Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Other big cat owners come to aid of Yogie and Friends

Yogie and Friends has a Sept. 3 court date to answer a LDWF citation issued in July. However, a restraining order is in place and a separate civil suit is pending in a Baton Rouge courtroom.

Yogie and Friends Exotic Cat Sanctuary received some unexpected help this week in making recommended upgrades to the homes and holding areas of the facility's nine large cats.
Three men who own their own exotic cats – and volunteers accompanying them – gave of their time for up to three days for a blitz build of new cinderblock dens, erecting new fencing and performing general cosmetic improvements.

But there's still some work to complete so Executive Director Jenny Senier is putting out the call again for local help. She said the tasks don't require heavy lifting, such as screwing boards to a privacy fence frame, adding pre-cut chain link fencing, caulking the dens and general cleanup of the property.

Yogie and Friends is under the gun to show progress on a list of deficiencies cited by Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries during a July inspection. LDWF seized – on paper only – the big cats and cited Senior for having the animals without a permit. A court date is set for Sept. 3 in DeSoto District Court. A separate civil lawsuit has been filed in East Baton Rouge Parish District Court.

The U.S. Zoological Association included Yogie and Friends in its lawsuit against the state. USZA claims requiring the sanctuary to join the non-profit American Zoo and Aquarium Association in order to be exempt from 2006 law banning private ownership of exotic animals is discrimination, said President Doug Terranova, of Kaufman, Texas, who lent his expertise this week to Senior and Tim Mills, Yogie's founder and board member.

Additionally, Yogie and Friends obtained a restraining order against LWDF, good through Sept. 15, prohibiting agents from further enforcement. "This is one of the things we do; go out and help other people like these nice people here," Terranova said. "We see this all of the time, requiring facilities to be a member of AZA. The state of Louisiana has exempted AZA from their law but a USDA license is still required. And they have one."

Joining AZA could cost about $10,000 annually, Senier said, making it cost-prohibitive for the facility operated with donations and volunteer labor."A government cannot make you join a non-profit," said Joe Schreibvogel, the owner and trainer of big cats in Oklahoma. "By saying you are exempt by joining AZA gives them a monopoly."

Yogie & Friends has been unsuccessful in obtaining a permit from LDWF except for the bobcat and servals. The tigers, lions and leopard are licensed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which had considered the facility a Class C exhibitor in good standing since its beginning in 2000.
But since the LDWF citation was issued, USDA has made repeat visits to the site, Senier said. "We take what they say seriously but we were just not able to get the help," Senier said.

Rather than see Yogie and Friends lose its aging big cats to an out-of-state facility, Schreibvogel chose to round up a crew and come to their aid. He's done this before, he said, helping to rebuild a zoo in Missouri in three days.

"My first impression," said Schreibvogel of the facility, "is there is cosmetic stuff that needs to be done." But some of the mandates from LDWF "do not make sense." For example, Schreibvogel said LDWF wants doors on the den houses so the cats can be locked in during inclement weather. He said the cats are smart enough to get out of the bad weather on their own. Each pen already has a separate, secure catch area where the cats are moved when their areas need to be cleaned.

A couple of dens that were constructed prior to July were deemed unacceptable by LDWF. Agents want the cats to be able to rest comfortably at any angle, rather than the cozy situation Senier and Mills chose to provide knowing the preference of cats to be in close quarters.  "That's putting human emotion on animals," Terranova said of the state's criticism of the first dens. However, all were enlarged by the volunteers this week to meet LDWF requirements.

Terranova, Schreibvogel and Michael Sandlin, the owner of Tony the Truck Stop Tiger in Grosse Tete who also volunteered this week along with a crew he brought, all have had their run-ins with state government, USDA and animal activities. So they've formed an informal advisory board to give Senier and Mills guidance in the future and resources that can be tapped into when needed.

They've already given veterinary recommendations, feeding tips and suggestions on providing additional ramps and structures inside each cat's pen for activity and exercise. "I wish we had known these guys four years ago. They've been a godsend. A lot of things we just didn't know. But we're committed to getting it done for the cats," Senier said.

To help
For more information on how to help Yogie and Friends or to volunteer your time, call Executive Director Jenny Senier at (318) 286-1145.


Your Daily Cat

Last portrait of Qiemo

The Moods of Qiemo,the Snow Leopard 

Shy Qiemo?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge

Padma, a female Bengal tiger, lives with male Bengal tiger, Skanda, at Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge. Both cats are originally from Florida. After their sanctuary was devastated by a hurricane and was forced to shut down, Padma and Skanda were moved to Tiger Creek. When the two tigers arrived in 2008, they were obese and were put on strict diets to bring them down to healthy weights. Now, they enjoy playing in the pool provided for them, as well as running about in their yards

Padma, a female Bengal tiger, lives with male Bengal tiger, Skanda, at Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge. Both cats are originally from Florida. After their sanctuary was devastated by a hurricane and was forced to shut down, Padma and Skanda were moved to Tiger Creek. When the two tigers arrived in 2008, they were obese and were put on strict diets to bring them down to healthy weights. Now, they enjoy playing in the pool provided for them, as well as running about in their yards

 Pepe, an African lion, was rescued from Mexico. As a cub, his former owners took him to the beach to pose for tourist photo opportunities. Pepe was then given to a lady who could not properly feed him or the other lion cubs she owned. In March of 2002, Pepe was rescued and brought to Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge. Pepe can be aggressive during feedings, but otherwise spends his time placidly lounging in his yard.

Tara is a Bengal Tiger from San Antonio, Texas. Her owners were breeders who owned several tigers, but were forced to give them up when they moved. When Tara arrived at Tiger Creek in 2003, she had a metabolic bone disease that made her bones brittle. Although she was given calcium to correct the disease, she has never reached her full size. This petite little tiger can be skittish and is very quiet.

Hidden amongst a dense pine forest, exotic big cats pad across red clay. Regal Siberian tigers and lithe leopards dazzle the eyes with their slinking silhouettes and glossy coats. The Pineywoods might seem like an odd locale to find these creatures, but the cats residing at Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge have happily called Tyler, Texas, their home since 1997. Tigers, lions, bobcats, and many other feline species have been rescued from grievous situations by Tiger Creek employees, and the cats are on display at the sanctuary to educate all animal lovers.

“The way Tiger Creek got started was that I was raising exotic waterfowl and I would take them at the end of the year to surplus to the exotic auctions,” Tiger Creek executive director and cofounder Brian Werner said. “I saw these tigers going across the auction block and people would pass them over. I would inquire about the animal and I realized that these people were just trying to get rid of them. There was a big influx of, ‘Where do we put these cats?’”

