Friday, January 31, 2014

Family's surprise at cougar's breakfast break-in

Fri 31 Jan 2014

The cougar that came for breakfast.
The cougar that came for breakfast. Photo: RTV
Not quite The Tiger Who Came To Tea, but the cougar that came to breakfast.
A Chilean family woke up to a surprising house guest when they found a young cougar making itself at home in their kitchen.
Amalin Haddad said she discovered the puma in her kitchen when she went down to make herself breakfast.
Police believe the animal had been kept as a pet and had either escaped or been released. The cougar never attacked Haddad, her family or the family dog, perhaps because it was possibly domesticated.

The cougar that came for breakfast.
The cougar that came for breakfast. Credit: RTV
The cougar, or puma as it is also known as in much of North America, was eventually sedated and removed from the family home.
It was taken to the National Zoo where it was treated for minor injuries.
It is not yet known what will happen with the animal once it has recovered from its unlikely adventure.


Is the Fens big cat back?

Black panther
Black panther
A Tydd St Giles couple believe they saw Fenland’s mysterious big cat earlier this month and fear their geese have been victim of an attack by the creature.

If Mark and Jane Burton are correct then their’s is the first sighting of the area’s big cat for several years. The couple were walking along Black Dyke Lane in the village at around 4.30pm at the start of January when they spotted a big black cat facing them on the opposite side of a ditch. “It was just there facing us. I think we must have surprised it, as the wind happened to be in the right direction so it would not have smelt us coming. It was really big but all we could see was its face, ears and front legs because of the way it was standing. It was bigger than an Alsatian but I couldn’t see it’s tail. When it saw us it just disappeared into the spinney and it was gone, just like that. I think if the wind had been in the opposite direction it would have known we were there and it would have gone before we could see it,” said Mr Burton.

Then two weeks ago the Burtons, who live along the lane, found one of their geese dead, it had been badly mauled. It’s head had been ripped off and all its flesh meat had gone. “We have geese and chickens, we always put the chickens in at night, but the geese stay out and have always been all right. We have never had any evidence of a fox, we have even put out fox traps and caught nothing. “But I’m positive that whatever killed the goose was much more powerful than a fox. You can usually tell if a fox has been at something as they tend to pull and tug and there are feathers missing. But this one had no signs like that. I’m sure it was the big cat. A fox will usually keep coming back once it has killed, but we have had no more incidents, it’s as if it came, killed, ate and left,” said Mr Burton.

The last time there were sightings of a panther-like creature in the Tydd area was in December 2009 when Martin and Teresa Dye saw it on the A1101 between Four Gotes and Tydd Gote. That year there were numerous sightings around the Friday Bridge, Elm and Outwell areas and Kim and Sam Flint of the now closed Woodhouse Farm Park at Friday Bridge even blamed the animal for mauling to death a pregnant ewe. A local vet at the time, said its injuries were unlikely to have been caused by a domestic animal such as a dog and also ruled out a fox.

Paw prints were spotted around several properties in the area suggesting a large cat-like creature was on the prowl. But since then there have been no reported sightings. Previously a local woman, who tracked big game in her native South Africa, explained big cats have huge territories and tend to move about the area, which can measure 100s of square miles, which might explain why it has not been seen for a while.

Have you spotted the big cat? Contact the news desk on 01945-586135.


Smithsonian Sumatran Update

 Damai and tiger cubs on cam

Sumatran tiger Damai gave birth to two Sumatran tiger cubs on Monday evening, August 5, 2013! These cubs are a conservation success. Sumatran tigers are critically endangered in the wild, so every cub counts. Damai gave birth to the first cub around 6:15 p.m. and the second around 8:23 p.m. Keepers have been monitoring the cubs and both appear healthy. Damai is being a great mom, and is nursing and grooming both cubs.

We are giving Damai time to bond with and care for her cubs. They most likely will not be on exhibit until late fall. In the meantime, you can watch them grow on the Zoo’s tiger cub cams!

