Friday, May 31, 2013

Big cat sighted at Uckfield

Saturday 1 June 2013

Mystery cat Mystery cat
A bit cat - possibly a black panther - has been sighted in Uckfield.

A group of members of staff from Uckfield Community Hospital, were working a night shift when they glanced towards the window as something had caught their eye.

A staff member who does not wish to be named said: “It was ten to nine, so still light and I could see quite clearly. I watched a large, black creature - definitely not a dog - move across the piece of land at the side of the hospital. It had a very long tail, thick and curled at the end. It also had a long body. It moved like a cat - as you know, cats move differently from dogs.”

She called over her colleagues who looked out of the window and they all agreed that what they had seen was a giant cat.

She went on: “I called out ‘Look at this. This is not a dog’ There was something quite distinctive in the way it moved. It had crouched down in the long grass in the field and as we all got to the window it got up, ambled off and walked slowly up the hill.”

A colleague struggled to get a mobile phone out of her pocket but was unable to do so quickly enough.

She explained: “I didn’t know what to do - do you ring the police when you see something like this? I Googled wild black cats and came up with a website called the British Big Cat Society. There was a space to record a sighting so I told them what I had seen.”

The Society was set up ‘to scientifically identify, quantify, catalogue and protect the big cats that freely roam the British countryside.’ It is a UK network of people whose aim is to research, study and analyse the presence of big cats throughout Britain. Another major focus will be to educate the public about big cats in general and also, more specifically, about the ones they believe are present in the UK.

This woman’s experience follows several sightings throughout the Sussex Express’s circulation area. These include a sighting near Glynde, the sight of a cat walking alongside the Seaford to Newhaven rail track, a big cat in woodland at Chailey, distinctive footprints in mud along the River Cuckmere near Litlington and numerous viewings of cats in dense woodland to the east of the county.

 If you spot a cat of this description, email details to:


Image of the Day

Collaring the big cats

Cougar Project Team vital to decade-long research effort

By Ann McCreary

Jumping out of bed on freezing winter nights, heading out on snowmobiles into the Methow Valley backcountry, traversing miles of tough terrain on snowshoes – members of the Okanogan Cougar Project Team say they’ve loved every minute of it.

For the past 10 winters the Cougar Project Team has tracked and placed radio collars on cougars throughout the Methow Valley, collecting valuable data on the behavior, survival rates and density of cougars that roam the valley.
Four local men on the team, and their cougar-tracking dogs, have logged more than 10,000 hours and thousands of miles volunteering on the research project.

In recognition of their commitment to the project, Chuck Smith, Bryan Smith, Steve Reynaud and Kjell Lester were recently recognized as “Volunteers of the Year” by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in a ceremony in Olympia.

“These guys have been instrumental,” said Rich Beausoleil, leader of the cougar project. “Their contribution to research is so important.”

Beausoleil, WDFW cougar and bear specialist, credits the team members’ toughness and knowledge of the Methow Valley for the success of the cougar research project.

“The Methow Valley is their back yard,” Beausoleil said. “They’ve all been here between 35 and 50 years. They’re all incredible outdoorsmen. And they’re all ‘MacGyvers’ – our snowmobiles break down all the time. You can call them at 2 in the morning, they’ll drop everything they’re doing and be there any time of day or night.”

New perspectives

The team members were compensated for mileage and some equipment costs, but have donated all their time. Chuck Smith, who lives on Benson Creek, began working on the project when it first began 10 years ago. He used to hunt cougars with hounds before the practice was banned in 1996.
Smith knew a lot of other hunters, and he helped put together the volunteer team to assist Beausoleil in his research. For the past 10 years, between November and mid-March, the team has headed out into the snowy hills and forests of the Methow Valley almost every day to track cougars.

Their goal was to tree the cat with hounds, tranquilize it with a dart, collect information about the animal’s health, and fit it with a radio collar that transmits the cougar’s location for the next two years.

Working so closely with the animals and the researchers, Smith said, has given him a very different perspective than the one he had as a hunter.

“Before I started the project I thought I knew a lot about cougars, but I didn’t know anything,” Smith said in a recent interview. “Being able to work with biologists and learn so much about cougars … my opinion of them has changed dramatically. We all respect them.”

Smith said he’s participated in more than 120 captures over the past decade. “You’d think after so many captures it would get old, but it doesn’t,” he said. “To actually get to hold one in your hands, and have them wake up is one of the coolest things. We’ve named every one.”

Kjell Lester of Winthrop shares Smith’s enthusiasm for the work. “Every day is exciting. What I love most is taking the dogs out. They work their hearts out,” Lester said.

“I really enjoy working with the lions. The cats are very mild-mannered, not aggressive like what people hear. It’s so fun to see one up a tree. They’re amazing,” Lester said.

