Thursday, July 2, 2015

Your Daily #Cat

Funny picture of Pädy 

Cat massages dog compilation (video)

Cats Are City Slickers

by Tia Ghose, Senior Writer   |   July 02, 2015 
A kitten hunting its prey
Cats may be adorable, but environmentalists argue they're also a scourge for wildlife
Credit: Menna |
View full size image

Cats may be city slickers that rarely venture out into the wilderness, a new study suggests.

In fact, the new study shows that feral cats roam in urban and suburban parks and yards, but they rarely set their paws down in wilder green spaces.
The new finding is good news for wildlife, especially birds, in more rural settings, said study author George Hess, an urban conservation scientist at North Carolina State University.

"Protected areas that we put cameras out in had very few photos of cats, the implication being that there are not a lot of cats in those protected areas," Hess told Live Science. "Bird kills in those protected areas should be lower."

Killer kitties

Cats have gotten a bad rap in recent years. The furry carnivores have been implicated in wildlife killings: Researchers reported in 2013 that American cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds, and more than 20 billion small mammals, each year. Most of those killings are tied to feral cats, which don't have human owners, though kitty cams have revealed outdoor domestic cats are also partaking in the carnage, that study found.

To better understand Felis catus, Hess and his colleagues, along with hundreds of citizens in six Eastern states from Maryland to Tennessee, deployed critter cams in yards, urban parks, protected wild spaces and green corridors.

After analyzing millions of hours of footage, the team found that cats tended to stick to urban and suburban settings: They were 300 times more likely to pop up in residential yards than in parks.
In addition, cats were scarce in areas where coyotes roamed. The more coyotes that prowled an area, the fewer kitties ventured there, according to the study, which was published today (June 30) in the Journal of Mammalogy. The one exception was that coyotes were occasionally found in urban corridors that were connected to larger green spaces, said study co-author William McShea, a wildlife ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia.

"Coyotes have such a bad reputation," McShea told Live Science. "There are still bounties in some states for removing coyotes as varmints."

Bigger kid on the block

The new findings, however, suggest coyotes play a positive role in keeping cats at bay in wilder spaces, McShea said. Coyotes are the "big kid on the block" and are aggressive toward cats, which may cause cats to stay off coyote turf, he added.

But although coyotes may be preying on kitties, or simply leaving their scent behind to keep cats away, it's also possible that cats and coyotes have different prowling grounds for unrelated reasons, Hess said. Cats may simply stick close to human habitation because people still provide them with food, he said.

When coyotes prowl wilder areas, it's better for birds, Hess said. Though coyotes do catch and eat some feathered creatures, coyotes aren't stalking and pouncing experts like cats are, McShea said.
Coyotes are "just too big and clumsy to get the birds that cats can," McShea said.

Putting cameras on both wild cats and coyotes could provide a better picture of how the two species interact, Hess said. And to really understand cats' impact on wildlife, researchers should catalog the bird species that cats capture, Hess said. Killing endangered or threatened birds would be much more damaging to the ecosystem than preying upon urban pests, such as invasive species like cardinals, he said.


Dagger-like canines of saber-toothed cats took years to grow

New research technique assigns ages to Smilodon fatalis developmental events, shows rapid canine growth but overall delayed dental maturity
July 1, 2015
American Museum of Natural History
The fearsome teeth of the saber-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis fully emerged at a later age than those of modern big cats, but grew at a rate about double that of their living relatives. The findings, for the first time, provide specific ages for developmental dental events in Smilodon. The eruption rate of the cat's permanent upper canines was a speedy six millimeters per month, but the teeth weren't fully developed until three years of age.

This fossilized jaw of an adult Smilodon fatalis shows the fully erupted canine.
Credit: Copyright AMNH/J. Tseng
New research shows that the fearsome teeth of the saber-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis fully emerged at a later age than those of modern big cats, but grew at a rate about double that of their living relatives. The findings, published today in the journal PLOS ONE and based on a new technique that combines isotopic analysis and x-ray imaging, for the first time provide specific ages for developmental events in Smilodon, notably in their teeth. The study estimates that the eruption rate of S. fatalis's permanent upper canines was 6 millimeters per month--double the growth rate of an African lion's teeth. But the extinct cat's dagger-like canines weren't fully developed until about three years of age.

"For predators such as big cats, an important determinant of an individual's full hunting ability is the time required to grow their weapons--their teeth," said Z. Jack Tseng, a National Science Foundation and Frick Postdoctoral Fellow in the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Paleontology and a coauthor on the new paper. "This is especially crucial for understanding sabertoothed predators such as Smilodon."

S. fatalis lived in North and South America until going extinct about 10,000 years ago. About the size of a modern tiger or lion but more solidly built, the cats are famous for their protruding canines, which could grow to be 18 centimeters (about 7 inches) long. Although well-preserved fossils of S. fatalis are available to researchers, very little is known about the absolute ages at which the animals reached key developmental stages.

"Timing of development is critical for many aspects of vertebrate ecology and evolution," said Robert Feranec, curator of Pleistocene vertebrate paleontology at the New York State Museum and the corresponding author on the paper. "Changes in the timing of life-history events can have major effects on an organism's adult features and final appearance. For extinct species, we can usually only determine the relative sequence of developmental events. This technique will permit the determination of absolute developmental age not only for Smilodon, but other extinct species."