January 30

January’s bouts of winter weather have kept our tiger cubs, Bandar and Sukacita, on their toes! The cubs seem to have a heap of fun pouncing in the snow. While we want them to enjoy their time outside, we are mindful to let them out for just a short time. That way, they aren’t overexposed to the elements. Given the opportunity, they would probably play in the snow all day! Their parents—who have experienced snow many times over—tend to spend less time in the snow and more time in the comfort of the heated dens. We are training the cubs to come inside when the shift door opens. So far, they’ve been responding well, especially because they know their reward for doing so is a tasty beef chunk! Days when the temperature is in the teens and single digits, we keep the cubs inside. Mom and dad, though, have the choice of whether to go out or stay in. So, if you visit on a day that is not quite so bitterly cold, there is a good chance you’ll see them in the yard!

Bandar and Sukacita are nearly six months old. They’re still at the age where playing with each other is their favorite source of entertainment. On those colder days when the cubs are inside, we’ve also introduced them to some youngster-friendly enrichment—objects such as smaller versions of the adults’ boomer balls, balls with catnip inside, logs with different scents—and they seem to have a good time batting then around. Luckily, the cubs’ little teeth and claws are much more gentle on their toys than their parents’ are! If you’d like to purchase toys for the growing cubs, check out our Wish List. They’ve started basic target training and are both very enthusiastic students—so enthusiastic that we could not get a picture of Bandar that is not blurred or one of Sukacita sitting down!

Bandar and Sukacita have started basic training—shifting inside when called and teaching them to eat on their own and become less dependent on mom. We haven’t observed nursing for some time now, so we are almost certain they’re weaned off Damai’s milk. As part of their diet, they each eat about 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of meat per day, which is 15.4 pounds per week. They’re gaining weight steadily and, as of last week, Sukacita weighs about 51 pounds and Bandar weighs about 60 pounds. They’ve doubled in size since their November debut!

Thinking ahead, we’ll be watching the cubs’ interactions with mom and each other in order to determine the best time to separate them. Usually, tigers start showing signs that they’re ready around 1 year old. We will have more updates, photos, and videos as the weather warms!


Cat back a year on, a little worse for wear

Ellen Callister 

Cat back a year on, a little worse for wear


NINE LIVES: Ellen Callister is relieved to be reunited with her nine-year-old pet cat Cedric, missing for a year.
The cat came back - a year later. Cedric the burmese cat has been returned to his "very happy" Coatesville family almost a year to the day since he disappeared.

A massive effort to find Cedric included articles in the Rodney Times and sister paper the North Shore Times. Cedric's owner Claire Callister was inundated with calls - but Cedric stayed missing.
Then a Herald Island resident picked up a wandering cat in Whenuapai about 15 kilometres away and posted some photographs of it on It was Cedric. Sporting a few small injuries, the cat is now back home, bringing closure to a year of worry for the family.

A mishap at a North Shore cattery saw the owner of another chocolate-coloured burmese cat inadvertently walk away with Cedric on January 20, 2013. The cat immediately escaped from that person's Murrays Bay home.

The Callisters returned from summer holiday six days later to find their beloved moggy missing.
They spent hours searching and calling his name and delivered 1500 fliers around the Murrays Bay and Browns Bay area. Emails and messages also went to hundreds of people, and even dirty jeans were used to try to leave a scent for the cat to follow.

Cedric is now recovering from his ordeal with a good dose of rest and care. He has bleached skin, a couple of missing teeth, suspected broken bones and a hoarse meow. Claire's sister, a vet, checked the cat over and thinks he might have broken ribs and a broken jaw. But she won't be sure until he is X-rayed when he is a bit calmer. "One of his biggest risks is he might develop diabetes from overeating because obviously he's quite thin, so we're feeding him small and often," Claire says.
She says the family stayed hopeful but after a year thought Cedric might have been killed by a car or dog.

It appears he hadn't stopped calling for his family. "It was almost like he was hoarse because the the first thing we realised the next day was that he had this squeaky meow." Cedric's discovery has renewed a special relationship between the cat and Claire's daughter Ellen, 21.
Claire thanks all who helped in the search and those who offered other assistance.

She's also grateful to for helping bring Cedric back. They picked him up on Friday.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

23 Photos Of Lions To Get You Pumped For Big Cat Week

Big Cat Week is finally here!