Brian began helping displaced, abused, and neglected tigers by creating Tiger Missing Link Foundation. Originally, Brian documented captive tigers so they could be placed into managed breeding programs to increase their populations before releasing them into the wild. Brian and his ex-wife, Terri Werner, who is the director of operations at Tiger Creek and jointly manages the conservatorship with Brian, became more involved with tiger protection as time progressed.
“I had no idea we would be doing this,” Brian said. “We started out getting calls from people that wanted us to take the tigers in. So, then we started taking in tigers and Terri joined me. Then I started building Tiger Creek itself with Terri. We started out as just a small compound and now we’ve expanded.”

Tiger Creek used to contain only a few pens and a cabin in which Brian and Terri lived. However, Tiger Creek presently consists of small cat enclosures, large cat yards with stone houses, animal care facilities, and a Visitors Center that contains a gift shop. Here, visitors may view rare cats enjoying comfortable, healthy lives.

“We rescue from the pet industry,” Chelsea Harris, who has been a Tiger Creek keeper since 2007, said. “We rescue from other sanctuaries that shut down because they just don’t have funding, and we also rescue from the entertainment industry. These animals are all animals that wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild. Like our cougar, Tin Cup, he’s actually wild-born. His family found him in their backyard when their pet dog ran out into the woods and brought him back as a small kitten. Tin Cup imprinted on people pretty quickly once those folks took him in. They raised him for about a month, but they couldn’t keep him longer, so they brought him out to us.”

Most of the cats living at Tiger Creek have lived in captivity and would not know how to care for themselves in their natural habitats, have been sickened by malnutrition or unkempt pens due to neglectful owners, or have been given to the refuge because they could not be cared for properly at their previous homes. According to Brian, Tiger Creek is like a Club Med for tigers. It is a retirement home where the cats do not perform or have to struggle for resources.

“Every cat that comes in stays the rest of its life unless we are intentionally bringing it in to pass it down the road,” Brian said. “Any cats that we permanently take on, they stay. This becomes their home.”

To keep the cats entertained and exercised in their homes, keepers practice target training. Target training teaches the cats to perform acts such as raising their paws, opening their mouths, or standing on their hind legs for pieces of meat, which provides amusement for the felines and helps keepers when they need to do medical procedures on the animals. Sometimes, visitors may get the unexpected treat of watching a target training session in progress while on their guided tour.

“It’s for enrichment,” Chelsea said. “We teach them different commands and cues, and they get treats. They’re not always willing to do it, but we still try to work with them every day just so they stay consistent.”

The felines at Tiger Creek are retired, so they do not perform in shows. Generally, the cats prefer sleeping 18 to 20 hours out of the day, mostly staying still for photographers and onlookers.
“They’re very lazy,” Chelsea said. “People come out here and they ask, ‘Can’t you make them do something like get up and run around?’ We say, ‘No. They’re cats. They’re going to do what they want.’ It never gets old working around these cats.”

Tiger Creek’s cats have their own enclosures with extras to spare and more under construction at the back of the property. Felines in the newest yards are not on exhibit but will be shortly. A momentarily off-exhibit cat to look for in the future is Sierra, a Bengal tiger who lived at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Sierra came to Tiger Creek after Neverland Ranch’s tiger trainer was in a car accident, did not return to work due to his injuries, and was not replaced. As a result, Sierra had to be moved out of the ranch to live at Tiger Creek. “Probably the cat I get asked most about is Michael Jackson’s,” Chelsea said. “Unfortunately, she’s off exhibit right now. We just don’t have the public area open all the way to her enclosure, so people are sometimes disappointed that they don’t get to see her.”

Another visitor favorite is the tiger duo of Sargent and Tiger Lily. These Siberian tigers were featured on the Animal Planet documentary, “Growing Up Tiger,” that was filmed at Tiger Creek when they first came to live there as cubs. Sarge and Lily were born at Great Cats of Indiana, but had to come to Tiger Creek because Great Cats did not have enough space for them and their other two siblings to live together comfortably. Unlike Sierra, these two television stars are on display to the public.
“Visitors ask about Sarge and Lily because they were on Animal Planet and they’ve seen the show,” Chelsea said. “They’re 12 years old now, but it was filmed back when they were born until they were a year old here at Tiger Creek.”

While all tiger species are endangered, Tiger Creek is home to three especially rare tabby Bengal tigers. These notable felines are not a separate breed from Bengal tigers, but are cats that possess a color variation that only occurs in that particular species. Tabby tigers sport a distinctive coloration of a pale orange and white coat with red-orange stripes. It is estimated that only 100 of these cats exist in the world. “They’re my favorite cat because I just love that color variation,” Brian said. “That color variation is found in the Bengal tiger. We’re not sure why that occurs in just the Bengal tigers, but that’s where it’s located. We have some of them here represented that were donated to us from a facility out of Myrtle Beach.”

A guided tour with a knowledgeable keeper enables visitors to see and become informed on Sarge, Lily, tabby tigers, and any of the other 37 big cats at the refuge. All tours begin beneath the green metal roof of the Visitors Center. “When visitors show up, they’re going to get pretty royal treatment,” Brian said. “We give them a personalized guided tour. There’s no free-roaming access until after they’ve had a guided tour. I think, after visitors leave, they’ll have an appreciation and understanding of what we’re doing and why, where these cats come from, how they get here, and what we do with them once they’re here.”

Tiger Creek is open throughout the year, bringing in 20,000 guests. Chelsea advised that cooler months are ideal for visiting the refuge because the cats are more animated during those times.
“Any time other than the summer is the best time to come,” Chelsea said. “We still get a lot of visitors during the summer and people still have a great time, but the cats are pretty much sleeping the whole time. The best time is when it’s cool out during fall and the cool months of spring. Even when it’s wintertime, the cats are still really active because they have their nice, thick winter coat.”
As of late July, new cat yards were completed at Tiger Creek. To accommodate even more cats and visitors, plans are underway to further expand the refuge. Updates such as new yards, more land acquisitions to create extra habitat space, and a new Visitors Center are just a few renovations to be made.

 “We’re going to move the cabin in which Terri and I lived and make it part of the main attraction,” Brian said. “It’s kind of like a landmark. We’re going to put all of our old news articles up in there, where people can come in and walk around and see them, and they’ll see what we started out as.”
The entire park is being built with a theme inspired by Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden in Las Vegas, Nevada. Large yards that mimic the Garden’s will be put in place, and landscaping will be done on the entire property. Further renovations will follow these changes.

