Friday, February 28, 2014

Image of the Day

4 day old lion cub

Leopard on loose: Encounters with wildlife warning of accelerating crisis

Samar Halarnkar, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 26, 2014
Leopard in Meerut -- Chahat (HT photo)
Markets and schools were shut. Stay indoors, said the administration. The army was alerted. Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, a city of more than 3 million people, is used to curfews, primarily over sectarian clashes. But Monday’s curfew, although it was not so declared, was over something quite extraordinary: A terrified male leopard that had mauled five people.

In the absence of a tranquiliser gun, policemen chased the animal with lathis, as did photographers with cameras and sundry men who thought it was a manly, exciting thing to do.

While Meerut stayed home because of the unfortunate leopard, another curfew-like situation was being enforced 370 km to the southeast in the villages of Bijua in the district of Lakhimpur Kheri.

A tiger that had killed a man and mauled another had taken residence in the area’s sugarcane fields. As I write this, in more remote parts of eastern UP, another tiger has shut down villages across four districts. Nine people are dead, and professional hunters have tried — and failed — to find her.

Curfews involving animals are not new to India. In 1925-26, the great hunter Jim Corbett found villages in the Himalayan foothills of Garhwal in thrall of a leopard that had killed 120 men and women.

Corbett wrote: “No curfew order has ever been more strictly enforced, and more implicitly obeyed, than the curfew imposed by the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag.”

In 1996, while touring the lush valleys of Pauri-Garhwal, I had a ring-side view of a leopard-enforced curfew. Houses were sealed every night, and children were counted before bed, after 10 leopards — declared “maneaters” — had killed 30 humans over 10 months.

Uttarakhand (then Uttar Pradesh) was well educated, so there was no argument about what had killed these people (although many said these were not “our leopards” but animals trucked in surreptitiously from the plains). However, in the arid, low-literacy expanses of eastern UP that year, mass hysteria developed when babies disappeared.

It was the manai, villagers insisted, a man-creature who could leap over buildings, snatch children from the arms of parents and fly silently through the night with a headlamp fixed to its head (I am serious). Frenzied mobs lynched at least 30 people accused of being the manai. It later emerged that wolves forced out their habitat had carried away the missing children.

Growing proximity between human and animal has always been the prime reason for India’s violent, unfortunate encounters with its wildlife. But the post-1990 economic boom brought them closer than ever.

Read: Leopard injures three in Moga; killed by villagers
Since 1990, nearly 4 million hectares of forests have been lost. Every month, more than 40 sq km of forests are officially handed over to mines, factories, dams and power plants, according to one conservative calculation by Delhi’s Environment Impact Assessment Resources and Response Centre, an advocacy group.

The most recent scandal is a vigorous effort by politicians and religious leaders in Kerala and Karnataka to prevent any kind of protection to one of the most biologically important places on earth, the Western Ghats.

The irony is that in some recent years, India’s forest area has increased — officially. This is because of plantations and what is called compensatory afforestation, artificial stands that cannot replace the dense, diverse forests where animals and plants are locked in an intricate, interdependent cycle of life.

When that cycle breaks, habitat loss accelerates. So, there will only be more curfews, violence and violent deaths — sometimes of people but mostly of animals. Almost every day, local newspapers and television channels across India report elephants, leopards, tigers and even armadillos pursued by mobs, caught in bloody traps, beaten or poisoned to death, or run over by vehicles and trains.

The pressure on forests and animals will increase, especially at a time of slowing economic growth and waning enthusiasm for wildlife. It is also clear that prosperity is not helping. Driven by increasing mobility and expanding highways, Indians are vacationing like never before. They also work harder than ever, and as they do, they are more removed from the great outdoors, accustomed now to the idea that wildlife exists on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or zoos and national parks — to be gawped at or teased.

Animals as objects of entertainment are a disturbing feature of emerging India. In the south, where elephant-human conflicts are depressingly common, elephants that blunder out of their receding forest homes are often teased and harried by excited mobs. Last year, a couple of terrified, juvenile elephants that blundered into the city of Mysore were pursued by townsfolk and in turn pursued them.
In the five years to November 2013, 150 elephants died from human contact, as opposed to 144 from natural causes, according to the data from the Wildlife Protection Society of India, an advocacy group. It also says nearly 4,000 leopards were killed over nine years to 2013, a figure that the Customs authorities multiply by 10 to estimate poaching data.

Meerut’s leopard made national headlines because it emerged in a teeming industrial city, which has long done away with forests. Panthera pardus, the leopard, epitomises India’s unfolding environmental catastrophe. It is nature’s great survivor, adapting to humans like no other predator, hunting everything from chicken to rodents to dogs. It frequents tea gardens, farms, towns, even the claustrophobic suburbs of Mumbai, where it is known to scale the walls of condominiums or take a nap under buses. The rising number of close encounters is a warning of the India’s accelerating environmental crisis.

