Friday, November 29, 2013

Devin Hester races big cat in 'Man v. Cheetah'

"Man v. Cheetah" pits Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester and Titans running back Chris Johnson against the big cats. The special debuts at 8 p.m. CST Nov. 29 on Nat Geo WILD.

Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester tests his speed and agility against the world's fastest land mammal in Nat Geo WILD's "Man v. Cheetah."

The Big Cat Week special, airing at 8 p.m. Nov. 29, pits two cheetahs from Busch Gardens Florida against Hester and Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson in races. A 10-foot-tall wall separates the competitors, which made Hester feel just a little better about the race. "I hope it's not possible he can jump over this one," Hester says in the special after being told that cheetahs can jump up to 8 feet high. "If it comes down to it, I'm hoping I can get away from him."

According to the special, Hester is considered the NFL's most agile player and one of the greatest kick returners in history, while Johnson is officially the fastest active NFL player with a 4.24-second result in the 40-yard dash. Neither of them runs as fast as track star Usain Bolt, who set a world record in 2009 by posting a 9.58-second time in the 100-meter dash—nealry 28 miles per hour according to the special.

A cheetah's top speed is more than 60 miles per hour. The special shows cool computer-altered footage of Bolt's world-record race that adds a cheetah as one of the racers. With a 5.96-second time, the cheetah beats Bolt by more than 3.5 seconds.

That speed ensures cheetahs likely will win any side-by-side race. So the Nat Geo WILD folks came up with a way to give Hester and Johnson an advantage in their races against the big cats. By running the races as back-and-forth line races in which the runners have to change directions quickly, the men have a better chance.

Since the cheetahs are so fast, changing directions so quickly becomes tricky. Johnson's race took place on a 30-yard track with one turn, while Hester's race was on a longer course with more turns.

"Man v. Cheetah" goes into depth about cheetahs and how they are built for maximum speed in the wild. It also shows what advantages and disadvantages they face in the wild, and against the NFL players.

Watch the video above to get a better idea about the races, but you'll have to tune in to see how Hester and Johnson do against their four-legged foes.

Here's what Hester had to say after it was over: "Crazy, man."


A New Species of Wild Cat Found Prowling Brazilian Forests and Grasslands

Picture of a tigrina in Brazil
The tigrina is actually two separate species, say researchers in a new report. Photograph by Tadeu Oliveira

Wild cats are charismatic creatures, so you’d think we’d know them all pretty well by now. Just how little we understand—at least in some cases—is reflected in the identification of a new species of cat known as a tigrina in northeastern Brazil.

Scientists have discovered that two populations of tigrina previously thought to be one species do not, in fact, interbreed and thus are distinct, according to results published today in Current Biology. “So much is still unknown about the natural world, even in groups that are supposed to be well-characterized, such as cats,” says the study’s lead author, Eduardo Eizirik of Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. “In fact, there are many basic aspects that we still don’t know about wild cats, from their precise geographic distribution and their diets.”

Eizirik’s results have implications for conservation efforts—particularly laws about poaching and the designation of national parkland. Such measures are often focused on individual species. Recognizing the northeastern tigrina as distinct means that biologists will have to assess its conservation status and determine what steps need to be taken so that both species of tigrina can be adequately protected.

Ancient Interbreeding

Eizirik and colleagues weren’t looking to discover a new species. Instead, they were looking to understand the evolutionary history of what were thought to be three species of cat from the genus Leopardus:

The Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo) looks like a large, heavy-set, long-haired house cat. It lives in the grasslands and scrublands of South America, from southern Argentina and Chile up through Peru and Ecuador along the western third of the continent.

Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyiis roughly the same size as the Pampas cat, with a brownish-yellow or gray coat, black spots on its trunk, and dark bands across its tail and limbs. Like the Pampas cat, Geoffroy’s cat likes scrublands and lives throughout Argentina.

The tigrina (Leopardus tigrinus), also known as the oncilla or little spotted cat, lives throughout much of Central and South America. With a yellow-brown coat and black rosettes, the tigrina looks like a house cat-sized leopard. Scientists had previously identified four sub-populations of tigrina, including the southern tigrina, which lives primarily in Brazil’s mountainous forests, and the northeastern tigrina, which lives in savannahs and grasslands. The coat of the northeastern tigrina is slightly lighter, and the rosettes are sightly smaller, than those of its southern relative. (Learn about National Geographic’s big cats initiative.)

Eizirik and colleagues obtained DNA samples from a total of 216 different Leopardus cats across their ranges. Analysis of the DNA sequences found in the mitochondria, the cell’s power plant, revealed ancient interbreeding between the Pampas cat and the northeastern tigrina. Since an individual only inherits mitochondrial DNA from its mother, researchers could peer into the ancient history of these two felines, and found that they mated together frequently before the two cats split into separate species.

Although the Geoffroy’s cat and the southern tigrina divided into separate species over a million years ago, they began to mate together in the more recent past in the areas of southern Brazil and Bolivia where their habitats overlap. While the two cats interbreed regularly at this contact zone, the mating doesn’t extend to farther areas and the two species remain distinct.

Known Unknowns

When Eizirik and colleagues analyzed the genetics of the two different tigrina populations, however, they were surprised to learn that genes did not appear to be moving between the northeastern and southern tigrinas. “This observation implies that these tigrina populations are not interbreeding, which led us to recognize them as distinct species,” Eizirik says. The researchers have suggested that the northeastern tigrina retain its current name of L. tigrinus, while dubbing the southern tigrina L. guttulus. “Very little was—and still is—known about this species,” says Eizirik. “There have been some initial studies on its diet, but still most of its basic biology remains poorly known, including density, habitat use, and population trends.”


Fate of cougars following fatal attack up in air

Sanctuary's lawyer: Probes into keeper's death ongoing

By Geoff Pursinger, Pamplin Media Group
Published: November 28, 2013
The fate of the cougar that attacked a Portland woman at a Sherwood, Ore., big cat sanctuary will not be decided until after several agencies have finished their investigations into what happened, according to an attorney representing the sanctuary.
Dane Johnson, an attorney representing WildCat Haven Sanctuary, said there has been little discussion into what to do with the two cougars that were in the enclosure with Renee Radziwon-Chapman, the 36-year-old animal keeper who was killed by at least one of the two cats Nov. 9.
"The investigation of the incident is ongoing, so there hasn't been a determination of anything that would happen with the cat or cats that appear to have attacked Renee," Johnson said. "I don't know that it has been the subject of any discussions that I am aware of."
Johnson said the two cats continue to be cared for at the facility along with the rest of the sanctuary's more than 60 wild cats.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees animal sanctuaries and zoos across the country, has begun an investigation into what happened, as has the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Division, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the sanctuary itself.
Johnson said the sanctuary would wait until those investigations are finished before coming to a decision on what to do with the animals.

