Tuesday, April 15, 2014
11 April 2014
Under threat: lions, Panthera leo, in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa © Lucy Brooks.
New research comparing genes from living lions with ancient lion remains could help scientists boost dwindling populations.A team of scientists has for the first time compared the genetic signatures from living and extinct lions to identify five distinct geographical groups within the lion species.
Their findings were reported in the BMC Evolutionary Biology journal last week.
Lion groupsThe research team, led by the University of Durham and including Museum zoologists Prof Ian Barnes and Richard Sabin, has identified the five groups of lions as North African/Asian, West African, Central African, South African and East-South African.
Current conservation policies recognise only two distinct geographical groups.
Unique characteristicsThe genetic information contained in lion DNA identifies the unique characteristics of each population, which, according to Mr Sabin, is vital in understanding how to protect lions from the increasing threat of extinction, using conservation programmes and repopulation both in the wild and in zoos. 'We need to understand how individual groups develop and adapt to their local environment,' Sabin said. ‘You can’t just repopulate an area with lions from anywhere, because they could be entirely unsuitable.'
Only one lion species (Panthera leo) exists today, with isolated populations living across Africa and in India. About 124,000 years ago during the Late Pleistocene, lions were one of the most successful land mammals on the planet, with many subgroups of Panthera leo existing across a huge geographical range from southern Africa to Eurasia and Central America.
Modern hunting and habitat destruction has left lions in India, and western and Central Africa critically endangered. In the past twenty years around 30 per cent of the total lion population in Africa has been lost.
The results of this study will help scientists understand the potential loss of genetic diversity that could arise from poor conservation or mismanagement of the remaining lion populations.
African ancestorsThe genetic data analysed by the team suggests that modern lions originated in Africa in the Late Pleistocene and that climate changes in Africa may have isolated lion populations, leading to the five unique geographical groups.
Humid periods in Africa led to the growth of tropical rainforest and savannah environments, creating barriers for lion groups that are not well adapted to living in such habitats. These environments then retreated during dry periods, allowing lions to leave sub-Saharan Africa around 21,000 years ago and populate north Africa and Asia.
Royal lionsThis is the first time scientists have analysed a large collection of ancient DNA alongside DNA from modern lions. Some of the ancient DNA was collected from remains held at the Museum, including the jaw bones of the now extinct Barbary lion, emphasising the importance of museum collections.
‘Collections like ours represent archives of genetic diversity from parts of the world that may now be politically inaccessible and closed to study, or from organisms that are now extinct,’ Sabin said.
The Barbary lion remains held at the Museum were found by workmen excavating at the Tower of London in 1937. The animals were part of the exotic Royal Menagerie kept at the Tower during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Buried treasureSabin also said that there could be more remains lurking beneath the Tower of London. ‘There is likely to be a continuous record of almost 900 years of history in that moat. And there could be some really exotic animals buried there.'
Visit the Museum's Barbary lion skull in our Treasures gallery.
April 14, 2014
The white, trumpet-shaped Easter lily symbolizes Easter and spring for many people, and is a popular decoration in homes at this time of year.
Eating small amounts of plants or grass may be normal for cats. But the entire lily plant (leaf, pollen, and flower) is poisonous to them, according to Melanie McLean, a veterinarian at FDA. Even if they just eat a couple of leaves or lick a few pollen grains off their fur, cats can suffer acute kidney failure within a very short period of time.
McLean says that if your cat has eaten part of a lily, the first thing you’ll see is vomiting soon afterwards. That may gradually lessen over two to four hours. Within 12 to 24 hours, the cat may start to urinate frequently. Then, if kidney failure sets in, the cat will stop urinating because the kidneys stop being able to produce urine. Untreated, she says, a cat will die within four to seven days of eating a lily.
Young cats typically have healthy kidneys, so when a young cat shows signs of acute kidney damage, consumption of a toxic substance is one of the first things veterinarians investigate, McLean says.
Early veterinary treatment is critical. McLean says that even if you just suspect that your cat has eaten a lily, you should call your veterinarian immediately or, if the office is closed, take your cat to an emergency veterinary clinic. The vet may induce vomiting if the cat just ate the lily, and will give the cat intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and preserve kidney function.