Nat Geo WILD's fourth annual tribute to the great cats starts Friday, Nov. 29 with a slew of features that hope to shed light on the growing threats many of these predators face. One of the highlights of the week will be the film "Game of Lions," featuring famed National Geographic Explorers-In-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert. The film delves into the dwindling number of lions left on the planet and their fight to stay alive, both among themselves and encroaching humanity.
Take a look at some stunning photos from Beverly Joubert below, and tune in to see "Game of Lions" on Dec. 1 at 10 p.m. EST.

Check back on Sunday for an interview with the Jouberts about the making of the film -- for a full lineup, head on over to the Big Cat Week website.

A sleepy young sub adult male in Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta.
A dispute between a lioness and an adult male lion in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
An adolescent male lion is chased away by a herd of buffalo while attempting to hunt in the Okavango Delta.
Adolescent male lion lays on the ground near a restless buffalo herd who are agitated by his presence. He has been attempting to hunt but hasn't perfected his skills. This was taken in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Two young nomads fight over a kill they made in the water in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
An adolescent male lion sits in the grasslands of the Okavango Delta in Botswana at sunset.
A mature male runs in and chases a young sub adult male out of his pride and out of the territory.
A mature territorial male patrols his territory in the Duba Plains area of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
A mature male lion surveys his territory in Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
A lioness yawns against a stormy sky in the Masai Mara in Kenya. This is the lioness with the cubs in the film.
A young sub adult male lion (Panthera Leo) around 3 years old investigating a warthog hole in Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
A portrait shot of a young sub adult male lion (Panthera Leo) around 3 years old at Duba plains in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Two young male cubs play on a branch in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
Two young male cubs play on a branch in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
Two different ages of young male cubs, one 5 months old and the other two about 2 1/2, playing together. This kind of play helps the cubs learn some skills in hunting for later in life.
A young male cub sitting high up on one of the rocky hills in the Masai Mara. This cub is about 5 months old.
An adolescent male is investigating a lion cub of a lioness from his pride. The investigation happens while the female is not around and so she is not there to protect the cub when it gets rough between the other adolescent male lions who all want to investigate the young cub.
Three sub-adult males about 2 1/2 years old, one of which is sharpening his claws against a tree in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
An adolescent male is investigating a lion cub of a lioness from his pride. He follows the cub around and sometimes the investigating becomes rough, especially with other adolescents around. The mother is not around to protect the cub and so it is very vulnerable. This image was taken in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
A two week old lion cub is half submerged in water as it clings on for its life on the bank of a river which it fell into while trying to escape from sub male adult lions in the Masai Mara Kenya. It's sibling clutches to a branch just out of frame.
A lioness rescues her lion cub from the bank of a river and carries him away to safety in her mouth. This shot was taken in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
A lioness rescues her lion cub from the bank of a river and carries him away to safety in her mouth. This shot was taken in Masai Mara in Kenya.
Three sub adult males, around 2 1/2 years old, stand together. They are very close to the stage of getting ousted from their pride, meaning they will be nomadic for a few years until they are old enough to challenge a territorial male. This is a tough time for adolescent males as they are incredibley vulnerable and only 1 in 7 normally survive.


Big Cat Week: A guide to spotting lions in the wild

NatGeo's week-long celebration of fierce predators includes Game of Lions – a film created by Emmy award winning director Dereck Joubert. He tells us how to get up close to these magnificent creatures in Africa

Big Cat Week: A guide to spotting lions in the wild
Written By
Jade Bremner
Nature film-makers Dereck Joubert and his wife, Beverly, have spent more days and hours with lions than they have at school, university or even with their parents. They know the species better than anybody.

During the duo’s adventurous 30-year quest to understand giant cats, travelling in their trusty Land Cruiser through the wilds of Botswana and around the Kenyan bush, Dereck Joubert has been bitten by poisonous snakes three times, had malaria four times and endured 20 scorpion stings.

“Also, we’ve both been snatched by elephants from vehicles four times, we’ve crashed three aeroplanes and been hit by a buffalo,” he explains. “Insurance is really difficult.”

However, their unusual profession comes with great rewards. The pair have released 22 films and 11 books – and won six Emmy awards.

The Jouberts’ Game of Lions documentary will feature in Big Cat Week, which begins on 10 February, on NatGeo Wild. It tells the story of a pride of lions, including footage of two males with some ten-day-old cubs.