Questions linger

Radziwon-Chapman was in an enclosure that housed three cougars. One of them was in a separate "lock-in" area the cats are placed in during cleanings and maintenance. It is not yet clear which of the two cougars left in the enclosure attacked Radziwon-Chapman, but sheriff's deputies noted in their report that one of the cats had blood on its nose when investigators arrived on scene on Nov. 9.
The sanctuary includes profiles of each of the facility's nine cougars on its website.
Most of the cougars at the shelter came from private owners who could not care for the animals themselves. The cats were abused and neglected, several on the verge of death when they were brought to the sanctuary.
At least one of the cats is a wild cougar brought in after it was found sick and dying in a garage in Kennewick.
"Generally speaking, (the cats) were acquired as pets, and the owners later found that that was a poor decision," Johnson said. "That is usually where they come from."
Johnson did not say which of the sanctuary's nine cougars were in the enclosure with Radziwon-Chapman at the time of the attack.
"I don't know which cat or cats were involved in the attack, and I don't know that it will ever be known," Johnson said.

Animals are secure

Widely reported in the media was a statement issued by the sanctuary the day after the attack saying Radziwon-Chapman appeared to have been alone in the enclosure at the time of the attack, and that the animals were not secured in the "lock-in" area when the attack occurred.
The sanctuary's policy is to have at least two trained staff members on hand any time someone enters an enclosure.
According to Johnson, the company has three full-time employees, including Radziwon-Chapman, as well as a fluctuating group of volunteers and the sanctuary's co-founders Mike and Cheryl Tuller, who live on the premises.
"This sanctuary is always staffed," Johnson said.


Couple spot mysterious big cat

By Jackie Grant

Mini break pair out walking their dog in woods near Carronbridge were "stunned" to  come face to face with unidentified creature

Craig and Gillian came face to face with the big cat near Carronbrige
Craig and Gillian came face to face with the big cat near Carronbrige
A couple walking in woods near Carronbridge say they came face to face with a mysterious big cat.

Craig Johnstone, 27, and his girlfriend Gillian Kennedy, 26, were staying at Trigony House Hotel near Thornhill last weekend.

They took their dog for a walk on Sunday morning when they came across a “large, black cat” lying down staring at them.

Stunned Craig said: “It was around 50 metres away from us and its head measured approximately one and a half feet from the ground.

“It just stared at us for 30 seconds.

“Gillian panicked and moved away. I went with her but went back after a few seconds to see if I could get a better picture but it was away.”

Craig described the strange creature as being “very stalky, jet black with small rounded ears”.

“It was strange because I’ve always been fascinated with big cats.

“I’ve read in the papers about people spotting them and it interests me but I never thought I’d see one with my own eyes.

“The night before in the hotel, I said to Gillian that the area is well-known for big cat sightings.”

The Paisley couple had just started out on their morning walk when they came across the cat.

And although it was their first time staying in the area, Craig is already looking forward to coming back.
“I can’t say the same about Gillian. She panicked and just wanted to get away but we decided to keep going with our walk.

“I did pick up the biggest boulder I could find and took it with us though – just in case.”

Craig and Gillian aren’t the only people to have spotted big cats in the region.

Last July, 22-year-old Samantha Garden was on her way to work in Lockerbie when she noticed a strange looking creature standing in the middle of the road near Hoddom Bridge.

In January, 2012 Aaron Halliday and Nathan Crosbie spotted a big cat similar to a panther in a field near Dalbeattie.

And in 2011, three mysterious cat sightings were reported in the space of a month.

Dan Alexander, of Dumfries, claimed to have seen a creature on the A75 near Newton Stewart.
Before that, Dumbarton lorry driver John Spence said he saw two big cats dart in front of his vehicle on the same road near Creetown.

And on the same day, Janet Davies spotted an animal near the quarry at Tynron which she called a panther.
According to police, big cat sightings are not uncommon in the area but no creature has ever been traced to verify the claims.


BBP loses two big cats to illnesses

Bangalore: November 29, 2013 DHNS
 Lakshmi, a 21-year-old lioness, died at the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) on Thursday after suffering from an age-related illness.

According to sources, the condition of the lioness worsened following a  hysterectomy (removal of uterus) three days ago. The animal stopped eating and succumbed to its illness. The animal’s visceral samples were sent to the Institute of Animal Health Veterinary Biologicals for clinical examination. 

Lakshmi had been rescued from the New Grand Circus Pandharpur in Maharashtra in July 2003. The park houses over 38 lions and one tiger at the rescue centre.

Tiger death

The park also lost Masthi, an 18-year-old tiger which had escaped from poachers in 2002 after becoming ensnared in a jaw trap. Medical personnel at the park had partially amputated the zoo’s forelimb, to free it from the trap. According to Range Gowda, the executive director of the BBP, Masthi’s immune system had become weak and it had developed complications because of the amputated leg. “The animal was under treatment for the past six month and succumbed to its injuries recently,” he added. 

The BBP houses over 41 tigers, 37 lions and 19 panthers at the safari.

In addition to the carnivores, the park has lost over 28 herbivores to foot and mouth disease. According to sources here, the disease broke out in the park this September. “Although its spread has been controlled to a large extent, there are many animals which have difficulty walking,” Gowda said and added that many spotted deer and blackbucks have been found in this condition.”  The 28 herbivores include two gaurs, eight nilgais, with the rest being spotted deer and blackbucks.

The park is currently home to a four-month-old leopard cub which was recently rescued in Magadi in the Ramanagara division and an old panther which was rescued from Gadag. Range Gowda said that both animals will be released into the forest shortly.


Rare evidence of big cats breeding

29 November 2013

WWF has released infra-red photos showing rare evidence of endangered Amur leopards and tigers roaming freely with their cubs in China’s north-eastern forests. The images been hailed by WWF conservationists as rare evidence that both of these species are raising cubs in the greater Changbai Mountains area, which has not been documented before.

picture of leopard cub The camera traps, set up by WWF and Feline Research Centre of SFA, show an Amur leopard with two cubs strolling in the Wangqing National Nature Reserve, 30 kilometers away from Hunchun. “These are unprecedented image evidences showing Amur leopard actually breeds in China,” said Dr. Jiang Guangshun - executive deputy director of the Feline Research Centre of SFA. “This female Amur leopard is with its twin cubs at least, which are 5-months-old.”

The appearances of breeding groups not only serve as convincing evidence that Amur tigers and leopards reproduce and inhabit China’s Changbai Mountains area but also a demonstration that big cats are moving towards greater Changbai areas and inland regions.

The corridor and network linking Wangqing, Hunchun, Suiyang and Dongning in the Northeast is a prioritized area for WWF’s tiger and leopard conservation work.

“It’s a major distribution area of Amur tiger and leopard. What’s more, it is a vital path for big cats to move towards China’s inland,” said Fan Zhiyong, director of species programme at WWF-China.

“We look to improve the environment of habitats for Amur tiger and leopard in China, so as to ensure the big cats can breed and their population can therefore recover,” said Shi Quanhua, head of WWF’s Northeast China Office. 