Other lilies, like Calla and Peace lilies, don’t cause fatal kidney failure, but they can irritate your cat’s mouth and esophagus. Lilies of the Valley are toxic to the heart, causing an abnormal heart rhythm. If you think your cat has eaten any type of lily, contact your veterinarian.
Lilies are not a great danger to dogs, McLean says. Dogs may have some gastrointestinal issues if they eat a lily, but nothing considered life-threatening. Does this mean that you can’t have lilies in your home if you have a cat? Although it’s best not to have them in your home, if you want to enjoy these pretty spring flowers, McLean says to be sure to keep the plant someplace that your high-jumping pet can’t reach.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Our three incredibly cute Sumatran tiger cubs tentatively explored Tiger Territory for their first time. Watch them playing around in their new home, as dutiful mum Melati looks on, just in time for Mother's Day!
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Kathleen Hopkins and Susanne Cervenka, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press
April 12, 2014
April 12, 2014
Rocky, a 38-pound cat who's supposed to be a cross between a bobcat and a Maine coon, went missing from owner Ginny Fine's home here March 25. He was running around the area for almost two weeks until Fine was able to lure him out of the woods this past weekend with the meows from her domestic cat, LC.
Fine called police to tell them Rocky was home, but the township's animal control officers showed up at her home Monday with a court order to take him away to Popcorn Park Zoo in Lacey, N.J. "If you've got 100% bobcat, that should not be in your backyard," said Municipal Court Judge Damian Murray, who contended the cat could pose a danger to the community. "He has never hurt anyone," Fine said.
"I sure wouldn't want my grandkids walking up and petting your cat," Murray said. Rocky will stay at the zoo until the results of a blood test come in, which is expected to take about a week. If Rocky is not pure bobcat, he would be considered a big kitty under New Jersey state law, not an exotic animal, said Bob Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Then he could go home if his owners can erect a special pen to contain him. If you've got 100% bobcat, that should not be in your backyard.
The state requires permits for what it deems exotic animals: mammals like ferrets, kinkajous (a rainforest cousin to the raccoon), hedgehogs and chinchillas; an array of parrots and other birds; reptiles like pythons, boas and gecko; and certain frogs, including the colorful poison dart frogs — which are not poisonous. Pet stores will issue 20-day temporary permits with owners required to file for annual "hobby" permits; more than 5,000 people in New Jersey are registered owners of exotic pets.
The New Jersey bans residents from owning as pets "potentially dangerous species," a category that includes primates, bears, nondomestic cats including lions and tigers, venomous snakes and alligators — generally anything that can maim or kill you.
In 2011, the nation was horrified as sheriff's deputies in Zanesville, Ohio, shot and killed four dozen lions, tigers, bears and primates on the loose after their owner set them free before killing himself.
Both Fine and Popcorn Park both agree that Rocky has a domestic temperament. Rocky's name came relatively easily for Fine. She was trying to think of macho monikers for her 5-week-old male kitten while she waited for him to be flown into Philadelphia. But Fine had months of internal debate and research before she decided to bring the feline into her home: Is this the type of cat she wants? Does she understand and is she capable of giving the proper care he needs? And could she find a breeder with whom she was comfortable? "I spent over a year researching it just to make sure I knew what I was getting in for," she said. "It wasn't some sort of whim kind of thing."
Fine said she was first drawn to the idea of owning a bobcat hybrid kitten after coming across a website while shopping for pet supplies. Fine thought she would be required to get a permit for him; instead she registered the 38-pound cat with township officials and kept him up to date on his shots
Murray said if Rocky is purebred bobcat, Fine cannot get back the animal without obtaining the appropriate permits from the state — and hobby permits don't cover bobcats. "Fish and Game feels that this in fact may not be a hybrid cat," Murray said.
New Jersey fish and wildlife officials had investigated the business in Montana from which Fine obtained Rocky, and based on that they formed suspicions that the animal is not a hybrid, the judge said. The website of the company, Bitter Root Bobcat & Lynx, and its annual reports to the state of Montana represent that it sells purebred bobcats, not hybrids.