“Our goal is to build big enclosures, gets the cats moved, and then as we raise more money, come back and retrofit water facilities into them so that they’ll be able to swim, play, and cool off,” Brian said. “Eventually, we’ll have all paved walkways for the public. We’ll open the whole place up once we finish the right side out. We keep working and building, adding on and growing this.” Tiger Creek takes donations from the public, which speeds the renovations that are constantly taking place at the refuge. Brian has devised several ways the public can support the refuge, such as giving money or sponsoring a cat.

“A real big deal is that when people are doing their estate planning, a lot of people leave us in their wills,” Brian said. “We’re also working on a project right now that I haven’t launched. We could offer an insurance policy that they would have, and they could assign the cash benefit to the charity and it would still build cash value, too. It will eventually pay for itself, so they’re not out of pocket money. We’re looking at all kinds of alternatives for people.”

Ultimately, Brian feels that there is a single, best way to help Tiger Creek continue its mission. “One of the biggest factors is coming out and seeing it,” Brian said.


Owning a big cat is one thing, but caring for it is another

Owning a big cat is one thing, but caring for it is another
Readers voice their views about keeping cheetahs and other big cats in the UA. Photo: Silvia Razgova / The National

In reference to your news story, Big cats ‘a threat to young children’, says Al Ain vet (August 28), the UAE is a signatory to Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which has procedures in place to protect rare species.

This means rare animals may be traded only with appropriate paper­work. My contention about the UAE having stricter laws is that appropriate paperwork does not affect one’s ability to properly house and care for wild animals.

What often happens when these big cats are kept as pets is they are de-clawed and have their canines removed. This means they no longer pose a threat to their human keepers, but also means they are unable to eat their natural diet.

This brings about degenerative diseases which are irreversible. Why would anyone with common sense and reason want to keep as a pet a big cat or any other wild animal that does not belong in confined spaces?

I guess the good news from all this is that an education process seems to be underway, but it feels like there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made.

Gilda De Monte, Abu Dhabi

Keeping these kinds of big cats as pets seems to me to be all about the prestige of ownership and with little or no regard paid to the true wellbeing of these creatures.

I am disturbed by the thought that veterinarians agree to conduct surgery to de-claw these animals and remove their teeth to render them safe as pets.

Dalya Eason, Abu Dhabi


Excited lioness pounces on conservationist for a hug

'It's just her way of saying hello!'

  • Valentin Gruener raised Sirga the lioness from birth at reserve in Botswana
  • She greets him like old friend and they cuddle and rub noses in cute video
  • Mr Gruener works at Modisa Wildlife Project which conserves big cat habitat
By Harriet Hernando for MailOnline
When faced with a lioness clawing at its flimsy cage, most of us would do a runner. But Valentin Gruener calmly approaches the cage - and lets the beast run wild.
As he begins to unlock the door, Sirga starts pacing up and down and as soon he opens the enclosure, the big cat springs out and pounces on him.
Fortunately, she's just after a big hug and Mr Gruener greets the lioness with a pleasant 'good morning' before rubbing noses with it.

Traveller John Hawkins shot the video at Modisa Wildlife Project near Maun, Botswana. He said: 'Val is a wildlife conservationist that raised Sirga the lioness almost from birth. 'This guy is exceptionally inspirational. He takes her on game walks and she can even hunt on her own.'

Sirga the lioness greets Val Gruener who raised her from birth at the Modisa Wildlife Project in Botswana
Sirga the lioness greets Val Gruener who raised her from birth at the Modisa Wildlife Project in Botswana

Mr Gruener founded the wildlife project with Mikkel Legarth from Germany after they met while volunteering at a nature reserve in 2009. The project conserves and protects big cat habitats in partnership with Grassland Safari Lodge. Mr Gruener said: 'Grassland started their conservation work by capturing lions and other big cats in conflict with farmers to spare them from certain death.'

Come here you big lug! Mr Gruener hugs Sirga the lioness at the wildlife park in Africa
Come here you big lug! Mr Gruener hugs Sirga the lioness at the wildlife park in Africa

Modisa Wildlife Park also conducts research monitoring the Kalahari eco-system which includes bird and game counts and plant inventories. Mr Hawkins has been travelling the world since 2008 after setting foot in the Dominican Republic.
Last year he travelled through Africa. He said: 'Travelling through Africa is a very humbling experience that makes you realize how amazing this planet truly is.'

Unveiling Cute White Tiger Cubs (Video)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cheetah menu: Wildlife instead of cattle

August 27, 2014
Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)
Cheetahs primarily prefer wildlife on their menu to cattle, scientists have confirmed. The cheetah is a vulnerable species that only exists on Namibia’s commercial farmland in large populations. Here, local farmers see cheetahs as a potential threat for their cattle.

Blood collection of a free-ranging cheetah on Namibian farmland for stable isotope analyses.
Credit: IZW/Gabor Czirjak

German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) can give the all-clear: in a recent study they showed that cheetahs primarily prefer wildlife on their menu. The cheetah is a vulnerable species that only exists on Namibia's commercial farmland in large populations. Here, local farmers see cheetahs as a potential threat for their cattle.

The conflict is an old one: wherever there are carnivorous wild animals, farmers are concerned about their livestock. In Namibia, the concern refers to the possible threat from cheetahs on cattle. When farmers in Namibia are missing a bovine calf, cheetahs are regularly under suspicion -- nowhere else in the world are there as many animals of this vulnerable species as on commercial farmland in Namibia. But the suspicion can rarely be confirmed without demur.

In their recent study, scientists of the IZW investigated whether cattle is on top of the cheetahs' menu. For this purpose they used an indirect method with which they were able to assess the diet over longer periods. "Traditionally, carnivore diet is determined by examining samples of fresh faeces. Faecal samples only provide a snapshot of the diet, based on the detected hair and bone samples of prey animals. One cannot therefore conclude which food items cheetahs devour in the long run," explains Christian Voigt from the IZW.

Instead the scientists used samples of cheetah hair to determine the stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen. Herbivores have different food webs. One is based on shrubs, trees and herbs whose photosynthesis contains intermediate products with three carbon atoms (C3). In contrast, grasses exhibit a C4 photosynthesis. These food webs can be differentiated with the help of the involved carbon isotopes. Herbivores typically only belong to one food web and the isotope ratio hence deposits in their body tissue. Small antelopes such as springbok or steenbok specialise on shrubs and herbs whereas the oryx antelope feeds on grass -- just like the cattle. One step up in the food chain the isotope ratio of the prey transfers to its predator.

The study shows that herbivores of the C4 food chain, to which cattle belong, are nearly irrelevant to the cheetah's diet. Grazers are only occasionally considered as prey by males when they occur in groups of two or three animals.

