Dating Service for Wild Cats?

posted in: Zoo cats | 0

by W. Angermeyer

Originally published on our Felids blog February 14, 2013

Before moving on in my series of posts on conservation programs for endangered captive cats, I would like to go in to a bit more depth on the American Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums (AZA) conservation programs to provide some updated information and answer some questions we received.

In the past couple of years, the AZA has made some changes and they are phasing out Population Management Programs (PMPs). All of them have been changed to Species Survival Plans (SSPs) which are now designated as one of three colors: green, yellow and red. If an SSP is green, that means that the population in captivity is predicted to be sustainable with a high percentage of genetic diversity (at least 90%) for at least the next 100 years based on genetic analyses. If an SSP is yellow, then the population of that species in AZA zoos is OK now but is not sustainable. These populations need work if we want the species to persist in zoos long-term. Finally, red SSPs are populations that are nowhere near sustainable (less than 50 individuals with poor genetic diversity) and need a lot of help or may be extinct in zoos in the very near future.

Wild Cats in SSP Programs

Yellow: Caracal, Serval, Amur Leopard, Canada Lynx, Cheetah, Snow Leopard, Ocelot, Puma, Clouded Leopard, Bobcat, Jaguar, Black-footed Cat

Green: Lion,Tiger

Red: Fishing Cat, Sand Cat, Pallas’ Cat

The original purpose of an SSP was to get zoos to communicate and cooperate when managing animals to ensure that the captive population of each species was healthy so zoos weren’t constantly taking animals out of the wild or inbreeding to produce individuals. Genetics certainly played a big role in influencing this purpose. Now the purpose (also genetics driven) is to achieve sustainability within the captive population so that we have healthy populations in the long-term. One reason is to have a reserve of animals to help supplement the wild population in case it is ever necessary. Although zoos and researchers still have much to learn about how to effectively reintroduce animals back into the wild, the possibility to do so is a goal and is a reality for some SSPs such as the Mexican Wolf, Whooping Cranes, Vancouver Island Marmots or the Amur leopard. An SSP species may not be considered endangered in the wild but might require better management in captivity to improve the genetics of the captive population.

clouded leopards

Captive individuals that are part of an SSP breeding program may or may not be on public exhibit depending on the availability of space at the institution. A shortage of space tends to be more of an issue with mammalian species. Some institutions do have off-exhibit space and utilize this space as necessary. Whether or not breeding stock will be on exhibit depends on how imperative privacy is for breeding and births. If public display is detrimental, then it will be a priority for off-exhibit space to be created. A lot of species that zoos have had success with breed fine while on exhibit. Each individual animal’s temperament would need to be considered as well. For zoos in temperate or sub-arctic climates, there would also be seasonal considerations and limitations for housing.

It could be said that all AZA institutions participate in all SSP programs because at some point they are likely to communicate about an SSP species such as when they are considering bringing in a new species They must agree to follow the rules of the SSP which vary according to the color designation. For example, all AZA zoos have to follow the breeding and transfer recommendations of a green SSP (however, keep in mind that recommendations are never made without considering the wishes and wellbeing of each zoo). Zoos are not forced to follow the recommendations of yellow or red SSPs if they choose not to, but it is strongly encouraged. Any zoo housing an individual member of an SSP species participates to some degree in the program.

Lastly, there was a question regarding fundraising for SSP animals regardless of whether the institution houses that SSP species. Any zoo may fund raise for any species regardless of whether there is an SSP designation for that species and any SSP can (and with the exception of extenuating circumstances probably will) accept funds raised by anyone regardless of whether they are an AZA accredited organization.

cat heart
So in short, I guess you can think of the AZA Felid Tag as a very complex and involved dating service for cats. I wonder if there are some cats out on blind dates or taking the plunge in an arranged marriage for Valentine’s Day?

Thanks for providing updated information to:
– Dan Dembiec from the Jacksonville Zoo, Serval SSP Coordinator/Studbook Keeper and a Felid TAG Steering Committee Member
– Pam Pritchard, Animal Collection Specialist at the Calgary Zoo

Captive Felid Conservation – Part 1

posted in: Zoo cats | 0

by W. Angermeyer

This post was originally published on our Felids blog January 15, 2013

On our blog we often focus on felid conservation and research news occurring “in situ” or in the wild cat’s natural habitat. A good deal of conservation also occurs in captivity or “ex situ”. Who oversees the management of these captive conservation efforts? There are several well renowned organizations that collaborate and manage programs which focus on the conservation of many threatened and endangered species including felids.

