lions in the Luangwa River Valley in eastern Zambia. Mweetwa monitors the area’s lion population, the size of each pride and the population’s reproductive activity.

Growing up in the region shaped Mweetwa's passion for wildlife conservation at a young age. After she graduated from high school, she traveled to Canada to earn her bachelor’s degree in applied animal biology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

During her summer breaks, Mweetwa came home to work with the Zambian Carnivore Program, an organization dedicated to preserving large carnivore species and the ecosystems that support them.
"Growing up in the Luangwa River Valley in Zambia allowed me to live in close proximity to wildlife," she said. "I was very aware of the different environmental issues affecting large carnivores, and my internships at the Zambian Carnivore Program during breaks from university highlighted the importance of lions to our ecosystem. "On my first day on the job with the program, we got within 20 meters of a coalition of four young males, and I heard them roaring up close for the first time," she said. "It’s one of the most amazing sounds I have ever heard."

Lion populations are on a rapid decline. The past 20 years have seen a reduction of about 30 percent in the number of lions in the wild. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that nearly 400,000 lions existed in the wild in 1950; today, there may be as few as 21,000 on the African continent.

The Luangwa River Valley has long been a popular location for hunting lions and other large predators. In January 2013, the Zambian government imposed a ban on hunting the big cats. Since the ban, researchers such as Mweetwa have gained a greater understanding of the impact on lion populations and the steps needed to preserve them. "Thandiwe is collecting critical data needed to assess what factors might be important to maintaining the lion population," said Dave Christianson, assistant professor at the UA’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment – part of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – and a mentor to Mweetwa. "We need to understand the status of these populations."

Mutual involvement in the Zambian Carnivore Program brought about collaboration between Mweetwa and Christianson, who studies the dynamics between large predators and their prey in his own research. Last January, Mweetwa relocated to Tucson to begin graduate studies with Christianson. "She’s very bright," Christianson said. "Between the University and the contribution of the Russell E. Train Fellowship, she’s found quite a bit of support here."

Asked about the move from Zambia to Tucson, Mweetwa said that the transition has been smooth.
"The main difference is that when I’m in Tucson, I have fast, reliable Internet," she said. "In terms of the weather, Tucson and the Luangwa Valley are pretty similar. It wasn’t difficult for me to get used to my new environment."

Christianson emphasized that Mweetwa’s commitment extends to educating the public about the importance of her work. "Thandiwe does a lot of outreach to local schools in the community to update them about what’s going on with the lion population," Christianson said. "She provides everything from basic general education to the public, to high-level analysis relevant to local policy makers."

Mweetwa hopes to expand the scope of her work to other parts of Zambia that may offer a better habitat for the lion population. Her efforts exemplify the mission statement of the Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program, according to Andrea Santy, the program’s director. "The program plays an important role in increasing the number of highly trained conservationists working in WWF priority areas throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America," Santy said. "Ms. Mweetwa was selected because of her outstanding potential as a young leader, and the importance of her research on lions in Zambia."

Mweetwa and Christianson highlighted the importance of public awareness for their mission to succeed — and the value of bringing international perspectives to the UA. "Our program focuses on training the next generation of wildlife conservationists," Christianson said. "When the University is able to recruit great students who are involved in conservation research at the international level, it brings a diverse perspective to our community. It adds a lot to the kind of experience we can offer students — both to Thandiwe and everyone else on campus."

Mweetwa wants people to know that staying informed on issues involving the lion populations, and conservation efforts in general, goes a long way in supporting conservation research. "Lions are an iconic species that should not be allowed to slip into extinction," she said. "The threats they’re facing are increasing all over the African continent, and reducing the negative impacts of these threats requires a global response. Academic communities and the public have an important role to play in this."

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State-of-the-art habitat created for rescued big cats

Published on Monday, 20 October 2014 
Written by By JARAH WRIGHT, Special Correspondent
 


It’s a warm, sunny, East Texas day as 3-year-old Bengal tiger Alex strolls through the grass. He approaches the fence, wide-eyed, getting a good look at the small group of reporters who have gathered to see his new home at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison.

The state-of-the-art habitat, which opened in late August, is 12,000 square feet with several dens and three yards that make up five acres of grounds for Alex and his fellow tigers: Natalia, Anastasia, and Gustavo. Ranch Director Ben Callison is an architect and said his team went through extensive preparations to make the perfect habitat feel like home.

“I reached out to people in the zoo world and the sanctuary world to find out what would be the best thing for our tigers. One of the places I went to was the San Diego Safari Park,” Callison said. “Then we brainstormed ideas. East Texas is a wonderful natural habitat because in India, they live in forests. So by giving them trees and room to run, they can exhibit their natural behavior which is what we wanted.”

