Sand Cats of Morocco – Update From the Field

The sand cat Felis margarita is widespread over large parts of the North African Sahara, but there have been few specimens collected or reliable sightings documented since the mid 1970’s.

However, over the last decade there have been regular sightings in the Moroccan Sahara, especially along a stretch of road running southeast from the coastal city of Dakhla.

In the spring of 2013, Dr. Alex Sliwa and Gregory Breton conducted a self-funded field excursion to look for sand cats in this region. In three days, they identified three different sand cats – one male and two females. The results encouraged the researchers to apply for permits to do a telemetry study on the sand cat in its westermost distribution in Africa.

They returned to the area for two weeks in December 2015. During nocturnal drives, four sand cats were seen, two males and two females, and fitted with radio collars. These were the first sand cats ever radio-collared and tracked in the Sahara. They were followed for several days and nights. Hunting sequences were observed, high quality photographs taken and preliminary results on home ranges and behaviour were established. The researchers plan to make two further trips to Morocco during the winter of 2016-2017.

Female F2 hidden in perennial shrub
Female F2 hidden in perennial shrub.

 

Male M2 with a captured lesser gerbil.
Male M2 with a captured lesser gerbil.

Methods

While sitting on the roof rack of a Landrover, which was driven at 20-30 km/hr, a 100W spotlight was moved in a sweeping motion covering both sides of the road. Upon detecting carnivore eyeshine reflection, the animal was followed off road.

When caught in headlights or spotlamp, sand cats either flatten themselves on the ground or hide in sparse vegetation. Once settled, the cat was captured using two hand nets. They were then anaesthitized and weighed, tooth wear was measured, fur and physical condition were examined. Radio collars weighing 27 grams, 42 grams or 55 grams, depending on the size of the cat, were attached. All cats were closely monitored and ran away when fully awake.

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Results

  • Age of the cats was estimated based on the condition of their teeth, general body size, fur condition and head marks. Female F1 was estimated at 1-1.5 years; F2 est 7-10 months; M1 est 1.5-2 years; M2 est 3-4 years.
  • The four cats caught in 2015 were all in good physical condition, although all carried fleas and one had a tick. The male M2 had a more bleached fur than the others.
  • During the night, the older male M2 was located in six locations, and the younger female F2 in two locations. Both cats were found to move together, sniffing each other and playing between 02:45 to 03:00.
  • During the daytime, M2 was located at six independent locations and F2 at four. On all occasions, both cats were found hidden inside a perennial shrub, or at the base of large perennial grass.
  • M2 was observed hunting for three consecutive hours at night and made three successful kills.
  • The younger male Ml, was located an hour after sunset three days after collaring, 8 km south of his original place of capture. About 30 hours later, he was found 6.3 km north of the place of capture and 14 km from the previous observation. 14 km in a straight line in less than 30 hours is one of the longest distances ever reported for this species.
  • Researchers could not relocate the older captured female Fl despite intensive searching every night.
  • Home range sizes were estimated as follows: M1 at 35 sq. km, M2 at 22 sq km and F2 at 13 sq km.
  • Weights and measurements were consistent with other pooled data available for the species.
  • The older male M2 was tracked and observed more often than the others. He was found twice within 24 hours because he moved shorter distances, leading researchers to believe he was the resident male.
  • The young female F2 was tracked regularly at first and researchers discovered her positions overlapped some of those of M2. Since the two cats were found together one night, researchers suspect a relationship between them: either father/daughter or a breeding pair.
  • From the captive population, it is known female sand cats start breeding at 11 months. F1 was estimated to be 7-10 months so may not have been sexually mature at the time of collaring.
  • M1 and F1 were both considered to be subadults, and may be from the same litter. They may have travelled such long distances looking for a suitable territory, or they already had one and were in search of breeding partners.
  • It was suspected some of the four cats may be related and DNA tests will be carried out on hair samples.
M2 hidden under perennial grass.
M2 hidden under perennial grass.