Could paintings produced by cats be the next big thing on the art scene?

editorial image
editorial image
An enterprising volunteer at Cats Protection Belfast has helped feline residents discover their hitherto untapped artistic talents. JOANNE SAVAGE finds out about a new collection of novel paintings by cats

Who knew that cats could produce abstract-impressionist outworks full of colour and interesting patterns?
Volunteer at the Cats Protection Centre in Belfast, Valeria Higgins, has helped the feline residents discover their inner artist with the help of an unusual iPad app called Paint for Cats – which allows paw marks on the screen to become part of paintings, which are built up in novel arrangements of colour as paw marks increase on the screen.

The centre has discovered, to its surprise and delight, what Picasso-like painters cats can be with the right artistic direction.

Now, possibly for the first time ever in Northern Ireland, a fine collection of cat paintings, all completely created by the cats themselves, will go on sale at the Protection Centre in Dundonald, with funds raised from the sale to go towards the continued work of the centre in providing stray cats with shelter and love before helping to rehome them.

The talented felines discovered their artistic side when volunteer at the centre Valeria Higgins – a passionate cat lover – brought her iPad to work and let the cats get to grips with the specially designed application.
“The cats displayed very different artistic styles,” says Valeria, the centre’s in-house art facilitator and cat art critic.

“Some were very keen to start painting and would cover the whole canvas within a matter of seconds, while others would look at the screen and ponder what they wanted to draw – ending up with just a single paw print in the middle of the painting.

“The cats’ styles also differed – certain cats would use a lot of blobs and splodges, while others used thick lines across the whole of the screen.

“All the art works look very different, which makes this sale unique.”

The application allowed the artistic felines to express their creativity without getting their paws and tail dirty (everybody knows cats are immaculately clean, elegant creatures and to be covered in real paint and bedraggled by art materials would be simply disastrous).

Being so clever and up-to-date on all modern gadgets and gizmos, cats have really taken to the app which lets them paint to their hearts’ content, with a variety of colours and themes, while maintaining supreme cleanliness and poise.

What is really interesting, as Valeria, 31, who lives in Newtownabbey with her own cats Aussie and Smeagol, has observed, is the different artistic styles that have emerged here – showing each cat’s unique personality and approach to artistic expression.

These unusual artworks go on sale at the Cats Protection Belfast Christmas Food and Craft Fair on Saturday November 30 at the Cats Protection Belfast Adoption Centre, Belfast Road, Dundonald, 1-4pm. All proceeds go towards the continued work of the centre.

Belfast Adoption Centre manager Bel Livingstone said: “We always knew that we had special cats in the centre, but didn’t realise the wealth of untapped talent there really was.

“Valeria has not only provided our centre cats with hours of stimulation and enjoyment but found a way in which the cats themselves can help raise funds, so we can continue to help other cats and kittens this winter.
“I would encourage everyone to come along and see for themselves the colourful array of cat art on display at the Belfast Adoption Centre and of course meet the artists in person.”

The cats already at the centre know what a good life they have, being rescued off the street, having their injuries tended to, provided with food, shelter and love – and now the opportunity to develop their artistic side. The sale of cat artworks could start a serious bidding war and will undoubtedly raise much needed funds for the invaluable work of Cats Protection.

Perhaps Charles Saatchi will soon be on the phone: cat art could be the next big thing.

These fabulous cat artworks will go on sale at the Cats Protection Belfast Food and Craft Fair, Cats Protection Belfast Adoption Centre, Belfast Road, Dundonald, November 30, 1-4pm. Prices start from £1 for a small print, with framed paintings on sale for £10. 


Guard Dogs Keep Big Cats Away from Livestock

By James A. Foley
Nov 28, 2013
According to new research from the University of Kent, livestock owners in South Africa can significantly reduce conflict between their animals and large carnivores such as cheetahs and leopards by employing guard dogs. (Photo : via Flickr user oldandsolo) 
According to new research from the University of Kent, livestock owners in South Africa can significantly reduce conflict between their animals and large carnivores such as cheetahs and leopards by employing guard dogs.

The find is good news for livestock owners and conservationists alike, as the former's herd may be spared from becoming a big cat's next meal and the latter will herald the reduction of unwarranted killing of endangered species.

The researchers said that the presence of guard dogs eliminated the loss of livestock to predatory carnivores by 91 percent, which they said amounted to an annual savings of $3,000 to the farmers whose livestock would have died otherwise.
The guard dogs offered ranchers piece of mind, the researchers learned, after ranchers reported increased tolerance of predatory animals roaming their land as long as a dog was present. Ranchers without guard dogs did not seem to be as tolerant of cheetah and other predators roaming their land, while ranchers with guarding dogs reported a greater overall presence of predatory animals on their land.

"This research has shown for the first time that livestock guarding dogs can successfully be used in South Africa to protect livestock from attack by predators as large as leopards or small as jackals," said conservation ecologist Nikki Rust. "This is a true win-win solution to reduce conflict between livestock and predators, because it almost eliminates livestock losses to predators, saving the farmer a lot of money, whilst increasing the tolerance of predators from the farmers, thereby reducing the chance of using lethal control on threatened carnivores."

Douglas Macmillan, of Cambridge's Durrell Institute of Conservation Ecology, said: "Retaliatory killing by farmers is a major threat to the survival of many large carnivore species. This study shows that livestock deaths can be avoided through the deployment of highly trained dogs, and I am sure that there are many similar situations around the world where such dogs could make quite a difference to the survival chances of large carnivores."

Rust, Macmillan and their colleagues' research is published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.


Tiger handler 'mistaken for toy'

Ninemsn staff

November 27, 2013

Shocking new footage has emerged showing the moment a tiger’s affectionate moment with his trainer at Australia Zoo turned dangerous, as the giant animal gripped the handler by the neck and dragged him underwater.

The 114kg tiger that mauled an Australia Zoo handler mistook the trainer for one of its favourite toys, the zoo's director says.
Dave Styles, 30, normally wears khaki inside the enclosure at the Sunshine Coast zoo.

But on Tuesday afternoon he was dressed in a blue poncho-top with bags over his hands, while preparing to film a BBC documentary.

The Courier-Mail reports that the outfit made him resemble garbage bags that the big cats bite and maul as play toys.

Zoo director Wes Mannion confirmed the bag-like suit was used as an "enrichment" tool during the tiger play session.

Mr Mannion said the six-year-old, 114kg Sumatran-Bengal known as Charlie became "overexcited" and mistook Mr Styles for a toy.

November 27, 2013: New vision has emerged of a senior trainer at the Australia Zoo being mauled by a tiger.
"We don't try and stop them from biting the toys they play with and, like I said, it was an accident," he was quoted as saying.

"He didn't think he had a human, he thought he had a toy."

Charlie the tiger left Mr Styles with serious wounds when he dragged him into the pool and bit him on the neck and shoulder.