In this project the IZW scientists collaborated closely with the farmers. "We live with the farmers on their farmland and share our scientific results with them. In this way, we attain a very high acceptance," emphasises Bettina Wachter. "The farmers passed on their experience in dealing with these big cats, as cheetahs cannot be simply lured with bait like many other carnivores," she adds. This is owed to the fact that cheetahs only eat prey they brought down themselves. Thus, aided by the farmers, the scientists installed box traps at marking trees, which were hidden by thorn bushes except for a narrow passage. The only way to reach their tree is passing the trap. Once a cheetah is captured it is sedated and thoroughly examined: body length and weight are determined, samples of blood and hair are taken and then the scientists release the cheetah equipped with a tracking collar.

"We conclude that the farmer's problems are smaller than they had assumed before this study," Voigt sums up. This study, published in the scientific online journal PLOS ONE, will contribute to the protection of cheetahs -- but not in adversity to the interest of the farmers. "We understand their position. The concepts of species conversation always need to be balanced against the livelihood of humans," says Wachter. The study is therefore an important mile stone to resolve the conflict between farmers and cheetahs.

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

Journal Reference:
  1. Christian C. Voigt, Susanne Thalwitzer, Jörg Melzheimer, Anne-Sophie Blanc, Mark Jago, Bettina Wachter. The Conflict between Cheetahs and Humans on Namibian Farmland Elucidated by Stable Isotope Diet Analysis. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (8): e101917 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101917

Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). "Cheetah menu: Wildlife instead of cattle." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2014. <>.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Human-cougar confrontations lead to 117 big cats being killed in 2013

Human-cougar confrontations lead to 117 big cats being killed in 2013

FILE: A cougar walking a trail in Los Angeles Griffith Park on March 2nd, 2013. An increase in cougar and human confrontations in 2013 lead to 117 of the big cats being killed in B.C.

Photograph by: STEVE WINTER , AFP/Getty Images

KAMLOOPS — The number of cougars destroyed by conservation officers in B.C. in the 2013-2014 fiscal year jumped dramatically compared with a year earlier. The province's Conservation Officer Service has released figures that indicate the agency destroyed 117 cougars between April 1 of 2013 and March 31 of this year.

That's a 50 per cent increase over the 78 cougars that were put down by they service in 2012-2013.
Much of the increase appears concentrated in the late spring and early summer of 2013, when 56 cougars were destroyed between April 1 and July 31, compared with just 18 in the same quarter a year earlier. That trend appears to have decreased somewhat this year, with 29 cougars destroyed between April 1 and July 31 of 2014.

Kamloops conservation officer Kevin Van Damme says there have been more conflicts between humans and cougars as populations of the big cats climb across the province. He speculates it may be due to recent forest fires that brought down trees, creating more open spaces and grasslands. That, in turn, could have led to an increase in deer and moose and a corresponding jump in the number of predators.

The Conservation Service says there were 3,120 cougar sightings in 2013-2014, up roughly 10 per cent in one year.


Dark side of UAE’s exotic animal fascination

Dark side of UAE’s exotic animal fascination
Dr Ulrich Wernery, scientific director of CVRL, says bad diets can be catastrophic. “Have you seen a lion in the savannah flying after chicken?” Lee Hoagland / The National
The times

DUBAI // Dr Ulrich Wernery has seen the dark side of the fascination with keeping exotic wildlife as pets. When wealthy people pay thousands of dirhams for rare animals such as big cats, birds and even apes without knowing how to care for them, he sees the consequences. By the time the animals reach the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai, where Dr Wernery is the scientific director, they are beyond help.

At least once a month, he and his colleagues receive dead creatures, mostly big cats, hyenas and birds. Investigations into the cause of death usually yield the same answer – diseases or problems caused by poor diet or other forms of mistreatment by the owner. This month a cheetah was taken to Dr Wernery’s lab. A post-mortem examination found pieces of carpet in the animal’s stomach.

It had probably been kept in an enclosure with carpeting and had been ripping it apart when hungry, said the doctor. “People think it is nice if they keep an animal on carpet,” said Dr Wernery, who has seen similar problems in captive Gordon’s wild cats, a rare local species. “It is not intentional, they do not want to kill these animals but it is all wrong what they do.”

The trade in wild animals is regulated by Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which has procedures in place to protect rare species.
The UAE is a signatory to the convention, which means rare animals may be traded only with the appropriate paperwork.

Anyone convicted of smuggling endangered wildlife into the UAE can be jailed for up to six months and fined between Dh10,000 to Dh50,000. But a conservation professional said more needed to be done to enforce the law. “If you are a rich man with connections and ‘wasta’, you can do what you want,” he said. “No one will inspect what is behind your walls.”

While keeping animals such as primates and big cats in a flat or a garden is already illegal, the Government should regulate private zoos, he said. “Most of the private zoos are set up on a whim by a very wealthy person and most of those animals are not contributing to conservation,” he said.
“They are basically there to provide entertainment for a family or one person.”

Stricter licensing, regulations and standards would ensure animals are kept in good condition and traded legally, he said. “The reality is there needs to be more Emiratis getting involved who are well trained, motivated and want to move things forward.”

Despite the laws, wild, exotic animals are still sold relatively openly. The website has a host of wild animals for sale including Arabian oryx, slow lorises and cheetahs, which are all listed as vulnerable to extinction on the Red List of Threatened Species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The trade of rare animals has serious implications on wild populations that are already under stress, said Dr Elsayed Mohamed, regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “There is no doubt that the continuous harvest of the animals from the wild by humans is leading certain species to extinction. This is happening to many species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and even amphibians,” he said.

Another issue Dr Werney regularly encounters – particularly with big cats – is bad diet, with their owners simply not satisfying the animals’ need for red meat, causing them to suffer from malnutrition. “What they mainly give is chicken but have you seen a lion in the savannah flying after chicken?” he asked. “This is, especially for young animals, not sufficient.” Malnutrition causes a host of health problems – hind-leg paralysis and trouble with the development of nerves, the spinal cord and the brain.

Dr Werney saw this in three African lions during a chance visit to a veterinary centre in Dubai this month. “They cried in pain because all the nerves were damaged because of wrong diet,” he said. “The worst part is this is irreversible. Even if the animals are now fed the right food, they will suffer like this all their lives.”

Corina Berners, a taxidermist at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, said the worst example of maltreatment was declawing big cats to make them easier to handle. The procedure alters the way the animals walk, causing chronic back and joint pain, and is illegal in some countries. “Over the years, we got three or four animals for postmortem that were declawed, mostly lions,” said Ms Berners, who has practised in Dubai for eight years. “So there must be someone who does it.”