A popular children’s book that I read to my three-year-old at bedtime has a story about Mumbai’s suburban leopards. An autorickshaw called Toto finds a little, lost leopard and persuades his driver Pattu to restore the cub to its parents. “Pattu, he’s a cub,” says Toto to his wary driver. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way.” That, it would appear, is increasingly unlikely.

Samar Halarnkar is a Bangalore-based journalist.


When leopard meets man: Photos of big cats at close quarters

HT Correspondent,  New Delhi, February 25, 2014
A leopard sparked panic in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut when it strayed into a hospital, a movie theatre and an apartment complex while evading people who were trying to capture the big cat. The local administration closed down schools and colleges in the city after the prowling leopard injured several people in the past three days.
February 23, 2014: A leopard breaking out of a cemented window at the Meerut Cantonment Hospital, in which it was locked down. Still on the loose, the cat has injured seven people. (Chahatram/Hindustan Times)
The same leopard leaps across an under-construction structure near a furniture market in the Degumpur residential area in Meerut. The big cat has sparked panic in the city after straying inside a hospital, a cinema and an apartment block before evading captors.  (Chahatram/Hindustan Times)
This, however, is not the first instance of a big cat coming face to face with humans in an urban setting. Several incidents in the past have raised concerns about the depleting habitats for big cats, which is forcing them into populated areas.

We show you a collection of photos of past incidents of leopards at close quarters with man:
February 10, 2014: A leopard being shot dead by the army after the cat attacked a patrolling party at a village in south Kashmir's Anantnag district. (Photo with special arrangement. Greater Kashmir/Sajad Muniwardi)
Pictures of a leopard sitting on a wall near an industrial area in Ranipur range of Rajaji National Park. (Amit Verma/Hindustan Times)
April 4, 2013: A leopard looking up from within a well in a residential area of Guwahati, before being tranquilsed and taken to Guwahati Zoo. The fully grown cat caused a major scare in the area. (AFP Photo)
March 30, 2013: Forest guards carrying a leopard after tranquillising the animal in a residential area near Kalipur in Guwahati. The cat was wandering through a part of the densely populated city when curious crowds startled the animal. (AFP Photo)
June 20, 2012: A male leopard bites a net after falling into a water reservoir tank at a tea estate in Haskhowa, around 45km from Siliguri. The animal was rescued by the Sukna Forest rescue team from the Mahananda Wildlife sanctuary by lowering a ladder and a net into the tank. (AFP Photo)
January 27, 2012: A leopard being kept in a cage at the Assam state zoo after it was captured in Lakhara area of Guwahati. The leopard mauled two people including a pregnant woman after straying into the city. (AFP Photo)
January 7, 2012: A leopard attacking a labourer in a residential neighbourhood of Silphukhuri area in Guwahati. Three people were seriously injured in the leopard attack before the feline was tranquilised and taken to Assam state zoo. (AFP Photo)
January 07, 2012: The leopard, which attacked the labourer (right) in a residential colony in Guwahati, being taken away after being tranquillised by zoo officials. (PTI Photo)
January 7, 2012: A photo of the leopard being carried away after being tranquilised. (AFP Photo)
July 19, 2011: A forest guard aiming his rifle after being attacked by a leopard at Prakash Nagar village near Salugara on the outskirts of Siliguri. Six people were mauled by the leopard after it strayed into the village. (AFP Photo)
July 19, 2011: The same leopard attacks another forest guard at the village. It was caught by forestry department officials later. (AFP Photo)
March 4, 2010: A leopard being carried away after it was rescued from the residential area of Kahilipara in Guwahati by zoological officials who took it to Assam state zoo. (AFP Photo)
March 28, 2009: An Assam state zoo veterinarian carrying a tranquilised leopard from a well in a village on the outskirts of Guwahati. The leopard was later taken to the Guwahati Zoo. (AFP Photo)
March 15, 2009: A leopard walking with a tranquiliser dart in his neck in the residential area of Jyotikuchi in Guwahati. Three people were mauled by the cat after it strayed into the city before it was tranquilised by forestry department officials. The leopard was wandering through a densely populated area when it came face to face with the locals. (AFP Photo)
03 February 2007: A forest department official carrying a leopard after it was tranquilized in Guwahati. The cat mauled three people after straying into the city. (AFP Photo)


Md. roadside zoos object to bill that could bar them from obtaining big cats, bears and apes

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Three Maryland roadside zoos are objecting to a bill in the General Assembly that could bar them from obtaining new big cats, bears and primates.