Long days

The team put in long days and covered a lot of territory in their work. “We’d be on the snowmobiles by 7 a.m. and it would sometimes be midnight before we got back,” Smith said.

Each team member headed into an area where cougars were likely to be found, and rode 40 to 50 miles looking for signs of the cats. When tracks were found, the rest of the team and their five dogs would convene there, or return the next day, to try to make the capture.

It was the dogs’ job to tree the cat. The team followed on snowmobiles and snowshoes, carrying 30-pound packs loaded with gear and research equipment.

A net was set up below the tree and Beausoleil would shoot the cougar with a tranquilizer dart. In most cases, the cat fell asleep on a branch, and Beausoleil would climb the tree and lower the cat to the ground with ropes. The team would fit the cat with a radio collar and ear tag, take about 25 measurements of the animal, and make sure it recovered from the tranquilizer.

Only about one out of every 12 outings resulted in a capture. And sometimes, after many hours on snowmobiles and snowshoes to tree a cat, the team would decide it was too risky to dart the cougar, either because it was too high in the tree, or because the weather was too cold to safely sedate the cat.
“A lot of times we just walked off,” Smith said. “We didn’t want to endanger the cat or us or the dogs.”
Occasionally, the team has helped track a cat that wildlife officials determined to be a problem because it preyed on livestock or pets. The former cougar hunters found they no longer had the heart to kill the animals they had come to know and care about, Smith said. “If we could get someone else to shoot the cougar, we would,” he added.

The team was always ready to head out when a local resident reported seeing a cougar. Many times, the report turned out to be a bust. “We’d get called out in the middle of the night, only to find it was a dog,” Smith said.

Even after the longest days, the team was still exhilarated from the experience, Beausoleil said. “We’d sit in Chuck’s garage around the fire after being in zero temperatures all day, and we’d talk cougar stuff,” he said. “They like the research, they like the cats, they like running their dogs.”

Successful project

The Okanogan Cougar Project is one of six cougar research projects conducted in Washington, and is the longest-running project. After 10 winters, the field work on Okanogan Cougar Project ended last March, Beausoleil said.

“This is the most successful cougar project in the state of Washington. We’ve got a lot of good data,” Beausoleil said.

Now, Beausoleil said, he is compiling that data into scientific articles and recommendations that will help guide management of Washington’s cougar population.

Last winter – the final winter of the project in the Methow Valley – was the most successful in terms of the number of cougars captured. With the help of favorable snow and weather conditions – and because “we’re good at what we do,” Beausoleil said – the team caught and placed radio collars on 15 cougars last winter. There are currently a total of 19 cats with collars that report the cougars’ location five times a day, and some will continue transmitting for up to two years, Beausoleil said.
The radio transmissions have provided insights on the territory used by cougars, and especially the density of cougars in the valley. Beausoleil said the data shows that cougar populations are naturally self-controlling, because male cougars are extremely territorial. An adult male cougar will tolerate two or three females in his territory, but will fight to the death to defend his territory against another male cougar, Beausoleil said.

“There’s a balance to these top predators. They can’t overpopulate,” he said.

Beausoleil said the research shows that cougar densities remain constant at 1.5 to 2 cougars for every 100 square kilometers. That figure was the same in six studies conducted in the Methow Valley, Issaquah, Cle Elum, Kettle Falls, Republic and the Blue Mountains.

This information and other data gathered in the studies will be important in guiding wildlife management policies, Beausoleil said.

Although the field research in the Methow Valley is completed, Beausoleil said he expects the cougar research team members to continue sharing what they’ve learned about the big cats.

“I know they’re going to continue to be ambassadors and educators. They’re so courteous and capable. People will call these guys and say, ‘Do I need to be afraid of a cat that walks over the property at 2 a.m.?’ If you call me and say, ‘There’s a cat under my porch,’ they’re the go-to guys for enforcement officers, for me.”

Photo courtesy of Chuck Smith: Okanogan Cougar Project Team members Kjell Lester, Bryan Smith, Steve Reynaud and Chuck Smith (left to right) were recently honored for their contributions to cougar research in the Methow Valley. They are holding a tranquilized six-year-old male the team named “Charlie.”