The state investigation also turned up an incident in New York in which the company sold an animal as a hybrid when a blood test determined it was a purebred bobcat, Murray said. He acknowledged that Fine may not have known she was obtaining a purebred bobcat if Rocky is determined to be one.
Back in the 1980s, her brother owned an ocelot, and Fine had been struck with that cat's beauty.
She said hybrids seem to bond more closely to their owners. She experienced it first hand after Hurricane Sandy, when Rocky remained glued to her side and wouldn't venture down to the first floor, which needed to be remodeled after flood damage. "He senses something is wrong and not normal," Fine said, recalling what her breeder told her when she called to inquire about the new behavior. "His instinct is to cling to you because you are his support system."
Thursday, 10 Apr 2014
By Alexandra Ward
A mountain lion attacked a Palm Springs golf course worker last month in California and now the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is warning people to be on the lookout for the large cats.
It happened March 28 at the O'Donnell Golf Club in Palm Springs, Calif., when Sal Corona was closing the front gate for the night. The 36-year-old manager said he heard a rustle in the bushes before a large mountain lion appeared.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this cat leaping toward me. It was not the usual run of a house cat," Corona told The Press-Enterprise this week. "If I hadn’t seen him for another two seconds, he probably would’ve got me."
Corona blocked himself from the predator with part of the gate, raised his arms, and made "big cat noises" in an attempt to scare the mountain lion off.
"The [mountain lion] stopped on a dime," he said. "I made eye contact with him."
At first, the cat postured back, puffing its chest out, but then it turned around and ran off into the rocky hilltops.
Corona later contacted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to report the incident.
"It's rare that lions act aggressively toward people," Kevin Brennan, a wildlife biologist with the department, told The Press-Enterprise. "Lions are opportunistic predators. It doesn’t necessarily mean they're hungry or starving [when they go after a human]."
The incident was just the latest mountain lion run-in in recent months. A homeless man was attacked by one near Perris, Calif., in February and just last month a mountain lion killed a $4,000 French bulldog puppy in Beaumont.
By Julian Robinson
Published: 11 April 2014
These cute cats each have their own reason for looking morose with a range of wide-eyed looks that can't help but tug on the heart strings.
Their upset little faces are reminiscent of the pitifully sad image of Puss in Boots in the children's classic Shrek 2 as he clasps his tiny black hat in his front paws.
Clearly in need of being cheered up, this tiny kitten is so small it is being held in the grip of one hand. This moggy is so sad that its tiny, limp paws are simply draped over its owner's fingers, its ears have drooped down and its eyes look like they are on the verge of tears
Graphic designer Alice Chilton's tabby cat Tigerlily is pictured left after it stumbled into her handbag. Alice, 25 from north London, couldn't resist taking a few snaps of the three-year-old tabby. She described the image as 'heart-melting'. To the right, and with its front paws tucked in to its white and yellow tummy this miserable moggy is sitting up as if to beg. It looks close to despair as it twists one ear downwards and looks mournfully in to the distance
With its white whiskers crumpled and his face scrunched up, this mournful moggy looks ready to give up. Its left paw is flopped helplessly over a white panel and even a red bow around its neck is not enough to cheer it up
There, there. It seems it has all got to much for this poor cat, whose watery eyes and mournful look are a heart-breaking image.
I don't want to play any more: Its eyes looking down and its ears drooped, something has certainly upset this kitten as it hitches its white paws up over a table with a sad downward stare
With its stunning blue eyes already looking a little misty, this miserable cat rests its head to the side and gazes sadly in to the distance hoping for some love and affection
It looks as though somebody has taken away this kitten's favourite toy, bowl of cream or scrap of fish. With its wide, quizzical eyes, it clearly feels there has been an injustice somewhere along the line
Something has clearly upset this moody-looking moggy. The right side of his mouth is hitched up showing a flash of its pink gums in a look that says 'not all is right with the world'
Not amused: this white cat stares straight ahead with green and black eyes. A pursed look on its face and its whiskers hanging downwards, this miserable moggy seems to have had a sense of humour failure
With watery eyes, it seems it has all got too much for this grey cat who just needs someone to hold it
Wide eyes, pointy ears and a down-turned mouth. This cute kitty looks on the verge of tears as it looks in to the camera
MASTERED: The sad-cat look perfected by Puss in Boots in the film Shrek 2
Puss in Boots from the 2004 DreamWorks film Shrek 2, looking on longingly as he tries to persuade Shrek and Donkey to let him come with them
With his glassy eyes about to burst into tears, his little yellow paws clasping his famous black hat, Puss in Boots may just be the saddest cat of them all in this famous scene from Shrek 2.