The zoos in Thurmont, Cumberland and Rising Sun say House Bill 1124 threatens their existence. It would prohibit certain zoos from expanding their collections of such animals. Targeted zoos also would be barred from replacing such animals if the zoo has been cited in the past three years for certain federal Animal Welfare Act violations, or has had such an animal escape or hurt someone during that period.

Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums would be exempt from the restrictions. The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the Salisbury Zoological Park in Salisbury have such accreditation. To receive it, zoos must meet the trade group's standards for business practices as well as animal care.

At a House Environmental Matters Committee hearing Wednesday, the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont asked bill sponsor Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, to also exempt zoos accredited by the smaller Zoological Association of America. Catoctin is accredited by that group. The other two roadside zoos aren't accredited by either trade group.

The Humane Society of the United States called the Zoological Association of America "a fringe group with weak standards" in a December report critical of the three roadside zoos. The report listed scores of alleged Animal Welfare Act violations since 2006 at the Catoctin Zoo, the Plumpton Park Zoological Gardens in Rising Sun and the Tri-State Zoological Park in Cumberland. The Zoological Association of America says it promotes responsible animal care and zoo management.

Bob Candy, owner of the Tri-State Zoo in Cumberland, said Thursday that he's considering seeking accreditation from the Zoological Association of America. "It'd be nice if all three zoos were on the same page" so they can jointly address public-policy issues, he said.

Plumpton Park Zoo officials didn't immediately respond Thursday to queries from The Associated Press. Spokesman Nicholas Lacovara said in December that his zoo has considered joining the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but doesn't want to be forced into it. "I hate to think we'd be put out of existence because we don't belong to a particular organization," he said.


Sunderbans tiger count steady, but prey base not enough

KOLKATA: Even though there is euphoria over a minimum 103 tigers in the Sunderbans, a new study shows the prey abundance is supporting not more than 30 big cats in the mangroves.

While the foresters have pegged a presence of at least 13,000 spotted deer, considered a hoofed prey for tiger, experts feel this can at the most sustain a population of only 26 tigers. Though experts said there was no doubt about the tiger number since there's photographic evidence for each big cat, they sounded alarm over the prey count as it may not be enough for the tigers.

"We found 12,000 adult deer, 1,200 young ones and more than 2,000 wild boars, both young and adult, in the tiger reserve area. This is pretty good for the mangroves and is sufficient for 100 tigers or even more," said field director of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR) Soumitra Dasgupta.

But, eminent conservation zoologist Ullas Karanth, who had conducted a study on the big cats' prey base across 11 different tiger habitats in the country between 1994 and 2004, said a full-grown tiger needs 50 hoofed prey, like deer, every year to survive. "And, a herd of 500 deer is required to provide a sustainable outcome of 50 deer per tiger. Though there is no proper methodology of estimating the density of prey animals in a terrain like the Sunderbans, 13,000 deer can support a population of only 26 tigers," he said, adding that his study on predicting carnivore densities from prey abundance had appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) in 2004.

However, chief wildlife warden Ujjwal Bhattacharya said that not only deer and wild boar, tigers in the mangroves also feed on other animals like water monitor lizards, rhesus monkeys and even crabs. "We have also found 16,000 adult rhesus monkeys and 250 young ones apart from more than 1,600 water monitor lizards," Dasgupta said. Considering Karanth's methodology and taking into account the total estimation of all prey species - 33,000 - only 66 big cats can survive on this prey base in the tiger reserve area. Bhattacharya said the state would soon start a study on the status of prey animals in the mangroves with funds from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This, according to him, will give a clear picture.

Echoing Karanth's views, Wildlife Protection Society of India's Belinda Wright said: "It is unlikely that the Sunderbans will have a high density of tigers since it doesn't have the prey species to support the number." Bangladesh-based tiger expert Monirul H Khan had earlier said that there was always a natural balance between the prey and number of tigers. "And 500 deer can provide sufficient food base to only one tiger, keeping in mind the fact that the breeding rate of deer is always balanced by the killing rate of tigers," he had said earlier.

The prey study in the mangroves was conducted a couple of months back covering an area of more than 80 square kms. Dasgupta said river transects were carried out for a total creek length of 137 kms. Later, the data was extrapolated to find out the prey abundance in the entire 1680 sq kms in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. STR is spread over 2,580 sq kms, of which 35% is water. An expert said extrapolation may not always give a reliable data for the Sunderbans as salinity, which decides the vegetation here, differs from place to place.

The camera trap study last year had predicted a minimum of 103 tigers in the mangroves, including 81 in the tiger reserve area and 22 in the South 24-Parganas forest division.