Keeper's error leads to lion attack at Dallas Zoo

A zoo employee is recovering in a hospital after being bitten and scratched by a big cat Saturday. Zoo officials say the lion took advantage of a door that was mistakenly left unlocked. WFAA

When a Dallas Zoo handler failed to secure a door inside the Giants of the Savanna lion exhibit, one of the big cats pounced on the mistake.

DALLAS — A lioness attacked a zookeeper at the Dallas Zoo Saturday on this final weekend of summer vacation, with families roaming exhibits nearby.

They were born in and have lived their lives in captivity, but their instincts are purely wild. So when a handler failed to secure a door inside the Giants of the Savanna lion exhibit, one of the big cats pounced on the mistake, violently engaging the zookeeper. "There was a puncture wound on his back and he had some scratches," said Gregg Hudson, the zoo's president and CEO.

The keeper had to fire off pepper spray to stop the attack and get to safety. The zoo employee is now recovering at a hospital. "Unfortunately, when you have humans involved in things like this, human error happens... and that's what happened in this case," Hudson said. "We are very fortunate that he has pepper spray on him all the time and was able to use that to make sure this wasn't any worse than it was."

Zoo officials stress this all happened out of the view of the public, unlike the last high profile attack at the exhibit last November, when a male lion grabbed a lioness in his pride by the head and suffocated her while visitors looked on "At first you think they're playing; then you realize he's killing her, and you're watching it," said Michael Henshaw, who was a witness to the November attack. "You just can't believe your eyes."

That lion was a different animal than the cat that went on the attack this weekend.

The lioness involved in Saturday's attack was sedated, but will go back on exhibit — although it may be kept from public view on Sunday. The lion exhibit, though — with the rest of the pride — will be open for visitors on Sunday.


Your Daily Cat

Siberian tigress not that happy

Siberian tigress not that happy

Emoting Cats!

Cats, They Love Emoji

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cullman Co. Alabama couple insists big cat crossed in front of them

There hasn't been a confirmed sighting of a Florida panther in Alabama since late 1948, according to Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Alabama residents frequently report seeing 'big cats' in the state, but state experts say they are likely seeing overgrown housecats, bobcats or coyotes. (Wikipedia)

By Erin Edgemon |
on August 26, 2014

CULLMAN COUNTY, Alabama -- A Cullman County couple cruising on their motorcycle through the rolling hills of the Logan community saw a cougar or panther cross the road in front of them, they say. "It was a big cat," Allen Goodwin said. "It was a solid color, dark brown-reddish with a long tail. It was not an overgrown house cat."

Goodwin knows there are reportedly no big cats in Alabama, but he insists that he and his wife, Melony, spotted one cross County Road 831 on the clear morning three weeks ago. They said that it was just 50 feet away as they approached. They identified it as a likely cougar or Florida panther after looking at pictures of the species. Allen Goodwin said he'd been skeptical in the past when he read stories about purported big cat sightings. "I didn't believe it. This really shocked me," he said.
"I am a believer now," Goodwin added. "There is no denying it is a big cat."

Alabama residents often report seeing jaguarundis, but state wildlife experts say they are only live in South American and southern Texas. (Wikipedia)

No evidence of big cats

Keith Gauldin, assistant chief of wildlife for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said there's been no documented evidence of a big cat in the state since 1947, when a Florida panther was killed in Chilton County. According to an report from 2011, the last verified cougar in Alabama was killed in St. Clair County over 50 years ago. "It is not that we don't want to believe or refuse to believe," Gauldin said. "We just don't have documented evidence in the form of pictures or tracks." He added, "With all of the game cameras put out in the woods, we get pictures of bears but never cats."

Jud Easterwood, wildlife biologist and supervisor for Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources District Office in Tanner, said during the winter, researchers have staked down deer carcasses in hope of getting footage of golden eagles for a survey. Cameras have captured images of everything from coyotes and stray dogs to bobcats and foxes, but no big cats.

Still, Gauldin pointed out that wild animals don't adhere to state lines or scientific estimations of their range, so it is always possible that a large cat could have found itself deep in Alabama. He said that the Conservation Department gets several calls a year concerning big cats.

Sometimes, the callers send photos, but close examination shows that the big cats were overgrown housecats. Or, the picture turns out to be a Photoshopped image, or something snagged from the Internet. Gauldin speculated that some big cats might be exotic pets that had escaped from their enclosures, although he said that such situations would be rare.

Alabama residents often report seeing jaguarundis, but state wildlife experts say they are only live in South American and southern Texas. (Wikipedia)

Most "big cats" are actually coyotes or bobcats

According to The Cougar Network, which tracks sighting nationally, cougars are elusive and seldom seen in the wild. In Alabama, Gauldin said, most people who report a big cat in the wild actually saw bobcats, otters or black coyotes. He said bobcats, which have short tails, are common throughout the state. Their coats can range from pale brown to highly spotted, and they can be up to 2 feet tall and weigh up to 35 pounds.

Still, some central Alabama residents feared a jaguarundi could be responsible for killing household pets, according to an report from June. Wildlife experts at that time thought the likely culprit was a coyote, although Gauldin said that it could have been a bobcat.

Gauldin said a jaguarundi - a small cat present in Texas and South America - isn't likely to travel away from coastal areas. Both Allen and Melony Goodwin say the big cat they saw was about the size of a German shepherd. Normally, Allen said he would have had his helmet camera on, but he lost it earlier this summer while on vacation. Melony said that when the cat crossed the road in plain sight, she exclaimed to Allen through the intercom system, "Oh my gosh! I haven't ever seen anything like that, like we saw that day," she said. "It was strange."

Image of Florida panthers in the wild in southern Florida. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Range of the Florida panther

Several decades ago, panthers ranged over seven Southern states. In the present day, the Cougar Network says that the Florida panther is the only officially recognized population of big cats in the Southeast.

The Florida panther was listed as an endangered species in 1973 largely due to hunting. Since then, the population has clawed back in numbers, rising to an estimated 100-180 adults, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Florida panthers are a tawny color, about 6 to 7 feet long, with a crooked tail and a patch of fur on their back that resembles a cowlick.