In the 2004 movie, the tiny cat, whose voice is provided by actor Antonio Banderas, looks up with mournful eyes at Shrek, the giant green ogre, who eventually picks up the animal in his giant arms and gives him a cuddle.
Shrek is clearly besotted by the animal and tells his sidekick, Donkey: 'Look at him, with his wee little boots'.
April 9, 2014
Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)
Scientists have examined the incidence of skull malformations in lions, a problem known to be responsible for causing neurological diseases and increased mortality. Their results suggest that the occurrence is a consequence of a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
An international team of researchers led by scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) Berlin examined the incidence of skull malformations in lions, a problem known to be responsible for causing neurological diseases and increased mortality. Their results suggest that the occurrence is a consequence of a combination of environmental and genetic factors. These findings were published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Scientists studied the morphology of 575 lion skulls in museum collections in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa and noted the incidence of malformations with respect to the death place of lions -- died in the wild or in captivity. The researchers compared the results with skulls of tigers, a similar-sized obligatory carnivorous predator. Whereas tiger skulls of captive origin had a similar incidence of malformations as those of wild origin, large differences occurred between lion skulls from both sources.
Lions have been kept in captivity for centuries and, although they reproduce well, high rates of stillbirths as well as substantial morbidity and mortality of neonates and young lions are reported. Many of these cases were attributed to bone malformations of the skull, including the narrowing of the foramen magnum, the opening at the rear of the skull through which the spinal cord connects to the brain and which can cause associated neurological diseases.
A scientific collaboration between scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the IZW Berlin, University of Oxford, the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan, and the Blue Pearl NYC Veterinary Specialists showed that only 0.4 % of lion skulls from the wild had a narrowing of the foramen magnum whereas the constricted opening of the foramen magnum had a forty-fold higher chance to occur in lion skulls from captivity (15.8 %). Lion skulls from captivity were also wider and had a smaller cranial volume. These findings in lions and their absence in tigers suggest the presence of an interaction of the rearing environment and a heritable predisposition of lions to the pathology.
"The morphological changes in many of the lion skulls from captivity suggest that some of these lions possibly died because the hind brain and spinal cord were compressed by abnormal and excessive bone formation in their skulls, resulting in severe neurological abnormalities," says Dr Merav Shamir from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "It would be interesting to know whether this is a lion-specific phenomenon. Similar investigations in other big cats would be valuable to answer this question," added Dr Nobuyuki Yamaguchi from the University of Oxford.
This anomalous skull morphology has been documented in captive lion skulls dating back as far as the 15th century, and been the subject of many studies since. "And yet," says Dr Joseph Saragusty from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, " the cause of these morphological changes is still not known. The ongoing loss of captive lions to the disease highlights the need for further investigation with a view to reducing its occurrence."
The above story is based on materials provided by Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
The above story is based on materials provided by Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
- Joseph Saragusty, Anat Shavit-Meyrav, Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, Rona Nadler, Tali Bdolah-Abram, Laura Gibeon, Thomas B. Hildebrandt, Merav H. Shamir. Comparative Skull Analysis Suggests Species-Specific Captivity-Related Malformation in Lions (Panthera leo). PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (4): e94527 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094527
Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). "Skull malformations in lions: Keeping up the pressure." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140409204323.htm>.