Date: 05-29-2013  |  Volume: 111  |  Issue: 3


Banff Cougar Attack: Officials Reopen Area Where Big Cat Attacked

CP  |  By The Canadian Press Posted:
BANFF, Alta. - Parks Canada says it has reopened an area north of the Banff townsite where a cougar attacked a man who fought the animal off with a skateboard.
Officials say wildlife specialists have searched extensively for the big cat involved in the attack on May 23, but have been unable to find it.
Nor have they found a carcass or anything else that would indicate the cougar's presence.
The man originally reported the attack anonymously, but officials tracked him down to get information about the cougar.
The man told them he was attacked while he was listening to music through earbuds and while walking between the townsite and an industrial area.
The cougar knocked him to the ground from behind, but the man was able to get away uninjured when he stunned the wildcat by hitting it with his skateboard.
A woman from nearby Canmore was killed by a cougar in 2001 while she was cross-country skiing near Lake Minnewanka, also in Banff National Park.
Cougars are normally very wary and selective of their prey. A resource conservation officer has said an animal might risk coming closer to people if it had experienced a difficult winter.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Image of the Day

Laugh again at these funny cats!


Cat 'Nurses' Ducklings Along With Her Own Kittens In Amazing Viral Video



Cats and baby ducks are pretty cute on their own --- but this video of a cat trying to nurse ducklings might just exceed the Internet's viral cuteness metric.

According to Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), Ireland's public radio company, this unlikely relationship was discovered after Ronan and Emma Lally, of Clara, Co. Offaly, noticed that three of their newly hatched ducklings had gone missing.

Ronan Lally blamed a neighborhood cat, dubbed "The White Cat," according to RTÉ, but the farmers' outrage turned to astonishment when they discovered the cat had stolen the ducks to nurse, not to eat.
In remarkable video posted on YouTube, the ducks can be seen crowding around the clearly protective mother, apparently trying to copy the feeding kittens.

However, Meredith Turner, a media relations specialist at farm animal rescue organization Farm Sanctuary, told The Huffington Post that while the video is adorable, "ducks absolutely cannot suckle."

Interspecies parenting is not an entirely new concept, of course. Examples of these decidedly nontraditional caregiving relationships include everything from a tiger raising piglets to a chimp bottle-feeding a bay hyena.

National Geographic notes that these types of adoptions happen between domestic animals pretty frequently -- although why they occur is more of a mystery.

"Instinctively animals take care of young to help them survive and therefore pass on the family DNA," author Jenny Holland told the site. "So I think there's some hard wiring in there that leads them to offer care to another animal in need. If it isn't a relative, there maybe some wires crossed, but I think the behavior comes from the same place."


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tiger, tiger burning up! Big cats at Thai temple do their best to beat stifling heat

  • Beautiful big cats pictured at Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
  • Around 100 live alongside Buddhist monks in controversial centre
  • Fearsome creatures able to get remarkably close to their keepers
By Steve Robson

When temperatures reaching a stifling 37 degrees, even these well-adapted tigers need to find a way of escaping the heat.

The beautiful big cats are pictured at the controversial Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where around 100 live alongside Buddhist monks.

Many were brought to the reserve as cubs and have grown up around humans. But even so these pictures show just how remarkably close these fearsome creatures can get to their keepers.

Cuddling up: In this remarkable photograph, an adult tiger and a Buddhist monk embrace in a seemingly mutual display of affection
Cuddling up: In this remarkable photograph, an adult tiger and a Buddhist monk embrace in a seemingly mutual display of affection

Feeding time: These beautiful creatures remain docile enough to be fed from the hands of a monk
Feeding time: These beautiful creatures remain docile enough to be fed from the hands of a monk

Chilling out: With temperatures soaring to more than 37 degrees in Thailand, the tiger sprawls out to make the best of the heat
Chilling out: With temperatures soaring to more than 37 degrees in Thailand, the tiger sprawls out to make the best of the heat

An adult tiger is, at first, sprawled out on the ground sunbathing, but then cuddles up close to one of his fellow residents in the shade.

Elsewhere, a young tiger was spotted happily playing around in a pool of water with a fascinating new toy. 

Along with soaring temperatures, the humidity in Thailand can reach an exhausting 90 per cent in the summer months.

Founded in 1994, the Tiger Temple has attracted criticism from some wildlife groups who claim it is an illegal breeding facility and that the tigers are not sufficiently cared for.

Splashing around: One of the younger tigers cools off in the water and has fun with a new toy
Splashing around: One of the younger tigers cools off in the water and has fun with a new toy 

Majestic: The Tiger Temple was founded in 1994 and takes in abandoned cubs whose mothers have often been killed by poachers
Majestic: The Tiger Temple was founded in 1994 and takes in abandoned cubs whose mothers have often been killed by poachers

Chewing the fat: The young tiger uses its powerful jaws to take a bite out of its new toy
Chewing the fat: The young tiger uses its powerful jaws to take a bite out of its new toy

Criticism: The Tiger Temple has denied claims that the animals are not well-cared for and insists it is a legitimate conservation centre
Criticism: The Tiger Temple has denied claims that the animals are not well-cared for and insists it is a legitimate conservation centre

The first cub arrived in 1999 after her mother was killed by poachers nearby.
She died, but others have since arrived and the tiger population has gradually grown. The centre has become a tourist attraction where visitors can pay a fee to have their picture taken alongside the animals.