Georgia did have a confirmed panther sighting in 2008, but with fatal result. A hunter fatally shot a Florida panther in west-central Georgia's Troup County, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Cougar Network. His endangered trophy cat cost him two years of probation and $2,000 fine.
This bobcat was spotted in the Gulf State Park on Friday, February 19, 2010. According to National Geographic, the bobcat population in North America may be as high as one million. They have adapted to just about every environment, even suburban areas. Bobcats are successful hunters and rabbits are their favorite prey. They are solitary animals and usually are most active around dusk and dawn. (File photo)

Bobcats are common through the state of Alabama. This bobcat was spotted about a block from the Intracoastal Waterway between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL. in this file photo. (Photo by Paul H. Franklin)


Your Daily Cat

Siberian tigress on the back  
Siberian tigress on her back

Nine lives, two homes

Last updated 05:00 25/08/2014

Cleo the cat
CAT-CH UP: Cleo the cat, left, is the beloved pet of the Smith family.
ming the cat

DOUBLE ACT: The same cat is also the Alexander family moggy, Ming, bought by them in 2000. He is pictured with Mackenzie Alexander, 10. A two-timing puss has prompted a decade-long tug-of-war between Wellington neighbours, with two families laying claim to their beloved pet. The straying feline, known as Ming to the Alexander family and Cleo to the Smith family, has been playing away for nearly 10 years, living a secret life with each family.
It all started when Alice Alexander bought a pedigree Siamese cat, which she named Ming, in 2000. He had a habit of mingling, thus the name and he once took a nap in a removal truck and ended up in the eastern suburbs, before being discovered. "Everyone knew Ming and I would often get calls saying he was in someone's house."

When the family moved to Strathmore in 2005, Ming would go wandering, often returning home not hungry and without his collar, which had his name and the Alexanders' phone number. The wandering became more frequent, then in 2010 Ming disappeared.

Alexander put missing cat posters up around her neighbourhood, but no-one had seen Ming. In May this year, she was shocked when he "just appeared out of nowhere" after four years. Alexander had been sitting on her deck when a cat climbed onto the glasshouse roof and began meowing. "I picked it up and realised it was Ming. I was running scenarios through my head, wondering where he had been."

She got Ming microchipped and put on another collar, but the cat disappeared again. A month later, he returned with a shaved leg and had obviously been to the vet, Alexander said. "I knew then that someone had him so I put up more missing cat posters and one week later, a lady got in touch to let me know Ming was living with them." It transpired Ming was living a double life as Cleo in the Smith family home, which was next door and down the hill.

The Smiths had moved to Karori, but when they shifted to Auckland, they took Ming, who had been Cleo for five years, with them. They moved back to their Strathmore home earlier this year. Glenda Smith said that until she saw the posters, she had no idea about her cat's "secret life."

Cleo had been her husband's cat before they got married. The cat spent so much time at his house, he assumed it had been a stray so took it in and did not pinch it, she said. "Cleo is part of the family and been with us for nine years, we can't just push him away now. It's emotional for us too, he loves us and always come back."

The fate of Ming/Cleo has yet to be decided but both women say that they just want the cat to be happy. "It's so difficult, we love him so much and want him to be happy but worried the family will move. Ming is 15 years old now and deserves to retire. He shouldn't have to try and reclaim territory," Alexander said.

She had contacted the SPCA and police who told her they were unable to help.


Monday, August 25, 2014

The impact of forest loss on Siberian tigers

  Logging of Russian Far East damaging tiger habitat, few intact forests protected

Sandhya Sekar, correspondent
August 19, 2014

This is the first part of series examining the impact of forest loss on Siberian tigers. 

The destruction of Russian forests to supply timber to international markets is becoming one of the biggest threats to the world’s largest cat, the Siberian tiger. Russia has more forests than any other country, representing about one-fifth of the world’s total forest cover and contains more than half of the world’s coniferous forests. However, worldwide demand for high quality timber, along with weak regulations, has led to widespread logging of Russia’s trees.

The forests of the Russian Far East are of the “mixed boreal” type, where East Asian coniferous–deciduous forests and the boreal forests merge. Originally, the forests were a mixture of Korean pine and deciduous species like birch and aspen; in the north and at high elevations, conifers like spruce, fir and larch were found. The mixed boreal forests form one of the most biologically diverse habitats at high latitudes, supporting a unique mix of southern-evolved fauna like the Siberian tiger, Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) and the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), along with species typical of the northern taiga, like the caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and Ussuri brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus).

Scientists estimate only around 400 Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) exist in the wild today. Photo by Derek Ramsey.

Human activities such as selective logging of economically valuable Korean pine and disturbances like fire have resulted in the conversion of many of the mixed boreal forests into secondary forests of oak and birch. This habitat poorer quality compared than the original mixed boreal composition, and does not support as many herbivores like deer and wild boar; this, in turn, affects apex carnivores like the tiger.

Life history of the Amur tiger

The Siberian or Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) occupies the northernmost areas of all tiger species, with the Korean pine forests of the Russian Far East comprising its favorite habitat. Fewer than 400 adult and subadult Siberian tigers remain, 95 percent of which were reported in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains that run from north to south east of Vladivostok. A population of about 20 tigers has been reported in Southwest Primorsky, close to Russia’s border with China.

“A full range survey is planned for this coming winter, but no full range survey has been conducted since 2005," Dale Miquelle, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program, told “Most people think numbers have dropped since that time. The 2005 survey had about 120 adult males, 180 adult females, 30 subadults and about 100 cubs.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society has been monitoring over 60 radio-collared tigers in the area since 1992, and uncovered a wealth of information about their natural history. For instance, they found that tigresses need a home range of 250 to 450 square kilometers (97 to 174 square miles), and dispersing young tigers may wander over 200 kilometers (125 miles) in search of their own territories. They feed mainly on red deer, wild boar and sika deer. Tigresses produce an average of 2.4 cubs every 21 months, but researchers found about half of them died before adulthood, often as a result of the poaching of their mothers.

The home range of the Siberian tiger is much larger than that of its close relative, the Bengal tiger. Researchers believe this is because there is less prey available in the Siberian tiger’s higher latitude habitat.

Forest surrounding the Maximovka River in Primorsky, Russia, where the world's last Siberian tigers live.
Forest surrounding the Maximovka River in Primorsky, Russia, where the world's last wild Siberian tigers live. Because of their northern locations, boreal forests support fewer animals than do tropical forests, thus limiting the number of tigers that can live there.
“Prey biomass estimates in high-quality habitats in India range from 2,000 to nearly 7,500 kilogram per square kilometer, whereas in the Russian Far East, quality habitat supports a prey biomass of less than 600 kilogram per square kilometer," writes Dale Miquelle, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program in his book about Siberian tigers. Female Amur tigers need to maintain home ranges more than 20 times larger than Bengal tigers in order to provide enough food for themselves and their young. This means tiger densities in the Russian Far East rarely exceed one animal per 100 square kilometers (39 square miles), whereas “some parts of India can boast of more than 16 tigers per 100 square kilometers," writes Miquelle.

Hunting of prey by humans is one of the main threats to the tiger population.