Concerns have been raised that the tiger team was trying to excite the big cat to obtain footage for a six-month BBC filming project at the zoo.

At the time of the attack, Mr Styles had a GoPro camera strapped to his head to familiarise the big cats with the device.

The zoo insists the camera was not filming at the time, however.

November 26, 2013: An employee of Queensland’s Australia Zoo has been airlifted to hospital after he was reportedly mauled by a tiger.
Source: Ninesmen
Author: Erin Tennant, Approving editor: Nicholas McCallum

Animals at Big Cat rescue in Citrus Park find turkeys in their enclosures

Posted: 11/27/2013
CITRUS PARK, Fla. - Thanksgiving is one of the favorite holidays for the exotic cats at Big Cat Rescue, because they get to eat Butterball turkeys.  Some of the smaller exotic cats eat game hens.

The food serves as a snack as well as providing mental stimulation for what would otherwise be an ordinary day for the cats.

Lioness Nikita, tiger Alex and leopard Reno all received a Butterball turkey.  Smaller cats including Amazing Grace the Ocelot and Frosty the Serval ate game hens.

Big Cat Rescue is the largest accredited sanctuary in the world dedicated entirely to rescuing and providing a permanent home for abused and abandoned exotic cats.  The sanctuary is home to more than 100 big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, and bobcats.  To find out more about the rescue click here .


Big cat sightings — are they real?

A Canada Goose displays its wings.A Canada Goose displays its wings.
By Kevin Wright
for the Daily Ledger

Posted Nov. 27, 2013

He was on his morning stroll when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. It was moving from left to right in front of him. It was sleek and powerful looking. It was a cat — a big cat — a cougar!
At first, he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. After all, who would expect to be seeing something like this in central Illinois? The man described the scene to me, giving all the details, and was still not clear what he had just seen. “Sounds like you just had an experience with a cougar,” I said.
The entire sighting lasted just a minute or two, but it was enough to etch in his mind that cougars do exist in Illinois. And there was a time in my mind that I thought that the whole cougar thing could be thrown in with Bigfoot sightings, but not anymore.
Just the other day, a cougar was shot and killed by Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials in northern Illinois. It was spotted in and around a farm house. But for some reason, the IDNR decided it had better kill the cat, even though the cougar had not threatened anyone or anything. I ponder this decision.
There has also been a trail cam photo of a cougar floating around. I believe it was from the southern part of the state, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
Then, just last week, I heard of another sighting just north of Canton. It supposedly ran across the highway in front of a car. Again, this one is just a rumored sighting, and I did not get any other information on the incident.
If you put it all, together there have been several sightings of the big cats over the last several years. Only a handful of those have actually been confirmed, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Canton, Lewistown, Smithfield, Farmington, Cuba and Pekin are just a few of the places where sightings have taken place.
Don’t get me wrong — I do feel that many of the rumored sightings are nothing more than someone’s yellow lab or some other critter. But there are a select few that I will always wonder if it was indeed a cougar.
While I do not think that there is an actual resident population of cougars in Illinois, I do feel there are some free roaming males from the Black Hills that are in search of new territories. I also question the fact that if these cats knew they were in Illinois, they might just turn around and go back to where they came from!
In other news, I write this just soon after the closing of the first deer shotgun season. And it appears that things were a little slow. The word from many hunters was they were not seeing the deer. Of course, the weather was a bit brutal for the opening weekend, and that might have played a factor.

But it is a fact that disease might be playing a major hand in the decline of the Illinois deer population. Blue tongue disease has been tough on the deer the last few years. The drought conditions we have suffered through the last few years have been just has tough on wildlife as well. Countless dead deer have been found, and despite claims that the disease was less prevalent this year, dead deer are still being found. And now toss in the mix of numerous deceased deer being found in cornfields while farmers have been working their fields, and we have a story on our hands!
It is true that some areas are being hit harder than others. In areas that I photograph, I have been seeing deer and lots of them. But travel 20 miles or less in any direction, and it is a different story. Something is not right. There is still a lot of deer hunting time left, but once these seasons are over, the deer population question has to be looked at in a hard way. Some things might have to be changed to turn this situation around!
Driving the other day, I spotted two Tundra Swans in a field just outside of Canton. Tundras have a black bill compared to the orange bill of the all-to common Mute Swans that have taken over our marshes. We typically get a few Tundras and Trumpeter Swans in our area every year.
Emiquon is a hot spot for these species as well as several other species of birds, including Loons. Right now, you could head to Emiquon and have an excellent time of birding for many species.
Fall kind of slipped by in a hurry. One day, we are talking about the colors coming on, and then here comes the wind and rain and just as quickly as they came on. All the leaves are gone. Now the dark grays are the colors of choice. Find water, and you will find some exciting displays of wildlife. Don’t miss out on it!


Endangered big cats swap homes

Endangered big cats swap homes

Last updated 28/11/2013

Hamilton and Auckland zoos will pull a striped switcheroo today.

Male sumatran tigers Oz and Jaka will travel in opposite directions along State Highway 1 to swap homes in a bid to help further the international breeding programme for the critically-endangered big cat. The key move is for 9-year-old Oz - who relocated from Tel Aviv to Auckland in 2006 and fathered Auckland Zoo's first tiger cubs in 2008 - to Hamilton Zoo to be paired up with 5-year-old Sali.

Due to poaching, loss of rainforest habitat from illegal logging and expansion of the palm oil industry, there are now fewer than 400 sumatran tigers remaining in the wild.

Zoos throughout Australasia, America, Europe, Japan and Indonesia are working together to manage an insurance population of sumatran tigers - around 300 animals.

Both Oz and Jaka have been trained to walk into custom-built crates for their 90-minute road trips.
The day-long moving operation will see Oz transported to Hamilton Zoo late in the morning, and then the Auckland Zoo keepers will return with Jaka in the afternoon.

Hamilton Zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh said staff were very excited about their first opportunity to contribute to the conservation effort.

"Sali is a very popular tiger with all who get to know her.
"She is a lovely, playful young female, and we're very hopeful that she will prove to be a good mother," Mrs Kudeweh said.

Auckland Zoo's carnivore team leader Bruce Murdock said the move was a great team effort for a species that urgently needs all the help it can get.
Following his quarantine at Auckland Zoo, Jaka will be on public display around Christmas, he said.

Kudeweh said Oz will be on public display within a few days of his arrival, and breeding plans will progress slowly throughout next year, and be led by the behaviour of both tigers.


Images of the Day

Leopard getting down the tree

Profile of the leopard on the rock

Nice leopard posing with open mouth


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Big Cat - Zoo Birth Announcements!

Jaguars are already one of the world's most endangered species, but one of the two cubs on display at Zacango Zoo in Mexico is even more rare because it is melanistic. That means the animal appears completely black, although you can actually see spots if you look carefully. The two cubs were bred from different mothers and they're the first of their kind to be born at the zoo for a decade.