 

Camera trap of M2 moving from his resting location.
Camera trap of M2 moving from his resting location.

 

This short-term tracking data falls into a similar pattern to data collected in Israel and Saudi Arabia, where the cats did not use dens at any time. However, a study in Uzbekistan directly observed sand cats entering and exiting dens in the ground. The lack of dens in the Sahara could be related to a lower number of species that excavate holes than in other regions. There could be seasonal changes with Saharan sand cats using dens only in the hotter period of the year (June-December). It could also be a consequence of the low number of sand cat predators in this region.

Studying additional individuals in the same location is crucial to understanding the social organization, reproduction patterns and dispersal habits of the species in the region. Researchers would like to extend telemetry work to additional sand cats and intensify the camera trapping in future years.

See also Sand Cats of Morocco 

Young lynx kittens video too adorable!

posted in: Cats of Europe | 2

This spectacular video of a mother Eurasian Lynx and her two young kittens relaxing at Langedrag Wildlife Park in Norway will melt your heart.  We thank Johan Naesje for sending us this touching footage, guaranteed to make any cat lover weak with the extreme cuteness.

Jaguarundi photographed in southern Argentina

By Mauro Lucherini

The jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi is a widely distributed small cat in Latin America. However, its natural history, including its distribution, is still very little understood.

This rare photo, obtained by the GECM (Grupo de Ecología Comportamental de Mamíferos, Universidad Nacional del Sur, Argentina) in southern Buenos Aires province, central Argentina, confirm that jaguarundis are still present, in the southernmost limit of the species geographic distribution range. It is important to mention that this is the only photo of this cat obtained in 384 camera trap stations, which indicates that the jaguarundi is the rarest felid species in the region (where the Geoffroy’s cat, Pampas cat, and puma also occur) and confirms the need for more detailed studies to better assess the conservation status of the species in central Argentina and throughout its range.

GECM jaguarundi

 

See also

Giordano, A. J. (2016) Ecology and status of the jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi: a synthesis of existing knowledgeMammal Review, 46(1), 30-43

Mystery cat requires more conservation and research

Jaguarundi fact sheet

 

Characterization and mitigation of puma-livestock conflicts in central Argentina

posted in: Cats of South America | 0

Estela Luengos Vidal, M. Guerisoli, N. Caruso, M. Franchini, Z. McDonald, and M. Lucherini

The puma (Puma concolor) is the most widespread top predator and one of the most controversial carnivores in Argentina. It occurs from the high-altitude deserts of the Andes to tropical and subtropical forests, and from the Pampas grasslands to the Patagonian steppe (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The natural prey base of Argentinean puma populations formerly included vicuña, guanaco, Patagonian huemul, taruca, Pampas deer, Marsh deer, rheas, Plain viscachas, Mountain viscachas, Patagonian hare, and capybaras. In the southernmost part of the country large native prey still comprise the bulk of puma diets (Zanón et al. 2012); however, during the last two centuries, hunting of wild prey and conversion of natural habitat into ranches and farms increased conflicts with humans and predation on livestock (Novaro et al. 2000, Walker and Novaro 2010).

This is the case in the southern Espinal where we have been working on carnivore-human conflicts since 2008. Dense shrublands and grasslands of this region have been transformed to create space for livestock. The initial habitat modeling that we performed, based on camera trapping records, show most of the landscape is no longer suitable for pumas (Caruso et al. 2015). A comparison with other carnivores occurring in the region revealed that pumas use sites with moderate fragmentation, but that they prefer preserved areas and avoid sites with significant human presence (Caruso et al. 2016).

Fig2 Map WF monitor

Nico y Maria_Salitral

To buttress our previous results and understand the variables affecting habitat use by pumas, we carried out a more intensive camera trapping survey over the last 24 months in two adjacent areas that differed in anthropogenic impact. Capture rates were 67.9% of 28 trapping stations in the area farther from the main road with more natural habitats, while pumas were recorded in 28% of 25 stations located closer to the road, where croplands and pastures prevail.