“Prey are legally hunted (outside protected areas) and are intensively poached as well,” Miquelle told

In addition, logging of Russia's boreal forests -- much of it illegal -- is taking a toll on Siberian tiger habitat.

Illegal logging in the Russian Far East and its impact on tigers

Illegal logging is a huge problem in forests around the world, with a 2012 World Bank report pegging the losses in assets and revenue due to illegal logging at $10 billion annually.

According to the forest-monitoring site, Global Forest Watch, Russia lost more than 36.5 million hectares of forest between 2001 and 2013, representing about four percent of the country’s forested area. Estimates by NGOs operating in Russia and Japan found illegal logging was responsible for between 10 and 80 percent of timber harvests, depending on the district.

The U.S. and most countries in the E.U. have banned the import of timber whose legal harvest cannot be verified. However, according to a recent report from the independent NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Japan has not taken steps to reduce import of illegal timber. In addition to importing timber directly from Russia, Japan also imports finished wood products through China, many of which were originally sourced from Russian forests.

In a recent report in the journal Eurasian Geography and Economics, Joshua Newell and John Simeone discuss how deforestation in Russia is now driven by a complex set of factors. By tracking forest production and trade data from 1946 to 2012, they were able to demonstrate how Russia is opening up its markets to the world, and that such globalization has increased deforestation. Russian timber trade has become dependent on exports, making wood from Russia a “global resource.” The study also tracked the flow of Russian wood through China to U.S. urban centers.

“Demand in export markets, combined with the spatial fracturing of the industry across the forest landscape and impoverished (and often corrupt) forest management, has led to forest degradation patterns in Russia quite different from that in the Soviet period," writes Sewell.

Intact forest landscapes (IFLs), which are swaths of undisturbed old-growth forest, are critical tiger habitat. Global Forest Watch shows that a significant amount of IFLs still remain in the Russian Far East, many outside protected areas, which are threatened by logging. There has even been a tree cover gain of 279,535 hectares in the region. However, Newell and Simeone warn that there is also a concurrent decline in the “quality” of Russian forests, which involves factors such as tree biodiversity and biomass. Although forest cover in Russia seems to have increased when one simply looks at tree cover, the paper claims this expansion was due to growth on denuded and former agricultural lands.

Overall, Russia lost more than 36.5 million hectares of forest between 2001 and 2013. While old growth intact forest landscapes (IFLs) still exist in the country, they often do not coincide with protected areas. Siberian tigers range along a small portion of the far east of Russia, indicated by a yellow oval. Map courtesy of Global Forest Watch. Click to enlarge.

“The forest succession underway in Russia is the unabated transformation of mature coniferous forests (spruces, pines, firs, and larch) into younger, less commercially valuable deciduous forests (aspen, birch, etc.)," the authors write. “This loss of forest quality is the result of a confluence of anthropogenic disturbances (e.g., forestry, mining, road construction, oil and gas development, and clearing for agriculture) and natural ones (e.g., pest outbreaks and fire).”

So where does this leave the Siberian tiger?

“The majority of Amur tigers live outside protected areas, with the protected areas acting as a type of source site where densities of prey are higher, and reproduction of tigers is greater," said Miquelle in an interview.

According to Miquelle, protecting extant Korean pine forests is a first step, which will help prey species bounce back. Reintroducing prey species and corridors to connect tiger population will also help. In addition, important habitat areas need to be identified, protected, and included in conservation policy.

“A successful tiger conservation strategy in north-east Asia will depend upon creating and effectively managing a core network of protected areas, which are connected to and interspersed with multiple-use lands where tiger conservation is integrated with sustainable use of natural resources by humans.”


  • Miquelle, D. G., Goodrich, J. M., Smirnov, E. N., Stephens, P. A., Zaumyslova, O. Y., Chapron, G., ... & Quigley, H. B. (2010). The Amur tiger: a case study of living on the edge. Biology and conservation of wild felids. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 325-339.
  • Tian, Y., Wu, J., Wang, T., & Ge, J. (2014). Climate change and landscape fragmentation jeopardize the population viability of the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). Landscape Ecology, 29(4), 621-637.
  • Newell, J. P., & Simeone, J. (2014). Russia’s forests in a global economy: how consumption drives environmental change. Eurasian Geography and Economics, (ahead-of-print), 1-34.
  • Environmental Investigation Agency (2014). The Open Door: Japan’s Continuing Failure to Prevent Imports of Illegal Russian Timber

An uncertain future: world's last wild Siberian tigers threatened by illegal logging, global warming, disease

Sandhya Sekar, correspondent
August 22, 2014

This is the second part of series examining the impact of forest loss on Siberian tigers.

The very fact that there are Siberian tigers in the world today is something of a miracle. In the 1940s, just 20 animals remained in the wild. Indiscriminate hunting and poaching had nearly wiped out the world’s largest cat. Creation of the 4,000-square kilometer (1,544-square mile) Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve and careful conservation policies have helped the tiger population bounce back. There are now about 400 adult and subadult tigers in the wild.

But the subspecies is not yet on safe ground. According to Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Russia, between 20 and 30 tigers are poached every year. Illegal logging is reducing the tigers' habitat, and illegal hunting is reducing its food supply. However, these are not the only threats to wild tiger survival -- other problems are cropping up and taking a toll on the iconic big cat.

Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) rebounded from a low of 20 in the wild in the 1940s to around 400 today. However, they are still threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and other issues. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

A population's genetic diversity -- the variety of genes its individuals have -- is like a huge information pool. Simply put, more genetic diversity is a good thing; it gives a population greater ability to cope with stressors like environmental vagaries and disease. In species like the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), where an entire population of about 400 came from a set of just 20 “founder individuals,” the genetic diversity is low – very low. In a recent study, scientists examined scat from 95 tigers and found that the genetic diversity in Siberian tigers is the lowest ever documented in wild tigers.

In other species, this can cause abnormalities. For instance, African cheetahs have sperm abnormalities and the Florida panther has kinked tails, both indicative of low genetic diversity. Physical deformities have not been observed in the Siberian tiger as of now, but this may change with future generations. The same study found that Siberian tigers exist in two populations: the majority live in the Sikhote-Alin mountains, and about 20 live in Southwest Primorye, near Russia’s border with China. There is hardly any connectivity between the two populations, making interbreeding between them unlikely.

However, some studies have shown traces of connectivity between Chinese and Russian Siberian tigers.

“We have a monitoring platform using camera-traps in Northeastern China, along the boundary between China and Russia”, said Yu Tian from the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Science at Beijing. “We have proof such as footprints based on snow field surveys and photographs based on infrared cameras, to show that tigers are moving between China and Russia.