Still too fragile to wander freely around the zoo's jaguar enclosure with their parents, the two cubs currently receive round-the-clock care from keepers, who give the furry felines a specialist diet of milk, chicken and calcium supplements. Once revered by pre-Colombian cultures, Mexican jaguars now face possible extinction because of a loss of habitat and human demand for jaguar fur. Report by Mark Morris.

New jaguar cubs born at Milwaukee County Zoo
MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee County Zoo is introducing two new jaguar cubs to the world Thursday.  The two cubs were born at the Zoo on November 13th.  They don't yet have names.  These are the first new jaguar cubs at the Zoo since 1975.  (Photos courtesy Milwaukee County Zoo)


November 28, 2013

Meet Burgers' Zoo's Cheetah Cub Trio

1 cheetah
As a Thanksgiving treat, here's a sneak peek at the newest little Cheetahs at Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands!

For the next few months they will stay behind the scenes so that mom can raise her cubs undisturbed. Once they're old enough they will have a veterinary checkup to get vaccinated and to determine their sexes.

Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened species. Current estimates place the wild Cheetah population at around 7,500 individuals. We're thankful for zoos that aid wildlife conservation through cooperative captive breeding programs, research, and by reaching out to engage and educate the public.

2 cheetah
3 cheetah
4 cheetahPhoto credit: Burgers' Zoo

Leopardus guttulus: New Species of Wild Cat from Brazil

Nov 28, 2013 by Sergio Prostak

According to a new DNA analysis conducted by Brazilian researchers, a rare species of wild cat called the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus) – one of the smallest wild cats in the Americas – is actually two separate species.

Leopardus guttulus. Image credit: Trigo TC et al.
Leopardus guttulus. Image credit: Trigo TC et al.

Oncillas, also known as tigrinas, little spotted cats, little tiger cats, tigrillos, or tiger cats, are wild, housecat-sized leopards native to montane and tropical rainforests of Costa Rica, Brazil and Argentina.
These wild cats weight as little as 1.5 kg, and usually do not exceed 3 kg with males slightly larger than females. Their body length can be anywhere between 35 to 60 cm, with a height of about 25 cm. They have a yellowish-ochre background pelage predominantly patterned with open rosettes.

Oncillas eat small mammals, lizards, birds, eggs, invertebrates, and occasionally tree frogs. These cats generally live for 10 to 14 years in the wild, and although they have been known to live for up to 23 years in captivity. They are threatened by habitat loss for cattle ranching, agriculture and local trade for pets.
Zoologists had thought that there was a single species of oncilla, Leopardus tigrinus. However, a new DNA study shows that oncilla populations in northeastern versus southern Brazil are completely separate, with no evidence of interbreeding between them.

To find this, Brazilian scientists led by Dr Eduardo Eizirik from the Pontifıcia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul and the Instituto Pro-Carnivoros collected DNA samples from Geoffroy’s cats (Leopardus geoffroyi), pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo), and two separate oncilla populations in Brazil.

They revealed a complicated set of relationships between the oncillas and two other species. That evolutionary history includes ancient hybridization and movement of genes between the pampas cat and the northeastern oncillas.

Poli, a male baby oncilla in the Sao Paulo Zoo, Brazil. Image credit: Carlos Nader / Sao Paulo Zoo.
Poli, a male baby oncilla in the Sao Paulo Zoo, Brazil. Image credit: Carlos Nader / Sao Paulo Zoo.

In contrast, southern oncillas – newly recognized as Leopardus guttulus – continue to hybridize with Geoffroy’s cats, leading to extreme levels of interbreeding between the species along their contact zone. Those patterns add to evidence that hybridization can and does occur between distinct animal species.
As for the two oncilla species – Leopardus tigrinus and Leopardus guttulus, the zoologists suggest that they may be suited to different habitats, with the northeastern oncillas living primarily in savannahs, as well as dry shrub lands and forests, and Leopardus guttulus living in denser and wetter Atlantic forests.

“Such distinct habitat associations provide a hint to potentially adaptive differences between these newly recognized species and may have been involved in their initial evolutionary divergence,” said Dr Tatiane Trigo of the Pontifıcia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul, who is the first author of the paper published in the journal Current Biology.

“All four species are threatened, and we need to understand as much as possible regarding their genetics, ecology, and evolution to be able to design adequate conservation strategies on their behalf,” Dr Eizirik concluded.
Bibliographic information: Trigo TC et al. 2013. Molecular Data Reveal Complex Hybridization and a Cryptic Species of Neotropical Wild Cat. Current Biology 23, 1–6; doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.046


Photographing an African safari (Big Cats Only)

November 27, 2013

Boston Globe Staff photographer Essdras M Suarez experienced a two week safari in Kenya and Tanzania this year. Here is a selection of what he captured and thoughts upon his return:
As a photojournalist, you’re always looking to capture moments that define life. In the wild, you’re witnessing life or death situations, and it’s a truly humbling experience. We’re used to living in a world where we humans are top predators and life is extremely safe. When you find yourself in an environment where you’re no longer the top predator, it puts things in perspective to see how and where we fall within the food chain. I never thought I’d be excited photographing nature, but I found myself completely entranced by the whole experience and I can’t wait to do it again.
This scarred-face lion gave us his full attention causing chills down our spines when someone in our vehicle forgot that you are not supposed to stand up or to make abrupt movements. We were photographing a recent kill by a pride of lions in the outskirts of Serengeti National Park in Southern Tanzania. (Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography)
This pride of lions, which according to our ranger Joseph was comprised of about 20 plus individuals, had killed this buffalo overnight about a mile and a half away from our tented camp located in Southern Tanzania in the outskirts of Serengeti National Park. The raucuous had woken us all up as we heard what sounded to be a life and death struggle outside of our tents. (Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography)
This lonely lioness was gnawing at the remains of a fresh kill made by another pride of lions. The rangers had said that for some reason she had been kicked out of her pride and she had been seen roaming alone. At the time it was thought she would not survive but she had somehow thrived perhaps by scavenging. (Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography)
After getting tired of playing with his siblings this lion cub decided he would "hunt" his mother who had been watching over them at Klein's Camp, a private reserve in southern Tanzania. (Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography)
 A leopard relaxes at dusk, as this nocturnal feline readies itself for the hunt at the prey-filled Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya. (Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography.
A young cheetah darts for the safety offered by tall bushes after being found out in the open in the late afternoon hours. These graceful creatures hold the land-speed record for four-legged animals with maximum speeds up to 120km/h. (Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography) 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Image of the Day

Tiger trainer airlifted to hospital after big cat attack

Horrifying moment: the tiger going to attack trainer David Styles
Published: 26 November 2013
A trainer has been rushed to hospital by helicopter after a tiger bit him on the neck at Australia Zoo.
David Styles, 30, suffered puncture wounds to the neck after the incident at the Queensland zoo opened by the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin.

Mr Styles was treated by paramedics before being airlifted to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in a serious condition.