In Part I of this topic, I would like to focus on the conservation efforts of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums  (AZA) which  has a membership of 222 accredited zoos and aquariums throughout North America. Twenty years ago, AZA established the Species Survival Plan Program (SSP), which is a long-term plan involving conservation breeding, habitat preservation, public education, field conservation, and supportive research to ensure survival for many of the planet’s threatened and endangered species.

Currently, AZA members are involved in 319 SSPs working on behalf of 590 species. Each SSP Program is managed by a corresponding Taxon Advisory Groups (TAG) within AZA. The TAG is responsible for developing a comprehensive population Studbook and a Breeding and Transfer Plan which identifies population management goals to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied population. The TAGs are in turn managed by the Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee. Are you confused yet?

Sand Cat
The AZA Felid TAG is a committee of advisors with expertise in issues relating to wild cats. These advisors hold regular meetings attended by people from both AZA-member institutions and the private sector who have an interest in felids. The Felid TAG provides a forum for discussing husbandry, veterinary, ethical, and other issues that apply to the wild cats housed in AZA-member institutions. TAG advisors also examine animal management techniques based on scientific studies and assist SSP coordinators in developing animal care manuals to present best practices for the care and welfare of felid species. TAGs also promote cooperation and sharing of information between AZA and other regional and international conservation programs.

One important role of the Felid TAG is to recommend the wild cat species managed by studbooks, SSPs, and other zoo-based programs through the regional collection planning (RCP) process. The Felid RCP helps animal managers determine which species are most in need of zoo-based conservation programs; establish priorities for management, research and conservation; and recruit qualified individuals to carry out these activities. In developing the RCP, the TAG takes into account both the limited amount of enclosure space available and the need to maintain animals in populations large enough to ensure their long-term genetic viability and demographic stability. They also consider the potential of selected species to contribute to conservation through education, scientific research, fund-raising to support field conservation, and managed breeding for potential reintroduction. The goal of this careful planning process is that each cat species and individual animal held at AZA zoos has a defined conservation or education purpose.

Fishing cat
Species may be added or taken off the TAG managed list periodically, based on what the needs of that species are and how likely it is that zoos can manage and conserve them effectively. The current AZA Felid Species Survival Plans and Population Management Plans include:

SSPs: Amur Leopard, Black-footed Cat, Cheetah, Clouded Leopard, Fishing Cat, Jaguar, Lion, Ocelot, Sand Cat, Snow Leopard, Tiger
PMPs: Canada Lynx, Caracal, Pallas Cat, Puma, Serval

For more information on the Felid Tag and participating institutions, please visit the National Zoo’s web-site.

Killed Just Because He Lived

posted in: Cats of Africa | 0

The Caracal Project in Namibia began in January 2011 and continues to expand. They are collecting ecological data on caracals at a large scale, and working with livestock farmers to mitigate conflicts with caracals and other predators. This is essential because caracals are the most persecuted cat in Africa, yet no country has a population estimate based on scientific data.

They are finding that more and more livestock farmers, those who have always killed caracals, are willing to allow the cats to be released back onto their farms as long as they are radio collared and the farmers are kept involved in our research. This is a vital aspect to changing farmer perceptions regarding caracals and other predators.

caracal in namibia

Update March 2012

I just wanted to send you an update that on The Caracal Project another caracal has been shot by a livestock farmer- a young male (above) whose range encompassed private and communal sheep farms. He lived on these farms for over 18 months without any documented predation on livestock. We are disappointed but appreciate being told by the farmer. Radio collars on three other caracals continue to collect data.

Hope all is better for you and I am sorry to share this bad news but it shows why this research is important. Thanks again for all your support and everything you do to save wild cats!

Aletris M. Neils
Executive Director
Conservation CATalyst

Great Overview of Field Research in Africa

posted in: Cats in the wild | 0

This wonderful video from the Cape Leopard Trust gives an excellent overview of what field researchers must do to learn about cats in the wild. While they are looking for a big leopard, the same procedures are followed by scientists studying the small wild cats.

YouTube Preview Image

The Cape Leopard Trust in South Africa uses research as a tool for conservation, finding solutions to human-wildlife conflict and inspiring interest in the environment through an interactive and dynamic environmental education program. As well as leopards, they are studying a smaller cat through the Cedarburg Caracal Project.