Interview data (2008-2015) show that sheep were the most predated livestock (7.4 head / year), followed by lambs (2.6 head / year), calves (6 head/year), and foals (0.3 head/year). Based on average prices, the economic losses caused by pumas per ranch per year (USD) were $393 for sheep (range $59-$4713) and $431 for cattle (range $70-$5953). Since sheep provide the primary income in the region, damage caused by pumas is a legitimate concern, so we scrutinized effects of puma predation in more detail. Comparing losses caused by pumas with the numbers of livestock owned, we found that pumas killed 2.2% and 3.9% of the total cattle and sheep, though the proportion individual ranches varied from 2% to 17.8%. We obtained a record of confirmed predation events in a 484-km2 area and found that during 16 months, pumas killed 33 sheep and 4 calves ( 2.23/month or 6.8/ 100 km2).

In the same period, ranchers killed 13 pumas (0.79 pumas / month or 2.7 pumas / 100 km2). This intensity of hunting is not justified by the economic impact of puma predation, and a puma population in the Espinal cannot sustain such a high mortality. The conflicts between pumas and local people are exacerbated by poor response by the government, which does not provide compensation to ranchers affected by puma predation nor provide a forum for their complaints. Predictably, local people see puma hunting as the only solution.

Fig3 workshop WF Monitor

In 2015, we began participatory workshops to further quantify livestock losses and share this information with ranchers, hear ranchers’ positions on the causes of puma predation, and identify, with their help, effective mitigation measures. Analyses of data from the first four workshops indicates that ranchers perceive a widespread intensification in puma predation, and believe that diminished human presence in rural areas is the major cause. Other causes mentioned included presence of shrub land, laws forbidding puma hunting, and poor livestock management.

However, we found that only two of the 12 participants had changed their husbandry, whereas nine (75%) tried to kill pumas. Yet only 3 of the participants killed pumas in the previous year (averaging 3.3 puma per person). Of the 7 ranchers who applied mitigation measures, 6 corralled their livestock at night, 1 used donkeys as guardian animals and 1 reinforced their enclosures. Most participants would try mitigation but requested expert advice, because past attempts had failed or proved uneconomical.

We now plan to test the efficacy of Conditioned Taste Aversion to reduce livestock losses. We will start by testing two substances that have proven effective with other carnivores (Massei et al. 2004; Nielsen et al. 2015). We have started collecting puma tissue and fecal samples to investigate genetic differentiation and gene flow in a meta-population framework.

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Although puma-livestock conflicts are common throughout Argentina, this is the first attempt to assess their true impact on ranching and the effects of retaliatory killing on puma populations. Our project will provide a baseline without which meaningful management cannot occur. We expect that this project will serve as a pilot experience to reduce livestock predation by pumas and thus provide sound recommendations to mitigate conflict in other areas.

Spectacular Andean Cat Video!

posted in: Cats in the wild | 3

New record on the Andean cat in the province of Jujuy obtained by a group of mammalogists (R. Gonzalez, P. Ortiz, S. d ‘ Hiriart , and P. Jayat ) studying the community of small mammals and highlands in Puno PICT under a project funded by the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Promotion .

Gato andino en la provincia de Jujuy

Nuevo registro sobre el gato andino en la provincia de Jujuy obtenido por un grupo de mastozoólogos (R. González, P. Ortíz, S. d’ Hiriart, y P. Jayat) que estudiaban la comunidad de pequeños mamíferos de zonas puneñas y altoandinas en el marco de un proyecto PICT financiado por la Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica.

 

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International conservationists develop a Conservation Strategy for the Fishing Cat

In November 2015, the First International Fishing Cat Conservation Symposium was held in Nepal, hosted in association with the NGOs Himalayan Nature and Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation. Participants included representatives from Fishing Cat range countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Bangladesh, as well as conservationists from USA, UK, Spain and Germany.

fishing catThe endangered Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus is at home near water bodies. This unique cat has been known to science since the early 19th century. However, its recent discovery in mangroves along the east coast of India and in Cambodia reveals that still little is known about its distribution and ecological needs. In Asia, wetlands are rapidly being devastated, which results in declining Fishing Cat populations in all range countries.

