The Return of Wild Cats on Earth Day


After several years, we at CatSynth are resuming our tradition of sharing wild cats on earth day.  Those who follow our Facebook page are regularly treated to photos and videos of wild cats.  We share a few favorites, along with some of our own.

A personal favorite of ours is the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).  It is unique in that is adapted for swimming and hunting in the water.  The sleek fur, streamlined shape, and folded ears attest to this adaptation.

[By Bernard Gagnon [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

The fishing cat has discontinuous populations in rainforests of South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable, primarily due to habitat destruction. The Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, recently posted this video featuring a mother fishing cat teaching her kitten their aquatic heritage.

Another lesser-known cat is the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus).  It is among the smallest of wild cats, similar in appearance to but significantly smaller than the well-known ocelot.

[By Groumfy69 [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

The oncilla lives throughout Brazil as well as the highland tropical forests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. There is even a recorded separate population in Panama. It is listed as Vulnerable in IUCN classification, mainly due (once again) to habit loss.

Both of these cats and many others have a similar spotted look that works well in their forested environments. Our old pal the Pallas cat (Otocolobus manul), also known as the manul, is quite a different beast altogether. It has a squat shape, fluffy fur and a gray color that are suited to its cold rocky environment in Central Asia. Here is a manual I encountered at the Prospect Park Zoo in New York some years ago.

pallas cat

pallas cat

More recently, we attended the Feline NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences, and got to see many wild cats courtesy of Safari West, including this beautiful serval.


While not endangered, servals have been frequently been captured and bred as exotic pets.  They do, however, remain wild predators and their domestic captivity usually goes badly for human and feline alike.  As our host from Safari West said, “they do not make good pets, but they will eat good pets.”  Below is a “cat” that actually is not a cat at all, but a separate genus, the genet.  If they had not told me, I might have guessed it was a fishing cat.


Sadly, Safari West was affected by last year’s devastating Tubbs fire in Sonoma County.  Several structures burned, and the co-founders lost their own home.  Fortunately, most of the property was spared and the animals all made it through the conflagration safely, and Safari West reopened for tours and programs in late November.  You can read more about their experience (and find out how to support them) here.

We conclude with our friends at ISEC Canada, an organization dedicated entirely to the conservation of small wild cats.  They have many projects underway, including a study of the black-footed cat, another lesser-known small wild cat from southern Africa.  It’s esimated range covers parts of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

[By Patrick Ch. Apfeld, derivative editing by Poke2001 [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

The black-footed cat is adorable, and its face closely resembles many housecats.  But once again, this is a wild animal and does not belong in a domestic setting.  We applaud the work of ISEC Canada and other organizations who study and help to preserve them in their wild habitats.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Wild Cats on Earth Day

Every year on or around Earth Day, we at CatSynth dedicate a Weekend Cat Blogging posts to the endangered wild cats around the world.

Through the work of the International Society for Endangered Cats and their active Facebook page, we continue to be surprised by the diversity and beauty of the small wildcats, even while observing their similarities to our domestic companions. The bridge between the domestic and the wild is part of what makes these cats so endearing.


We start this year with the Scottish wildcat. A population of European wildcats was found in Scotland in 2012. They are critically endangered, numbering less than 100 according to the Scottish Wildcat Association.

[By Peter Trimming (Scottish wildcatsUploaded by Mariomassone) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Without immediate help, this subspecies – the last cat native to Britian – could go extinct this year! You can follow efforts to save the Scottish wildcat via the Scottish Wildcat Association and Highland Tiger.

The Asiatic Golden Cat lives in the tropical forests of southeast Asia. They are a bit bigger and more muscularly built than domestic cats.

[By Karen Stout (originally posted to Flickr as Asian Golden cat) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

They are considered “Near Threatened” or “Vulnerable” on the IUCN scale, largely because of deforestation and hunting. Sadly, there is a thriving illegal trade in their fur, bones and meat, and they are also considered a threat to livestock, which makes them vulnerable to being killed in reprisals.

The Caracal is quite distinctive in its appearance, with its large ear tufts. They are found widely throughout Africa and the Middle East.


[By Kristian Thy from Copenhagen, Denmark (Caracal kitten) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Although not considered endangered, they are often persecuted for threatening livestock. Especially in southern Africa, caracal killings by farmers and ranchers has become all too common.

A perennial favorite of ours, the Black-footed Cat is among the smallest of wildcat species. ISEC is continuing their Black-footed Cat Project in South Africa in order to better understand this species.