“These tiny cubs were like kittens, and these almost-adult male lions were all around them. They weren’t trying to kill them; they were trying to protect them,” recalls Joubert. “One lion wanted to take possession of them and this massive fight erupted around these cubs. It was an amazing day, because we got to watch all these interactions.”

Game of Lions also follows the males as they compete to become king of the pride. To be in charge, a lion has “got to be big, he’s got to be bold, he’s got to have a mane, he’s got to be aggressive and he’s got to be the best of the best,” says Joubert.

But sadly it’s these qualities that make these lions a target for trophy hunters. “These guys evolve to develop qualities to survive,” says Joubert, “and those are the very same qualities that are used to pre-select them to be killed.”

Sixty years ago, the lion population of the African continent was 450,000; today, just 20,000 remain. Sixty per cent of these lions live outside national parks, unprotected from hunters. If lions are wiped out, the Jouberts believe it will have a severe effect on Africa’s ecosystem.

“To understand more about these massive landscapes in Africa and the wild ecosystems, you have to look at lions – the top predator,” explains Joubert. “When the population of lions in a particular area disappears, there’s a surge of hyenas and other medium-sized predators. In turn this impacts on the medium-sized prey, which skews the population.  And the mega-prey, like buffalo and elephants, don’t migrate, because it’s the lions that keep them moving. Without lions, they stay in the same place and decimate an area, causing a knock-on effect for other species.”

As well as spreading awareness, the Jouberts’ film carries a very strong anti-hunting message. “There are two major problems when it comes to big cats: one is ignorance, the other is greed. We can fight ignorance, and that’s what Big Cat Week is all about, but greed we need a bit of help with. Once we all know what is going on, we can focus on the greedy people who are just shooting these creatures for money,” says Joubert.

There’s never been a better time to see lions in the wild, to learn about them and get involved in projects working to counter their demise. Joubert explains that if we don’t act fast, it may be too late. “Sadly, if you don’t go to see lions within the next ten to 15 years, you may never get to see them at all.”

Where to see lions:
There are hundreds of safari trips leaving from the UK each month going to various national parks across the continent, from Kruger National Park in South Africa to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Joubert offers his tips on seeing lions in the wild...

The top spots are...
The best place to go is where I shot this film — Duba, in Botswana in the Okavango. We also shot a third of it in Kenya in the Masai Mara, in a place called Mara Plains. Both places have camps and people can go and have a look. There are many places to see lions that don’t have to be a $1,000-dollar-a-night experience.

How to find lions in the bush
The first thing we do is observe the other animals to see what they’re doing. You may find a herd of wildebeest all looking in a certain direction and snorting, because they know there’s something there. Disturbances in a herd of zebras or wildebeest are key. What we do in a place like Duba is look for egrets, which come out early in the morning and head towards the buffalo. When we find the buffalo, we find the lions.

How to know when it’s time to step back?
The first rule is: it’s always a dangerous animal. Look at the body posture — if it has its ears flat and fiery eyes, very small pupils, its tail flicking back and forth; it may show its teeth. Lions are like the concierge at a gentlemen’s club — if you’re not dressed properly, they will come up to you and say you need a tie. Lions will do the same — if you surprise a lion, it’ll tell you. If you back up, it will start relaxing.

Get involved in lion conservation
Look on National Geographic’s Cause an Uproar webpage. We formed the big cats initiative with NatGeo, which is a concerted effort to do something about the declining population of lions. We fund 48 projects in different countries aimed at saving big cats.

Game of Lions airs on Monday 10 February at 8pm on NatGeo Wild (Sky 528, Virgin 228), and is repeated throughout the channel’s Big Cat Week (10—15 February)

Big cat sighted in Gentry, Arkansas

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

GENTRY -- Could there be a big cat roaming the Gentry area? According to some, that is more than just a remote possibility.

Gentry police department logs list the report of a big cat in the southwest part of the city near Taylor's Orchard called in last week by Frank Holzkamper, Sr., who lives and owns a business in Gentry.
Holzkamper hunts deer in the area under a special Arkansas Game and Fish Commission permit to help control deer numbers on certain agricultural lands.