The organistion insists that it is a legitimate conservation centre, that the animals are well-cared for and that the aim is to release them back into the wild in the future.


Legislation to corral big cats angers the circus industry (Good! Let the circuses die!)

By Kevin Bogardus - 05/29/13 
Animal rights lobbyists are teaming up with Congress to try and reduce the estimated 20,000 tigers, lions and other big cats that are kept in backyards and roadside zoos across the United States.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other groups are throwing their weight behind the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, which would ban keeping the animals as pets or breeding them for sale.

Under the bill, people who own big cats would be allowed to keep them, so long as they register their animals with the federal government. New acquisitions of the animals would be barred. Some states have already banned private ownership of big cats, while others have no restrictions.

IFAW argues the animals in untrained hands have become a public health danger. Since 1997, the group estimates that big cats in the U.S. have killed at least 22 people and injured roughly 200 more.
“It’s not just an animal welfare issue. It’s started to be taken more seriously as a public safety issue, so I think if we can get that message across, I think we can be successful,” said Tracy Coppola, IFAW’s campaigns officer.

The bill would target several breeds of big cats, such as cheetahs, leopards, lions and tigers.
But the aggressive push for the bill is being met with fierce resistance from the circus industry.
While the legislation includes an exception for traveling circuses, representatives for the Big Top say there is already plenty of regulation in place.

“We are opposed to it. We believe it is an unnecessary piece of legislation,” said Steve Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, which is the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

“There are a lot of local, state and federal regulations already in place governing the care of these animals. … We are very comfortable and confident with our own animal care,” Payne said.
Lobbyists for the circus industry fear the bill would affect the work of professional animal handlers who work with trained cats and say a broader exception might be needed.

“The circuses hire its acts from people who are federally licensed exhibitors and would be adversely impacted by this bill,” said Joan Galvin, a senior adviser at Kelley Drye & Warren. The firm represents Feld Entertainment as well as several other animal exhibitors.

“Most people would like to see a broader exemption because this is still going to catch several people who are professionals. … I think the larger community of animal exhibitors will oppose the bill,” Galvin said.

Supporters of the legislation stress that their focus isn’t the circus, but the thousands of amateur zookeepers who care for dangerous cats despite having little experience and training.

“The focus is not the circus. The focus is on people who own and breed these cats and operate roadside zoos,” Coppola said. “We didn’t want to get sidetracked. That is not the point of the bill.”
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) first introduced the big cats bill last year in response to the 2011 grisly incident in Zanesville, Ohio, where police officers were forced to gun down dozens of exotic animals — including lions and tigers — after their owner deliberately released them before committing suicide.

Tippi Hedren, famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, reached out to McKeon’s office soon after the Zanesville incident.

Hedren, who runs a big cat sanctuary in California, “educated us about the huge underground market of big cat possession, and the limited amount of resources the [Agriculture Department] has to address this problem,” said Alissa McCurley, a spokeswoman for McKeon.

McKeon reintroduced the big cats bill this year with Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) as a co-sponsor.

Animal rights groups estimate 10,000 to 20,000 big cats are being kept in backyards and roadside zoos in the U.S., but that’s only an educated guess. They say the true number won’t be known until the animals in private hands can be registered with the government.

“We don’t how many big cats are kept and where they all are. It’s a dangerous situation that needs to be addressed,” Coppola said.

IFAW is trying to draw attention to the bill with an ad campaign on the Washington Metro and on Capitol Hill bus shelters that encourages people to contact Congress and voice support.

Coppola is also trying to build a coalition of police officers and firemen to speak out in favor of the bill, including first responders from Zanesville.
The IFAW has brought on Tim Harrison, who responded to the emergency in Zanesville, as a consultant. IFAW is also sharing with lawmakers a letter in support of the bill from Matt Lutz, the Muskingum County, Ohio, sheriff who dealt with the Zanesville incident.

Other animal rights groups are lending support to the lobbying campaign.

“It’s not just us talking to legislators. We are mobilizing our grassroots to talk to their legislators,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president for Born Free USA, a wildlife conservation group.
Hedren is urging visitors to her sanctuary’s website to contact lawmakers to support the bill.

Animal rights activists said they have made some outreach to the circus industry as well. Prior to the bill’s introduction this year, Galvin with Kelley Drye & Warren said she was shown an early draft of the legislation by congressional aides.

“Obviously, they reached out to us for a reason. Certainly, reaching out to the circus community was appreciated and including the circus exemption was an act of good faith,” Galvin said.