The big cat is said to have become “overexcited” during a tiger show earlier this afternoon.

One visitor described the incident, which was witnessed by as many as 50 people, as “horrifying.”
Zoo director Wes Mannion later commended the actions of a group of zoo keepers who saw the attack and helped drag the trainer away from the tiger.

He said: “At the time of the incident, our emergency response team were on the scene immediately.
“They acted professionally and calmly. My hat goes off to them.”

Mr Styles, a senior trainer at the zoo, had nine years’ experience working with big cats and had raised the tiger since it arrived at the zoo as a cub.

“Our priority is the wellbeing of the handler, who is a valued member of our Australia Zoo family. Our full support is with the handler and family,” added Mr Mannion.

Australia Zoo was opened in 1970 by the parents of world-renowned wildlife expert Steve Irwin, who took control of the centre in the 1990s.

Irwin, who was best known for his television series The Crocodile Hunter, was killed in 2006 by a stingray whilst filming a programme with his young daughter Bindi.

A full investigation has been launched by the zoo in conjunction with workplace health and safety authorities.


Nat Geo Wild brings in Betty White to host Big Cat Week's look at prime predators

Visits to zoos and habitats reveal how magnificent species are faring and the problems they face

 Betty White with Oshana the lioness during Nat Geo Wild’s Big Cat Week

Betty White with Oshana the lioness during Nat Geo Wild’s Big Cat Week

No Betty White cougar jokes, please.

It’s going to be hard, though, because White is a featured host in Nat Geo Wild’s annual Big Cat Week, which launches Friday with a dozen specials about the kinds of cats who do not answer to “Here, Kitty, Kitty.”

Nor, it turns out, has White been invited here because there’s an unwritten law that every TV special must include Betty White.

No, she’s an animal lover in general and a big cat lover in particular.

Young male lion cubs play in the Masai Mara in Kenya.

Young male lion cubs play in the Masai Mara in Kenya.

So she visits the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos, for an episode that airs Tuesday at 9 p.m.
She hosts essentially a primer on big cats: how they differ, their natural habitats, how they’re faring in the wild these days.

As with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Big Cat Week has a fair amount of sobering news.
In the case of big cats, we see repeatedly how encroachment by man and other species, not to mention the fratricidal tendencies of the cats themselves, make their continued existence increasingly precarious.

An adolescent male lion in Botswana, near a restless buffalo herd that’s agitated by his presence.

An adolescent male lion in Botswana, near a restless buffalo herd that’s agitated by his presence.

“The Game of Lions,” Sunday at 10 p.m., notes that only about 20,000 lions remain, 3,500 of them males. Only one male lion in eight survives to maturity.

It’s not all a zoology lesson, of course. The opening feature, Friday at 9 p.m., has NFL stars Chris Johnson and Devin Hester run a footrace against a cheetah.

Since cheetahs can hit 70 mph and people don’t reach 30, the producers make a few adjustments to keep it competitive. Like dividing the race into several legs, so the runners have to turn around, which people can do faster than cheetahs.

Perhaps next year the winner can race against Betty White.


An Introduction to the Teton Cougar Project

Understanding America’s Big Cat

Photo F61 cougar
F61, an adult female being tracked as part of the Teton Cougar Project exhibits the characteristic rusty, orangey coat of Northern Rockies mountain lions. Photograph by Mark Elbroch/Panthera

Mountain lion, cougar, puma, panther, catamount, léon, Puma concolor. These are among the many names used to describe this large, lithe, solitary felid that ranges from southernmost Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. Concolor means “single color” and is meant to describe the uniform pelage of adult animals. However, those of us who are intimate with real cougars will tell you that their pelage varies from orange-rust to tawny-yellow to slate gray depending upon locale, and that the various hues in a single cat’s coat are too many to count.

Photo of gray cougar
Adult male cougar, gray, Patagonia. Photograph by Mark Elbroch/Panthera

The cougar’s coat is an excellent place to begin, for it introduces the subjects of mountain lion natural history, some contradictory literature we might encounter, and some of what we don’t know about this charismatic carnivore. Allen et al. (2011) proposed that the various coat patterns observed in wild felid are strongly correlated with their habitat selection, providing both defensive and tactical camouflage. They concluded that uniformly-colored felids, like the mountain lion, were more associated with open, well-illuminated habitats, and that felids wearing spots and stripes were more associated with complex forests.

Yet, most research on cougars speaks to the contrary. Cougars are called “habitat generalists,” and utilize nearly every habitat stretching across their range. Nevertheless, research in North America has shown that cougars actually avoid open habitats, including deserts and grasslands, and prefer structured habitats like forests. So, we might ask ourselves whether adult cougars should be spotted instead?

Photo of cougar kitten with spots
Cougar kittens, by contrast, are spotted. Photograph by Dave Priestly/Teton Cougar Project

Panthera, a US-based nonprofit organization dedicated to wild cat conservation, collaborates with National Geographic on their Big Cat Initiative, a strategic effort designed to aid the world’s most imperiled felids. Panthera’s flagship cougar project is found in northwest Wyoming, and is one of few long-term studies of this amazing species. The Teton Cougar Project was recently host to Steve Winters and Drew Rush, National Geographic photographers on assignment to capture images of wild mountain lions for a recent National Geographic article “Ghost Cats,” penned by Doug Chadwick. For more than a year, the pair of photographers worked with the TCP, and the rewards of their labor can be seen both online and in the December issue of the magazine.
Panthera logo
Cougars are “umbrella” species used to identify and preserve wildlife corridors and natural landscapes, as well as keystone species vital to ecosystem health and diversity. Cougars capture the imagination; they are charismatic, controversial and draw attention across communities with polarized views and interests. Thus, cougar research is about communicating with diverse and often opposing demographics, and building bridges between polarized communities in an effort to erase old mythology that drives continuous persecution of this species.

Follow us on Facebook, where we continue to share images and videos of wild mountain lions captured as part of ongoing research efforts. And I’ll be adding updates on our research in future National Geographic blog posts—stay tuned.

Allen WL, Cuthill IC, Scott-Samuel NE, Baddeley R. 2011. Why the leopard got its spots: relating pattern development to ecology in felids. Proc. R. Soc. B 278: 1373-1380.


Picture of a male cougar near the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles

Ghost Cats

Masters of stealth, they seldom step from the shadows. But cougars are quietly reclaiming lost ground.

By Douglas Chadwick
Photograph by Steve Winter
It’s a warm winter day in southern California, and busloads of tourists are pulling into an overlook above Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. As their guides point out movie studios and the mansions of stars, Jeff Sikich, a wildlife biologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, directs my gaze toward a thin ribbon of woods in the distance. At least ten months earlier a young male cougar from the Santa Monica Mountains set out, following that trickle of green through the vast human hive. After somehow crossing two of the world’s busiest roads, including the ten-lane Hollywood Freeway, he settled in at Griffith Park, the huddle of hills rising just behind us, recognizable worldwide by the giant HOLLYWOOD sign partway up.