Using S. fatalis specimens recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, Feranec, Tseng, and colleagues from Clemson University and the Neural Stem Cell Institute combined data from stable oxygen isotope analyses and micro-computed tomography (μCT) to establish the eruption rate for the saber-toothed cat's permanent upper canines. At 6 millimeters per month, the calculated eruption rate is speedy--for comparison, human fingernails grow at about 3.4 millimeters per month.

By using the eruption rate to calibrate a previously published tooth-replacement sequence for the saber-toothed cat, the researchers calculated the timing of various growth events in absolute units (months), as opposed to the relative timing used in all previous research on this animal.

S. fatalis, like many other mammals, had two sets of teeth in its lifetime, and the first stopped erupting when the cub was about one-and-a-half years old. Toward the end of the eruption of the baby teeth, the permanent teeth started to erupt, with about an 11-month period where both sets of saber teeth could be seen inside of a cub's mouth.

As in human babies, the cubs of S. fatalis had loosely fitted pieces of bones in their skulls that fuse over time. The two parietal bones at the back of the cats' skulls were where their main jaw muscles attached, making the bones' fusion a necessity for supporting forces that enable them to eat larger chunks of meat or hunt larger prey. In S. fatalis, parietal bone fusion happened when the cubs were between one and one-and-a-half years old, about eight months earlier than is seen in modern lions. The timing coincides with the full eruption of the baby canines.

"This means that the jaw muscles of these cubs were anatomically ready to be used in hunting early on with their loaner set of sabers," Tseng said.

After about 20 months, the cats shed their baby canines, and the permanent ones continued to grow until the animals were between three to three-and-a-half years old, later than seen in modern large cats like tigers, leopards, and lions, but not as late as might be expected, the researchers said."Despite having canine crown heights that were more than twice those of the lion, Smilodon didn't require twice as much time to develop its canines," said Aleksander Wysocki, a graduate student at Clemson University and lead author on the paper.

Based on the results, young cats--less than 4-7 months old--are extremely rare in the vast collections from the La Brea Tar Pits.

"Considering the abundance of predators at Rancho La Brea, younger cubs would have been at risk of being preyed upon themselves if they attempted to feed on the animals trapped within the tar pits," Wysocki said. "The cubs probably remained hidden or at den sites while the adults pursued prey trapped in the tar pits and never made it back out."

The researchers say that the technique they demonstrate in the paper could be applied to a variety of extinct species to better understand the manner and rate by which different animals grew, for example, by looking at the tusks of extinct elephants or marine mammals.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by American Museum of Natural History. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Wysocki MA, Feranec RS, Tseng ZJ, Bjornsson CS. Using a Novel Absolute Ontogenetic Age Determination Technique to Calculate the Timing of Tooth Eruption in the Saber-Toothed Cat, Smilodon fatalis. PLoS ONE, 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0129847

American Museum of Natural History. "Dagger-like canines of saber-toothed cats took years to grow: New research technique assigns ages to Smilodon fatalis developmental events, shows rapid canine growth but overall delayed dental maturity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 July 2015. <>.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Your Daily #Cat

Pädi chasing flies! 

Pädi chasing flies! by Tambako The Jaguar

Mumbai’s wild nightlife

From top: Jungle cat with kittens; Black-naped hare; Mouse deer; Rusty spotted cat; Palm civet; BIG CITY CAT: A leopard captured on camera with the eastern suburbs in background 
Camera-trap survey finds 35 leopards and a host of hard to find species in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

The first detailed study of leopards in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, conducted by Nikit Surve, a researcher from the Wildlife Institute of India, has revealed that 35 of the big cats range inside its boundary. The survey, which involved extensive use of camera traps, has unearthed evidence of several species that are very rarely spotted in the park.

"This study was conducted between December 2014 and April 2015. The aim was to estimate the population density of the leopard as well as its wild and domestic prey, and determine food habits of the cats," said Chief Conservator of Forest and the Field Director for SGNP, Vikas Gupta. "We now have a visual record of 35 leopards in an area of 140 sq km; including Yeoor and Aarey forest. This data will help us keep track of the leopards and catalogue deaths as they occur."

Gupta said the camera traps - 45 in all - also captured images of elusive mammals like the rusty spotted cat, jungle cats, black-naped hare and mouse deer.

"This goes to show how so many species of rare animals find a home in a forest located in middle of Mumbai," said naturalist Anand Pendharkar. "This should propel people to fight to save forest areas of SGNP, Yeoor and Aarey."

The study also accentuated the friction produced by the proximity between humans and animals. "There is abundant wild prey inside the park but leopards don't understand boundaries and with a good number of dogs present in the vicinity, they hunt them as they don't present too much of a challenge," said Surve. "We found that the density of dogs was 17 per sq km along the periphery of the park, which is high." According to the study, dogs constitute 24 per cent of the leopard's prey base while the park's wild population accounts for 57 per cent of its diet.

Surve and his team rigged up the cameras at 5 pm every day and retrieved them at 7 am the next day; each was installed along trails frequented by the cats. "The camera was placed at a leopard's knee level and as soon as the animal passed a trap, heat and motion detectors caused it to capture an image," he said. "Some leopards loved the cameras and would actively set them off. Some others were shy; they would strike at the devices." 