[By Zbyszko (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

Another group we follow, the The Felidae Conservation Fund, sponsors projects here in the Bay Area and around the world, including an effort to study Arabian Leopard.

[By עמוס חכמון (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The Arabian Leopard, which is found in various parts of the Arabian peninsula, is the smallest leopard subspecies and is considered critically endangered.

And of course, we have our own wildcats close to home. Bobcats can be found here in the Bay Area and throughout California.

[By Don DeBold from San Jose, CA, USA (Calero Creek Trail Bobcat) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The main threats to these cats are loss of habitat and fragmentation, especially in our larger more urbanized areas. Bobcats are also hunted for fur and sport (it is still legal in California).

Please visit the sites mentioned in this article to find out more about wildcats and wildcat conservation, and to support their efforts.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Wild Cats on Earth Day

Every year on or around Earth Day, we at CatSynth dedicate our Weekend Cat Blogging post to the endangered wild cats of the world.

There are 37 known species of cats, including the domestic cats. As those of us who share our lives with domestic cats know, they share a lot in common with their wild cousins, especially the closest wild species Felis Silvestris, otherwise known as the “wild cat.” Indeed, domestic cats are considered likely descendants of the African and Middle Eastern subspecies of the wild cat.

Beyond the similarities, however, there is quite a bit of diversity among the species of small wild cats in terms of size, appearance and behavior. We have following the work of the International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada over the past year, which has given us the opportunity to learn more about many of these cats and the efforts to protect them. Among ISEC Canada’s sponsored projects is the study of the Black-Footed Cat, which is found in southern Africa and is among the smallest of wild cat species.

[Image courtesy of ISEC Canada.]

The Black-Footed Cat is considered vulnerable, with an estimated population of about 10,000. They have been among the lesser studied cats, so this current project will help us understand them and the threats they face better.

ISEC Canada is also sponsoring a project in Argentina. Here they study the Geoffroy’s Cat.

[Photo by Mr. Guilt, courtesy of ISEC Canada]

Although considered to be relatively widespread in open areas of South America, little is known about them. This project has helped researches learn about the Geoffroy’s Cat, and also the rarer Pampas Cat.

[Photo © GECM-UNS, courtesy of ISEC Canada]

This and several other great photos of felids of the Argentine Espinal can be found here.

Over the past year, I have also become acquainted with another species, the Pallas’ Cat.

Pallas’ cats are native to the high-altitude grasslands of Central Asia including Mongolia, western China, and parts of Russia and Afghanistan. Though this particular cat resides in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brookyln. You can read about my encounter with the Pallas’ cat in this article.

Pallas’ cats are about the same size as domestic cats, but have quite a different appearance suited to their habitat. Another very distinctive looking cat is the Caracal, with its black ear tufts.

[Photography via Wikimedia Commons.]

Caracals have a large range over much of Africa and the Middle East, though they are not often seen. They are not considered endangered, though their populations are smaller in North Africa than in the south.

Another organization that works to preserve wild cats and educate the public about them is the Felidae Conservation Fund. They are based here in northern California, and one of their main projects is studying our local puma population. They are also involved in other projects, such as studying the Andean Cat and the Fishing Cat.

[Photo by Ben Williams, courtesy of ISEC Canada.]

The fishing cat is quite photogenic, as can be seen in the above photo by a member and supporter of ISEC Canada. (Click here to see more images.) Fishing cats are found in Southeast Asia, and are uniquely adapted to catching fish. They even have webbed front paws. Visit Fishing Cat Project (supported by the Felidae Fund) to find out more about their conservation.

We conclude with another cat species that we have not featured in previous posts, the Rusty Spotted Cat.

[By UrLunkwill (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons]

The rusty spotted cat is among the smallest of cat species. They live in southern India and Sri Lanka and appear to be at home in a wide range of habitats, from humid forests to open grasslands, and even in abandoned houses in densely populated parts of India. You can read more about them here.

There is always more to say about the magnificent cats of the world than we can fit in one article. Please visit our previous wild-cat articles for more. And please also visit ISEC Canada, the Felidae Conservation Fund, and the many other organizations working to conserve endangered wildlife.

Weekend Cat Blogging #307: Wild Cats on Earth Day

Every year, we at CatSynth set aside Weekend Cat Blogging on Earth Day to look at some of the wild cat species around the world. In particular, we focus on some of the smaller wild cats, which after often less well known than the big cats such as tigers, lions and leopards, but in many cases just as endangered.