Homing in on signals from a radio collar on the animal, Sikich leads the way along the famous slope. He pinpoints the cat’s current location; then we hike on to check sites where it lingered to feed on a kill. We discover two mule deer carcasses dragged into tangles of scrub oak and manzanita. Remains of a third lie in a ravine next to the manicured lawns of a cemetery where deer often graze. We pass dog walkers, bird-watchers, hikers, joggers, bicyclists, horseback riders, and scores of graveside mourners. If any know they’re sharing this landscape with an invisible but potentially deadly predator, they show no sign of concern.
“There’s only room in our Santa Monica Mountains for ten to fifteen cougars,” Sikich says. “The average territory of an adult male there is around 200 square miles. With older, stronger males defending all the available space, this young one had to leave to claim a home of its own. Griffith Park takes in less than seven square miles, but our guy seems to be finding what he needs to survive here.”
L.A.'s Wild Neighbors
For a year photographer Steve Winter maintained automatic cameras in the hills of Griffith Park to capture images of the elusive P22, the “ghost cat” that is the area’s only known cougar. Winter got the shots, along with others of species that travel the same paths.
Mule Deer, Odocoileus Hemionus
Coyote, Canis Latrans
Bobcat, Lynx Rufus
Human, Homo Sapiens
Think of it: A large carnivore that must kill to eat is meeting its nutritional needs in the heart of greater L.A., all the while avoiding attention better than a camera-shy celebrity. How does he do it? By moving with a whisper-soft tread mostly in the twilight and at night, sticking close to thick cover, zealously guarding his privacy in a metropolis renowned as the gateway to fame.

With a range that extends from southern Argentina and Chile to the edge of Canada’s Yukon, Puma concolor, the cougar—aka puma, panther, painter, and brown tiger—is the most widespread large, land-dwelling mammal in the Western Hemisphere, yet among the least seen. In North America it also goes by the names catamount, mountain screamer, and mountain lion, though the species is more closely related to cheetahs and smaller felines than to African lions or other big cats, and it’s at home in steamy tropical lowlands as well as among the peaks. North America’s cougars came to be thought of mainly as mountain dwellers because the highlands offered the last refuge from settlers’ guns, traps, and poisons, as well as government-sponsored programs aimed at eradicating predators.

A big cat with a vast range, the adaptable cougar (Puma concolor) is found across a variety of habitats. The New World mammal is recognized as six distinct subspecies (with a possible seventh in Florida). Five inhabit Latin America. The sixth lives in North America, including in the hills of Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the United States.
Martin Gamache and Matthew Twombly, NGM Staff
Source: Howard Quigley, Panthera
Cougars once inhabited the lower 48 states from coast to coast, but by the early 20th century, virtually all the survivors in the U.S. were confined to the backcountry of the Rockies, Pacific Coast ranges, and Southwest. (An exception was the subspecies called the Florida panther, which still holds out in that state’s vast marshes.) Finally western states dropped the cougar bounties some were still paying as late as the 1960s. In 1972 federal law banned the use of predator poisons on federal lands. More wildlife departments started managing the cats as game animals with a regulated hunting season. And for the first time in 300 years cougar numbers began to rise. The story ever since has been about the comeback of a major carnivore—a recovery with broader reach and larger implications than the better-known and more controversial return of grizzly bears and wolves.

During the past 40 years cougars have continued to expand throughout the western United States. They also spilled eastward onto the Great Plains, establishing new groups in Montana’s Missouri Breaks, North and South Dakota, and most recently, western Nebraska. In fact a growing number of confirmed reports—more than 200 since 1990—have revealed cougars visiting almost every state in the Midwest, along with Canadian provinces to the north. Like the Griffith Park cat, the wayfarers are typically young, dispersing males. Very few stay long before they push on, perhaps in search of a mate, or fall victim to nervous landowners, local cops, poachers, or traffic. The most dauntless of the explorers made headlines in 2011 when he was killed by an SUV on a highway exit in Milford, Connecticut. According to genetic tests this animal came from the Black Hills of South Dakota via a route estimated to be more than 2,000 miles long, setting the continent’s distance record for a journey by four-legged wildlife.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had just declared the eastern subspecies of cougar extinct when that South Dakota cat was killed in Milford. Two years later, in a forested suburb a block from where the cat died, resident Gary Gianotti told me he had recently spooked another cougar off his back porch.
“We’ve got a booming deer population around here, as well as wild turkeys, rabbits, and raccoons,” Gianotti said. “I see cougar tracks all the time.” Turning on a cell phone, he showed me photos of large feline paw prints in the snow. “There’s a cougar population breeding in Connecticut,” Gianotti insisted, referring me to a website filled with citizens’ accounts of seeing the big cats or their sign. “None of the agencies want to deal with it.”

Stories of supposedly unmistakable sightings, eerie nighttime caterwauling, or fresh kills with evidence of a big cat’s signature choke hold on the throat have persisted generation after generation, from Maine to the southern Appalachians. Since the 1960s authorities have received thousands of reports of cougars in the East. As a rule the accounts they investigate turn out to be any and every creature except a cougar. Surprisingly, up to a third describe what they saw as a black panther, despite the fact that no scientist has ever found evidence of a black cougar anywhere in North America. But not all the eastern cougar sightings were illusions; experts confirmed well over a hundred. Most appeared to be animals that escaped from captivity—or were purposefully set loose. In other cases, though, the cats’ origins remained obscure.
As a species Puma concolor is faring better than any of the world’s other great cats. How much further cougars will advance along the comeback trail ultimately depends on where the public is willing to tolerate them. That in turn hinges on what people believe these cats are really like.

Cougars have attacked humans on about 145 occasions in the U.S. and Canada since 1890. Just over 20 of those assaults—an average of one every six years—proved fatal. Perhaps the more telling statistic is that at least a third of the verified cougar attacks have taken place over the past two decades. More cougars plus more people in the countryside add up to more potential for conflict.

As ambush hunters most active after dark, cougars have never been easy to get to know. But with technology now able to keep eyes on the stealthy cats around the clock, much of the mystery shrouding their lives is evaporating.

Patrick Lendrum is a biologist with the Teton Cougar Project, a long-running study in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park region. At the project’s field office in Kelly, Lendrum downloads the latest data from several cougars fitted with satellite radio collars. With a couple of computer clicks he converts the numbers into dots on a detailed satellite image of the landscape, which allows him to study the cats’ movements almost in real time. To watch the animals themselves, he inserts memory cards retrieved from automatic cameras deployed at the most recent kill sites. Using natural light by day and infrared at night, the cameras tirelessly collect both photos and video—and all kinds of surprises. 
“Every day around here is a little like Christmas,” Lendrum says as his computer screen displays two adult males, natural rivals, each taking a turn feeding on an elk while the other rests a few yards away. “I’m not sure anybody’s seen that before. Our cougars keep doing things cougars aren’t supposed to do.”