Lions’ big move marks end of an era at Melbourne Zoo

MOVING day is never easy, but for these three brothers it means they will soon be enjoying a new home sweet home. On Thursday, Melbourne Zoo announced the end of an era with lion brothers Zuri, Harare and Chaka moving from the Lion Park after 13 years.
Lions on the Move
Lions Zuri, Harare and Chaka relax at their enclosure in Melbourne Zoo in the early morning before the big move. Picture: David Caird Source: News Corp Australia
Fourteen-year-old male lion Harare reacts to being darted by vet Dr Michael Lynch, before
Fourteen-year-old male lion Harare reacts to being darted by vet Dr Michael Lynch, before being loaded into the van to be transported to his new enclosure. Picture: David Caird. Source: News Corp Australia
Heavily sedated and secured with netting, the three brave beasts in the loving care of zoo staff said goodbye to their old life (pictured) and hello to a temporary enclosure, before they can call their new state-of-the-art exhibit home.

Dr Michael Lynch checks Harare’s breath before loading him into the van to be transported
Dr Michael Lynch checks Harare’s breath before loading him into the van to be transported to his new enclosure. Picture: David Caird Source: News Corp Australia
Fourteen-year-old male lion Zuri is checked and stabilised by vet Dr Michael Lynch before
Fourteen-year-old male lion Zuri is checked and stabilised by vet Dr Michael Lynch before being loaded into the van to be transported to his new enclosure. Picture: David Caird Source: News Corp Australia
Zoo staff check over Chaka before transferring him to the van for transport to a new encl
Zoo staff check over Chaka before transferring him to the van for transport to a new enclosure. Picture: David Caird Source: News Corp Australia
The old exhibit, which has been a part of the zoo since 1967, will be demolished and replaced with the new one.

The current lion enclosure at Melbourne Zoo is about to undergo renovation. Picture: Davi
The current lion enclosure at Melbourne Zoo is about to undergo renovation. Picture: David Caird Source: News Corp Australia
“It was one of the first exhibits anywhere to enclose people in the midst of the exhibit, as was done with the overhead bridge across the area,” said Zoo Director Kevin Tanner.

Fourteen-year-old male lion Chak requires many hands to help load him into a van to take
Fourteen-year-old male lion Chak requires many hands to help load him into a van to take him to a new enclosure. Source: News Corp Australia
“Now almost 50 years later, it’s time to take advantage of new construction techniques and design experience to create the first phase of what will be the new Predator Precinct.”

Zoo staff work on one of the male lions before loading him into the van for transport to
Zoo staff work on one of the male lions before loading him into the van for transport to a new enclosure. Picture: David Caird Source: News Corp Australia
Chaka is loaded into a van to be transported to the temporary enclosure. Picture: David C
Chaka is loaded into a van to be transported to the temporary enclosure. Picture: David Caird Source: News Corp Australia

The new development has been funded by a $5 million state government grant and is expected to be open to visitors by Christmas this year.


Nasty parasitic worm, common in wildlife, now infecting U.S. cats

February 28, 2014

When Cornell University veterinarians found half-foot-long worms living in their feline patients, they had discovered something new: The worms, Dracunculus insignis, had never before been seen in cats.
“First Report of Dracunculus Insignis in Two Naturally Infected Cats from the Northeastern USA,” published in the February issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, document the first proof that this raccoon parasite can infect cats.

The worms can grow to almost a foot long and must emerge from its host to lay eggs that hatch into larvae. It forms a blister-like protrusion in an extremity, such as a leg, from which it slowly emerges over the course of days to deposit its young into the water.

Worms in the Dracunculus genus are well known in human medicine. D. insignis’ sister worm, the waterborne Guinea worm, infected millions of humans around the world until eradication efforts beginning in the 1980s removed it from all but four countries – with only 148 cases reported in 2013. Other Dracunculus worms infect a host of other mammals – but Dranunculus insignis mainly infects raccoons and other wild mammals and, in rare cases, dogs. It does not infect humans.

The cats that contracted the Dranunculus insignis worms likely ingested the parasites by drinking unfiltered water or by hunting frogs,” said Araceli Lucio-Forster, a Cornell veterinary researcher and the paper’s lead author.

It takes a year from the time a mammal ingests the worm until the females are ready to migrate to an extremity and start the cycle anew.

While the worms do little direct harm beyond creating shallow ulcers in the skin, secondary infections and painful inflammatory responses may result from the worm’s emergence from the host. There are no drugs to treat a D. insignis infection – the worms must be removed surgically. “Although rare in cats, this worm may be common in wildlife and the only way to protect animals from it is to keep them from drinking unfiltered water and from hunting – in other words, keep them indoors,” said Lucio-Forster.