Where the wild things aren't: Cats avoid places coyotes roam

Jun 30, 2015
Where the wild things aren't: Cats avoid places coyotes roam
This camera trap image of a cat with a mouse in its mouth was one of millions collected by students and citizen scientists for the study. Credit: Roland Kays, North Carolina State University
Domestic cats might be determined hunters, but they stick mostly to residential areas instead of venturing into parks and protected areas where coyotes roam. That's the key finding from a North Carolina State University analysis of more than 2,100 sites - the first large-scale study of free-ranging cats in the U.S. published in the Journal of Mammalogy.

Why is it important to know where 74 million pet cats spend their time away from home?

"Domestic cats are estimated to kill billions of birds and small mammals each year," says lead author Roland Kays, a zoologist with NC State's College of Natural Resources and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. "Knowing where they hunt helps assess the risk to wildlife."

Kays and his colleagues used camera trap data collected by hundreds of students and citizen scientists in six Eastern states. They analyzed millions of images data from motion-sensitive cameras located in 32 protected sites and the urban neighborhoods of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Cats were concentrated in residential areas and small urban forests, such as those along Raleigh's greenway trails.

"We detected cats 300 times more often in residential yards, where are rare, than in parks," Kays says.

The more coyotes in an area, the less likely cats were to venture nearby. The one area where both cats and coyotes overlapped was small urban woodlots.

"Most parks had no at all," Kays says. "Our cameras photographed a single cat at some parks, but we only found evidence for more than one cat in two of the 32 parks we surveyed."

Another interesting finding: Cats that did venture into nature preserves kept the same nocturnal schedule as coyotes, while those in residential areas were diurnal.

The study is part of the eMammal project, which enables to collaborate with researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and NC State University to document animal activity.

Journal reference: Journal of Mammalogy search and more info website
Provided by North Carolina State University


search and more info website

Science finally tells us how cats want to be petted

How should you pet your cat? It’s a question that’s stumped pet owners for centuries, but science now has an answer. Here's what a team of researchers from the University of Lincoln in the UK found, in graphical form:
Yes, that’s right. Cats do not like being stroked at the base of their tail -- at least, that was the case for most of the 54 cats in this study, and another, smaller study on the topic. That’s sort of a cat erogenous zone, and petting may overstimulate it, the researchers posit.

The cats’ favorite place to be pet: Their faces, especially around their lips, chins and cheeks, where they have scent glands. (The researchers did not attempt to pet the cats on their bellies, presumably because they didn’t want to be maimed.)

Interestingly, it doesn't seem to matter what order you pet the parts of your cat. That suggests that cats see petting as akin to grooming, which happens haphazardly between two friendly cats, rather than allo-rubbing, which always goes from tip to tail.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

22 #Cats Winning At Life

1. This cat who will NOT stand down from his “no socks while sleeping” policy.

22 Cats Winning At Life

2. This winner:

This winner:

3. This cat who successfully proved his point without moving a damn paw.

22 Cats Winning At Life

4. This cat who swiftly put this pup in his place.

5. This kitten who has perfected the art of sliding into your DMs.

22 Cats Winning At Life

6. This cat who’s taken on the grueling task of giving fedoras a better name:

22 Cats Winning At Life

7. This cat who knows JUST what to do with an intruder:

22 Cats Winning At Life

8. This master potato hunter:

22 Cats Winning At Life

9. This cat who would’ve won Legends of the Hidden Temple with ease.

22 Cats Winning At Life

10. This problem solver:

22 Cats Winning At Life

11. This cat valiantly standing up to the Roomba.

22 Cats Winning At Life

12. This burglar who came back from near-disaster like a pro:

22 Cats Winning At Life

13. This cat proving his worth at his new job as a bus boy:

14. This cat who knows it’s about the journey not the destination:

22 Cats Winning At Life

15. This cat who knows the importance of hydration during a spa day:

22 Cats Winning At Life

16. This master of civil disobedience:


17. This cat who won this house based on squatters rights:

This cat who won this house based on squatters rights:

18. This Master of Naps:

22 Cats Winning At Life

19. This cat who knows what he wants and how to get it:

22 Cats Winning At Life

20. This kitten who successfully executed his Promposal with 98% epic dance moves and 2% awkward:

22 Cats Winning At Life

21. This cat who knows the secret to controlling humans is an old fashioned hug:

22 Cats Winning At Life

22. And finally, this turd who knows how to use some red paint to harmlessly scare the crap out of humans:


L.A.'s Meanest Shelter Cats Find Jobs As Security Guards

Margrite, a cat saved by the group. / Photo: Courtesy of VTFA.
When Melya Kaplan visits one of L.A.'s too-full animal shelters, she isn't searching for cute or cuddly. "We look for unsocialized cats; we want the ones that are hissing and spitting in their cages," she told us. Luckily for street-smart strays, they have an advocate in Kaplan and her team, the group behind Working Cats, a program that's found more than 500 of L.A.'s fiercest strays jobs as lean, mean, rat-hunting machines for local businesses.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, it all started with a rodent problem at DTLA's historic flower mart, where vermin were scaring shoppers and making meals of the fresh goods. Kaplan, executive director of Voice for the Animals, stepped in with an idea that would soon become the Working Cats program: Save the wildest cats from L.A. shelters to work as live-in rat security guards. And it worked: Nine strays later, the flower mart is rodent-free.