But Galvin still has concerns about the bill, calling it “overly broad and overly restrictive.” She argued that the bill could affect state fairs, zoos that are not members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and even movie and television producers who use big cats.


Another big cat found dead in Uttarakhand

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Dehradun, May 30, 2013
A six-year-old tiger was found dead in the Terai West Forest Division of Uttarakhand on Wednesday raising the death toll of big cats in the state this year to eight.   The three-day-old carcass was found by patrolling staff in the Ampokhra range.

“Its body parts were
intact, but there were injury marks. The postmortem will be conducted to ascertain the actual reasons behind the death,” said the division forest officer (DFO) Rahul.
 Only two days ago, a tigress was found dead in the Dhela range of the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR), which is quite close to the Ampokhra range.

“The Terai West Forest Division is highly fragile. Already two tiger deaths have been reported from this region. Meanwhile, tiger deaths are continuously being reported from all parts of the state including CTR and Rajaji National Park. The forest department is responsible for these deaths as despite all efforts, the department has failed to conserve big cats in the state,” said Rajendra Agarwal, state head of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.


Image of the Day

Villy's big yawn! by Tambako the Jaguar
Villy's big yawn!, a photo by Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr.

One sleepy Snow Leopard

Guatemala's Jaguars: Capturing Phantoms in Photos

For unlucky prey, the last second glimpse of an approaching well-camouflaged jaguar might be the last. This photo is among the first collected from a large scale WCS-led camera-trap study in Guatemala.( Photo collected recently in 2013) (Credit: Rony Garcia © WCS)

May 28, 2013 — The Wildlife Conservation Society has released a photograph of a male jaguar taken by a remote camera trap in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve. Activated by motion or heat differentials, camera traps "capture" pictures of secretive and elusive animals in the wild. Because each jaguar's pattern of spots is unique, the photographs can be used to identify individuals and estimate abundance.

Integrating experience from more than 80 jaguar surveys, WCS has issued an updated version of its 2004 manual of methods to estimate jaguar population density using camera traps. The new manual -- available in Spanish and English at: shares lessons learned and recommendations for design and analysis that can improve density estimates.

Because jaguars roam widely seeking prey, the manual notes that density estimates require huge sample areas. In keeping with that recommendation, WCS is leading a survey in Guatemala using 50 stations of paired camera traps to cover a 500-square kilometer area of community-managed forest to learn more about these elusive creatures, including how many exist in the region.

"By protecting jaguar populations in globally significant, strategically located strongholds, our program contributes to range wide conservation of this species," said WCS Jaguar Coordinator Dr. John Polisar. "The jaguar in this photo is secure because its home is defended against illegal encroachments that would clear its forest habitat, and uncontrolled hunting that would reduce its prey.

The intent of the new manual is to share the knowledge we have gained, and it provides guidance on design and analysis for a next generation of jaguar population studies that are essential to informing conservation actions."

WCS's jaguar monitoring advances in Guatemala are being made possible through the generous financial support of: the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation; the US Agency for International Development/Rainforest Alliance -- Climate, Nature, and Communities in Guatemala Program; and the US Department of Interior -- International Technical Assistance Program. The Andean Bear Conservation Alliance is enabling this large scale jaguar survey through sharing equipment.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Wildlife Conservation Society.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Wildlife Conservation Society (2013, May 28). Guatemala's jaguars: Capturing phantoms in photos. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 29, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/05/130528160916.htm

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Image of the Day

Allwetter Zoo's Asian Golden Cat Twins Ready for Their Close-up

May 17, 2013

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My how they've grown! Twin Asian Golden cubs were born at Allwetter Zoo on April 7 and last Tuesday, they played and posed for the camera. Their natural beauty is evident against the pure white background.

Asiatic Golden Cats are highly threatened with extinction in the wild, so breeding them in zoos is one very important way to conserve the species. However, procreation and the successful rearing of their offspring can be tricky, so these two came into the world through artificial insemination. Click HERE for our May 3 article on this important birth, and to see their pictures as newborns.

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Photo Credit: Life on
Many more photos after the fold!
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Record View: The family of this passionate animal lover have shown restrained dignity in a fitting tribute to her short life

THE McClays hope Sarah's story will inspire others to get involved in conservation.
Sarah loved working with the big cats at the animal park
Sarah loved working with the big cats at the animal park

SARAH McClay died doing what she loved most – being with animals.

The Scots zoo keeper, who was mauled to death by a tiger, has been remembered by her family as a woman who was passionate. About life. And about wildlife.

The 24-year-old wrote of her job at the South Lakes Wild Animal Park: “I’m in charge of the big cats now. Epic.”