The study received no outside funding.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Image of the Day

Leopard sparks panic in India by wandering into hospital and cinema

Officials launch hunt in Meerut after animal is seen prowling streets and entering apartment block
Agence France-Presse in New Delhi,

A leopard sparked panic in a north Indian city when it strayed inside a hospital, a cinema and an apartment block before evading captors
Getty Images

A leopard has sparked panic in a north Indian city after wandering into a hospital, a cinema and an apartment block. Authorities closed schools in Meerut, 37 miles (60km) north-east of the Indian capital, after the leopard was discovered prowling the city's streets on Sunday, a senior city official said. "Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to track the leopard down. We have launched a massive hunt for the beast," said the additional district magistrate SK Dubey.

The big cat was found inside an empty ward of an army hospital on Sunday before wildlife officers were called and managed to fire a tranquiliser dart into the animal, Dubey told AFP. "But despite that he managed to break [out through] the iron grills and escaped. He then sneaked into the premises of a cinema hall before entering an apartment block. After that we lost track of the cat," he said.

The leopard squeezes through a hole in the wall of the Meerut hospital. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images 
  Authorities have urged that markets be closed in the city of 3.5 million people until the animal is captured, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. A photograph in the Hindustan Times newspaper on Monday showed the leopard leaping off a terrace in a congested residential area of the city as people scrambled out of the way.

Last week, a leopard killed a five-year-old boy in central Chhattisgarh state, the latest in a string of incidents raising concerns about depleting habitats for the cats, which is forcing them into populated areas.

The leopard looks through a window at the hospital. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images 
Alarming video footage from Mumbai last year showed a leopard creeping into an apartment block foyer and dragging away a small dog Meanwhile, a tiger on the prowl in northern Uttar Pradesh state since last December is believed to have killed about 10 people. Wildlife officials are still trying to hunt it down.

WWF called for better management of forests and other habitats for India's leopard population, which numbered 1,150 at the 2011 census. "Leopards are large territorial mammals. They need space to move around. Some of their corridors are getting blocked so there is bound to be an interface," Deepankar Ghosh of WWF-India told AFP. "We can't put all the leopards into cages. We can't remove all the people living near forested areas. We have to manage the situation the best way we can."


A note about tigers

Tigers are the most variable in size of all big cats, even more so than leopards and much more so than lions. The Bengal, Caspian and Siberian tiger subspecies represent the largest living felids, and rank among the biggest felids that ever existed. Body size of different populations seems to be correlated with climate—Bergmann’s Rule—and can be explained from the point of view of thermoregulation.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Image of the Day

The new pride of Folly Farm - African lions

Western Telegraph: PRIDE OF FOLLY FARM: An impression of the finished £500,000 enclosure that will house Pembrokeshire's first lions. (4168996)  
Western Telegraph: MANE ATTRACTION: Lions are next on the agenda for Folly Farm. (4168998)

Big cats are on the prowl into Pembrokeshire - to take pride of place at Folly Farm. The top tourist attraction announced this week that a pride of African lions will be welcomed to its zoo in the summer.

Work has just begun to construct a £500,000 lion enclosure on an acre of land in the centre of the zoo.
The 14-foot high enclosure will be surrounded by steel mesh and thick reinforced glass, through which people can view the animals in the lion house and grounds.

Last year, Folly Farm recorded its best-ever visitor record numbers after launching Penguin Coast, and knew that would be a tough act to follow. So they listened to visitor feedback and decided to make lions - the Pride of Pembrokeshire - the next big attraction.

Explained zoo manager Tim Morphew: “Lions are the most majestic of the big cats, and they are an iconic species for our conservation work. “Working with Wildlife Vets International, we will use the exhibit to raise awareness of, and fundraise for, their big cat projects in the wild.”

The African lions coming to Folly Farm are a species currently classed as ‘vulnerable’ and will be a flagship exhibit for the zoo’s conservation work. The Pride of Pembrokeshire project will create two zoo-keeper positions and will open to the public before the summer holidays.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet member for economy, tourism and communities, Councillor David Pugh, broke the ground for the new enclosure and said: “This is fantastic news for our county. “Folly Farm has a strong track record of reinvestment, and this project is another example of why they are one of the leading tourist attractions, not just in Pembrokeshire, but in Wales.”
  • Click here to visit Folly Farm's website or here for the Facebook page. 

Secret Creatures of Jao - 02 - Table Manners


Belmopan, Belize - New strides for the future of the jaguar were made last week with the signing of a critical conservation agreement between the government of Belize, Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, and the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) of the University of Belize.

Assembling near Belize City, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries & Sustainable Development, the Honorable Senator Lisel Alamilla, led the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Panthera's CEO and leading jaguar scientist, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, and Interim President of the University of Belize, Dr. Wilma Wright, on Friday, February 21st. This trilateral agreement represents a pledge by all parties to collaboratively implement science-based conservation initiatives that secure and connect jaguars and their habitats in Belize and beyond its borders, facilitate land development that is both ecologically sustainable and economically profitable, and mitigate human-jaguar conflict throughout the country. 