In addition to the large spaces with woods for the tigers to explore, the habitats also include platforms that are up to 14 feet high for them to climb on as well as natural pools, waterfalls, and a deeper pool with ledges. Callison added that this was not only for the tiger’s wellbeing but also for their health.
“These pools and platforms help them with their muscle strength,” he said.

Rebuilding their strength is something several of the tigers have achieved after being rescued and brought to the ranch. One example is Alex. “Alex was rescued from a backyard in Atchison, Kansas. The sheriff got a call and was told there were some exotic abandoned animals in this guy’s backyard. The sheriff shows up to a dilapidated, very nonsecure enclosure and there’s Alex,” Callison said. “The sheriff had never been trained on what to do in that situation so he contacted the Humane Society of the United States and they got us involved because we are an affiliate of that organization.”

Callison said they sent food to Alex because they didn’t know when he had last eaten and worked to get a seizure order so they could move him to the ranch. He added that if Alex hadn’t been taken to the ranch, the results of him staying in his former home could have had disastrous consequences.
“Alex was owned by a private owner who disappeared but showed back up at the seizure because he was notified of what was going on,” Callison said. “Half a mile down the road from Alex was a children’s nursery where these kids were playing. If he had gotten out or escaped with his intact predator instincts, we only fear what could have potentially happened.”

With that in mind, the habitat was designed for caretakers to have protective contact with the tigers with a system of checks and balances in place to prevent accidents from happening. “One reason we made the fences around the habitat so tall is because tigers can jump and we didn’t want them escaping. We also have two layers of protective fencing that are double-locked,” Callison said. “In addition to that, our staff works in teams of two and they never enter the habitat when a tiger in inside. Also, all of our feedings are done in the main building.”

In addition to the four yards, there is a building which acts as a tiger care center. Inside, there is a small office, five or six dens which are essentially “tiger bedrooms”, as well as a food prep area. Director of Animal Care Noelle Almrud said in addition to making varied meals for the tigers, the staff plans enrichment activities for them. “We like the tigers to explore their entire habitat and have fun, so sometimes we’ll hide their food for them to find it,” Almrud said. “But our enrichment program is extensive. We have balls for them to play with and they really enjoy painting. We’ll leave nontoxic children’s paint with paper and they’ll put the paint on their noses and paws and rub it around on the paper. Then they’ll have fun cleaning themselves off in the pools.”

With the first phase of the big cat habitat complete, the ranch is looking to the future to help other big cats in three ways: state legislation, expanding the current habitat, and educating the public. “There are currently more tigers in Texas than in the wild due to lack of regulation with exotic pet owners,” said Katie Jarl, the Texas State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. “In 2001, the state declared that each county regulates exotic pets the way they want to. In some counties they are banned while others may allow them without having to register the pet. This next session, we are introducing a bill to regulate ownership of big cats in Texas because it’s not only an animal welfare concern but a public safety concern as well.”

The ranch is looking to expand the habitat with two more phases of construction. “We own all of the surrounding land and have laid out 40 acres to be used for the big cat facility,” Callison said. “When it is fully converted, we will have 30 dens and 18 yards. We’re hoping we’ll be able to help other species like lions, cougars, and bears as well.”

Education has been a main priority and the tigers give the ranch a new opportunity via their extensive network of cameras on-property. “Thanks to Paul Benson at Virtual Communications in Athens, we have an amazing set of about 15 cameras scattered throughout the property so we can keep an eye on the tigers without actually having to go into the habitat,” Callison said. “With this capability, we hosted our first Tiger cam event on YouTube which was a huge success. We answered questions and were able to engage with the tigers without putting any stress on them. We’re already starting to plan the next one.”

The ranch, which is normally closed to the public, sometimes opens its gates for open houses, where visitors can tour the facility to see what work the nonprofit is doing with other animals on-property including bison, monkeys, tortoises and horses as well as the horse adoption center.

For more information about the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, you can visit their website atwww.blackbeautyranch.org or their Facebook page. The ranch is currently fundraising for Phase Two of the Big Cat Habitat and also takes donations to help the other animals on the ranch.

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Nandankanan Zoo to Add Four Lions to Its Pride

Published: 21st October 2014
BHUBANESWAR: With its existing pride of lions old and way past breeding age, the Nandankanan Zoological Park is all set to procure two pairs of the large cats from Karnataka’s Bannerghatta National Park.

