Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Scottish wildcat

Nominated by: Scottish Wildcat Action

Why do you love it?

The Scottish wildcat is a really charismatic species of cat that lives in the Scottish Highlands. It features on many clan crests and is a part of Scottish folklore so it’s part of our Scottish identity. Sadly there aren’t many of them left. Latest estimates suggest there could be as few as 100 in the wild.

Wildcats are built like a mini tiger but they are only slightly larger than a tabby domestic cat. If you look closely you can see they have longer limbs and a wider head with a powerful jaw. These are good for catching and eating live prey.

The most notable difference is the thick bushy tail which has black rings and a blunt black tip as though it has been dipped in paint. It’s a beautiful animal with some serious attitude.

What are the threats to the Scottish wildcat?

The biggest threat today actually comes from domestic cats that haven’t been neutered or vaccinated. Although Scottish wildcats are our native cat and domestic cats were introduced by humans much later, they can still interbreed and even catch the same diseases.

The Scottish wildcat is now a protected species but it is so heavily outnumbered by domestic cats that it’s difficult for them to find and mate with another wildcat, and instead they often mate with domestic cats and have hybrid kittens. These hybrids have mixed wildcat and domestic cat ancestry and as hybridisation continues with each successive generation, the wildcat genes are being diluted. Soon we will lose our native cat altogether.

Every time they come into contact with a domestic cat they are also at risk of catching diseases because mating or fighting over territory passes on infectious diseases like feline leukaemia (FeLV) or feline Aids (FIV).

Historically, humans hunted wildcats and this reduced their numbers. People still hunt cats today, but now they aim to shoot unowned domestic cats living in the wild (known as feral cats) as a legal method of controlling predators. However, it can be easy to mistake a domestic cat with a wildcat if shooting at night or using snares.

What are you doing to save it?

The good news is that, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Wildcat Action is working with over 20 partner organisations and lots of local people to protect wildcats in the wild. Our friends at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland are also breeding them for later release.

Wildcats are notoriously elusive and very cunning. With the added issue of hybridisation, it’s difficult to even identify them in the wild. Thankfully, new technology is helping us to find out where they are. We use hundreds of motion-sensitive trail cameras to gather images of cats living in the wild and this helps us target our conservation work more effectively. Using the intelligence from the trail cameras, we can also find out where there are feral cat hotspots and target them for neutering and vaccination. Ferals are domestic cats whose ancestors were once pets or farm cats that were abandoned or strayed; however, because they are a domesticated species they do not have the adaptations to cope with wild-living like the wildcat. These feral cats live a hard life, often riddled with disease and parasites, breeding with even their close relatives and scraping a living by scrounging from human food sources.

The best thing for them is to stop them from breeding further and making sure they are immune to some of the more common diseases. Once they have been neutered and vaccinated we return them to the wild because they are not socialised to humans. This way they also act as a buffer between wildcats and any new feral cats in the area who may not be neutered or vaccinated.

We rely on local sightings too and we have over 150 fantastic volunteers helping us to maintain the cameras, catch feral cats to take them to the vet, and to raise awareness of how cat owners can help by micro-chipping, neutering and vaccinating their pet cats. Finally, we are also working with our partner, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, to encourage the use of wildcat-friendly predator control methods so that wildcats are not accidentally caught in the crosshairs.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Borneo bay cat

Nominated by: S.P.E.C.I.E.S

Why do you love it?

The rather small bay cat, or red cat, might be the biggest mystery of the entire cat world.  This mystery is almost equalled by its native home, the island of Borneo, to which the bay cat is restricted.  But as go the rainforests of Borneo, so goes the bay cat and the island’s other unique inhabitants.  I am fascinated by the bay cat because it IS the face of Borneo; only the protection of the island’s rainforests will lead to a future for the bay cat.  And I think about it so much because we all know so little – a very big mystery in a very small cat!

What are the threats to the bay cat?

The bay cat is probably the rarest of the world’s 37 cat species.  It occurs at a lower density than tigers, clouded leopards, and snow leopards, some of the world’s most recognisable big cats.  Overall it has only ever been recorded in the wild a few dozen times.  So little is known about the bay cat actually, that it is difficult to know what the single greatest threat to its survival is.  However, conversion of Borneo’s forests into oil palm plantations, legal and illegal logging, indiscriminate hunting with snares, and increased competition with other felids through habitat degradation are probably among the biggest threats to bay cat populations.