Now the group places cats everywhere, from police stations to private homes, normally two or more cats at a time for companionship, of course. The new owners name the strays and feed them, and almost instantly see their vermin problem disappear.
A cat placed with the L.A. Police Dept. / Photo: Courtesy of VTFA.
Of course, it's no secret that these cats would likely never be adopted without people like Kaplan and her team. According to the ASPCA, each year approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter shelters, and 2.7 million are euthanized. That's more than a third.

Thanks to press, such as the aforementioned Los Angeles Times article, Kaplan is getting more and more calls for cats — and for more than just businesses. "We've been getting calls to place cats in private homes with rat problems," Kaplan says. And oftentimes, the owners get more than a security guard. "Even the cats that are hissing and spitting can become domestic in time," she says. It's a win-win.


Your Daily #Cat

Wild cat posing well on the tree 

Wildcat posing well on the tree by Tambako The Jaguar

Discontented Odisha to conduct #tiger census in Jan next

Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jun 30, 2015

tigersSix months after straight-out rejecting the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report of all-time low figure in the state, the Odisha government has decided to conduct tiger census in January 2016 to back its claims of presence of higher number of big cats.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) SS Srivastava on Monday said that the state government has begun necessary preparation for fresh enumeration of tigers adhering to the techniques adopted by the Central enumerators.

“National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is reviewing the dispute over the number of tigers in Odisha with the help of pug marks and camera trap technique. However, the authority has not communicated its final decision to the government yet. Tiger census in the state would be conducted as per techniques adopted by the Central teams to enumerate the tigers for which necessary preparations have begun,” Srivastava said.

Earlier this year, the state government had rejected the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report which claimed that there had been a sharp decline in tiger population in the state with the number of big cats down to an all time low of 28 in 2014. Reacting sharply to this, the state government had written to NTCA to conduct census again as the forest department asserted that the number wouldn’t be less than 60.

The NTCA under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, in its report made public in New Delhi in January this year, had revealed that the tiger population in the country has gone up from 1,706 to 2,226 tigers, an increase of 30% in three years since 2011.

However, the number of big cats in Odisha plunged from 32 to an all time low of just 28 during the same period. The number was 45 in the census held on 2006.

Notably, the state has three tiger reserves — Similipal, Satakosia and Sunabeda.


35 #leopards roam around freely in Mumbai’s western suburbs

Mumbai, June 30: A survey was conducted between December 2014 and April 2015 by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) along with Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) to get the figure of the big cats roaming around. It is found that 35 leopards are roaming around the western suburbs of Mumbai.
It is estimated that in SGNP there are 21 leopards per 100 sq/km and there were 35 in Aarey Milk Colony (AMC) and the nearby areas where camera trapping was done. According to the reports by Mid-Day, sources revealed that Nikit Surve the researcher, got images of the leopard in AMC which showed numerous leopard movements in the area. The research area was divided into 3 zones, each covered with 15 cameras. It was done to get better understanding of the big cats roaming freely in the area.

The 45 days plus research involved trapping the leopards from a camera in order to know the big cats’ population in and around SGNP area. Mumbai-based Nikit Surve was the expert who started the research from February 2015 onwards. Nikit is pursuing Masters Degree from WII in Dehradun. (Image Credits – Twitter)


Puggies comb flooded jungle to track #lions

Puggies comb flooded jungle to track lions
One of the animal trackers, known as 'puggies', sits with a pride of lions at Gir. (TOI photo: Bhushan Pandya)
AMRELI: Bhimji Mehta, 35, wades through a swamp in Savarkundla in Gujarat's Amreli district in search of the king of the jungle. Ravaged by last week's floods, unprecedented in 90 years, this part of Saurashtra is home to about 75 Asiatic lions — many of them dead or marooned.

Looking at tell-tale signs, visible only to him, Mehta tracks down a hungry and weak lioness that has taken shelter on high ground to escape the swirling waters of Shetrunji river. The traumatized big cat is tranquilized by foresters who are following Mehta and appears to be responding well to treatment.

A crack team of 15 expert animal trackers, locally known as puggies, has launched a massive hunt to trace beleaguered big cats struggling to survive the floods that have killed 11 of them so far. Many of them fourth generation trackers, their mission is to locate carcasses or lions in distress in the water-logged countryside. Nearly 39 lions, many of them famished for days, have been found by them in the last 48 hours since the waters abated.

In nearby Liliya, Mohammed Juna and Rahim Baloch, puggies from Sasan-Gir, are in hot pursuit of two lions. By looking at the depth and size of pug marks they tell foresters that the two lions, aged four and 10, have passed by only moments earlier.

"Waters are yet to recede completely and many lions must be hungry and struggling to find their way with their 100 kg weight in such difficult terrain," says Juna.

Fighting odds, including poisonous insects and reptiles, these trackers have put their lives on the line to locate the missing big cats by their pug marks, droppings, tufts of lion fur stuck on twigs, scratches on tree barks and leftovers of a prey.

"Their expertise and services are invaluable to us," says SC Pant, principal chief conservator of forest, wildlife. The forest department is counting on these men, who get only daily wages, to account for each lion in Amreli — dead or alive.

The lion kingdom of Gujarat has far outgrown the bounds of Gir wildlife sanctuary and the recent census put the Asiatic lion populace at an all-time high of 523. Like others in the gang, Juna (43) and Rahim (49) have inherited the skill of tracking lions from their forefathers. "These trackers know the forest like their backyard and they share a personal bond with big cats. They can identify the animals just by their roar," says Pant.