The Huffington Post | by Nick Visser
During a 16-day tour of Botswana, photographer Evan Schiller captured a gripping interaction between a group of baboons and a pride of lions. After a lioness attacked and killed one of the primates, she noticed a newborn crawl out from beneath its mothers body, and what happened next shocked Schiller and his companions. His wife, Lisa Holzwarth, wrote in an account of the event to accompany Schiller's photos:
The lioness then carried the baby in its mouth (really at that moment she could have swallowed it whole without a blink of an eye) and put it down on the ground in front of her. What happened next blew our minds -– the baby, in another instinctual moment, held onto the lioness’ chest and tried to suckle ... The lioness was being as gentle as a 350 pound cat can be with a 3 or 4 pound baby baboon.Holzwarth wrote that after a more than two-hour ordeal, the lioness had to fend off the sexual advances of some approaching males, which gave the visibly fatigued baboon's father time to snatch him back and scurry up into a tree, out of reach the big cats. And what happened to the baby?
"I like to think that the little guy survived with the help of his troop," Holzwarth said. "He was alive and safe in his father’s arms when we left and that’s how I like to remember it. No matter what, he remains an inspiration – and a reminder, that life is fragile."
Take a look at the incredible encounter below.
CORRECTION: The article originally suggested that the lioness was protecting the baboon. Upon further conversation with the photographer, the article has been revised to more accurately account for the behavior of the animals. This post also attributed the description of the animal encounter to Evan Schiller, when it was in fact written by his wife, Lisa Holzwarth.
After the lioness attacks a crocodile, she sits down to enjoy her prey but is interrupted by others in her pride. To keep other lions from barging in on her meal, she scurries off with her fresh kill.
The incredible incident was captured on film by visitors at Kruger National Park, a vast game reserve in South Africa. In the video, posted on YouTube this week, the lioness attacks a small crocodile along a river bank. The big cat then snatches the fleeing reptile right before it makes it to the water.
As other lions approach moments later, the lioness sprints away, apparently refusing to share her catch.
The sequence of events is a far cry from another lion-on-croc attack in which a lioness pounced on a crocodile to protect her pride. In photos of the striking scene from 2012, the protective lioness takes on a much larger crocodile in a shallow body of water after it drew too close to her cubs.
By Kim Bellware
When "Ken" signed up for a language tutor through , the last thing he was expecting was a beret-wearing cat to show up at his door in search of a feline lady love. Curious? That's the point of the improbable -- and entirely fictional -- story told by the Chicago-based web series, "CATastrophes." Promising that "funny things happen when cats appear," the series casts cats from local no-kill shelters in the starring roles. The hope, says "CATastrophes" co-creator Alana Grelyak, is that viewers will see playful cats in funny situations and want to adopt an animal for adventures of their own. "[The films] get people into a different mindframe," Grelyak told The Huffington Post. "We're hoping that while we're making people laugh and putting adorable kittens in their face, we can get the message across and have a whole new audience reached."
In 2013, Grelyak and her husband, Michael Gabriele, were looking for a way to build their respective film reels -- hers for writing and acting and his for directing. The pair entered 2013's feline-themed film competition, Catdance, where their first video, “Catalogue,” racked up nearly half a million YouTube views and was later picked up for The Walker Art Center's Internet Cat Video Festival.
Following the competition, Grelyak started a blog about special needs cat adoption, "Cat In The Fridge." When their second one-off video, “The Inheritance,” found Internet success, the pair wanted to see if they could push adoption and related issues by launching the "CATastrophes" series. "There's a whole set of people who aren't getting reached by the animal welfare agencies," Grelyak said, referring to ad spots like the well-known tearjerker singer Sarah McLachlan created in 2007 for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "I'm a huge animal welfare proponent and I can't even watch those!"
A revelation came to Grelyak when she attended the pet-oriented social media and marketing conference, BlogPaws, last year. "I was talking to people and a lot of them were feeling the same way: They were tired of having their heartstrings tugged and feeling guilted into giving money [to shelters]," Grelyak said. "We wanted to do it in a fun way. We didn't want to show animals sad or miserable. We wanted to show people, 'Here's how much fun you can have adopting a cat.'"
So far, "CATastrophes" shorts have featured cats from the Tree House Humane Society and Chicago Cat Rescue. "We write around what we think the cats can do," Grelyak explained. "We try to find out what the cats like to do and then write the [human] actors around them." "The extra exposure of what they're doing is so creative and it's reaching new audiences," Jenny Schlueter, development director of Tree House Humane Society, told HuffPost. "Having a fresh perspective from someone who works outside the shelter is really valuable."