Furthermore, they are threatened by killings in retaliation, poaching and traffic. Their status in Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Java is largely unknown. They may have declined dramatically over the last decades.

“This dire perspective across their range motivated us to form the Fishing Cat Working Group in 2011. Our symposium was a huge success. We are the first Working Group who developed a conservation strategy for an Asian small wild cat. Fishing Cats need more targeted conservation efforts to ensure their continued survival in the wild. Our vision is that wild Fishing Cat populations become viable again across their native range, are valued globally and live in harmony with humankind.” said Angie Appel, co-founder and coordinator of the Fishing Cat Working Group.

“In India, they are included in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1 972, along with the tiger, and thus deserve protection measures of the highest accord. Nevertheless, their most important habitats are destroyed by the filling up of wetlands for airports, residential areas and highways due to policy contradictions.” said Tiasa Adhya. She has been engaged in conserving Fishing Cats in West Bengal. Because of her successful efforts she was recently nominated for the Future for Nature award. Giridhar Malla from the Wildlife Institute of India added “A viable population of Fishing Cats was recently recorded in mangroves of Andhra Pradesh. However, oil refineries and expansion of road network pose a huge threat to this population.”

“In Nepal, Fishing Cats have been recorded in protected areas and recently also in human dominated landscapes in the Terai. However, we still don’t know all the specific sites where Fishing Cats are present. Furthermore, they are not listed as a priority protected species in the country.” said Sagar Dahal of the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation.

“Ecological studies on Fishing Cats are scarce even though they live throughout coastal wetlands and hill forests of Sri Lanka.” said Anya Ratnayaka. She radio-collared the first Fishing Cat in suburban Colombo to understand their ecological adaptions to novel urban habitats. “In Sri Lanka, more than 50 individuals died in road accidents during the past two years.” added Ashan Thudugala. In response he installed road signs in the country’s central hills to minimize road accidents involving Fishing Cats.

“In Cambodia, Fishing Cats are poorly studied. Our recent discovery of a Fishing Cat population in mangroves is spectacular. This is not only the first record since 2003, but also in a previously undocumented site.” said Ret Thaung of the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC) of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “We are very excited about this discovery because it gives us new hope for the recovery of Fishing Cats in Southeast Asia.” said Vanessa Herranz Muñoz who collaborates with CBC.

“Conservationists in Fishing Cat range countries need to be better linked with the international zoological community for exchange of knowledge. We can increase awareness about the plight of Fishing Cats in the wild and support conservation efforts through fund raising activities.” said Neville Buck of the Aspinall Foundation, UK.

fishing cat clawsThe objectives of the first Conservation Strategy Plan revolve around three major themes, namely ecological, socio-cultural and policy issues. Participants pledged to implement planned activities within the next five years. They will collaborate in developing manuals for policy makers and researchers as well as comprehensive habitat and distribution maps. They will continue to work with local communities and address Fishing Cat conservation needs through advocacy networks. Information material will be created to raise awareness amongst global stakeholders, both young and old.

The symposium was supported by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Fishing Cat Fund and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Nepal. It was held at Park River View Resort in Nawalparasi close to Chitwan National Park.

Information taken from the Proceedings Of the First International Fishing Cat Conservation Symposium  held in Nepal last year. 

A Win For Bobcats in New Hampshire

posted in: Cats of North America | 1

bobcatCONCORD, N.H.— The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department today withdrew a proposed administrative rule that would have opened the first bobcat hunting and trapping seasons in the state since 1989. Today’s announcement responds to concerns raised by conservation and animal-protection organizations — including the Center for Biological Diversity and Animal Welfare Institute — that federally protected Canada lynx could be mistakenly shot or ensnared by bobcat hunters and trappers.