Puggies are also called 'shikaris' because they used to help the nawabs and British find lions to shoot. Life has come full circle for these once-aides-of-hunters who now play a critical role in conservation. Everyday at 5 am this tribe of fearless trackers walk into lion territory, armed with just a stick, calling out to the big cats. 

Kitten Growing up with Dog Best Friend (video)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Your Daily #Cat

Looking where to jump... 

Looking where to jump... by Tambako The Jaguar
 European wildcat

Hunt for Sylvester the lion suffers double blow

Shaun Smillie | 29 June, 2015  

Image by: ALON SKUY

The hunt for an escaped Western Cape lion has become harder since searchers lost critical capabilities such as the use of a helicopter and dogs trained to track big cats.

Yesterday morning helicopter pilot Ben Potgieter waited at Palmietfontein Farm, on the border of Western and Northern Cape, 90km north of Beaufort West, as trackers followed the spoor of the three-year-old lion, nicknamed Sylvester.

This was Potgieter's last day on the job and he was paying for it out of his pocket.

The loss of Potgieter's helicopter was the second blow to the team that has been hunting the lion for three weeks. It escaped from the Karoo National Park.

On Saturday the pack of hunting dogs and their handlers returned to Botswana.

Potgieter felt the dogs and the helicopter gave the searchers their best chance of darting the lion with a sedative.

The plan, he explained, was for the dogs to follow the scent of the lion then use the helicopter to flush it from hiding. The dogs have GPS tracking devices on their collars.

Once the lion was on the move, Potgieter would fly at tree-top height to within 15m of the animal, allowing his passenger, a vet, to fire his dart gun.

Potgieter said that on Friday they nearly had Sylvester.

The dogs were on the scent, and they were close. But then Sylvester crossed into another farm and the search team could not get access.

With no dogs and a 36km/h wind that makes flying dangerous, all Potgieter could do yesterday was wait.

In the distance, the trackers were following the lion up the jagged Nuweveld mountain range, as he headed again for the Northern Cape boundary. "This is a team effort; you can't do a lion trace without a helicopter and dogs," Potgieter said.

This is the second time Sylvester has passed through Palmietfontein. On his last visit he killed 14 sheep.

When the lion crosses into Northern Cape, at the top of the mountain range, a team of trackers from that province's conservation authority will take over.

The takeover, said Potgieter, takes time and there are problems with communication.

SANParks spokesman Ray Thakuli said that the loss of the helicopter and the dogs was a small setback, but SANParks wasworking hand-in-hand with other conservation authorities to bring the lion back to the Karoo National Park in Western Cape.

In the meantime, with Sylvester once again near Palmietfontein, the farm's owner, Eltrus Mocke, will once more have to head out and check if the big cat has taken any of his livestock.

His farmworkers, however, will not be venturing into the veld.

Huibrie Griffiths has not been out looking for firewood for a month because of the lion.


Lion cubs greet mother in Samburu (video)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Your Daily #Cat

Wild cat licking paw 

Wildcat licking paw by Tambako The Jaguar

Lions will return to Rwanda for the first time in two decades

By Megan Hamilton     11 hours ago 
Kigali - After being wiped out more than 20 years ago in Rwanda's horrific genocide that claimed an estimated 800,000 lives, lions will return to the country, wildlife officials say.

A pride of seven lions — two males and five females — are being transported in a 36-hour journey from South Africa and will arrive in Rwanda on Monday, The Daily Star reports. After a two-week quarantine, the big cats will be released into the eastern Akagera National Park.

Officials at the 112,000 hectare (276,800 acre) park, which borders Tanzania, say the reintroduction is "a ground-breaking conservation effort for both the park and the country of Rwanda." Yamina Karitanyi, chief tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board, told reporters that the move is an effort to boost the tourism sector and to encourage the natural balance of the ecosystem in Akagera Park, The Guardian reports. "It is a breakthrough in the rehabilitation of the park under the public private partnership between the RDB and African Parks, she said. "Visitors to the park will now have a chance to see one of Africa's 'Big Five' animals in one of the continent's most diverse national parks, cementing Rwanda's status as conservation focused, all-in-one safari destination," she said.

After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi people ended, thousands of Rwandan refugees returned from exile, bringing their extended families, News of Rwanda reports. Some adopted a pastoral lifestyle — raising livestock, while others became farmers. Land for crops and livestock was at a premium, and for these people, obtaining a plot of land was a life-or-death situation. Land grabbing was very common, meaning that poorer people were left out.

Then, Rwanda's government intervened, cutting off a giant chunk of Akagera National Park, and then giving it to farmers and herders. The park shrank from 2500 square kilometers to 1200 square kilometers. Wild creatures didn't fare well because they were often hunted, and this included lions, especially since the big cats started attacking cattle because their natural prey were so diminished. So the herdsmen took a decidedly lethal measure, setting out poisoned carcasses to kill the prides of nine to 12 lions. By 2000, all of the lions remaining in Akagera National Park were dead.

The lions arriving on Monday come from parks in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, having lived in "relatively small, confined reserves where it is necessary to occasionally remove surplus lions," said a statement from Akagera National Park, The Daily Star reports. African lions, (Panthera leo), may very well be Africa's most iconic animal, but tragically, they are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact, these magnificent cats are in trouble throughout most of Africa, it seems. Once a stronghold for lions, eastern Africa's populations of the big cats has been declining rapidly, the IUCN reports.