Sarah cared for creatures great and small. As a child, she had pets ranging from a ferret to stick insects.

She studied animal conservation at university and was a great champion of the endangered red squirrel.

Her partner David Shaw and Sarah’s family have acted with remarkable dignity.

They have called for the tiger to be spared, despite calls for it to be put down.

They responded in a measured way to claims from the zoo’s owner that Sarah was to blame for her own death by failing to follow procedures – a claim now discounted by police, who said she was in the staff enclosure and the tiger had somehow got in to attack her.

And they have thanked everyone who tried to save their daughter and sister.

The restrained dignity of Sarah’s family is a fitting tribute to a young woman who spent her short life caring for animals.

If her story inspires others to get involved in conservation, the McClays will have something to cling on to as well as personal memories.

Malayan Tiger cubs born at Busch Gardens Tampa

Three Malayan Tiger cubs were born at Busch Gardens Tampa on March 31, 2013 - 2 males and 1 female. Malayan Tigers are Critically Endangered. Scientists estimate that only 500 remain in the wild. These cubs will add to the genetic diversity of the Malayan Tiger population and contribute to conservation efforts for the species. Learn more today on ZooBorns.



Rare Asiatic Golden Cats are World-First Test Tube Babies

One of the Asiatic golden cat cubs at around 40 days old. Credit: Imke Lüders

A pair of Asiatic golden cats have been bred using artificial insemination for the first time in an effort to ensure the future of this rare and beautiful species.

Asiatic golden cats (Pardofelis temminckii) are small, nocturnal cats that live in the tropical rainforests of southeast Asia, their range stretching from China, Nepal and India to Burma, Thailand and Malaysia. They’re about two or three times the size of a house cat, the females growing to around 66 cm long (minus the tail) and 9 kg in weight, and the males are much larger at 105 cm long and 16 kg. They are shy animals that live solitary lives, fiercely maintaining large territories and only coming together briefly to mate.

The most common colouring of an Asiatic golden cat is a golden brown or fox-red, but they can also be a dark brown, grey or pale cinnamon. There is also a spotted, ocelot-like morph that is more common in China than the usual colouring, and numerous melanistic, or black, individuals have been found, particularly in Nepal. There’s even a tiny area in Sikkim, which is a small mountainous state in the Eastern Himalayan region, where melanistic Asiatic golden cats are far more common than any other morph.

asiatic golden cat
The golden coat of an adult Asiatic golden cat. Credit: Karen Stout; Flickr

Because of their striking colour, in some parts of Thailand Asiatic golden cats are called “Seua fai”, meaning ‘fire tiger’, and local legend states that the burning of its fur or the eating of its flesh can drive tigers away. The Karen people of Thailand and Burma believe that carrying a single Asiatic golden cat hair will have the same effect.

Habitat destruction and a relentless fur trade over the past few decades has seen the global population of the Asiatic golden cat dwindle to the point where we don’t know how many are left in the wild, and there are just 51 individuals in captivity in Europe and Asia. Captive breeding programs are essential to the survival of the species, but because we still know very little about their reproductive biology, and because they can be extremely aggressive towards each other, breeding them can be a very difficult and dangerous exercise, all the way from courtship to birth.

A 1997 study in the International Zoo Yearbook by zoo keeper Mike Brocklehurst from the Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens describes the extraordinary measures the zoo’s staff had to go through to breed their Asiatic golden cats, even with almost 30 years of experience. Since 1968, when the Melbourne Zoo acquired their first five Asiatic golden cats from Europe and the US, they’ve had two deaths because of male on male and female on female fights; one death during a male and female introduction; and another within an established mating pair. Brocklehurst also reports two instances of a male killing a young female after copulation, and while it never happened at Melbourne Zoo, adult males and females have also been known to cannibalise their own young. So breeding Asiatic golden cats the ‘natural’ way is never as simple as sticking two of them in a room together and hoping they get along.

A very proud Asiatic golden cat mum and her eight-week-old cub at Melbourne Zoo. Credit: Ned McLeod, Melbourne Zoo

According to Brocklehurst, their breeding process began with keeping a male and female in adjacent enclosures for 30 days, allowing them to see, smell and hear each other. Feeding was increased by 20% during this time to make them less aggressive. Then, a door is opened, allowing the pair to interact physically for just an hour a day, this period increasing over two weeks if there are no signs of aggression. If all is well, 24-hour access is finally allowed, and they have 70 days to mate before they are separated once again. This is ensure that the male doesn’t go on a killing spree if the female gives birth. If the female does not give birth after 90 days, the whole process begins again. If she does give birth, she’ll likely only have one cub.