“We’re so relieved the agency listened to our concerns, and that New Hampshire’s bobcats and lynx are safe from hunters and trappers,” said Collette Adkins, a Center attorney and biologist. “At public expense, these bobcat seasons would have benefited only the few who’d like to kill these beautiful animals for sport or ship their pelts overseas to China for profit. The state heard loud and clear that people value these cats in the wild and don’t want to see them cruelly trapped or shot.”

New Hampshire has protected bobcats since 1989, after decades of hunting and trapping caused the state’s population to plummet to only 200 animals. Under the state’s proposed rule, hunters would have been allowed to chase bobcats with hounds and trappers would have been able to set unlimited numbers of indiscriminate traps that could hurt or kill endangered Canada lynx.

“We are thrilled with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s decision to withdraw its proposal for a bobcat hunting and trapping season, given legal concerns, opposition by many New Hampshire citizens, and the objection from the legislative rules committee,” said Tara Zuardo, a wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “This decision will prevent much animal suffering, allow the state’s bobcat population to continue to recover, and help prevent harm to federally protected Canada lynx.”

On April 1 the New Hampshire Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted 9-1 to object to the proposed bobcat hunting and trapping rule. The legislative committee agreed with conservation and animal-protection organizations that the proposal might violate federal law protecting the Canada lynx. Listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, lynx share the same habitat as bobcat, and the two species of wild cat are very similar in appearance, which could have led to accidental killing of lynx by bobcat hunters and trappers.

Sand Cats of the Sahara Desert

posted in: wild cat conservation | 0

How do you save a small wild cat?

Wild Sand cat 1.50To save them you first have to understand them. You need to go where they live. You need to learn the ecology of these species – activity times and rest periods, the size of the home range and territory year round, the distances they cover every day, social and reproductive behaviours, their prey species and hunting methods.

When that habitat is shared with other similar sized carnivores, you need to learn how they all co-exist.

Desert carnivores in Morocco

During the spring of 2013, Dr. Alex Sliwa and Gregory Breton (Curator of the Sand Cat breeding program in Europe) made a self-financed trip to the Moroccan Sahara. They observed Sand Cats, African Wildcats, Fennec Foxes and Ruppells Foxes.

Now they are launching the first-ever study on the ecology and behaviour of the Sand Cat in Morocco. While the Sand Cat is the priority species for research, they will also be studying those three other carnivores to determine how the Sand Cat co-exists in their shared habitat.

Never studied in Morocco, the distribution of the Sand Cat is still unclear. Between 1971 and 2000 only a few specimens had been observed in the wild. However, since 2005 and with a growing number of sightings in the Moroccan Sahara region, an enduring presence of Sand Cats is confirmed.

How do you find a small wild cat in the desert?

Researchers actively search for them with a 4×4 truck, driving at low speed, at night, shining a 100W spot lamp in a sweeping motion to detect the eyeshine reflection of carnivores. Once located, they net the animal which has taken refuge in the shrubs. When the cat has been sedated, they are measured and given a health check, then fitted with a radio collar. These animals will then be followed with an receiver and antenna to determine their movements.

Ongoing Sand Cat research

Once sufficient data is collected from radio-telemetry equipment and tracking collars then it is fully possible to:

  • sand cat felis margaritaexpand the study to the whole country to determine where the species are living in high, medium and low densities and where they are missing.
  • motivated by the study, train students and/or local employees for field work, recording and tracking the collared Sand Cats, African Wildcats, and Foxes
  • develop a partnership with local schools to speak in class and praise the animals to school children
  • during peer conferences, meetings and media events, spread the results and knowledge learned

You can help

The researchers would like to study these animals over several years to collect data throughout their lives, ideally covering several generations. But the duration of this program will depend on funds provided by the supporting donors.