We begin with the Iriomote cat, a critically endangered wildcat found only on the remote Japanese island of Iriomote.

There are estimated to be only 100 or so left in the wild. The main threats, habit removal and non-native species (notably feral domestic cats), are exacerbated by the fact they are exclusive to one island. One third of the island has been declared a wildlife reserve with a Iriomote Wildlife Center set up to study and protect them. But with such a small population, their future remains uncertain.

With all the events and focus on the Middle East and North Africa this year, it also seems appropriate to feature the sand cat (felis margarita).

As their name implies, sand cats are found in deserts, in particular in pockets in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco in North Africa, on the Arabian Peninsula. But there are also subspecies found in Iran and as far east as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although not endangered overall, individual local populations are, such as Israel where it became locally extinct. A program by the Jerusalem Zoo aims to re-introduce them.

In looking up information for this article, I came across the International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC), an organization based in Canada dedicated to “aid in the wild conservation and captive preservation of endangered and threatened small wild cat species though education, scientific observation and support for captive breeding of critically endangered species.” They have several active projects at the moment, including a study of the black-footed cat.

The black-footed cat is found in the southwest of Africa, i.e., Namibia, Botswana and parts of South Africa. They are among the smallest of wild cats, and as nocturnal creatures they are rarely seen. One thing that makes them unusual is that they don’t climb trees but instead burrow into the ground for shelter.

The ISEC is also conducting a study of the Argentine Espinal:

The Argentine Espinal is an arid grassland and shrubland mosaic that has been greatly modified since the 1600’s, when cattle became the prominent species on the landscape. Found today only in fragmented patches, the Espinal was once home to a great diversity of birds, plants and mammals, among them a unique guild of felids composed of the Pampas cat Leopardus colocolo, Geoffroy’s cat Leopardus geoffroyi, Jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi and Puma Puma concolor.

We have discussed the Geoffroy’s cat in a previous post. They are still relatively common and have a large range in southern South America. However, they are classified as “near-threatened”, primarily because of habit fragmentation and other concerns.

We also encountered the Pampas cat before. Because there has not been much study of these cats, their conservation status is not officially listed. As one can tell from the photo, it is a somewhat heavier looking cat than many of the other species. Little is known about its diet or hunting habits. Despite being named for the Pampas, their range extends far beyond its geographical boundaries.

For more information, please visit the ISEC website.  In our back yard, the Felidae Conservation Fund is also involved in wild-cat studies around the world, as well as close to home with a study of Bay Area mountain lions. Other organizations involved in cat conservation include the Feline Conservation Federation, and the Cat Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union.

Weekend Cat Blogging #307 is hosted by Jules at Judi’s Mind Over Matter.

The Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this Sunday by Meowza.

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Endangered Wild Cats

Every year on or around earth day (or “erf day”), we at CatSynth dedicate our Weekend Cat Blogging to some of the world’s endangered wild cat species. We look to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as our primary source for species that are “endangered” or “vulnerable”. There are several cat species on this list from many parts of the world, and we present a few of them here.

This year, we focus on South America (for reasons beyond the scope of this article). The Andean region is home to some rather intriguing cats that we have discussed in the past. Perhaps the most intriguing and most endangered remains the gato andino, or Andean Mountain Cat. The Andean mountain cat lives in rocky areas at high elevations of the Andean region of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Perú. It is quite small, but has a very distinctive large tail. There is now an organization dedicated to studying and protecting the Andean cat, Alianza Gato Andino. There you can find more about the cat, see photos and also see more of the Andean landscape it inhabits. I am drawn to the starkly beautiful dry landscape, and perhaps will have a chance to visit someday.

In reading about the Andean cat, I also learned about the Pampas Cat. The Pampas cat also lives in western South America, but is not considered nearly as threatened a species. As one can see from this photograph, it bears a resemblance to domestic cats, though with perhaps more squat body shape.

The Guiña, or Kodkod, is a wildcat native to Chile (and parts of Argentina). It is also relatively small, with a thick fur coat and spotted markings.

It is currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and until recently little was known about it. A project was undertaken in Chile to learn more about these cats.

We round out our South American cats with the Oncilla. It looks quite like a domestic cat with wild the coat and markings of a wild cat. In addition to habitat pressures, it has been trapped in the past for the fur trade.

We next go to southeast Asia where several of the worlds most endangered cats live. The very unusual looking Borneo Bay Cat lives only on the island of Borneo. It is quite rare, and little is known about this cat, but it was classified as “endangered” in 2005 primarily due to habitat loss.