Panthera's Dr. Alan Rabinowitz explained, "The signing of this historic agreement epitomizes conservation action and partnerships coming full circle. Nearly thirty years ago, I studied the jaguars of Belize, and today we return to the birthplace of jaguar research and conservation to reignite and strengthen the commitment, strategy and resources required to ensure this species lives on, for the next thirty years, and beyond."

Dr. Rabinowitz continued, "This MOU now represents Panthera's sixth jaguar conservation agreement with a Latin American government, and our team will continue to work, country by country, to build partnerships with all nations home to the jaguar, connecting and protecting the entire eighteen-nation mosaic that is the jaguar's range."

Belize's Minister of Forestry, Fisheries & Sustainable Development, the Honorable Senator Lisel Alamilla, stated, "The jaguar is an iconic species of Belize. Their survival is dependent on our willingness to seek solutions that balance human interest and protection of their habitat. I am convinced that Belize, along with all its partners, can find win-win solutions for us to co-exist."

Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz signs a jaguar conservation MOU with Belize's Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, the Honorable Senator Lisel Alamilla

Today, Panthera's Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI) is the largest and most effective carnivore conservation program in existence; spanning nearly six million square kilometers, the JCI seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations from Mexico to Argentina to ensure the species' genetic diversity and survival. Belize is one of 13 countries with which Panthera is implementing strategic jaguar conservation science, and now, along with Belize, Panthera has solidified MOUs in Latin America with the governments of Panama, Guyana, Costa Rica, Honduras and Colombia.

Buttressing the southern tip of Mexico and eastern border of Guatemala, Belize serves as an integral link connecting jaguars within these countries, and all jaguar populations south of Belize. As a stronghold for jaguars in Mesoamerica, Belize is also highly unique in that it protects a greater proportion of land (43%) through national parks and private reserves than any other nation in Central America.

Pioneering the field of jaguar field science and conservation, Panthera's Dr. Rabinowitz first radio-collared jaguars in Belize in the early 1980s, illuminating new insights into the ecology of the species, and setting the stage for subsequent research which demonstrated that Belize's Cockscomb Basin contained the highest density of jaguars ever recorded at the time, anywhere in the wild. This research was instrumental in establishing the world's first jaguar preserve in 1986 - the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Today, Dr. Rabinowitz's and Panthera's jaguar conservation initiative in Cockscomb and the Maya Mountains lives on, currently operating as the world's longest-running scientific study of the species' population dynamics, ecology and behavior. A testament to the strict and effective protections afforded for the species, Cockscomb still shelters one of the highest densities of jaguars anywhere in the wild. Panthera's unique camera trap data has documented the presence of 131 jaguars in the Cockscomb study area over 11 years, and uncovered new findings about the species, including that wild jaguars can live at least 13 years.

Since 2008, Panthera has also partnered with the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, ERI and Belize Audubon Society to implement environmental education projects, monitor jaguar populations and their prey, reduce jaguar-livestock conflict, and maintain critical connectivity of these populations in and between the Central and Southern Belize Corridors, which touch the borders of Mexico and Guatemala.

University of Belize Interim President, Dr. Wilma Wright, shared, "The signing of today's MOU is significant because it brings together three parties interested in protecting and conserving the jaguars of Belize. This MOU will result in strategic action plans to reduce tension among humans and wildlife and allow us to better contribute to the sustainable development of Belize."

Image of the Day

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Florida panther kitten rescued by biologists

Story by David Fleshler, Sun SentinelTAMPA, Fla. --

A Florida panther kitten discovered near death on a wildlife refuge has been rescued and now stands a good chance of survival.

The kitten, found in mid-January when he weighed just one pound, was given emergency medical care to stabilize his condition and taken to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa for longer-term care.

Today he weighs more than four pounds, appears healthy and displays a good appetite, according to the zoo.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced the rescue Thursday, having held off until it appeared likely he would survive, spokeswoman Carli Segelson said.

Biologists conducting research at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge discovered the kitten and found he was dehydrated and suffering from a dangerously low body temperature.

"He was very lethargic, listless and non-responsive," Segelson said.

Unlike other young panthers rescued from difficult situations, this one will not be returned to the wild since he was too young to have learned how to hunt from his mother. When he is older, he will be transported to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park north of Tampa, where he will live.

The zoo is not putting the panther on display. He is being bottle-fed with Esbilac powdered milk replacer.

There was no word on what happened to his mother, but Segelson said there was no reason to think the kitten's mother was not alive. Biologists would have preferred to allow the kitten to grow up and take his place among the state's population of wild panthers, but that did not appear to be an option.