“Based on our monitoring along the boundary, we have seen that tiger movements between China and Russia are more frequent after the Chinese Grain for Green Program, which would support the tiger’s prey for long term,” she added. Through the program, 8.2 million hectares of cropland in China were reconverted to forest, according to a report from the China Policy Institute in the UK.

However, deforestation is occurring in Primorsky, which may be further reducing their habitat and barring genetic exchange between the animals. According to the forest-monitoring site Global Forest Watch, the Sikhote-Alin Mountains and surrounding areas encompassing tiger range lost approximately 550,000 hectares of forest between 2001 and 2013, which represents about two percent of the area’s tree cover. Deforestation has occurred both within and outside intact forest landscapes, and within and outside protected areas. Much of the forest loss has come about to illegal logging, which is rampant in the region. A 2002 report from WWF Russia estimates 50 percent of timber from Primorky -- one of the main timber sourcing areas of the Russian Far East -- was harvested illegally. Conserving these forests to encourage tiger movement and increase prey populations is crucial in conserving the tiger long term.

Primorsky Krai (circled) holds the world's last Siberian tigers. Yet, the area is the biggest source of timber in the Russian far east, much of it harvested illegally. Between 2001 and 2013, Primorsky and its surrounding area lost about 550,000 hectares -- or two percent -- of its forests. Map courtesy of Global Forest Watch. 

A satellite image of a portion of Siberian tiger range denuded of trees. Courtesy of Global Forest Watch. 

The added threat of climate change

Historically, Amur tiger habitat would have extended over a greater area than what is seen now. A recent study using a technique called “niche modeling” has shown that potential tiger habitat included a large area in the southeastern Russian Far East and some patches near the border between North Korea and Northeastern China. Niche modeling uses information regarding sightings of tigers, including tiger signs like pug marks and scat, to determine parameters that define the preferred habitat of a species. These parameters, like temperature, precipitation, humidity, forest cover, etc., are available as global datasets. Using the coordinates of different sightings, areas that fit the criteria required by a species are marked as potential habitat.

Today’s highest quality habitat for Siberian tigers is in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains and the southeastern coastal area of the Russian Far East. Suitable habitat in China and North Korea were found to be small, fragmented and of relatively low quality. Regions with high human density and disturbance do not make suitable habitat for the Siberian tiger, indicating that one of the main requirements for habitat, apart from climate and topography, was low human density.

Because of climate change, researchers predict the Russian Far East will become less suitable for tigers, with their preferred Korean pine forest cover replaced by spruce and fir trees as the region warms. These forests are not high-quality habitat for tigers as prey densities are usually low. Because of these trends, some models predict Siberian tigers could be extinct in the wild within a century.

In addition to the collateral damage of climate change, prime tiger habitat is also threatened directly by human impacts. For instance, selective logging of Korean pine, a highly sought-after market species, is thinning the tiger’s preferred type of forest in some areas.

Emerging disease

In 2001, reports started coming in of Siberian tigers behaving unusually and entering human habitations and roadways, which they usually avoid. Morbillivirus, a group of viruses that includes distemper, was detected in Siberian tigers in 2004; there has also been a sudden decline in tiger numbers in the Russian Far East since 2009. This led to concerns that canine distemper virus could be affecting the Siberian tiger; in response, researchers set out to determine if Siberian tigers are being affected by disease. Their results were published in MBio in 2013.

The research team examined tissue collected from necropsies of five adult, free-ranging tigers. All tigers were encountered in the wild when they were disoriented and losing control of their nervous systems, both characteristic symptoms of a distemper infection. Tissue analysis and genetic tests both confirmed that the tigers had contracted distemper. The genetic makeup of the virus strain that had infected the tigers was similar to strains commonly seen in the Arctic region, as well as to those from China, Russia, Greenland and the United States.

Siberian tiger range and locations of confirmed distemper infection. Image courtesy of Seimon et al., 2013.
Siberian tiger range and locations of confirmed distemper infection. Image courtesy of Seimon et al., 2013.
Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) is a common cause of death in domestic dogs. However, in Russia, vaccination of dogs against CDV is not very common. According to the study, direct transmission of CDV to tigers from dogs and other carriers like raccoons is probably the most likely source of infection. This correlates with reports of tigers encountering and killing domestic dogs. Although there are vaccines against CDV that can prevent transmission of the disease, implementing control strategies in the wild is difficult, especially for a reclusive species like the Siberian tiger.

While five dead animals may seem like a low number, it represents a big toll on such a small population -- the authors estimate distemper killed off about one percent of wild Siberian tigers in 2010. Their results indicate the disease is widespread in the Russian Far East as the five tigers used for the study were from different territories spread over a large portion of the region. And while it remains unclear when exactly CDV started affecting tigers, evidence points to a fairly recent emergence.

“Our results, which include mapping the location of positive tigers and recognition of a cluster of cases in 2010, coupled with a lack of reported CDV antibodies in Amur tigers prior to 2000 suggest wide geographic distribution of CDV across the tiger range and recent emergence of CDV as a significant infectious disease threat to endangered Amur tigers in the Russian Far East,” the authors write.

Habitat loss, a small gene pool, disease, poaching – Siberian tigers cling to existence amidst a suite of interconnected problems. However, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists around the world are working to save the species through efforts such as monitoring programs, proposed introductions to less-disturbed areas, and policies aimed at curtailing demand for illegally harvested wood.

As Dale Miquelle, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program, and colleagues write in their 2010 book, “…there is sufficient reason for optimism that this northernmost representative of Pa. tigris will continue to roam the forests of north-east Asia, interacting with natural prey and exposed to the full spectrum of natural forces that it has survived in for so long, if humans can provide the minimum requirements of space, undisturbed habitats, and freedom from direct human persecution.

“It is a simple recipe, if we have the collective societal will to make it happen.”

  • Miquelle, D. G., Goodrich, J. M., Smirnov, E. N., Stephens, P. A., Zaumyslova, O. Y., Chapron, G., ... & Quigley, H. B. (2010). The Amur tiger: a case study of living on the edge. Biology and conservation of wild felids. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 325-339.
  • Tian, Y., Wu, J., Wang, T., & Ge, J. (2014). Climate change and landscape fragmentation jeopardize the population viability of the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). Landscape Ecology, 29(4), 621-637.
  • Seimon, T. A., Miquelle, D. G., Chang, T. Y., Newton, A. L., Korotkova, I., Ivanchuk, G., ... & McAloose, D. (2013). Canine Distemper Virus: an Emerging Disease in Wild Endangered Amur Tigers (Panthera tigris altaica). mBio, 4(4), e00410-13.