The Flat Headed Cat, also from Indonesia, is not one I would immediately recognize as a cat. It lives in the forests of Indonesia on multiple islands, usually near water. Sightings of this car are rare, and it is classified as “endangered.”

Another endangered cat of southeast Asia (and India) is the Fishing Cat. It has an interesting face with a distinctive flat nose and small ears. As the name suggests, it is quite adapted to hunting and eating fish. As such, it is dependent on wetlands and fishing stocks, and is now also classified by IUCN as “endangered.”

Perhaps the most endangered species of cat remains the Iberian Lynx. It is listed as “critically endangered”, with an IUCN survey suggesting between 84 and 143 adults left in two breeding populations in Spain. Conservation efforts are currently focused on supporting these breeding populations. You can read more about the Iberian Lynx in our first “Earth Day Weekend Cat Blogging” article.

If we include large cats as well, there is the even rarer Amur Leopard of northeastern Asia. A census in 2007 counted only about 20 adults remaining. We conclude with this video of the Amur Leopard:

Weekend Cat Blogging #254 is being hosted by Salome at Paulchens FoodBlog?!

The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at When Cats Attack.

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Weekend Cat Blogging #203: Endangered Wild Cats #3

We at CatSynth continue our Earth Day (or “erf day”) tradition of reporting on endangered wildcats from around the world.

We are always interested to learn about new cats, such as the Kodkod or huiña. Huiñas are relatively small (often 5lbs or less), and quite furry, and far found primarily in Chile and parts of western Argentina. It is also considered among the most endangered wild cats in South America, though very little is known about it. The Cat Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union conducted a study of the huiña in 2006.

The huiña may be related to the more common Geoffroy’s Cat, which found in the hills and plains of Argentina. Although not officially endangered, it classified as near threatened. The CSG worked on a separate project to study the Geoffroy’s Cat in 2007.

As such studies suggest, our knowledge of wildlife is always changing and growing. The Bornean Clouded Leopard has been known for a long time, but with few sightings and very little information. In 2006, it was officially recognized as a separate species, and immediately listed as a Vulnerable species.

With our recent interest in China, we thought we would feature one of China’s endangered cat species, the Chinese Mountain Cat. Like other wild cats, it is quite elusive. National Geographic presents a series of rare photos from 2007. The Chinese Mountain Cat is listed as a Vulnerable species, and currently does not have much protection in China (the only country where it is found):

Sanderson is hoping that the new images will reveal some of the secretive habits that have kept the creature a mystery to scientists for nearly a century.

“Pandas go for a million [U.S.] dollars a year to rent and are very well protected by Chinese law, but there is virtually no protection for this cat,” he told National Geographic News.

“There’s no interest in its conservation because it’s poorly known, but now perhaps this will change.”

We next visit the endangered cats here in the United States. The National Wildlife Federation maintains a report on Endangered Cats of North America, which lists several well-known species. The Florida Panther continues to be critically endangered. Current estimates suggest that there are fewer than 200 remaining, primarily in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and portions of the Everglades National Park. The main threats to the panther have been habit loss and scarcity of prey, though other issues such as inbreeding in such a small population can potentially be a large problem as well.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist proclaimed March 21, 2009 as “Save the Floriday Panther Day”, and the species remains a major focus of conservation efforts.

Another critically endangered wild cat in the United States is the Texas subspecies of the ocelot. Although still relatively plentiful in Central America, the Environmental Defense Fund suggests that as few as 100 may be left. Although they face the same threats as other cats, including habitat loss, pressures from human development and inbreeding of small populations, the Texas ocelot is caught up in the nasty political pressures involving immigration and border protection. From the National Wildlife Federation Report:

Increased efforts by the U.S. Border Patrol to stop illegal immigration into Texas from Mexico has degraded native habitat along the border. Some experts fear that the use of high-pow-ered “stadium” lights, brush clearing, fencing and road paving by Border Patrol operations in border areas has been detrimental to both the ocelot and its prey and threatens to inhibit ocelot and jaguarundi dispersalprotection. By the same token, additional research is needed on the historic and present-day distribution of small border cats and on the most pressing factors contributing to their decline. Reaching out to local communities through educational initiatives may be the most effective way to generate grassroots support and to bolster resources for ocelot and jaguarundi.

We have previously discussed how border politics, including a proposed border fence, threatened these cats.