"We want to give any panther kitten the best opportunity to survive in the wild," said FWC veterinarian Dr. Mark Cunningham. "But clearly this kitten was in poor condition and almost certainly would have died without intervention."


Yosemite Mountain Lion vs. Coyote

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Endangered Species of Big Cat Exhibits Regional Diet Specificity

Endangered Species, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Ecosystem, Conservation

Classified as an endangered species, the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) has suffered from a steady reduction in numbers within its natural habitat in the mountains of Central Asia. Snow leopards are sometimes referred to as “mountain ghosts” and are extremely difficult to study because of their stealthy and elusive nature. In an effort to shed more light on how best to preserve this endangered species, scientists discovered that conservation of a specialized dietary niche might be a key contributing factor.

The snow leopard is most closely related to the tigers (Panthera tigris), but is comparatively one of the smaller big cats. This smaller size may be an adaptation to the cold weather of its native habitat in the mountains ranges of Central Asia. The snow leopard is a top-order predator that requires a sizable territory with many grazers. As such, the snow leopard has been categorized as an indicator of an intact eco-region. An absence of snow leopards from its native region may be a sign of particularly adverse or unusual weather conditions, disruptive human development, or a scarcity or overabundance of other species from lower trophic levels.

Over the past sixteen years (two generations) snow leopards are estimated to have decreased in population by 20 percent. This reduction is due to a combination of poaching and habitat loss. Despite efforts to protect this species, the body of a snow leopard sells for thousands of dollars and the bones of are a coveted part of traditional Asian medicine. Experts estimate there may be as few as 4,080 snow leopards left living.
Endangered Species, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Ecosystem, Conservation
 Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) is one of the key, preferred food sources for the snow leopard.

This month an international team of scientists released a meta-analysis of previously published and unpublished literature that was analyzed to identify and quantify the preferred diet of the snow leopard.  The study identified the Siberian ibex and blue sheep as the snow leopard’s preferred prey. Other food sources include the argali, Himalayan tahr, and marmots.

The researchers also identified the size of the prey as an important part of the snow leopard’s diet. Snow leopards require 1.5 lbs of fresh meat per day. Hunting prey takes time and energy, and therefore it would seem advantageous for a snow leopard to show preference for larger prey. As hypothesized, the snow leopard prefers to kill prey that weighs between 36 and 76 kg (79-168 lbs).
The results of this study emphasize that conservation efforts for this endangered species must include measures to conserve the species upon which the snow leopard preys. In particular having well-established and healthy herds of wild sheep and ibex are important, as snow leopards prefer to hunt game that is larger.

Snow leopard’s preferences for larger game also help rationalize why they will periodically attack cattle.   Increasingly the snow leopard’s natural range is being encroached upon by cattle farmers who dislike the threat that snow leopards pose to their grazing herds. As a result, the big cats now face considerable persecution in regions that are being developed as pasture lands. However if conservation efforts can focus on maintaining populations of wild prey, it is hoped that perhaps the snow leopards will adhere more to their natural diet.

This is yet another case in which preserving an endangered species turns out to be much more complicated than it may appear at face value. In order to preserve the snow leopard it is important to consider the entirety of their inhabited ecosystem.


Image of the Day

Posing white lion cub by Tambako the Jaguar

Friday, February 21, 2014

Image of the Day

Link between cat bites and depression found


Researchers at  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor have recently reached some arguable findings, after an analysis of statistical data showed that there’s an uncanny link between the people who show up at the hospital for cat bites related wounds and depression. Also, most people who had been both diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives and bitten by cats were women. The results are most puzzling of course, and as for conclusions – the researchers only attempted to make guesses in their paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Usually, I take little interest in studies that make a case out of findings that aren’t supported by a direct cause and effect link. This time, however, I’m inclined to be more receptive because of the sheer volume of study participants. The health records of some  1.3 million people over 10 years were peered through. The researchers found that 41% of the those who came to the hospital after being bitten by cats were also treated for depression at some point; of these 86% were women. So, what does this tell us? Being bitten by cats makes you depressed? Being depressed causes you to be bitten by cats? If so, do cats get some special cues from depressed individuals that causes them to go berserk, rabidly biting their owners afterward? These are humorous and, maybe, preposterous thoughts,  but in the end it all might boil down to circumstances.

First of all, numerous studies have found that owning a pet greatly helps coping with depression, offring multiple health benefits, both physical and mental. For instance, pet ownership has been shown to reduce elevated blood pressure caused by mental stress even better than antihypertensive medications. Pets provide social support in the times of sorrow and provide great comfort by always being near to their owners. For people living alone, cats are the best choices to help them cope with loneliness and possible depression, a study in Switzerland found. With this in mind, it makes sense that a large proportion of depressed individuals own cats, and seeing how a lot of women, depressed or otherwise, own cats the current findings could be explained.