 A new and dangerous trend is emerging, in which bones and other body parts used for traditional medicine in Africa and Asia, the organization warns. Lion sub-populations in western Africa are listed as "critically endangered" because of over-hunting and dwindling prey. The seven lions heading to Akagera were chosen "based on future reproductive potential and their ability to contribute to social cohesion," with animals in a mix of ages and genetic makeup, Discovery News reports. "The return of lions to Akagera is a conservation milestone for the park and the country," said Peter Fearnheard, head of African Parks.

While Akagera is fenced, the big cats will also be equipped with "satellite collars" to reduce the risk of wandering into inhabited areas. "These collars have a two-year life, by which time the park team will have evaluated the pride dynamics and only the dominant individuals in each pride will be re-collared," the park noted. In this park, there's plenty of food to be had for these big cats, including many species of antelope, buffaloes, giraffes, and zebras.

The park also boasts leopards and elephants. The park is an important tourist destination, with more than 28,000 visitors in 2014. Hopefully future tourists will have the chance to once again watch African lions hunting in their world.


In search of the elusive Leopard Cat

In search of the elusive Leopard Cat
Leopard cats, the much-understudied species of small cat has been facing severe threat from habitat loss and fragmentation

Big cats are not the only animals that intrude into human settlements in search of food, even smaller cats do so! A considerable number of the of small cat population spread across various tiger reserves in the state has also been venturing out of jungles for food. While big cats prey on livestock and at times humans, these small cats prey only on the fast-multiplying rodent population and benefiting people.

Even as very little is known about the population density of small cats, these behavioural traits of small cats are part of the first scientific study on density of the small cat population carried out by the conservation scientists of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The study entitled 'Estimating population sizes of leopard cats in the Western Ghats using Camera surveys' was recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy.

Considering that Karnataka forests are home to several species of small cat, researchers from WCS have focused on the population density of leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis)—the second most abundant small cat species after the jungle cat and have come out with interesting results.

Leopard cats, the much-understudied species of small cat has been facing severe threat from habitat loss and fragmentation.
Also, commercial exploitation for their skins and a thriving pet trade has left leopard cats vulnerable.

The leopard cats are comparable to domestic cats in size and can be easily identified by their dark stripes running from their head down the spine. The body is covered with spots helping in individual identification of the cat similar to tiger's stripes or leopard's rosettes.

"Though they are widely believed to have been found in Western Ghats and parts of North-East India, studies on them have been limited to documentation of occasional sightings," said Arjun Srivatsa, research associate and lead author of the study.

High density close to human population

Interestingly, compared to their population data, Bhadra Tiger Reserve has revealed a high density of leopard cats. "The high density areas are largely restricted to secondary forests and coffee plantations outside the park boundaries and village-relocation sites within the reserve. We found that they live and do well on coffee plantations and like all other small wild cats they mainly feed on rodents. Areas close to human settlements generally have more rodents. Hence, their presence or density is likely to be higher in such areas. However, they also need natural forest cover to survive," Arjun clarified.

Leopard cats prefer wet areas

The study team, which included Arjun, Ravishankar Parameshwaran, Sushma Sharma and Dr Ullas Karanth, installed cameras at a whopping 562 locations across Bhadra, Nagarahole, Bandipur and BRT tiger reserves.

"The collected data revealed that Bhadra had the highest density of leopard cats out of the four reserves followed by BRT.

While the Bhadra had about 10 cats per sq km, BRT revealed five cats per sq km. Overall, across the four reserves; we estimate that there are around 100 leopard cats. Certainly, there could be more leopard cats in places like Kudremukh, Dandeli-Anshi, Sharavathi-Mookambika, etc, that have similar habitat conditions," Arjun clarified.

Further, the sparse data in Bandipur and Nagarahole is attributed to high tiger and leopard densities. "It is only a potential reason for the trend. The other reason could be that these reserves are much drier compared to Bhadra and BRT. These cats prefer wetter forests and are found in higher numbers in reserves that receive more rainfall. We are now continuously monitoring their populations in these reserves. Our subsequent results will shed light on their long-term population trends," another researcher clarified.

Did you know?

* A leopard cat is about the size of a domestic cat, but more slender, with longer legs and well-defined webs between its toes.

* Leopard cats are solitary, except during breeding season. Some are active during the day, but most hunt at night, preferring to stalk murids, tree shrews and hares.

* Although commercial trade is much reduced, the species continues to be hunted throughout most of its range for fur, for food, and as pets. They are also widely viewed as poultry pests and killed in retribution.

* The Tsushima leopard cat is listed as critically endangered on the Japanese Red List of endangered species, and has been the focus of a conservation program funded by the Japanese government since 1995.

* The Asian leopard cat (P. b. bengalensis) is mated with a domestic cat to produce hybrid offspring known as the Bengal cat. This hybrid is usually permitted to be kept as pet without a license.

Karnataka scientists estimating leopard cat population in Western Ghats

Karnataka scientists set up camaras to check population sizes of leopard cats in the Western Ghats across 2,075 sq km in 2013; their paper, which reports good news for leopard cats in the region, was published in Journal of Mammalogy this week.

While the leopard is infamous for reports of animal-human conflict in Mumbai, not much is known about the leopard cat, which is Asia’s most common wild cat species found predominantly in the Western Ghats.

