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: Wildcats, House Panthers and "erf day"

Luna continues to enjoy her “House Panther” status and all the warm compliments. But this weekend, we celebrate cats both domestic and wild, just as we did last year on Earth Day (or “erf day”).

We start again with the Cat Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (CSG), but focusing on something positive. They are featuring a study of the jungle cat (Felis chaus) and leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), pictured to the right:

The family Felidae is well represented in India, with 15 species occurring here, making it the richest in cats worldwide. However, except for the large cats the rest figure very poorly in research and conservation policies in the country, probably because of their rarity and elusive nocturnal habits, coupled with cumbersome bureaucratic formalities in studying rare species. Fortunately, in the past few years non-invasive molecular techniques have been introduced in wildlife research in India, which has made small cat research easier.

Another endangered cat of India and Southeast Asia is the Fishing Cat. It is a close relative of the leopard cat, and shares some of the same habitat. However, the fishing cat (not surprisingly) is better adapted to hunting and eating fish, and is an excellent swimmer.

The fishing cat is one of many species featured in The Smithsonian National Zoo's Cat Conservation Project.

Note that these are all “small cats”, which often do not get the attention of the larger cat species, which are of course magnificent and also seriously endangered in many cases. Certainly, the small cats share some of the endearing qualities in appearance to our domestic felines (which are believed to be descendants of African wild cats).

Few wild cats resemble their domestic counterparts more than the Oncilla of South America. However, it seems relatively little is known about this species of cat. According to the CSG, it has never been studied in the wild, and little is known about its behavior or population. However, it is been trapped in the past for the fur trade:

n 1971, 28,000 pelts were counted in Brazilian warehouses, and in 1983, 84,500 skins were exported from Paraguay (Broad 1988)

The Oncilla closely resembles the better known Margay, which inhabits both Central and South America, and is not considered endangered. They are skillful tree climbers, and sometimes referred to as “Tree Ocelots,” taking the name from one of the more well-known wild cats of the Americas.

If you interested in this topic, please visit last year's article, which discusses some of the worlds most endangered cats, including the Iberian Lynx, which continues to be the most endangered in the world, with an estimated population in the hundred. Also, the intriguing little Andean Mountain Cat, illustrated to the right.

And speaking of house panthers…

Weekend Cat Blogging #151 is hosted by Luna's “twin” Puddy, along with Katie of A Byootaful Life.

And that's not all. The Carnival of the Cats is being hosted by the Diamond Emerald Eyes (whose mom created Luna's collage at the top of this article) at House Panthers!

The Bengal Brats may not be “house panthers”, but we still love them. They are hosting the Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos at Pet's Garden Blog.

And lest we forget, the friday ark is at the modulator.

Weekend Cat Blogging 106: Unpopular Border Wall endangers Ocelots

Luna and I would like to use Weekend Cat Blogging #106 to warn our readers and friends about the dangers of a proposed border fence/wall through the Rio Grande Valley in Southwest Texas.

As the truck rounds a bend near the greenish-brown Rio Grande, a bobcat scampers ahead, disappearing into the lush subtropical foliage. Lizards dart about. A tortoise lazes in the sun. Somewhere in the forest, well-camouflaged by evolution, are ocelots and jaguarundi, both of them endangered species of cats.
These are some of the natural wonders in the Rio Grande Valley that Brown and other wildlife enthusiasts fear could be spoiled by the fences and adjacent roads the U.S. government plans to erect along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and smugglers.

We featured the Texas ocelot (a subspecies) in a previous WCB post on endangered wild cats.

Seeing a photo of an ocelot, it's easy to forget that they are wild cats and not some exotic breed. But they are wild cats, who are endangered. And they are not the only ones endangered by this misguided plan. The Rio Grande Valley is a success story of ecological restoration that could be destroyed by the Homeland Security border-fence plan. Usually, there would be an ecological review of such plans, but it seems Homeland Security can simply waive that requirement.

And if wild cats and unique ecology, the local communities, including the cities of Laredo and McAllen and towns in between are all against it. They have lived with their neighbors across the river for a long time and the communities on both sides of the border are intertwined, socially and economically. And people there are pretty upset about this, as illustrated in this Houston Press article:

They don't like the fact that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can circumvent the same federal environmental studies they would have to undergo if they wanted to put in a road or a bridge. He has specially granted waiver powers, and if he wants a fence, he gets one ? no matter how many dead birds and ocelots are left behind to clean up.

They can't stomach the representatives they've met in the Department of Homeland Security, from Chertoff on down, who seem to them to be unreasonable, untrustworthy creatures, arrogant in manner and not always inclined to truthfulness.

Most of all, Allen and others want to know why the same federal government ? the one that for years ignored their repeated requests for an interstate (“We're the only area with 1 million population that doesn't have an interstate”), $10 million to repair their levees (“We'll be like New Orleans when Katrina hit) and money to help them improve their public schools ? all of a sudden has untold millions of dollars to plunk down on a fence that none of them want.

And now the people and wild cats of the Rio Grande Valley find themselves caught in the middle of the big immigration debate, indeed it was coming home on the radio last night that we heard this story.

We at CatSynth have some strong opinions about the immigration issue, but we'll save some of that for later – actually, that photo on the NPR article is begging for some LolCat treatment. For WCB, we simply want to let our readers know about the wild cats and people endangered by this plan. We urge U.S. readers, and especially Texas readers, to contact their representatives to try and stop this, or at the very least have it go through the same local and environmental reviews that any other major project would require.

For some non-endangered kitty fun, please go visit the big WCB 106 Roundup hosted by Kate and Puddy at A Byootaful Life. Puddy is having some fun hunting a pencil. We're also finally adding ourselves to the Friday Ark #143 and Carnival of the Cats #169.

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.