The researchers, however, state that it may be possible for depressed people to act in a way that makes cats more likely to bite them. The depressed make less eye contact and cats, like other domesticated animals (dogs, pigs, horses) are known to respond to human behavioral cues like gestures, gaze, and focus. Another intriguing possibility, one that’s sure to causes shivers and fright, is that of Toxoplasma gondii infection. The parasite is carried by cats and carried in their feces. When it infects a human host, it causes alteration to the brain and causes erratic behavior. Infected have been reported to engage in  self-inflicted violence and there seems to be a link between this bacterial infection and increased suicide rates in women.

Bottom line? A conclusion that explains this surprising link between cat aggression and human depression is yet to be satisfyingly drawn.  Still, they write that it makes sense for doctors to screen cat bite victims for depression.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Shy snow leopard is caught on camera in the mountains of Pakistan

  • The leopard is endangered - there are around 4,000 to 6,500 left in the wild
  • A project led by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences photographed the big cat in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan
By Sarah Griffiths

One of the world’s most beautiful and elusive big cats has been captured on camera.
There are between 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild but one endangered creature has been spotted prowling high up in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan. The shy cat pads nonchalantly up to a camera before snarling at it and moves away again.
There are between 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards in the wild but one endangered animal (pictured) has been spotted prowling high up in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan
There are between 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards in the wild but one endangered animal (pictured) has been spotted prowling high up in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan


The snow leopard typically lives at elevations of around 3,000-4,500m in arid grassland across Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan
Populations are unevenly distributed and animals live in small groups, according to the WWF.

The snow leopard can kill prey up to three times its own weight and must hunt a large animal about once every fortnight to survive.  It hunts ibex, deer, boars, marmots, other small rodents and occasionally livestock. The snow leopard is illegally hunted for its highly-prized pelt and bones. In many areas the fragile habitat of the snow leopards is also being destroyed to make way for pastures for livestock and it is also preyed upon by farmers for killing their animals. Snow leopards are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List

The amazing pictures were captured as part of a three-year project on carnivore ecology, which included monitoring the snow leopard. The animals are also known as the ‘grey ghost’ or ‘ghost cat’ because of their shyness.
The project uses non-invasive methods such as camera traps and genetic sampling to study the animals, instead of capturing them. Scientists are trying to study the status and ecology of carnivores in remote areas such as the mountains of northern Pakistan.

Richard Bischof, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and leader of the study published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, explained that camera traps are a non-invasive solution to a common problem in wildlife monitoring - finding out who is where and when. ‘We are working in very remote areas, at high elevation and in rough terrain,' he said. ‘This brings along a lot of challenges but also makes our work a fantastic adventure.
Here the snow leopard prowls towards the camera. The animals live at high elevation and in rough terrain
Here the snow leopard prowls towards the camera. The animals live at high elevation and in rough terrain

The snow leopard is also known as the 'grey ghost' or 'ghost cat' because of their shyness, but here it approaches a camera station designed to monitor the creature's whereabouts
The snow leopard is also known as the 'grey ghost' or 'ghost cat' because of their shyness, but here it approaches a camera station designed to monitor the creature's whereabouts

The snow leopard was snapped high up in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan (pictured)
The snow leopard was snapped high up in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan (pictured)

‘The snow leopard saw the pole with the camera and walked right up to it, looked into the camera and then walked past it.’ The scientists focused on photographing three predators – the snow leopard, the red fox and the stone marten.

Camera traps are often set for weeks or months but it takes approximately five times longer to photograph the elusive snow leopard than a red fox, even though both species live in the same area.

The scientists focused on photographing three predators - the snow leopard (pictured), the red fox and the stone marten
The scientists focused on photographing three predators - the snow leopard (pictured), the red fox and the stone marten

The animal appears to consider the camera and begins to snarl at it. It is not clear if this particular leopard was attracted to the camera because of a scent lure
The animal appears to consider the camera and begins to snarl at it. It is not clear if this particular leopard was attracted to the camera because of a scent lure
Sometimes scent lures were used to attract curious carnivores to the cameras. Muhammad Ali Nawaz, director of the Pakistani non-profit Snow Leopard Foundation and the main collaborator in the study said: ’Studies such as this are important not only in terms of the knowledge they yield about wild carnivores and the methods used to study them. ‘They are also an opportunity to build the capacity of Pakistani wildlife professionals in the highly technical and continuously developing fields of ecology and conservation.’
The amazing pictures were captured as part of a three year project on carnivore ecology, which included monitoring the snow leopard. The animal approached the camera before snarling (pictured) and moving away
The amazing pictures were captured as part of a three year project on carnivore ecology, which included monitoring the snow leopard. The animal approached the camera before snarling (pictured) and moving away