Your support for this project will enable the researchers to determine the status of Sand Cats in this part of the Sahara, and begin conservation plans for their future.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

 

sand cat habitat
Sand Cat habitat.

 

Sand Cat habitat
Sand cat habitat?

tiny.cat paw printSee our fact sheet for more information on the appealing little Sand Cat.

 

Pampas Cat video from northern Peru

These Pampas cat videos were captured by camera traps set in two different wetlands of the Sechura desert in northwestern Perú. They are part of a research project by Alvaro Garcia Olaechea and Cindy Hurtado, entitled “Human-small cat conflict and distribution of the Pampas cat Leopardus colocolo in northwestern Peru and southwestern Ecuador”.

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For more information about the project go to Species Conservation.org.

Thank you Alvaro for keeping us updated!

Read more about the Pampas Cat on our fact sheet.

Found! Fishing cat in coastal Cambodia

fishing catPictures of the Endangered fishing cat – the first in Cambodia for more than a decade – provide welcome evidence that these elusive felines still survive in some parts of the country.

Cambodia’s Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC) continues to make history with a camera trap survey revealing that the Endangered fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) can still be found in some parts of the country.

The camera traps have provided the first official records for the species since 2003, capturing images and footage of three individuals at two different coastal sites.

Researchers from the CBC, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, were thrilled by the findings which have allayed grave fears about the status of these animals in Cambodia.

FFI project leader, Ms Ret Thaung said that the fishing cat’s preference for wetland habitat had led to severe population declines throughout much of its Asian range. “Asian wetland habitats are rapidly disappearing or being modified by human activity, so fishing cat numbers have declined dramatically over the last decade and the remaining population is thought to be small,” she said.

“Fishing cats are believed to be extinct in Vietnam, no confirmed records in Lao PDR, and with scarce information about the species in Thailand and Cambodia.

“It is clear that urgent steps are needed to protect these cats from snaring and trapping and to conserve their wetland habitats – but to do this effectively we needed to get a better idea of where they live.” “

Overwhelming discovery

The CBC’s camera trap survey was designed to address some of these knowledge gaps . Following leads gathered during interviews with local villagers, the experts set up 32 cameras at five locations and left them to record what passed by .

Sifting through the images, the team was delighted to discover fishing cats at two sites in southwest Cambodia: Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary (Koh Kong Province) and Ream National Park (Sihanoukville Province).

“This is a remarkable discovery as fishing cats are very vulnerable to human persecution,” Ms Thaung said. “We are especially pleased to see both a male and female cat from Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary. When working with Endangered species, every animal is important and the excitement of such a discovery is overwhelming.”

As both of these sites are protected areas, the resident fishing cats should be afforded some protection.

Conservation challenges ahead

According to Ms Thaung, the CBC and its partners now aim to develop a fishing cat conservation action plan focused on the two sites where the cats were recorded.

“This will primarily involve community education and measures to reduce threats,” she said. “We also plan to continue our research and improve the ability of local rangers to correctly identify fishing cats and help with research and conservation for the species.”

The main challenge at these two sites will be managing conflicts with people, who have been known to kill fishing cats for their meat or in retaliation for damaging fishers’ nets.

An important facet of any conservation work will therefore be to raise awareness about the species and boost local support for its conservation – particularly in light of recent interviews with villagers living near the two sites, which revealed that local people do not see these animals as important.

Sadly, protected area status alone cannot not guarantee the future of a site or its wildlife, as Ms Thaung explains: “Unfortunately, no cats were found in the freshwater wetlands at the Botum Sakor National Park.”

“We are particularly concerned about this, as this area is being devastated by forest clearance and land degradation.”

Above all, the discovery of fishing cats in two new areas (coupled with their notable absence from a place one might reasonably expect to find them) reveals how much we still have to learn about these animals, and how urgent is the need to protect them.

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Fauna & Flora International (FFI) protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and take account of human needs. Operating in more than 40 countries worldwide – mainly in the developing world – FFI saves species from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest established international conservation body and a registered charity.