The leopard cats can be identified by their spots, which are similar to tiger stripes and leopard's rosettes
The leopard cats can be identified by their spots, which are similar to tiger stripes and leopard's rosettes

DATE, Research scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS India Program), conducted an in-depth research titled ‘Estimating population sizes of leopard cats in the Western Ghats’ to determine the estimated population of the leopard cat in the region. Comparable to domestic cats in size, leopard cats are identified by their characteristic dark stripes lining their head and spine.

The villagers of Bori village in the Narayngaoon range of Forest Department near Junnar were shocked to see a leopard that had fallen into the 60-feet deep well, at around 9.30am on Saturday. A rescue team was called to help the big cat. “With the help of a rope, we released a trap cage into the well. The leopard immediately walked into the cage, and we lifted it,” said veterinarian Dr Ajay Deshmukh, who was part of the rescue operation. The leopard didn’t suffer injuries and was later transported to the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Center for further medical examination. pics credit/ Dr Ajay Deshmukh, Wildlife SOS

They can be identified by their spots, which are similar to tiger stripes and leopard’s rosettes. “There is increasing amount of work done on leopard cats in Southeast Asian countries, but in India, studies on leopard cats are generally limited to documentation of occasional sightings,” said Arjun Srivathsa, research associate, and the lead author of the study.

The team from Karnataka, comprising Srivathsa, Ravishankar Parameshwaran, Sushma Sharma and Dr Ullas Karanth, analysed the data recorded across an area of 2,075 sq km covering Bhadra, Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple (BRT), Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves. And, their camera traps have captured some good news.

While Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka has the highest population density with over 10 leopard cats per 100 sq km area, Biligiri Ranga Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve in Karnataka has four individuals per 100 sq km. The survey yielded sparse data from Bandipur and Nagarahole.

The authors assign possibility of high tiger and leopard densities in these two areas, as a reason. In their conclusion, they point out the preference of wet areas by leopard cat species as Bhadra and BRT receive more rainfall. In Bhadra, high leopard cat density areas were mostly restricted to secondary forests and coffee plantations outside park boundaries and village relocated sites within the reserve.

This is significant as these areas also tend to have greater populations of rodents; presence of leopard cats could keep a check on rodent populations. “The research will aid in scientific reassessment of the species’ conservation status, which is currently categorised as ‘least concern’ in International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Red List, despite limited ecological knowledge. The study was published this week in Journal of Mammalogy,” said Srivathsa.


Fewer tiger subspecies, better protection?

June 27, 2015
Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)
New scientific research could help to protect tigers (Panthera tigris) from extinction. The findings indicate that tigers should be classified as only two subspecies – up to now nine subspecies were previously recognized. This will have a significant impact on species conservation since management efforts and breeding programs can now be organized in a simpler, more flexible and effective way.

Tiger skulls.
Credit: Per Christansen
New scientific research could help to protect tigers (Panthera tigris) from extinction. The findings indicate that tigers should be classified as only two subspecies -- up to now nine subspecies were previously recognized. This will have a significant impact on species conservation since management efforts and breeding programmes can now be organised in a simpler, more flexible and effective way. The results have been published in the scientific open access journal "Science Advances."

The compilation and detailed analysis of the most comprehensive dataset for tigers ever assembled allowed scientists from the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), National Museums Scotland, the Selandia College in Denmark and the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen to carry out a critical evaluation of the nine putative tiger subspecies. They found that most of these subspecies were much more similar to each other than previously known. Only two tiger subspecies could be clearly distinguished: The "Sunda tiger" (Panthera tigris sondaica), formerly from Sumatra, Java and Bali and the "Continental tiger" (Panthera tigris tigris) from mainland Asia. From the perspective of conservation, the northern population of the "Continental tiger" (Amur tiger) should be treated as a distinct conservation management unit from the southern populations, since it is adapted to different environmental conditions.

For the first time multiple trait datasets of the six living and three extinct tiger subspecies described so far were compared. The morphology of more than 200 tiger skulls as well as the coloration and stripe patterns of more than 100 tiger skins were compared with molecular genetic data and ecological and life history traits. The results did not support the distinction of nine subspecies previously described for tigers. Only the Sunda tiger from the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali could be clearly and unambiguously distinguished from populations of the Continental tiger. These detailed analyses also lend further support to the idea that there was a massive population decline of tigers after the super-eruption of the Toba volcano on Sumatra about 73,000 years ago. Tigers may have only survived in a single refugium in South China, from where all modern tigers then originated.

Worldwide there is significantly more concern about and money spent on the conservation of tigers than on any other individual wildlife species. However, fewer than 4,000 tigers roam around the forests of Asia -- a historically low number. For the tiger to survive at all, these small and shrinking populations require active conservation management. The discovery that only two tiger subspecies exist paves the way for new conservation management options in that global protection efforts can now be implemented more flexibly and effectively.