A female labeled F61 is another prime example. When she and her siblings were six months old, a cougar mother living nearby was shot, leaving her three kittens suddenly on their own. The next week, F61’s mother allowed the orphans to share a kill she and her own kittens were feeding on. As days passed, the mixed youngsters played and ate together at times and even groomed one another with rough-tongued licks. This was the first known kitten adoption in cougar society.

Years later grown-up F61 and a neighboring female, F51, had kittens at about the same time. (F51’s were sired by one of the original orphans.) The two families frequently met, shared food, and traveled together through the spring. Eventually F61 began rearing one of the other’s young as her own—the second case of adoption.

On my first visit to the Tetons, in November 2012, both females had new litters. When I returned a few months later, F51 had lost two of her kittens to wolves. One of F61’s kittens seemed to have met the same end, judging from the unvarying location of its radio signal. Lendrum and his supervisor Mark Elbroch snowshoed toward the signal’s source and came on tracks of the cougar family crisscrossed by wolf trails. There was blood on the snow and mingled with the mother’s claw marks on a tree.

Sometime after the wolf attack F61 killed a mule deer, so the scientists set up remote cameras near the carcass. As expected, the video footage verified that she had lost a kitten. It also showed an unexpected addition—an adult male feeding with the family.

“The assumption has been that males and females associate to mate, period,” Elbroch said. “Yet I’m seeing video after video of adult males and females sharing a carcass. We’ve had seven cats at once at a kill site—a male, two females, and four kittens.” He punched up a video of them. They looked like an American lion pride.

An earlier study in Glacier National Park in Montana found that wolf packs from Canada that recolonized the area occasionally killed cougars and often drove them off carcasses. Biologists observed the same thing happening in Yellowstone National Park after wolves were reintroduced there in the mid-1990s. Over the following decade packs began spreading southward into the Teton area, putting cougars there under more pressure to defend their young and food. Were the cats responding by becoming more social—“priding up,” as some put it? Or were they just behaving as cougars have always behaved, only now scientists have the ability to watch them?

Whether or not wolves are affecting cougar sociality, they are definitely having an impact on some of the cats’ behaviors. Cougars in Yellowstone National Park, for instance, used to hunt in open bottomlands and sagebrush flats. Now they prefer steeper or more heavily forested areas that offer better cover. And after wolves moved into the Teton area, the resident cougars made themselves scarce in open valleys.

“In the 60 or so years that modern wildlife science has been around, most of the animal communities we’ve studied had no apex predator,” says Howard Quigley, senior ecologist with the big cat conservation group Panthera, which oversees the Teton Cougar Project in partnership with Craighead Beringia South. “Here in the Tetons and in Yellowstone, grizzlies and cougars survived the nation’s anticarnivore purges. The addition of wolves amounts to a grand wildlife experiment, the reconstitution of a complete North American ecosystem. It’s a rare opportunity to learn how these systems work.”

Cougars are now the most common apex predator across one-third of the lower 48 states. Most of the other two-thirds lack any big predatory mammal. So far, anyway, a large cat whose trademark is stealth appears to be the major carnivore modern society finds easiest to accept, or at least tolerate. But people still want a clearer understanding of potential problems. Beyond concerns over personal safety, some suburban and rural householders fear for their pets, while ranchers and farmers worry about damage to livestock. But the loudest calls to do something about cougars tend to come from sportsmen who resent these wild hunters as direct competitors for hoofed game.

“If you listen to some hunters around here, they’ll tell you there’s no game left in the woods,” says David Gray, a former game warden and now mayor of Hill City, South Dakota. When hunters made the same complaint to state game commissioners at angry public meetings, the commissioners raised the 2013 cougar quota to 100 out of a total population estimated at 300—even though the decline of elk and deer was due mainly to excessive sport hunting.

Wildlife management operates at the intersections of science and politics, economics and social traditions. Policies regulating the killing of cougars vary widely from region to region and state to state. In Texas, for instance, cougars are still classified as varmints; you can shoot one almost anywhere anytime. California, on the other hand, has not allowed cougar hunting since 1972 and now has the most cougars of any state. It also has an abundance of deer and one of the lowest rates of cougar conflicts with humans. How could that be?
Assuming that every cougar killed means more game for sportsmen, some states cull as many cats each year as wildlife managers think the population can withstand. The toll generally falls most heavily on adult males, which hunters prize as trophies. But as the biggest, strongest cats, they hold the prime territories and force young upstarts to leave, setting an upper limit on the number of cougars in a given area.

Studies by Washington State University professor Robert Wielgus and his co-researchers have shown that when too many large males are killed, footloose young males converge on the emptied territories. Fierce competition pushes more of them to the fringes of the space, often closer to human habitation. Meanwhile, females may roam more widely to avoid the influx of unfamiliar males, which sometimes kill kittens.
Wielgus sums up his surprising findings: “Heavy hunting can result in higher overall density of cougars, increased predation on game, and more frequent conflicts with people—in short, the exact opposite of what was intended.”
Rather than ramping up the legal kill, Wielgus prescribes limiting the take to the cougars’ natural rate of increase, around 14 percent annually. The state of Washington recently adopted such a policy. Given the widespread approval this strategy has received from wildlife biologists, it may set the standard for hunting of cougars—and perhaps other major predators—making it easier for them to coexist with people.

It seems vital to many people that something big and fierce is out there wilding the landscape, something that prickles the hair on the back of the neck and fires the imagination. Scientists think it’s important too, since most ecosystems developed with large carnivores playing a pivotal role. In the absence of a major carnivore—and with sport hunting dropping in popularity—white-tailed deer have become a danger to drivers, a nuisance for gardeners, and a host for ticks carrying Lyme disease. Having no predators to cull the weakest and sickest animals leads to the spread of other parasites and diseases as well. And as unchecked deer populations overgraze shrubs and sapling trees, they are slowly but surely transforming portions of North America’s native forests.

No one is saying that cougars belong in every patch of local woods. But some are asking why not in state and national forests across the Great Lakes states, or New York’s Adirondacks, or maybe the Ozark Plateau—all places cougars have visited in recent years. Where the cougar will be tomorrow or in ten years is anyone’s guess. But chances seem very good that it will continue reclaiming lost ground. As Howard Quigley says, “We’re looking at one of the most successful large carnivores on the planet.”

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Related Photo Gallery Here

Hazardous habitat for cougars

Spreading East Map

Capturing the Elusive Hollywood Cat (Video)
Douglas Chadwick has reported on wildlife around the world. Steve Winter is media director for Panthera, a big cat conservation organization.

Society Grant This photographic coverage was funded in part by your Society membership.

National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative is dedicated to halting the decline of wild felines around the world. To learn more about the projects we support, visit

Nat Geo WILD presents a week of exotic felines, premiering on Friday, November 29, with Man v. Cheetah. Check local listings.