According to Holzkamper, he and his wife Sharon were out scouting for deer in the area of Marion Lee and Taylor Orchard Roads close to dusk on Jan. 22 and had watched a number of deer enter the orchard when they saw what he believed was a big cat. "We were out scouting for deer on Wednesday night and saw 12 deer run into Taylor's Orchard. A couple of minutes later, we saw one coming back out. When my wife looked at it through binoculars, it wasn't a deer but a huge cat like a panther, cougar or mountain lion."

Holzkamper said the animal had a long tail like a big cat but that it was too dark to determine the color. According to Holzkamper, a neighbor who lives south of the area where he saw the big cat had told him of seeing two black big cats along her driveway.

The Eagle Observer contacted Susan Newton, of rural Gentry, and she reported seeing a pair of large dark-colored bobcats along her driveway. She said the animals had tails about 8 inches long and that they were not cougars. She said she was surprised to see the two bobcats together.

Holzkamper said he and other area hunters have noticed a sharp decline in deer populations west of Gentry this year, and he suspects a big cat or cats might be the reason. "A big cat will take a deer every three or four days," he said.


Big cat who dives in pool for his food caught on camera

By Daily Mail Reporter

The moment a big cat took the plunge and chased a meaty treat to the bottom of its enclosure at a wildlife park in California has been caught on camera.
This series of amazing pictures shows the tiger fully submerged in the pool, as it chased after a piece of meat. Californian photographer Pam Wood captured the stunning images as keepers at the zoo found new ways to keep the big cats entertained.

Whet the appetite: This tiger at a California zoo dives under the water as it chases a meaty snack
Whet the appetite: This tiger at a California zoo dives under the water as it chases a meaty snack

In one dramatic photo, an over-eager tiger is seen pushing against the glass wall of the viewing area after nearly colliding in its rush to grab a meal. Wildlife and animal photographer Wood, who lives in Corralitos, said she quickly snapped a few images when she saw the feeding display taking place, but didn't think they would be any good as she was shooting through glass. 'There were a couple of tigers participating in the stunt and they looked hungry - as soon as I saw this happening I quickly shot off a few photos and crossed my fingers,' she told Caters News.
Her quick reaction produced a series of stunning images, with one of a tiger smashing into the wall winning several awards. 'I'm not a supporter of animals being used in the entertainment industry but these tigers were in a nice environment and seemed to enjoy the interaction, and I'm sure it helped with the boredom of captivity,' she said. Although most cats - domestic and wild - try to avoid water at all costs, tigers are competent swimmers, and often take to the water as a way to cool off.

Dive in: The stunning underwater photos were taken while zoo keepers fed the big cats
Dive in: The stunning underwater photos were taken while zoo keepers fed the big cats

Close call: In its rush to grab the food, a tiger crashes into a glass wall in its enclosure
Close call: In its rush to grab the food, a tiger crashes into a glass wall in its enclosure

On the prowl: The big cat chases after a lump of meat thrown in the pool by keepers
On the prowl: The big cat chases after a lump of meat thrown in the pool by keepers

Image of the Day

Resting white lioness by Tambako the Jaguar

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What Do Cats Think About Us?

Photo of a gray domestic cat.
Domestic cats like this one may not really understand people.

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic
Published January 27, 2014

Since cats first got their adorable claws into us about 9,500 years ago, humans have had a love affair with felines. Today more than 80 million cats reside in U.S. homes, with an estimated three cats for every dog on the planet. (Watch a video about the secret lives of cats.) Yet there's still a lot we don't know about our feline friends—including what they think of their owners.

John Bradshaw is a cat-behavior expert at the University of Bristol and the author of the new book Cat Sense. After observing pet cats for several years, he's come to an intriguing conclusion: They don't really understand us the way dogs do. Bradshaw recently shared some of his insights with National Geographic.

How did you get into cat behavior?

For the first 20 years of my career I studied olfactory [smell] behavior in invertebrates. I've always been fascinated by this other world that animals live in—primarily of odor, which is dogs' primary sense. So in the early 1980s I started working on dog behavior. [Later] I very quickly became fascinated with cats, and what their idea of the world is compared to the one we have.

What do you do in your research?

A lot of observation—watching groups of cats to see how they interact with one another and deducing their social structure. [I watch] cats in colonies that are free-ranging, and in animal shelters where quite a number will be housed together—you get interesting dynamics [when new cats are introduced].
I've also done slightly more manipulative things, such as studying the way cats play with toys, or testing cat [behaviors] at different times of the day. [I also observe] relationships with owners, interviewing them and giving them questionnaires to find out how they perceive their cats.