"A classification into too many subspecies -- with weak or even no scientific support -- reduces the scope of action for breeding or rehabilitation programmes. For example, tiger populations in South China and Indochina have been reduced to such low numbers that -- if each continue to be classified as separate subspecies -- they would likely face extinction," explained Dr Andreas Wilting from the IZW, the leader of the study. The new tiger classification allows for the combined conservation management of these populations and the Malaysian and Indian tiger, as all four populations from the southern part of continental Asia can now be managed as a single conservation unit. "The results of our collaborative research offer an exciting, pragmatic and more flexible approach to tiger conservation. Now we can plan the restoration of wild tiger populations with confidence, knowing that there is a sound scientific underpinning to tiger taxonomy," says Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

The main goal of worldwide conservation efforts is to double the tiger populations by 2022. For this purpose, all remaining individuals are essential for the long-term survival of the tiger. The resulting high genetic diversity will ensure that tigers have sufficient adaptability to cope with future environmental changes and the challenges of new pathogens. The new study provides the scientific basis for a practical and effective tiger recovery.

The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) investigates the vitality and adaptability of wildlife populations in mammalian and avian species of outstanding ecological interest that face anthropogenic challenges. It studies the adaptive value of traits in the life cycle of wildlife, wildlife diseases and clarifies the biological basis and development of methods for the protection of threatened species. Such knowledge is a precondition for a scientifically based approach to conservation and for the development of concepts for the ecologically sustainable use of natural resources.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. A. Wilting, A. Courtiol, P. Christiansen, J. Niedballa, A. K. Scharf, L. Orlando, N. Balkenhol, H. Hofer, S. Kramer-Schadt, J. Fickel, A. C. Kitchener. Planning tiger recovery: Understanding intraspecific variation for effective conservation. Science Advances, 2015; 1 (5): e1400175 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400175

Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). "Fewer tiger subspecies, better protection?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 June 2015. <>.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

To save big cats from extinction, scientists say we need to redefine ‘tiger’

Fewer than 4,000 tigers roam across the Asian continent today, compared to about 100,000 a century ago. But researchers are proposing a new way to protect the big cats: redefine them.

The proposal, published this week in Science Advances, argues current taxonomy of the species is flawed, making global conservation efforts unnecessarily difficult.

There are up to nine commonly accepted subspecies of tigers in the world, three of which are extinct. But the scientists' analysis, conducted over a course of several years, claims there are really only two tiger subspecies: one found on continental Asia and another from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. "It's really hard to distinguish between tigers," said Andreas Wilting, the study's lead author from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. "There has been no comprehensive approach. The taxonomies are based on data from almost a hundred years ago."

The study, described by its authors as "the most comprehensive analysis to date," looked at the mitochondrial DNA, skulls, skin markings, habitat and prey of all nine tiger subspecies. It found a high degree of overlap in these traits between the continental tigers — spanning from Russia to Southeast Asia — and between the island-dwelling "Sunda" tigers.

Nearly $50 million is spent worldwide to preserve the big cat each year, according to the Science Advances study, and there has been some progress made.

The Amur tiger, found in Russia, has been on the rise over the past decade, with as many as 540 of the tigers in the wild, up from between 423 and 502 a decade ago, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Likewise the Bengal tiger population, was reported to have increased by 30 percent since 2010, according to India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority.

The hope is that by simplifying the taxonomy, conservationists would have more flexibility in preserving the animals, such as by moving tigers from one area to the next. This is especially important for the South-China tiger, which is considered critically endangered numbers less than 100 in the wild.

"They've gotten down to such low numbers that there's really little hope for them," Wilting said.
The study reinforces evidence that tigers are perhaps the least diverse big cat in the world. It also supports a theory that there was a massive population decline after a super-eruption took place in Sumatra about 73,000 years ago, leaving only a single ancestor for all modern tigers from the South China area.

But in a field where one of the biggest goals is to preserve the diversity in tigers, convincing people that tigers aren't really that diverse can be a challenge. This is not the first time tiger taxonomy has been challenged, but earlier proposals have had trouble gaining ground due to a lack of evidence.

At the heart of the debate is a concept called "taxonomic inflation," or the massive influx of newly recognized species and subspecies. Some critics blame the trend in part on emerging methods of identifying species through ancestry and not physical traits. Others point to technology that has allowed scientists to distinguish between organisms at the molecular level. "There are so many species concepts that you could distinguish each population separately," Wilting said. "Not everything you can distinguish should be its own species."

This concept of inflation becomes more pressing when animal habitats are destroyed. Populations affected by habitat loss often become increasingly isolated and more susceptible to genetic drift. Because there are fewer genes in the population pool, the animals change more rapidly and becomes more distinct — sometimes for the worst.

This was especially true in the case of the Florida panther in the early 1990s, when the species was reduced to fewer than 30 individuals in the wild. Rampant inbreeding left the big cat inundated with genetic defects, such as heart problems and reproductive issues.

Efforts to preserve the animal through captive breeding proved unsuccessful. Florida researchers, frantic to save the long-held state symbol, decided to take controversial action by introducing eight female Texas cougars in 1995.

The result has been considered a success, as the cougars, a close genetic relative to the panther, were able to refresh the gene pool and stave off extinction. While the Florida panther is still considered endangered, there are now somewhere between 100 and 180 in the wild.

Still, the case has sparked debate on whether the panther remains a pure subspecies. That's important because it may affect the priority placed on protecting the cat and its habitat by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It really depends on what you define a subspecies to be," said Dave Onorato, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who worked on the panther restoration project. "Perhaps they're now more close to what they were before they became inbred."
Onorato said the Florida panther case could be held up as an example for people trying to protect big cats around the world, including the most stressed tiger populations.

Worldwide conservation efforts have been put into place to double tiger counts by 2022, but many tiger populations remain under threat by poachers, habitat loss and climate change, according to the World Wildlife Fund.