In exchange, the city zoo will send four pairs of barking deer, four Open Billed Storks, two pairs of Jungle Cats and three four-horned antelopes (one male, two female) to the Karnataka park.
The programme, which has received the nod of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), is likely to be completed in a couple of weeks. The two pairs of mixedbreed lions are expected to give a boost to Nandankanan’s plan of reviving its fast-dwindling lion population.

Currently, it is left with just five lions of its old population, including two male and three female. But, all of them are 16 years and above, rendering the big cats unfit for breeding.

The situation was completely reverse 20 years ago. The zoo boasted of a pride of 54 lions so much so that housing them had emerged a problem even though Nandankanan has a safari dedicated to the felines.

Nandankanan gave away a number of its lions - mostly a cross between Asiatic and African sub-species - as gifts to other zoos because of over-crowding.

The last lion birth recorded in Nandankanan was in 2004. Though the zoo authorities had attempted breeding during that period, the efforts bore no fruit. In 2004-05, as many as 10 cubs were born but none survived beyond six months - inbreeding is believed to have weakened their gene pool.

Now with its Lion Safari - spread over 20 hectares - wearing a deserted a look, Nandaknanan is out to resurrect its population.

Last year, the zoo brought in a pair of Asiatic lions from Gujarat’s Junagarh. Earlier this year, it successfully convinced the Zoological Centre of Ramat Gan in Tel Aviv district of Israel for a pair of African lions apart from zebras as gifts. “The process for getting the lions from Israel is being expdited. We are hopeful that Nandankanan will have a sustainable lion population soon,” Zoo Director Dr Sudarshan Panda said.

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California looks to build $4 million mountain lion freeway overpass

Several male mountain lions have been killed trying to get across a log-jammed freeway to breed

There are thought to be 100,000 mountain lions in North America
There are thought to be 100,000 mountain lions in North America Photo: Alamy
Conservationists are trying to raise $4 million to build a special freeway overpass for mountain lions in Los Angeles. A population of the rare and secretive big cats live in the Santa Monica Mountains but are split in two by the city's busy 101 freeway. There is a shortage of males and that has led to inbreeding on both sides of the road, with several males being killed as they try to make the dangerous crossing to breed. 
Only one big cat - known by it's tracking name P12 - is known to have successfully negotiated the ever increasing traffic in recent years. "He (P12) came from the north and had a lot of genetic material that was new," National Park Service wildlife ecologist Seth Riley told NPR. "Fortunately not only did he survive, but he then became a dominant breeding male. "Our real hope is to have an overpass across 101. No one in 1950 was thinking about getting wildlife across roads when the freeway was built." The overpass would be a bridge carpeted with trees and grass to make it look like forest.
The California Department of Transportation applied to the US fedeal government for a $2 million grant to help build the bridge but was turned down. Now, local campaigners are trying to raise the money independently. The cause received support after a three-year-old mountain lion made it into the nearby city of Santa Monica in 2012 only to be shot dead by a police officer.

There are an estimated 100,000 mountain lions in North America, mostly living in western regions, but they are elusive and rarely seen.

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‘Big Cat Week’ coming to Nat Geo WILD in November, lineup revealed

Mon, Oct 20th, 2014
By The Dispatch

BANDHAVGARH, INDIA: A remote and protected wilderness, Bandhavgarh, lies deep in the heart of ancient India.  Tigers battle for dominance among the ruins of a lost empire. (Photo credit: © National Geographic Channels)
BANDHAVGARH, INDIA: A remote and protected wilderness, Bandhavgarh, lies deep in the heart of ancient India. Tigers battle for dominance among the ruins of a lost empire. (Photo credit: © National Geographic Channels)

This one-hour special provides an in-depth look into the lions’ unique physical attributes, their complex hunting strategies and their intricate hierarchy. The show follows Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, as he tracks a lion coalition as they hunt and search for a mate, ultimately putting him face to face with them in The Box.

(photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Mariella Furrer)
This one-hour special provides an in-depth look into the lions’ unique physical attributes, their complex hunting strategies and their intricate hierarchy. The show follows Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, as he tracks a lion coalition as they hunt and search for a mate, ultimately putting him face to face with them in The Box.

(photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Mariella Furrer)

This one-hour special provides an in-depth look into the lions’ unique physical attributes, their complex hunting strategies and their intricate hierarchy. The show follows Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, as he tracks a lion coalition as they hunt and search for a mate, ultimately putting him face to face with them in The Box.

(photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Mariella Furrer)
This one-hour special provides an in-depth look into the lions’ unique physical attributes, their complex hunting strategies and their intricate hierarchy. The show follows Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, as he tracks a lion coalition as they hunt and search for a mate, ultimately putting him face to face with them in The Box.

(photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Mariella Furrer)

Speed. Power. Intelligence. Stealth. Beauty.
 
Savute, Botswana: As the male cub matures, he gets a different look in his eyes. (Photo credit: © Icon Films / Brad Bestelink)
Savute, Botswana: As the male cub matures, he gets a different look in his eyes. (Photo credit: © Icon Films / Brad Bestelink)

For millions of years big cats have stood atop the food chain as treasured icons of the wild, but as civilization has expanded, their habitat has decreased. Today every big cat species in the world is endangered, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars and cougars. For five years, Nat Geo WILD has turned its lens on these majestic creatures during its annual BIG CAT WEEK to shine a light on their struggle and to remind viewers of their importance in the world.
 
Nat Geo WILD presents the fifth annual BIG CAT WEEK, its fiercest lineup ever, beginning Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.
 
Kicking off the week at 9 p.m. ET/PT is big cat tracker Boone Smith, who is put to the ultimate test in Man v. Lion, followed by the additional premieres include Future Cat, a fantastic look into the far future of big cats, using state-of-the-art CGI images to illustrate how big cats might evolve.
 
A tiger roaring showing off its powerful jaw and giant teeth. Will these be traits carried into the future?

(photo credit:  iStock)
A tiger roaring showing off its powerful jaw and giant teeth. Will these be traits carried into the future?

(photo credit: iStock)

Leopard: Ultimate Survivor, a filmmaker’s chance encounter in the wild leads to a rare opportunity to follow a mother leopard and her cubs through the first precarious years of life; Tiger’s Revenge, about the tabloid-worthy rivalry between two sister tigers in India’s Ranthambore National Park; Lion Gangland, an in-depth look at a lion pride that battles high heat, shortages of food and water and a dangerous rival coalition in its struggle to survive; and finally Tiger Wars, the story of tigers who reclaimed an ancient kingdom in India.
 
Rounding out the week are encores of some of Nat Geo WILD’s most popular big cat films, including two from National Geographic’s Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert: Game of Lions and The Last Lions.
 
More than a television event, BIG CAT WEEK is an extension of the Big Cats Initiative, a long-term commitment by the National Geographic Society to stop poaching, save habitat and sound the call that big steps are needed to save big cats around the world. This global initiative actively supports on-the-ground conservation projects and education to help stem and eventually reverse the rapid disappearance of big cat populations.
 
For more information on BIG CAT WEEK, visit natgeowild.com/bigcatweek or follow us on twitter @NGC_PR.
 
For more information on the Big Cats Initiative and how you can get involved, visit causeanuproar.com.
  
BIG CAT WEEK Premiere Episodes Include:
 
Man v. Lion Featuring Big Cat Tracker Boone Smith
Premieres Friday, Nov. 28 at 9 PM ET/PT
For wildlife filmmakers, the only way to safely explore the startling powers of the African lion has been at the end of a mighty long lens — until now. Man v. Lion follows veteran big cat expert Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, tracking three male lions searching for their next meal. We follow along as they hunt for food and search for a mate in the open African bush. But to truly understand what makes these brothers tick, Boone will go face to face with them. One inch of acrylic separates him from one of the world’s top predators, bringing audiences closer to  
leopard sitting on some branches.  (Photo credit: © Icon Films / Brad Bestelink)
leopard sitting on some branches. (Photo credit: © Icon Films / Brad Bestelink)

Leopard: Ultimate Survivor
Premieres Saturday, Nov. 29 at 9 PM ET/PT
Leopards are loners and famously elusive, but in a remote corner of Botswana, filmmakers find a window into their world when they discover a mother and her cubs. The result is a two-year journey packed with danger, humor, and revelation, following the fate of a reckless young male, his sensible sister and their supremely resourceful mother.  
 
Future Cat
Premieres Sunday, Nov. 30 at 9 PM ET/PT
Using cutting-edge visual effects, Future Cat showcases a new approach to big cats, visualizing how they would change and adapt to new worlds of ice, desert, flood and an epic merging of the continents that could pit African, Asian and American big cats into one super-jungle “hunger games.”  walks along a log looking directly into the camera. What will Future Cats be like?

(credit: National Georgraphic Channels)
 
walks along a log looking directly into the camera. What will Future Cats be like?

(credit:  National Georgraphic Channels)
Tiger’s Revenge
Premieres Monday, Dec. 1 at 9 PM ET/PT
Tiger’s Revenge is the ultimate reality TV, complete with secret alliances, battle wounds, lost cubs, revenge and a mysterious disappearance. It is the story of two tiger sisters — Sundari, powerful but unable to become pregnant for more than two years, and her sister, Krishnaa, with a litter of three healthy cubs. A fresh rivalry born of jealousy and deceit plays out in the forests of Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, India.  
 