Why did you conclude that cats don't "get us" the way dogs do?

There's been a lot of research with dogs and how dogs interact with people. [It's] become very clear that dogs perceive us as being different than themselves: As soon as they see a human, they change their behavior. The way a dog plays with a human is completely different from [the way it plays] with a dog.
We've yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they're socializing with us. They obviously know we're bigger than them, but they don't seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other. (Also see "How Cats and People Grew to Love Each Other.")

I've read articles where you've said cats think of us as big, stupid cats. Is that accurate?

No. In the book [I say] that cats behave toward us in a way that's indistinguishable from [how] they would act toward other cats. They do think we're clumsy: Not many cats trip over people, but we trip over cats.
But I don't think they think of us as being dumb and stupid, since cats don't rub on another cat that's inferior to them. (See "Cats Use 'Irresistible' Purr-Whine to Get Their Way.")

Can we discover what cats really think about us?

More research needs to be done. [It's] not an area that's received sufficient attention. [Cats are] not wild animals, so ecologists [might think], 'Well they're not really animals at all.'

What has been most surprising to you in your research?

How stressed a lot of pet cats can be without their owners realizing it, and how much it affects the quality of their mental lives and their health. Cats don't [always] get on with other cats, [and people don't realize] how much that can stress them out. Other than routine visits, the most common reason cats are taken to vets is because of a wound sustained in a fight with another cat.
[More cats are mysteriously getting] dermatitis and cystitis [inflammation of the bladder] and it's becoming abundantly clear that these medical problems are made worse by psychological stress. [For instance], inflammation of the bladder wall is linked to stress hormones in the blood.
One solution is to examine the cat's social lifestyle, instead of pumping it full of drugs. [For example, that could mean making sure] two cats that [don't get along] live at opposite ends of the house. Quite often the whole problem goes away.

I have a few questions from cat owners on Facebook. First, why might a cat yowl when it's by itself in a room?

Cats learn specifically how their owners react when they make particular noises. So if the cat thinks, 'I want to get my owner from the other room,' it works to vocalize. They use straightforward learning. 

Why do some cats treat one human member of the household differently?

They're much smarter than we give them credit for: They learn what works with what person. They know if [one member of the family] is prone to get up at 4 a.m. and give them some treats.

Why do cats knead us?

They are using behavior that they would use toward their mother—all the behavior they show toward us is derived in some way from the mother-kitten relationship. The kitten learns to raise its tail, rub on its mother, and knead and purr. Grooming is what mothers do back to kittens.
So they're using bits of behavior already in their repertoire to communicate with us. There aren't very many behaviors—maybe half a dozen. 

Can you train cats?

Yes. Cats can learn what they're not supposed to do. If your cat has developed a habit [of jumping up on the kitchen table], there are limited ways to prevent it.
You could use a spring-loaded toy, so when a cat jumps up on something, the toy goes bang and up in the air—the cat doesn't like that and jumps down. Another reasonably benign [strategy] is to use a child's water pistol. But make sure the cat doesn't realize you've got it. Cats don't forgive, and once they realize a person is causing them anxiety or hurt, they keep away.

What do you want owners to know about their cats?

Acknowledge that cats are sociable animals to a point, but not sociable to the extent that dogs are. A lot of people who have one cat decide they would like to have another cat, thinking two cats are twice as much fun. But the cats may not see it that way.
The simple message I would like to get across is if you do want to have more than one cat, go about it in a careful way—and be prepared to give up on it if it doesn't work.

This interview has been edited and condensed


Image of the Day

How the threat to lions, leopards and wolves endangers us all

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Sunday, January 26, 2014


Though fearsome killers, big carnivores are also a precious resource, as their feeding habits keep many delicate ecosystems in balance. But too many predators are now facing extinction
They are the planet’s most prolific killers – and also some of nature’s most effective protectors. This is the stark conclusion of an international report that argues that lions, wolves, pumas, lynxes and other major carnivores play key roles in keeping ecosystems in balance. It also warns that the current depletion of numbers of major predators threatens to cause serious ecological problems across the globe.