What are you doing to save it?

S.P.E.C.I.E.S. and its partners are among only a handful of organisations to have successfully recorded the bay cat across different sites on Borneo.  We also contributed to the development of the first ever conservation planning model for the bay cat, one that integrates all of the scientific community’s records for the purposes of identifying habitats and regions of potentially great importance to bay cats.

Currently, we are planning new activities focused on learning more about the bay cat’s distribution and habitat needs, as well as a program to reduce likely threats to its survival; we will be conducting surveys and community outreach campaigns in new areas, working to reduce habitat conversion inside and outside of protected areas and removing snares where intensive hunting is negatively impacting mammal populations.

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Aug 10

August 10th is World Lion Day so we’ve collated a list of some of our favourite lion facts to celebrate – and we are all planning on watching the Lion King when we get home too!

1) Lions and the British Monarchy

Lions have long been a symbol of of the British Monarchy; some of the earliest signs of the royal’s relationship with the king of the jungle were discovered in 1937 when two skulls of the now extinct Barbary lion were found in the Tower of London. The skulls date back the 13th century, and are evidence of the Royal Menagerie established at the tower by King John in the 1200s. Long before zoos, the Royal Menagerie displayed extraordinary animals from across the empire, until its closure in 1835. The Barbary lion was found across North Africa until its extinction in 1922, and was believed to be a monogamous species. One of the skulls discovered in 1937 is now on display in London’s Natural History Museum.

2) Males can be maneless

The mane is a sign of distinction for any self-respecting male lion, however not all males have one. In Kenya’s Tsavo National Park males lack manes, which has mystified scientists for many years. The main functions of the mane are thought to be physical protection for the head and neck areas, sexual gravitas, or intimidation to other males (darker manes indicate higher levels of testosterone). Lions in the Tsavo National Park are exposed to extreme heat and aridity, and it is thought that having a large mane may cause males to overheat.

3) Females have hunting positions

Female lions hunt cooperatively and individuals have a preferred position within the hunting formation that is dependent on their body shape and size, similar to a rugby team. Research by scientists in Etosha National Park showed that there are two ‘positions’ in a hunting formation: wings and centres. Centres were involved in ambush attacks and tend to be of a stockier build, while wingers stalk animals and initiate hunts. These positions may be a crucial behavioural adaptation to maximising efficient prey capture in an arid desert environment.

4) Lions don’t always live in prides

While the traditional view of lions is that they live in prides, this is actually far from the norm and more than half of the population don’t live in prides at all. Females that live in prides don’t necessarily have higher hunting success and studies have shown that in times of low food availability being a solitary female is actually the best option to increase their chance of survival.

5) Safety in numbers

Despite living in prides possibly not being the best option food-wise, this way of living keeps lionesses and their young safe from roaming males. Plus, it gives them all some friends to hang out with!

 

Show your love for lions today by sharing your newfound knowledge with others and finding out more about the amazing work that conservation organisations are doing to help save this rapidly declining species.

Ted Savile, Arkive Guest Blogger

Aug 8

August 8th is International Cat Day, but before you open up the catnip for your domestic moggy why not take a look at their wild relatives? There are 41 cat species in the Felidae family and while the more famous members steal most of the limelight, there are probably quite a few species that you haven’t even heard of who are equally astounding. Here’s 10 that we thought deserved a bit of recognition this International Cat Day…

1) Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus)

The rusty-spotted cat is the world’s smallest cat, with the some adults weighing just 0.8kg. This nocturnal hunter is found across India as well as Sri Lanka and Nepal, where it lives in dry deciduous forest, scrub and grassland and feeds on some of the classic cat favourites: rodents, birds and domestic poultry.

2) Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)

The Iberian lynx is the world’s rarest cat; only 400 individuals remain and until recently there were only two known strongholds for this species. This cat is threatened by a dwindling food supply; their diet largely consists of rabbits which have declined due to epidemic outbreaks of myxamatosis. However may not be lost, as individuals have been translocated and reintroduced into three conservation areas across Spain and Portugal, which has led to a subsequent increase in the population.

3) Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul)

Pallas’s cat is an elusive and solitary cat whose range stretches across Central Asia. Far from the top of the food chain, Pallas’s cat is often predated by raptors, wolves, red foxes and, more recently, domestic and feral dogs.

