Feline NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences

Most Thursday evenings, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco hosts Classroom Safari. I have long been fascinated by the small wild cats, so it was interesting to see them up close. The delightfully cheeky staff, however, started out the program with a “cat” that wasn’t a cat at all.


This feline-esque creature is actually a genet. It has many cat traits, including its appearance, claws, purring, etc. But it is it’s own subfamily of carnivorous mammal, quite distinct from cats. They bear a resemblance to fishing cats with the sleekness, but their snouts are a bit longer, more like a mongoose. Although genet species are native to Africa, they were introduced into southern Europe as the “common genets”.

Next up was a more familiar small cat, the ocelot, a commonly found wild cat of the Americas.


Ocelots are adorable, but they are wild animals, and our hosts were quick to point out that this ocelot in particular is quite ornery. Their membership in the leopard family is unmistakable. And they are superbly adapted for life in the forests as well as more desert-like scrub of their range.

One of the themes during the presentation was that these wild cats do not make good pets. It is not good for the animals themselves who retain their wild instincts. They also pose a danger for humans and other domesticated animals. One particularly amusing anecdote involved a “club” on Long Island where wealthy women kept ocelots as a fad, only to learn that ocelots eat small dogs. The next cat was another that is often kept as an exotic pet, the serval.


Graceful and athletic, with a sweet face, it’s understandable that people are captivated by these cats. Indeed, the Savannah breed is a cross between a serval and a domestic cat. But their wild instincts are honed for large ranges on the African savannahs and wetlands, including the Sohel region as well as sub-Saharan Africa. Such cats do not adapt well to domestic life.

The next and final cat was one that even as a kitten made our serval friend quite nervous.

Siberian Lynx kitten

This adorable baby is a Siberian Lynx. At first thought it was a caracal with the ear tufts, but once one sees the undercoat and the exceptionally large paws, it is unmistakably a lynx. It also came across a bit of a mini-lion, and as such there is no ambiguity about whether it would make a good pet or not. We’re happy to get a chance to see these cats, and grateful to Classroom Safari for sharing them with us, as well as their work rescuing wild cats.

Many local institutions were on hand as well to talk about their work with cats, wild and domestic. The was the Felidae Conversation Fund, a group that we at CatSynth have long supported. They are involved in small-cat research projects around the world and in our own backyard. The main project they presented at Feline NightLife was the Bay Are Puma Project.


The results show that pumas are doing relatively well in some areas, but not others. In particular, pumas in the East Bay hills seem be quite fat and happy in their wild area amidst the urbanized surroundings. By contrast, Marin County is not sustaining a healthy population, most likely due to habit fragmentation and such. It’s a good reminder that wild cats are not just “exotic”, but animals in our neighborhoods.

On the domestic front, our friends at Cat Town were on hand as well. They are dedicated to helping the most vulnerable shelter cats of the East Bay through their fostering program as well as their cat cafe in Oakland, the first in the Bay Area. We wrote about our first visit to the cafe here. The San Francisco SPCA was also on hand, with several adoptable kittens including this adorable black baby.

Black Kitten

It is clearly a great opportunity to advocate for shelter pets and even maybe initiate some adoptions. It was crowded around the SPCA booth, and I can only imagine it might have been stressful for the kittens. But we also hope some found new homes as a result.

The Cat Man of West Oakland (aka Adam Myatt) is a one-man local institution advocating for domestic cats in our communities. He was worked extensively with Cat Town and co-founded their cat cafe. But he also continues his own work with Hoodcats, documenting the beautiful outdoor cats of Oakland neighborhoods. He had several of his photos, including some cute black cats. We managed to acquire one of those black-cat pictures, along with a classic print, from a vending machine he had a fund-raiser.

Cat Man of West Oakland pictures

We had a lot of fun at Feline Nightlife, with all the cats as well as the cocktails, people watching and general exhibits of NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences. It was a bit different, but we hope to be back for another themed night some time, perhaps something musical?

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 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.