2017 Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship

geoffroy's catThe Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship from the Wild Felid Research and Management Association (WFA) provides financial aid to a graduate-level university student conducting research on wild felids in the Americas. The scholarship is awarded in early summer. The recipient(s) receive $1,000 and are recognized in the WFA’s newsletter, the Wild Felid Monitor. Applications are evaluated based on: demonstrated need for financial aid; participation in a research project that aims to improve our understanding of wild felid biology, management and/or conservation; and undergraduate and graduate GPA.

We will begin accepting applications for the 2017 scholarship January 15, 2017. All application materials must be received by the Scholarship Chairperson by MARCH 30, 2017. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

More details and to apply see http://www.wildfelid.org/legacy.php

$19000 Reward for info on killing of Canada Lynx in Maine

posted in: Cats in the wild | 1

Wildlife advocates are offering an $8,000 reward for information leading to convictions for the shootings of two protected Canada lynx last month in Maine, bringing the total reward offered to $19,000 from nonprofit, state and federal sources. The additional reward money includes $5,000 from the Center for Biological Diversity, $1,000 from the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and $2,000 from the Animal Welfare Institute.

The two Canada lynx were shot and killed in mid-November, according to a Friday announcement by Maine wildlife officials. Wardens believe one was shot sometime around Nov. 15 with a rifle on a logging road in western Maine, near Aziscohos Lake in northern Oxford County. That lynx was wearing a GPS collar attached in 2015 by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The other endangered cat was found shot dead on Nov. 17 in a legally set foothold trap along a logging road in Aroostook County. No suspects have been identified in either case.

“The disturbing killings of these two beautiful, wild cats illustrate why we sued for changes to Maine’s harmful trapping program,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center. “The common-sense protective measures we’re seeking could have prevented the trapping of the lynx in Aroostook County. I’m hopeful the court will recognize that more changes are needed to protect lynx from cruel traps.”

In November a federal court in Bangor, Maine, heard oral arguments on the wildlife advocates’ challenge to the trapping permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Maine. The lawsuit argues that the permit violates both the Endangered Species Act, which requires that harm to lynx be minimized and mitigated, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a proper analysis of environmental impacts. The wildlife advocates are represented by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.

“With this latest evidence of the dangers faced by lynx in the Maine woods, we’re concerned with how many other lynx have been killed and not discovered,” said Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine. “These unnecessary deaths are troubling and frustrating to those of us working for stronger lynx protections.”

“Doing what is necessary to protect threatened and endangered species must be the number one priority,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. “Those responsible for these heinous and illegal killings must be brought to justice and be subject to the full complement of penalties under the law.”

Canada lynx are protected as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act, and these illegal killings can result in fines up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison.

Background
Each year Maine trappers targeting bobcat, coyotes, foxes, mink and other animals unintentionally kill and seriously injure Canada lynx, among the rarest cats in the United States. Because lynx are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the state cannot authorize such “incidental” harm to lynx without an “incidental take permit” issued by the Service. The lawsuit brought by wildlife advocates challenges the Service’s permit covering the state’s trapping programs.

That permit allows for the killing of just three lynx in legally set traps over a 15-year period. In 2014, within a few weeks of the federal permit being granted to the state, two lynx died in conibear traps set on leaning poles. With Friday’s announcement that another lynx died in a legally set trap, the wildlife advocates are considering additional legal action.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

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 

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.

Shoot. Shovel. Shut Up.

By Justin Taus

While these may sound like words of wisdom from a mafia movie, they are actually the three steps of a process known as the 3-S treatment and describe the deadly fate of many species of wildlife in rural areas throughout the Americas.

There are a variety of reasons why people resort to the 3-S treatment, including retaliation against an animal that is preying on livestock, or that the presence of an animal classified as endangered restricts a property owner’s land usage. The failure of authorities to consistently respond to people’s demands for assistance in dealing with wildlife conflicts – as well as some countries’ lax enforcement of wildlife protection laws – only serve to amplify the problem.

One certain poultry-targeting ocelot’s life was recently spared in Ecuador, however, thanks to a combined effort on behalf of the Ministry of Environment, a busy rescue and rehabilitation centre called Merazonia, and a farmer who opted for capture and relocation rather than the 3-S treatment. Pending a positive health assessment by Merazonia’s on-site veterinarian, the spotted wild cat would get another chance at life in the wild, not unlike dozens of other animals released by the centre every year.

Founded in 2004, Merazonia’s 250-acre property is located near the village of Mera – one of the gateways to Ecuador’s Oriente region – where the Andean foothills and lush cloud forests progressively give way to the rainforests of the lowland Amazon basin.

The cloud forest near Mera, Ecuador in January 2016 (Photo: Justin Taus).
The cloud forest near Mera, Ecuador in January 2016 (Photo: Justin Taus).

The centre primarily caters to various species of primates, parrots and other mammals. However, it also assists in collecting data on the region’s cat populations and contributes to their conservation in a variety of ways. In 2015, the centre made national news after it managed to capture images of a rare black melanistic jaguar on one its trap cameras on two different occasions. The same camera, located on a trail through dense forest on the centre’s property, has also photographed other jaguars, pumas, oncillas, jaguarundis, margays and ocelots.

The majority of animals brought to Merazonia are rescues from the illegal wildlife trade, as is the case with an adult puma named Pangui who arrived at the centre in 2011. Extremely emaciated, the puma was one of 30 animals confiscated from a hostel in the Andean highlands where it was kept in a small cage as a tourist attraction. Although the centre initially aimed to release Pangui, it became clear that she was just too domesticated to survive in the wild. It is for this reason that she, like a number of other animals at Merazonia, will live out the rest of their lives in the centre’s large enclosures that are designed to resemble their natural habitats.