While the "CATastrophes" series spotlights local shelters and their cats, Grelyak is using her blog to get support for the shelters themselves. Already, she's helped Tree House secure professional social media work, 5,000 donated meals and a $2,500 grant.
In the future, Grelyak says she and Gabriele want to spotlight shelters in other states -- the two fund "CATastrophes" out of their own pockets -- and maybe extend roles to shelter dogs or even internet cat superstars like Lil' Bub, who recently endorsed "CATastrophes" on her YouTube channel. "You may see some guest stars in the future," Grelyak said.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Apr 18, 2012 // by Jennifer Viegas
The last known Tasmanian tigers.
University of Connecticut
THE GIST- Before the Tasmanian tiger was hunted to extinction by humans, it had extremely low genetic variability
- The finding could shed light on Tasmanian devils, which are now on the brink of extinction and suffering from a contagious cancer.
- Both species were isolated in Tasmania after a flood separated the island from mainland Australia.
The enigmatic Tasmanian tiger has, in essence, spoken from the grave, revealing why this dog-resembling marsupial went extinct and why Tasmanian devils could suffer the same fate. A study published today in the journal PLoS ONE shows that the Tasmanian tiger, also known as the thylacine, had extremely low genetic variability right before humans hunted it to extinction. Its living cousin, the Tasmanian devil, displays a similar genetic plight, making it especially vulnerable to a contagious cancer that is decimating the species. "Low genetic diversity does not automatically kill species, it simply limits the pool of possible beneficial gene copies within a population," co-author Brandon Menzies from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research told Discovery News. "The Tasmanian population of devils has decreased dramatically in just the last 15 years. It is estimated that they have decreased by up to 90 percent in some areas."
For the study, the researchers surveyed pelts, bones and preserved specimens of the Tasmanian tiger from more than 100 years ago. (The last representative of the entire species died in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936.) The scientists found the individuals to be 99.5 percent similar over a portion of DNA that is normally highly variable, and 99.9 percent similar to the tiger's previously published mitochondrial genome.
The data suggests that the genetic diversity of the tiger was extremely limited before its extinction. Australia and Tasmania used to be connected by a land bridge, permitting animals to interbreed and constantly exchange genetic material. But flooding closed the bridge, isolating Tasmania from the mainland 10,000 years ago.
The tiger, devil and other local animals at that point became geographically isolated from their counterparts in Australia, probably leading to the low genetic diversity. As if that weren't enough, Menzies said that the Tasmanian government in 1888 "placed a formal bounty on the thylacine in response to persuasion by the agricultural lobby." The Woolnorth Company, which owned 350,000 acres of land, had previously introduced sheep, which they claimed were threatened by the Tasmanian tigers. "In hindsight, it appears that many of the sheep deaths may have been due to feral dog attack or simply the harsh winter climate," he said.
While the Tasmanian tiger is now long gone from the planet, its DNA could help to unravel current problems plaguing the Tasmanian devil and its horrific disease. "The Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease is an unusual transmissible cancer that is thought to have only recently evolved in Tasmania," lead author Andrew Pask of the University of Connecticut told Discovery News. "It is spread by the devils biting each other during normal social interactions. The disease has 100 percent mortality and only a few resistant animals have been identified." "Currently, captive breeding of unaffected animals is the best option for trying to save the population," Pask added.
Katherine Belov, an associate professor in the University of Sydney's Faculty of Veterinary Science, told Discovery News, "Low levels of genetic diversity is bad news for a species. With low levels of genetic diversity, species are less able to adapt to change." Belov continued, "We need to make sure we don't allow genetic diversity to be lost from other wildlife populations. Once it is gone, the species is susceptible to disease epidemics and ultimately extinction."
Future studies on Tasmanian tiger remains are planned for yet another reason: This marsupial, in terms of its internal body design, looked so much like a dog that even, to this day, most archaeologists cannot tell the two skeletons apart.