Canada Lynx Population Peak

Canada Lynx have been receiving a lot of limelight the past couple of months.

A Colorado photo of two lynx on the roadside went viral, prompting calls to close the highway for the sake of the lynx. In Canada, a pair of lynx were photographed near Banff, AB and three were caught on video in British Columbia. A ski resort in Alberta is alternately closing its runs as reports of a female and her kitten are received.

For an animal that relies on its elusiveness, why are so many being reported this year? Meet the reason.

Snowshoe hares have a cyclical population which takes between eight and eleven years to go from peak, through decline, and back to peak. The period of abundance usually lasts for two to five years.

Sunspot activity, predator numbers, food availability, parasite load, stress and disease have all been investigated as causes of the cycle. All of these factors likely play a role, with predation and food availability being the most important. Litter sizes vary with the population cycle, with females producing more young during the low phase than during the peak.

canada lynx

Canada Lynx feed almost exclusively on snowshoe hares, and their populations follow the hare cycle. A year or so after the hares have declined the Canada Lynx population crashes, helping ensure the survival rate of the few remaining hares. More will live to fuel the next population rebound, the lynx numbers will follow, and the cycle continues.

Scientists who have examined the fur-trading records of the Hudson’s Bay Company have been able to trace closely linked 10-year cycles of growth and decline in populations of the two species over the past 200 years.

Canada Lynx are currently at the peak of their cycle, and their numbers will slowly drop over the next few years.

Mating occurs during February or March each year, and the young (usually four) are born in April and May, 60 to 65 days later. Female kits may breed for the first time as they approach one year of age, but this depends on the abundance and availability of snowshoe hares and the physical and nutritional condition of the lynx.

Starvation following the rapid cyclic declines in snowshoe hare populations is the greatest single source of natural mortality among adult and yearling lynxes. About 40 percent of the total lynx population may starve to death following a crash in the snowshoe hare population. During the following three to four years, when the hare population is starting to rebuild, lynxes breed, but the kittens die before winter. This suggests that an adult female simply cannot support both herself and her litter when hares are scarce.

This lynx-snowshoe hare cycle is perhaps the greatest example of how intricately nature is balanced. If you live in Canada Lynx country and would like to increase your chances of seeing one, now would be the time to go looking.

The Number 1 Email Question

posted in: wild cat conservation | 0

ocelot with radio collarDuring the course of a year, we get a huge variety of questions via email. People send us cat pictures for identification, researchers are seeking funding, children ask about school projects and many  inquire about our membership and programs.

In 2012, the most common query was from people seeking a job on a biological field research project. We received mail and resumes from around the world, and unfortunately had to turn them all away.

ISEC Canada does not hire researchers for any project. We send financial support to projects that have been initiated by researchers who hire their own staff. Many of these projects are associated with universities, and the work is part of the course taken by students.

We heard from some truly amazing and enthusiastic people the past year. Wildlife biology is a noble field to get into and many wild species owe their very survival to these dedicated researchers. It is also an extremely difficult field to find work in, and we wish we could accommodate everyone who took the incentive to contact us. In reality, all we can do is wish them luck in their search, and thank them for their concern about wildlife.

Small Wild Cat Calendar

posted in: wild cat conservation | 0

Wouldn’t you love a gorgeous small wild cat gracing your wall every month? We have only a few of these remaining in stock so now would be a great time to order! Calendar is 8 1/2″ x 11″ when closed. (*8 1/2″ x 22″ when hanging).

small wild cats calendarThirteen gorgeous small wild cats are featured in this 2013 wall calendar, including photos taken in the wild and in zoos. There are some exceptionally rare photos in here this year! An ISEC Canada exclusive product.

$19.95 Cdn includes all shipping costs. Proceeds to Black-footed Cat Research.

Buy It Now

Happy New Year!

posted in: wild cat conservation | 0

It’s the start of another busy year in small wild cat conservation.

This website will be undergoing a few changes over the next few weeks, as we work to adjust this temporary site into a stunning new showcase for small wild cats. We have to start with the boring technical bits in the background, but we’ll soon be adding photos and content.

While we’re working away on the website, you can always follow the cats in the social media world:

Felids Blog

Small Wild Cats on Facebook

Small Wild Cats Tweeting

We would love to hear from you on what you would like us to include – just drop a line in the comments below.