More recently, staff at the Allwetter Zoo in Münster, Germany, were also having problems with their Asiatic golden cat breeding pair – ‘Lao’ the male and ‘Sua Fai’ the female. Lao had attacked Sua Fai, and they were worried that the next attack could be fatal. While they were unable to find another suitable mate for Sua Fai, the team was reluctant to remove such a young female from the limited breeding program, so considered breeding the pair through artificial insemination. Knowing that no one had successfully bred this species using artificial insemination before, they came up with different methods to complete the process without surgery, and relied on Sua Fai’s natural estrous cycle rather than a pre-treatment hormone program. The project was led by veterinarian Imke Lüders, a specialist in assisted reproduction techniques for zoo animals. “I had just tested a new semen collection method in lions and cheetahs in South Africa,” she says. “I think this was one of the key factors for a successful artificial insemination. Lions and cheetahs are much bigger, [but] the principles are the same.”

The mother 'Sua Fai' on day of insemination. Credit: Imke Lüders

Because they hd decided not to use a pre-treatment hormone program, the zoo staff had to observe Sua Fai closely to pick when she was in heat, which was their cue to extract the semen from Lao. In many animals, the semen required for artificial insemination is usually collected via electro ejaculation – placing electrodes into the rectum to stimulate the prostate and produce an ejaculation.

But this method causes urine contamination of the sample, plus high volumes of seminal plasma, which can reduce the chances of pregancy. So instead,  Lüders’s team anesthetised Lao, causing semen to be released into the urethra, and performed and enema and transrectal ultrasound scan to visualise the prostate. They then used a urinary catheter to collect a highly concentrated, uncontaminated semen sample. The female Sua Fai was anesthetised and given a dose of hormones to induce ovulation – which only worked because the zoo staff had correctly identified that she was in heat – and the semen was inserted into her uterus. After a period of about 80 days, Sua Fai gave birth to two cubs, a male and a female, on April 7.

One of the hand-raised cubs, called 'Cat Ba', at just one day old. Credit: Imke Lüders

“Usually, Asiatic golden cats give birth to one cub, but we had twins!” says Lüders. ”However, after initial intensive maternal care, Sua Fai changed her nesting box and left one cub [the female] behind. We were very happy that she showed such a good maternal instinct in the beginning – it is not unusual that first-time mothers do not take care of their babies at all, or even eat them.”

To ensure that Sua Fai didn’t stress out and neglect her other cub, the Allwetter Zoo staff removed the female cub she left behind. “While Sua Fai is still a perfect mom to the male cub, the female was hand-raised,” says Lüders. “Both cubs are doing fine! We even place the little female back to socialise with her brother when their mum is outside. They play a lot together. I really hope they both make it, and will bring new hope for the breeding program.”

The twins are now around 40 days old. Credit: Imke Lüders

Lüders now plans to help another European zoo breed their Asiatic golden cats using this new technique, and while it may help in situations similar to Lao and Sua Fai’s, she does not think it will take the place of breeding the cats naturally. “We need to focus on their social behaviour, and on creating harmonic breeding pairs. Maybe by introducing the partners much earlier in their life. But in our case, I am still very glad we did it. It is such a great thing for the cat to raise a baby – no better enrichment possible for a captive female.”

“These cats may adapt to a variety of habitats, but they need undisturbed, intact areas in order to find prey and raise their young,” she added. “This is becoming more and more scarce in Asia. As for so many other wildlife, the chances of survival are small. The Sumatran rhino is the first large species to say goodbye, and the others that will follow in the near future are the Asian elephant in Vietnam, the Orangutan in Malaysia, and the southeast Asian tigers. For the Asiatic golden cat, I hope their size may help them to survive longer and under more severe conditions, but it is hard to predict. We do not even know how many are still out there.”

Head over to Zooborns to see more photos of how incredibly gorgeous the twins are at seven weeks old, and watch a video of the cutest one-day-old roar ever.
My book, Zombie birds, astronaut fish and other weird animals, is now available in the US, from Amazon and most book stores.


Eurasian Lynx Cub Born At Nashville Zoo (PHOTOS)

The Nashville Zoo announced the birth of a female Eurasian lynx cub this week, joining three other lynx at the zoo. The cub was born on May 4.

“The cub arrived on its estimated due date based on the data the keepers collected, and she’s now being hand-raised by our animal care staff," the zoo's mammal curator, Connie Philipp, said in a statement. "She will eventually join an educational outreach program at another zoo.”
All photos courtesy of Amiee Stubbs Photography.

Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) are classified as "least concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Although the illegal skin trade remains the leading threat to the species, their population trend is considered stable.

The lynx population is estimated to be around 8,000 in Europe, but significantly higher in Russia and Central Asia.