Pask explained that the thylacine and dog last shared a common ancestor around 160 million years ago. This ancestor had an opossum-like body. Although the thylacine and dog went down separate life paths, their similar mode of existence, as nomadic hunters eating small mammals, led them to evolve the nearly identical bodies. "The striking convergent evolution of the dog and the thylacine provides an absolutely unique system in which to examine how evolution occurs at the genome level," Pask said. "Our team is currently sequencing the complete thylacine genome to address this question."
All images courtesy of Catty Shack Ranch
Jacksonville, Florida is known for a lot of things; a bustling downtown atmosphere, a tranquil beach, an eclectic Riverside historical district, a Naval Base, even an NFL Football team. But nestled in amongst the lush trees and rural grounds off of Starrat Rd. on the north-east side of the city, lay something slightly unexpected and roughly 8,000 miles out of place. Gigantic paws pace back and forth in the dirt, while numerous bodies sway and stretch in the sun all hoping to get a better view of the exotic and illustrious great cats in front of them at Catty Shack Ranch. The tour guides voice focuses the group as they listen in on the delivery of quick facts and loving anecdotes about their personal favorite residents.
Jacksonville’s Catty Shack Ranch has been providing "fur-ever" homes to big cats for decades. Founder Curt LoGiudice has been involved with animals since the eighties, and has since taken it upon himself to open this big cat sanctuary in an effort to save the lives of its inhabitants and educate as many visitors as possible on the various big cat species and the occasional odd ball at the Ranch. Encompassing the humble 10 acres of land that is Catty Shack Ranch, reside a total of 48 animals- 25 tigers, 5 lions, 8 cougars, 4 leopards, 2 bobcats, 2 foxes, and 2 coatimundi all call this Ranch their home. And though, the ranch has adopted a no breeding policy, all cats born on the grounds prior to this rule have remained at the ranch. Because Catty Shack Ranch does not breed their animals, if a male and female share an enclosure, one of the inhabitants must be fixed. It’s not that lion and tiger cubs aren’t perfectly adorable, but rather that they are expensive to care for and there is already limited space at the sanctuary. No animal has ever been bought, sold, or even traded at Catty Shack Ranch for the sake of adding new feline faces to their menagerie. But when a new resident is added, determining the current and future living arrangements of the cats requires careful planning and consideration.
“They all have very different personalities” the guide says.
And like the average house cat- they really do. Resident rarity and beauty Topaz is a shining example, of both the unique personalities associated with all the cats, as well as the danger these 250-600 lb cats can pose to not just their prey, but also to other cats and humans as well. A stunning and rare strawberry, or golden tabby tiger, Topaz is estimated to be one anywhere from 30-60 of these uniquely colored tigers- all of which are in captivity. As for her personality- well, she knows she’s beautiful, and therefore she doesn’t like sharing her space with anyone else who might try to tell her otherwise. Curt LoGiudice is able to live the dream and venture in to some of the enclosures with the select few animals that he has formed a bond with over the years, mostly to check them over for any possible problems or to subtly tranquilize them. Unfortunately, Topaz is not one of them.
Like the majority of tigers, Topaz enjoys her solitude. In the wild, it would be fairly uncommon to see multiple tigers coexisting together in the same territory. And when this does happen, an epic battle of claws, teeth, and strength usually ensues and the victor assumes control of the given territory while the loser is left dead, or injured and homeless. In captivity however, it’s often a slightly different story, however zoo’s, and sanctuaries must still be careful to keep the more aggressive tigers separated from the others. Occasionally however, places like Catty Shack Ranch are able to find a couple even tempered cats to coexist together in harmony for the sake of saving space, as is the case with residents Czarina and Zeus. In fact, most big cats prefer to live in areas by themselves, with the exception of lions who prefer the ‘pride’ life and live in groups much like Catty Shack residents Tal and Nyra.
Visitors often remark just how close they are to the animals as they crane their necks around to catch a better look at the cats. And while so many love being able to get so close to these exotic cats, others wish that the enclosures could be bigger, and the good people at Catty Shack couldn’t agree more! The ranch currently sets on about 10 acres of land, and it is the dream of the volunteers and founder Curt LoGiudice to expand that land from 10 acres to 100. But with an ever growing feline family, and all the expenses that come along with it, saving enough money to be able to afford something like an expanded open sanctuary for visitors, becomes just that- a dream. That’s why the Ranch is eagerly setting its sights on Jacksonville’s own legendary One Spark event to help raise not only raise awareness for just who they are and what they do, but also to raise additional funding for the animals and their dreams of expansion.