Pangui, a rescued Puma patrols her enclosure at Merazonia in January 2016 (Photo: Justin Taus).
Pangui, a rescued Puma patrols her enclosure at Merazonia in January 2016 (Photo: Justin Taus).

Nevertheless, like every true rehabilitation centre, their primary focus is to reintegrate animals back to their forest homes whenever possible. Since its inception, Merazonia has released tens of dozens of animals including primates, reptiles, and cats like oncillas, margays and ocelots.

The story of the ocelot patiently awaiting release, however, is particularly inspiring to Frank Weijand, co-founder of Merazonia, who says it is but one of many positive signs of shifting attitudes in local communities in regards to wildlife conservation. Although he recognizes that some people still resort to the 3-S treatment (which makes it difficult to accurately asses the amount of wildlife being killed), it is increasingly common for people to contact Merazonia to ask for assistance in catching and relocating cats spotted near their neighbourhoods, Weijand says. People have also been more inclined to denounce cases of wild animals being illegally held captive as pets and to report injured animals that are found near roads, he adds.

The fact that cats are being increasingly relocated as opposed to killed is due to the hard work of various conservation NGO’s operating in the field combined with an increase in educational television programs that slowly change the way people see and treat wildlife, says Dr. Rafael Hoogesteijn, Jaguar Program special advisor for Panthera, a worldwide wild cat conservation organization.

Nevertheless, the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species still mentions retaliatory killing due to depredation of poultry as one of the major threats to ocelots’ declining populations, along with habitat loss and fragmentation and the illegal trade of pets and pelts.

An ocelot awaits its relocation in January 2016 (Photo: Justin Taus).
An ocelot awaits its relocation in January 2016 (Photo: Justin Taus).

To promote human-wildlife conflict management practices, Panthera runs workshops for ranchers and cattlemen throughout Latin America, and have launched strategy-testing pilot projects on farms in Costa Rica, Belize, Columbia and Brazil. These workshops have been successful in providing communities with low-cost strategies that help prevent predation in the first place. Being proactive, and constantly developing and improving case-specific strategies eliminates the need for people to resort to the dated solution of killing cats or totally eliminating “problem species”, as is still common practice in certain regions of the United States, Argentina and Chile, Hoogesteijn says.

Furthermore, shooting at cats may only worsen livestock predation issues, as Panthera’s studies have found that a high number of “problem cats” had been previously injured by gunshot, causing them to rely on domesticated prey which is much easier to catch and kill, he adds.

In addition to education and outreach programs, an effective feline conservation strategy must also include the establishment of protected areas of adequate size, an increase in monitoring and enforcement of wildlife protection laws, and the need for ranchers to be able to profit from implementing conservation measures on their lands through reward systems, according to Panthera’s Anti-Predation Strategies for Cattle Ranching in Latin America: A Guide. However, Ecuador is one of only three countries throughout the ocelot’s entire range in which they are not protected, according to the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission Cat Specialist Group. This makes the prospects of such a conservation strategy being enacted in the country seem particularly troublesome.

Eventually, the Ministry of Environment completed its paperwork and gave the green light for the ocelot’s relocation in late January 2016. After a quick inspection in the clinic, a team of three Merazonia coordinators set out for the chosen relocation site, Llanganates National Park – a location known to hold healthy populations of cats.

Merazonia coordinators Thomas Ottenhoff (left) and Jason Howard transport the ocelot to the clinic on the day of its release (Photo: Justin Taus).
Merazonia coordinators Thomas Ottenhoff (left) and Jason Howard transport the ocelot to the clinic on the day of its release (Photo: Justin Taus).

Once on site, the team started their journey into the jungle accompanied by members of the ministry. Coordinators Thomas Ottenhoff, Jason Howard and Jeni Taylor took turns carrying the cat in pairs, aided by a long pole to which the transport cage was attached. After 45 minutes, they encountered a major obstacle – the turbid waters of a fast-flowing river.

It wasn’t until they were half way through the river that they realized the gravity of the situation, as they suddenly stepped into a frigid, waist-deep pool. As the strong current pushed against them they struggled to hold the cage high in the air to avoid submerging the cat as they fought to regain their balance. To make matters worse, the cat had begun to stress, causing her to repeatedly claw at Ottenhoff’s hands, which were just out of reach.

Once on firm ground on the opposing bank, the cat promptly relaxed as it actively sniffed out its new surroundings. Soon after, upon a high ridge, the team opened the cage door and quietly backed off. After a minute or two, the ocelot calmly exited, and within seconds had vanished into the dark forest. Ecstatic, the team gave each other a high-five and stood there for a minute, not speaking, just smiling.

“It was so cool,“ Taylor recalls of the moment every wildlife rehabilitator dreams of, “you can’t top that feeling of watching such a beautiful animal go back to where it belongs.”

Jeni Taylor (from left), Thomas Ottenhoff, Jason Howard, and members of the Ecuador Ministry of Environment moments before the ocelots' release (photo supplied by Thomas Ottenhoff).
Jeni Taylor (from left), Thomas Ottenhoff, Jason Howard, and members of the Ecuador Ministry of Environment moments before the ocelots’ release (photo supplied by Thomas Ottenhoff).

Author Justin Taus can be reached on Twitter @JustinTaus and his Instagram contact is justintaus

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