The Nashville Zoo also welcomed the birth of three clouded leopards in May.

Lynxes effect-wild cats set for a return

Wild cats
Comback kits ... wild lynxes could be set for UK return

WILD lynxes might be reintroduced to the British countryside after dying out here almost 1,000 years ago. 
The big cats, which can reach four feet in length, could be released on the west coast of Scotland. 
The Lynx UK Trust charity hopes to get its application to reintroduce them considered by Scottish Natural Heritage this week. 
Here, a TV wildlife expert argues the creatures will be good for Britain even if farmers and game owners are worried: 

LYNXES used to be here and, along with wolf and bear, were our “top of the food-chain” mammal predators.

We killed them off long ago and ever since we have been living an artificially cosy existence in a predator-less countryside.

As a result we have a deer population that is raging out of control and damaging many habitats and the species that live in them — things such as woodland birds and butterflies.

Predator ... wild cat (alamy)
Lynxes weigh in at up to 30kgs, or almost 5st, and their preferred prey is roe deer. With 350,000 of these deer in Scotland alone there’s plenty of food out there for them — they would eat about 60 each a year.

But would or could they hurt us? Emphatically no. These cats are so secretive that their presence can go unnoticed for years.

Have they ever attacked humans? There are no authenticated attacks by healthy wild lynxes on humans.

Would they kill livestock? Yes, sheep, sporadically and in predictable and controllable ways which can thus be managed. But already the “scaremongers” have piped up with mistruths and mischief.
Is it too much to ask that those who wish to debate and decide the project are aware of the realities of living with lynxes and of their real ecology and behaviour?

So let’s exclude the opinions of the ill-informed and narrow-minded and get on with making the UK a better place for wildlife.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Does Catnip Only Affect Cats?

Does Catnip Only Affect Cats? 

May 26, 2013
Emily Scott of Atlanta writes:
Marilyn: You wrote that catnip affects even big cats, such as lions. Do any other species react to it?

Marilyn responds:
Yes, but not with love. Mosquitoes detest catnip—an herb, not to be confused with catmint, a close relative—even more than they loathe DEET, the chemical found most often in insect repellents. Catnip is easy to grow, but you probably don’t want to plant it everywhere to keep pests at bay unless you really like cats. Rats and mice also hate catnip, but when your property is covered with cats, who cares?


Scientists capture one of the world's rarest big cats on film (photos)

Jeremy Hance
May 21, 2013

Less than a hundred kilometers from the bustling metropolis of Jakarta, scientists have captured incredible photos of one of the world's most endangered big cats: the Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas). Taken by a research project in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park, the photos show the magnificent animal relaxing in dense primary rainforest. Scientists believe that fewer than 250 mature Javan leopard survive, and the population may be down to 100.

"After I set up the camera and I checked the results, and I saw the leopard pictures I was very, very happy," says Age Kridalaksana with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in a video produced by CIFOR (see below). In all, Kridalaksana captured three different leopards on the camera trap, representing perhaps 3 percent of the total population. One of the leopards photographed was melanistic, or sporting a black coat.

However, three leopards in the small area may represent a problem according to Kridalaksana.

"Because the leopard is the top predator in the food chain system, I think it is too much, if we compare with the prey like deer, like mouse, like civet. We assume that the condition of the ecosystem is not balanced, so the leopard tends to find another place to find a meal."

Such ecological conditions are likely pushing leopards into nearby villages, spawning human-wildlife conflict. Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park is surrounded by densely populated villages, including some that are located within the park boundaries. Making matters worse, some villagers poach game with in the park.

"Indeed we have a very big challenge since more than 300 villages are located inside or around the park with more than 100,000 individuals," Iwan Ridwan, a forestry technician with Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park, says in the video by CIFOR. "The most significant threat is deforestation, since deforestation reduces the habitat of these species and reduces their living space in order to search for food and to reproduce."

Officials are working on programs to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and create new economic opportunities that don't depend on the park for livelihoods.

Not surprisingly the Javan leopard is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. In many ways, its surprising to have a big cat surviving on an island home to around 120 million people and rising. Javan used to have its own subspecies of tiger as well, but the Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) went extinct in the 1970s. Much work remains to save the Javan leopard from the same fate as its bigger cousin.

Javan leopard in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park,. Photo by: Age Kridalaksana/CIFOR.
Javan leopard in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park. Photo by: Age Kridalaksana/CIFOR.

Javan leopard in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park,. Photo by: Age Kridalaksana/CIFOR.
Javan leopard in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park,. Photo by: Age Kridalaksana/CIFOR.

Javan leopard in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park,. Photo by: Age Kridalaksana/CIFOR.
Javan leopard in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park,. Photo by: Age Kridalaksana/CIFOR.