While the story of Catty Shack Ranch as a whole is a positive one, the lives of some of its inhabitants have been far less fortunate. Breeders, pet shops, and shut down zoos are just a few of the stories you’ll hear on your tour as you navigate the paths surrounding the numerous enclosures. Out of the Ranch’s two resident foxes, Chula and Tippy, the beautiful arctic fox Chula was originally purchased in a pet shop here in Jacksonville, the new owners were told to raise her as they would raise a dog. When the dog-like training failed the owners were forced to surrender their pet and luckily Catty Shack Ranch was able to step in and give her a home.
In another instance, a zoo was being forced to close and trying desperately to re-home their animals. In the final hour, Catty Shack Ranch founder Curt, drove up to the zoo located all the way up in Wisconsin, and brought back 3 three month old tiger cubs which were aptly named-Colby, Monterey, and Brie. Today you can find the inseparable trio lounging and playing together in their massive enclosure complete with cabin and in ground pool.
If these enclosures sound expensive, that’s because they are. Each new enclosure costs roughly $12,000- the bulk of which accounts for the massive duo 16ft high fences put in place to protect not only the sanctuaries guests, but also the animals themselves. Thanks to generous donations from various local as well as nationwide companies, Catty Shack Ranch has been able to provide more homes for these creatures than they ever previously imagined that they could with only 10 acres of space. But despite everything, they still get calls often asking them to take on more animals and the sad truth is that they just don’t have the space.
So what happens to the cats that don’t find refuge at Catty Shack or one of the few similar establishments? The animals are bought, sold, and traded for amusement and entertainment of all sorts, whether they are sent to a new zoo and thrust into a new and unfamiliar enclosure surrounded by foreign and potentially dangerous cats, or sent to a circus where they will be poked, prodded, and potentially starved in order to entertain people who expect mind boggling feats that defy nature. Sometimes the animals are sold for the purposes of canned hunting, in which an animal is released into an open space, only to be hunted down and killed for the sake of sport. Some animals are simply euthanized if a suitable or profitable deal could not be arranged for them. Most recently the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark, became the focal point of international scrutiny when it shot, and then dissected a young giraffe in front of school children and then fed his remains to their lions (three of which were euthanized just weeks after) all to make room for more animals. While this practice is illegal here in the states, that is not to say that an unwanted lion couldn’t end up re-homed in a European Zoo and become a victim of a similar fate.
To have an animal sanctuary no more than a hop, skip, and a jump from our front door here in Jacksonville is truly a remarkable gift. Jacksonville has been good to the Ranch, which is why the beloved ranch would love to stay within the city in its quest for expansion. Because Jacksonville is so close to the Florida/Georgia border, the Ranch gets visitors from both states as well as the average tourists. Ranked number one on TripAdvisor’s “Things To Do” for Jacksonville, and with over 17,500 likes on Facebook they must be doing something right.
Neighbors often remark hearing the roars and growls of the cats anywhere from 1 to 5 miles away. On the Ranch’s Facebook page, nearby resident Colette Horne writes “I live down the road and it is so amazing to be on my back porch with a cup of coffee listening to the lions roar. I love hearing them!”
Local news sources, and creative kind hearted souls like Keagan Anfuso and Nick Solorzano’s video production team Gravity Dog, have made it a point to do what they can for this fantastical feline sanctuary, as has the rest of Jacksonville. Catty Shack is participating at One Spark, their eyes are on the prize! For those of you unfamiliar with One Spark, a sea of booths are set up in various locations downtown, visitors are given the option to vote and throw their support behind what cause they think is the most worth of support. At the end of the One Spark event, votes are counted and financial prizes are handed out to the projects with the highest number of votes. For Catty Shack Ranch to be able to be awarded even just one of these coveted prizes, it would help to make a dream come true.