The paper, written by a group of 14 leading ecologists and biologists from the US, Europe and Australia and published in the journal Science, calls for the establishment of an international initiative to conserve large carnivores and help them to coexist with humans. Failure to protect our top predators could soon have devastating consequences, they warn. “Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said William Ripple, the report’s lead author. “Many of them are endangered and their ranges are collapsing. Many are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. And, ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning to appreciate their important ecological effects.”

The report has been produced, in part, to show that the classic vision of a large predator, such as a lion or a wolf, being an agent of harm to wildlife and a cause of widespread depletion of animal stocks is misguided. Careful analysis of predators’ food chains reveals a very different picture. “In fact, the myriad social and economic effects [of large carnivores] include many benefits,” it states.
Ripple, a professor at Oregon State University’s department of forest ecosystems and society, and his colleague Robert Beschta, have documented the impact of wolves in Yellowstone and other national parks in North America. When wolf numbers have been reduced, usually by hunters, this has led to an increase in numbers of herbivores, in particular the elk.

Elks browse on trees such as aspen, willow, cottonwood, and various berry-producing shrubs, and the more elks there are, the more browsing damage is done to these trees. The knock-on effect is striking, says the report. “Local bird populations go down because they have fewer berries to eat,” added Ripple. “The same is true of bears, which also eat berries. Beaver populations are also affected. They have less plant life to eat and less wood for making their dams. “For good measure, the roots of the willow and other shrubs help to hold the soil of river banks together, so they do not get washed away. This does happen, however, when you have no wolves, lots of elks and, therefore, poor levels of vegetation. So you can see that the wolf – which sits at the top of the food chain in midwest America – has an impact that goes right down to having an effect on the shapes of streams.”

Yet wolves were once considered to be such a menace that they were exterminated inside Yellowstone national park in 1926. The park’s ecology slowly transformed with their absence until, in 1995, they were reintroduced. “Very quickly, the park’s ecosystems returned to normal,” said Ripple.“I was impressed with how resilient it proved.”

Another example of the ecological importance of large carnivores is provided by lions and leopards. Both animals prey on olive baboons in Africa, and as numbers of these key predators have declined, numbers of olive baboons have increased. The population of lions in particular has been so reduced that it now only covers 17% of its historical range, while numbers of olive baboons have risen in direct proportion.

The consequence of this increase has been significant, say the authors. Olive baboons are omnivores and eat small primates and deer. When olive baboon numbers rise, populations of local monkeys and deer plummet. There is also an effect on human populations. “Baboons pose the greatest threat to livestock and crops in sub-Saharan Africa, and they use many of the same sources of animal protein and plant foods as humans,” states the Science paper. “In some areas, baboon raids in agricultural fields require families to keep children out of school so they can help guard planted crops.”

Nor is the impact confined to land. Marine carnivores are also being depleted at alarming rates, with similar consequences for ecology of the seabed. Sea otters, which make their homes in the northern Pacific Ocean, control local populations of sea urchins by eating them. When sea otter populations suffer, urchins do well and this has reverberations along the sea floor. Urchins attack and destroy the giant kelp that is found in vast forests in coastal waters in the Pacific, the scientists point out.

These forests are devastated, often with unfortunate results. Kelp forests dampen currents and storm surges and so protect coasts from erosion and damage. An absence of sea otters means no kelp forest and no seashore protection, in other words. In addition, kelp absorbs carbon dioxide – just as trees and other plants do on land. And that it is another critical issue, Ripple added. “Lions, leopards, wolves, sea otters and all those other carnivores at the top of food chains eat herbivores and keep their numbers under control. That in turn means there are fewer animals eating plants and so the planet has more trees or kelp that can absorb carbon dioxide and so help in some way to reduce amounts of the gas in the atmosphere,” he said.
The problem for the planet is that across the world very few of the major carnivore populations are stable, the Science report reveals. In fact, numbers of virtually all of the major predators – including tigers, lions, pumas, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, black bears and hyenas – are plummeting.
More than 75% of the 31 species of large carnivore that were studied are declining, it was found, and 17 species now occupy less than half of their former ranges. According to the report’s authors, the majority of the large carnivores that they looked at were either labelled endangered, critically endangered or vulnerable, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Unfortunately for the biologists and ecologists who are trying to protect major predators, human tolerance of their presence is low. Farmers find their sheep and cattle are being killed and so view animals such as wolves as a straightforward threat to their livelihoods, for example.“What is needed is a global initiative that is based on networks of local ecologists, landowners, hunters and other stakeholders who can work together to try to protect our key carnivores,” said Ripple.