Lion Gangland
Premieres Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 9 PM ET/PT
In a remote corner of the Serengeti, the “Vumbi” lion pride battles high heat, shortages of food and water and a dangerous rival coalition in its struggle to survive. It’s a challenging and unforgiving landscape, not only for the lions but also for the photographers bringing their story to light.  
 
Tiger Wars
Premieres Wednesday, Dec. 3 at 9 PM ET/PT
In the heart of India, a tiger family battles for dominance in the ruins of a lost empire. B1, a young tiger, challenges his aging grandfather for supremacy over their pride land, taking advantage of his slowed reflexes and struggling vision. Meanwhile, B1’s mother tries to keep the peace for her new cubs during their risky first years of life, and for her father, who is becoming increasingly helpless. But B1 is bent on taking over and starting his own dynasty deep in the heart of ancient India.
 
A future cat watches as comets streak through the night sky. What does Mother Nature have in store?

(credit:  National Georgraphic Channels)
A future cat watches as comets streak through the night sky. What does Mother Nature have in store?

(credit: National Georgraphic Channels)

Vumbi ( dust ) pride 5 adult females and 9 cubs born in April 2011.  Plains pride of the Serengeti Lion Research  Project.  Cubs watch from afar as their mothers stalk a small group of wildebeest.  After a failed hunt the mothers return to the cubs with much greeting and licking reinforcing the social bonds within the group. The Vumbi cubs at 5 months old. The mothers hide them when they hunt and always greet all the cubs when they return.  (Photo credit: © National Geographic Creative / Michael Nichols)
Vumbi ( dust ) pride 5 adult females and 9 cubs born in April 2011. Plains pride of the Serengeti Lion Research Project. Cubs watch from afar as their mothers stalk a small group of wildebeest. After a failed hunt the mothers return to the cubs with much greeting and licking reinforcing the social bonds within the group.

The Vumbi cubs at 5 months old. The mothers hide them when they hunt and always greet all the cubs when they return. (Photo credit: © National Geographic Creative / Michael Nichols)

This one-hour special provides an in-depth look into the lions’ unique physical attributes, their complex hunting strategies and their intricate hierarchy. The show follows Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, as he tracks a lion coalition as they hunt and search for a mate, ultimately putting him face to face with them in The Box.

(photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Mariella Furrer)
This one-hour special provides an in-depth look into the lions’ unique physical attributes, their complex hunting strategies and their intricate hierarchy. The show follows Boone Smith across the Nambiti Game Reserve, as he tracks a lion coalition as they hunt and search for a mate, ultimately putting him face to face with them in The Box.

(photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Mariella Furrer) 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Poacher menace shadow on tiger conservation

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, October 19, 2014

There’s bad news for lovers of the majestic tiger, India’s national animal: Poachers are staying ahead of efforts to save the big cats.

An analysis of 40 years of data shows that poachers, who kill the tiger for its skin and body parts, are moving to less-protected tiger habitats in south and central India, using trains to smuggle their booty out.

This could explain why 2013 was a bad year for tiger protection, with 43 killings, and why officials say the period since 2009 has been worrying. Things had been going fairly well until then; in fact, tiger poaching incidents have still more than halved in the 2004-2013 decade from the previous one, to 326 killings.

The study, led by independent wildlife scientist Koustubh Sharma and published in an international journal recently, found that new wildlife trade centres have emerged in southern Indian cities of Coimbatore, Chikmagalur, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Idukki and Mysore. Poaching incidents fell in northern India between 2005-2012 and increased in the central and southern states, it said.

This is a bitter blow for the protection effort, in which hundreds of crores of Rupees were invested after  the big cats vanished from Sariska in Rajasthan and Panna in Madhya Pradesh.

Tiger reserves in Kerala, Karnataka and southern Maharashtra, which were not on radar of wildlife syndicates till 1996, started reporting poaching incidents in the last decade.  Poachers may have been drawn by less scrutiny at these reserves and reports of a high tiger population.

“We have asked all state governments to set up tiger protection force in their states. We would be providing adequate funding for protecting tigers,” environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Friday, admitting that the poaching threat was still very real.

Most of these 73 hotspots had an interesting connection — they are on the Indian Railways network.
“Districts closer to rail routes had a lesser probability of discontinuation of tiger crime as opposed those further away,” the study said.

Poaching and hunting have wiped out more than 90% of the tigers across India in the last century or so with just 1,706 tigers remaining in 47 tiger reserves.

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