On a positive note, the EDF cites several groups on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border working together to help protect these wild cats.

In additional exploring the cats themselves, we have the opportunity to learn about organizations that are working to promote and protect feline species. Most of the large wildlife conservation organizations, including those listed above (World Conservation Union, National Wildlife Federation, and the Environmental Defense Fund), have projects related to cats. Additionally there are organizations such as the Feline Conservation Federation, which was a valuable source of information about cat species.

Although we list both small and large cats, we have been most interested in following small cat species, which receive less public attention than the large and celebrated big cats, like lions and tigers. I came across this rather extensive list of small cat species at the site The Messy Beast.

Weekend Cat Blogging #203 is hosted by Salome at Paulchens Food Blog?!

The Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos (for us, the “wild cats festival of chaos”) will be hosted by Mr. Tigger and M-Cats Club.

The Carnival of the Cats will be up on Sunday at Mind of Mog.

And of course the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Weekend Cat Blogging #98: Endangered Wild Cats on "erf day"

On this Earth Day (or as Luna might say, “erfday”), we turn our attention to the big world outside the window.

Climate change is of course the big issue this Earth Day, and we encourage everyone to read the stats about climate change published earlier today. For Weeked Cat Blogging, we present some of the world's most endangered wild cats. The Cat Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union maintains information on the status of the 36 species of wild cat. We only have room for a few of them here.

Among the most endangered is the Iberian Lynx. According to IUCN CSG:

The decline of the lynx population since the 1960s has been primarily caused by habitat loss and a decline of their main prey species, the European rabbit…Nevertheless, there are some areas where habitat quality and rabbit density appear sufficient, yet no lynx are found. Particularly in these areas, it seems that humans are directly responsible for an appreciable level of lynx mortality (Delibes 1989).

Certainly, the policy of Fascist-era Spain of paying a bounty for killing lynxes didn't help. As if there weren't already enough resons to despise fascists.

In the Andes of South America, we find the gato andino or Andean mountain cat. This odd little cat (look at that tail!) is quite rare, living only the high-altitude rocky and semi-arid sections of the Andes. There is not a lot of information known about it, but the low population and specialized habitat would suggest that it is quite vulnerable to climate change.

The U.S. is not without its endangered cats. Perhaps the most endangered is the Florida Panther. Yes, it's not just the name of a hockey team, but a subspecies of cougar that were almost wiped out by development and bounty hunters, and now the few remaining panthers live in southwest Florida, one of the areas of the U.S. most threatened by global warming, tropical storms and rising sea levels.

Although Ocelots as a whole are not considered endangered, the subspecies found in Texas is in serious danger, according to the Environmental Defense Fund:

The tiny fraction of ocelot habitat that remains is largely fragmented, leaving most ocelots stranded on the 45,000-acre Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and on a handful of private lands, with very little new habitat for the cats to raise future generations. Because the south Texas ocelots are found in such small and isolated groups, they tend to inbreed, making them increasingly vulnerable to extinction.

There are numerous groups working to protect wild cats from the many threats they face, climate change, habit loss, hunting, etc. The links throughout this article take you various agencies and private groups. Another is the International Society for Endangered Cats. And throughout the U.S., there are wild cat sanctuaries for displaced and/or abused animals.

We are happy to report that felis silvestris domesticus is doing quite well, and you can see many happy examples of this species at Weekend Cat Blogging #98, hosted this week by the three lovely striped kitties at Pet's Garden Blog.

Fun with stats: Earthday Edition

Some “chilling facts” from the Environmental Defense Fund:

1     Rank of 2006 as hottest year on record in the continental United States.

1     Rank of America as top global warming polluter in the world. [though China is doing their best to capture title]

20%     Percent increase of America's carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels since 1990.

15%     Percent increase of America's carbon dioxide emissions forecasted by 2020 if we do not cap pollution.

80%     Percent decrease in U.S. global warming pollution required by 2050 to prevent the worst consequences of global warming.

78     Number of days by which the US fire season has increased over the past 20 years – tied closely to increased temperatures and earlier snowmelt.

200 million     Number of people around the world who could be displaced by more intense droughts, sea level rise and flooding by 2080.

358     Number of U.S. mayors (representing 55 million Americans) who have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement pledging to meet or beat Kyoto goals in their communities.

0     Number of federal bills passed to cap America's global warming pollution.

0 1     Number of times President Bush has mentioned “climate change” or “global warming” in his previous six State of the Union speeches.