Carnivores are of immense value, he added. As well as helping protect the environment, they are of considerable tourist appeal. The wolves of Yellowstone bring in millions of dollars of tourist income every year, for example. “Certainly it is true that these animals are killers, but they are also immensely important to the planet’s ecosystems,” Ripple told the Observer. “They are hard to live with. But equally they are a precious resource. Yet they are dying out very rapidly. We should not stand by and let that happen.”


Image of the Day

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Image of the Day

Pure Nature Specials : Lynx: Elusive Hunter (full episode)

Elusive Bay Cat Photographed In Striking Detail In Borneo

An extremely elusive creature called a bay cat has been photographed in stunning detail in its native Borneo in Southeast Asia. The new image, which was captured by a photographer working with the wildcat conservation organization Panthera, is one of the first high-resolution images taken of the enigmatic species. Previously, grainy camera-trap images were the main evidence of the cat's existence.


The bay cat, or Pardofelis badia, is a mysterious little wildcat that lives only on the island of Borneo, which includes the countries of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The diminutive hunters are smaller than the average house cat and have either ruddy chestnut or grayish coats. Their nocturnal nature and secretive demeanors, combined with a low population density, make sightings of the cats incredibly rare. Almost nothing is known about what they eat or how they reproduce.

Logging has threatened some of these cats' tropical forest habitats, and the creature is now listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In the past, the elusive cats were only documented in poor-resolution camera-trap images first captured in 1998. In November 2013, another research team captured several camera-trap images of the cats, along with Sunda clouded leopards and marbled cats.

To find out more about the species, photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht and Andrew Hearn, a researcher at Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, went out into the rainforests of Borneo on the hunt for the bay cat. The team took two trips but managed to get just one photo of the cat. "During the first trip, we were able to get pictures of a marbled cat and Sunda clouded leopards, but the bay cat proved elusive," Kennerknecht said in an email. "Only on the second trip did we get this single picture. It is of a grey phased male that Andrew has gotten on camera before."

To find the cat, the team chose spots to place customized digital SLR camera traps where Hearn had sighted bay cats before, Kennerknecht said. The cameras shoot when an animal crosses an infrared sensor.

The image was captured in the unlogged lowland rainforests of Malaysian Borneo.



A film on African lions at Wildlife Film Festival

"The Last Lions", an English feature film directed by award-winning filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert from Botswana aims to highlight the plight of lions in the wild and the urgent need for their protection.

The 2010 film would be screened in the category of 'feature film' during the upcoming five-day CMS Vataavaran Environment and Wildlife Festival scheduled to begin here on January 30.

"Set in the lush wetlands of Botswana's Okavango Delta, 'The Last Lions' follows the journey of a lioness named Ma di Tau ("Mother of Lions") as she battles to protect her cubs against a daunting onslaught of enemies in order to ensure their survival", the film's directors told PTI over email.

"We have spent some thirty years working with lions in the wild to fully understand them, theirs lives, and their emotions. We have also made it our life's mission to save this species. In fact, we established the Big Cats Initiative with the National Geographic Society specifically to save big cats", they said.

The directors, however knew they needed to urgently draw attention to the plight of lions as they think there has always been a perception that someone is taking care of the lions.

"Lions are the most iconic predator in the world. As such, the general perception is that Africa is full of lions. Once they started looking at the numbers as a research group, they started to find out how bad it really was. To see those numbers is traumatic," the email said.

The Earth has lost 90 to 95 per cent of its lions in a very short timeframe. This, pointed the directors has happened because of people, and it continues to happen to lions for the same reason.

"We have 7 billion people and 20,000 lions. We have to be extremely careful about the power we exert on the planet and its occupants."

The directors say, the film gave them an opportunity to bring this to people's attention in the hope that they could educate them and motivate change.

The film has also fund Jouberts' conservation work, "Big Cats Initiative."