4) Wildcat (Felis silvestris)

The wildcat is of huge importance to the human population, as without this species there would be no domestic cats. We’ve fed, groomed and generally been ruled by our cats for 9,500 years and it’s thought that wildcats were originally lured towards human settlements due to rodents that lived in their grain stores. The friendliest individuals domesticated themselves by taking advantage of human protection and leftovers, and this affinity with humans due to easy access to food is something has never shown any signs of stopping!

5) Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps)

It’s commonly thought that cats hate water, but this is a misconception. It certainly isn’t the case for this brave felid, which lives a semi-aquatic life due to its love for feeding on fish, frogs and crustaceans. It has specialised adaptations for aquatic hunting, including webbed feet and backward pointing teeth. The flat-headed cat is not the only cat species that is regularly seen in water – check out this video of a tiger swimming across a river.

6) Caracal (Caracal caracal)

Arguably the most striking of all of the cat species, the caracal (or rooikat) is a fierce predator. Hunting in tropical savannas across Africa and Asia, the caracal can take prey items up to three times its size, including small antelope.

7) Borneo bay cat (Pardofelis badia)

The Borneo bay cat, endemic to the island of Borneo, is the most under-studied cat in the world, and only 25 individuals have ever been recorded. The first bay cat was collected by the famous biologist Alfred Russell Wallace in 1855, although this individual was dead and it wasn’t until 1992 that a live bay cat was caught and recorded. The Asiatic golden cat is a close relative of this species, although the population of their common ancestor is thought to have been split in two around 4.9 to 5.3 million years ago, triggering the evolution of these separate but genetically similar species.

8) Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi)

Found in the New World, the jaguarundi is an unusual looking cat. Its slender build and small head gives it a weasel-like appearance. It also differs from other New World cats in its behaviour, as it is active in the day, has a large home range and is spends much more time on the forest floor than in the trees. Amazingly, individuals of this species have been seen jumping up to two metres off the ground when attempting to catch birds.

9) Guigna (Leopardus guigna)

Due to of its secretive nature and tiny size, very few people have seen a guigna and it is definitely not a cat that many people have heard of…until now! This arboreal species is found in Chile and Argentina, where it is known as the ‘kodkod’. The guigna is one of the smallest cat species in the Southern Hemisphere and I think we can probably all agree that it is extremely cute.

10) Lion (Panthera leo)

We imagine you’ve heard of this one, but did you know that lions were once common in Greece? There was once a European lion (Panthera leo europaea), which is often featured in Ancient Greek mythology, writings and pottery. Due to their geographical proximity these lions were captured and used in Roman arenas where they fought the ‘bestiarii’ (men who fought animals). In one festival in 240 AD, 70 Lions were slaughtered for entertainment. This was a main factor for extinction for both the Barbary lion and the European lion.

 

Want to find out more about wild cat conservation? Check out these amazing conservation organisations…

IUCN Cat Specialist Group
Felidae Conservation Fund
Wildlife Conservation Society – Big Cats
International Society for Endangered Cats Canada
Panthera

Ted Savile, Arkive Guest Blogger

May 29

The Whitley Fund for Nature holds an annual ceremony where pioneering conservationists around the world are honoured with an award recognising their achievement and given £35,000 (US$50,350) to continue their projects. We were lucky enough to be invited along to the ceremony to meet the finalists and find out more about their work. Each day this week we will release an interview from each of the winners on the Arkive blog and our Youtube channel. ENJOY!

Muhammed Ali Nawaz – Snow leopard conservation: a landscape-level approach in the mountains of northern Pakistan

Ali works in Pakistan with the Critically Endangered snow leopard, whose numbers have undergone a drastic decline due to poaching, human-animal conflict and habitat loss. By bringing together NGOs, local people and government, Ali has developed and implemented a management plan for the species to allow co-existence of communities and carnivores. Human-animal conflict is rife in the area, with many livestock keepers killing snow leopards who have predated their sheep, goats and cows. Ali’s projects help local people to protect their livestock and has reduced the amount of losses caused by snow leopards tenfold.

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Find out more about Ali’s work on the Whitley Awards website

Discover more about the Snow Leopard Trust

Visit the Arkive profile of the snow leopard

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