West African lions in danger


This video is called Wild West African lion cub at the Yankari Game Reserve in Nigeria eating a warthog.

From Wildlife Extra:

The West African Lion is dangerously close to extinction

January 2014: The African lion is facing extinction across the entire West African region reveals a paper authored by Panthera‘s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr Philipp Henschel, and a team from West Africa, the UK, Canada and the United States.

The West African lion once ranged continuously from Senegal to Nigeria, but now, says the scientists, there are just 250 adult lions left in five countries; Senegal, Nigeria and a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.

These results follow a massive survey effort that took six years and covered 11 countries where lions were presumed to exist in the last two decades.

Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter said: “Lions have undergone a catastrophic collapse in West Africa. The countries that have managed to retain them are struggling with pervasive poverty and very little funding for conservation.”

The West African lion is genetically distinct from the lions of in East and southern Africa.

“West African lions have unique genetic sequences not found in any other lions, including in zoos or captivity,” explained Dr. Christine Breitenmoser, the co-chair of the IUCN/SCC Cat Specialist Group, which determines the conservation status of wild cats around the world. “If we lose the lion in West Africa, we will lose a unique, locally adapted population found no-where else. It makes their conservation even more urgent.”

Lions have disappeared across Africa as human populations and their livestock herds have grown, competing for land with lions and other wildlife. Wild savannas are converted for agriculture and cattle, the lion’s natural prey is hunted out and lions are killed by pastoralists fearing the loss of their herds.

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Wild cats in the Netherlands


This video, recorded in Germany, is about European wild cats.

Three years ago, there was wildlife research with camera traps in Limburg province in the southern Netherlands. Then, no lynxes or wild cats were seen.

In 2013, there was research again. This time, the cameras recorded five wild cats. Once, a hiker found a dead wild cat. No lynxes again.

Animals were attracted to the camera traps by food, like peanut butter or fish oil. Pine martens, beech martens, polecats, red foxes, wild boars and others were seen as well.

See also here.

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Canada lynx news from Vermont


This video is called CANADIAN LYNX – Amazing Animal Species.

From Associated Press in the USA:

Canada lynx may be on rise in northeast Vermont

Updated 12:08 pm, Saturday, December 28, 2013

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Although rarely seen, the Canada lynx appears to be increasing in number in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, an encouraging sign for a species the state considers endangered.

Refuge Manager Mark Maghini of the Nulhegan Basin wildlife refuge says as many as six or more of the snow-loving cats may live in the area. The 20-inch tall animal is known for its large feet, which act as snowshoes.

In the last century, the elusive animals were pushed out of the state — and many other parts of the country — largely because of the destruction of their forest habitat.

“It’s really kind of cool to see a formerly extirpated species start to reappear, and I think even more so to have a species on a national wildlife refuge,” Maghini said.

The basin lies within the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

“You have a nice mix of protected federal lands, and those lands happen to provide habitat for a federally listed species,” Maghini said.

The federal government lists Canada lynx as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, while Vermont gives the species the more critical designation of endangered within the state.

In winter 2012, federal and state biologists set out to survey 26,000 acres and found a female lynx with three young, confirming a breeding population, Maghini said. A lynx also walked in front of a trail camera in broad daylight last winter, giving an unimpeded view of the animal.

Just a few weeks ago, Maghini said, he saw fresh lynx tracks while opening the gate on a snowmobile trail.

The lynx’s favored prey is the snow hare, abundant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, which also provides the dense forests with a conifer mix where lynx thrive, Maghini said.

For the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service highlighted the lynx found in Vermont. The federal law was passed to protect and, in some cases, restore plant and animal species across the country.

Besides the lynx, Vermont is home to several imperiled species, including the dwarf wedgemussel and the northeastern bulrush plant. More recently, the northern long-eared bat, a species devastated by the disease called white nose syndrome, has been suggested as an addition to the list.

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Snow leopard news from Nepal


This video is called Full Documentary: Natural World: Snow Leopard – Beyond the Myth.

From the World Wildlife Fund:

Snow leopard successfully collared in Nepal’s Himalayas

18 December 2013

Kathmandu, NepalNepal created new strides in snow leopard conservation with the historic collaring of a snow leopard using satellite GPS technology in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area in the Sacred Himalayan Landscape.

The snow leopard, an adult male approximately five years of age, weighing 40kg and with a body length of 193cm was captured, fitted with a GPS Plus Globalstar collar (Vectronics Aerospace Inc., Germany) and released back into the wild at 10:45am on 25th November 2013.

The collaring expedition that lasted 45 days beginning 7th November was led by the Government of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation with the support of WWF, Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities Project funded by USAID, National Trust for Nature Conservation, and Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council/Snow Leopard Conservation Committee-Ghunsa. WWF Nepal provided both financial and technical support for the collaring expedition.

“The snow leopard collaring is indeed a new win for Nepal,” stated Mr. Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. “It reiterates the commitment of the government to strengthen measures to better understand and protect the snow leopard whose survival is under threat from anthropogenic actions and the pervasive impacts of global climate change.”

This is the first time that satellite-GPS technology is being used in snow leopard collaring in Nepal. Prior collaring work on the species used VHF technology in the early 80s and 90s. The collaring expedition also marks the first time that local communities through citizen scientists and Snow Leopard Conservation Committees have been involved and who played a key role in identifying snow leopard hotspots for tracking purposes through ongoing camera trap monitoring operations, participating in the collaring operations, and managing local logistics.

Snow leopards are highly elusive creatures and given the terrains they reside in, monitoring work on the species is a highly challenging task,” stated Dr. Narendra Man Babu Pradhan, Coordinator for Development, Research and Monitoring at WWF Nepal. “While past studies on the snow leopard have been limited to areas that are accessible to people, this technology will help provide important information on the ecology and behavior of the wide ranging snow leopard.”

Through data received from the satellite collar, it will be possible to determine their movement patterns, habitat use and preferences, home ranges to identify critical core habitats and corridors between them, including trans-boundary habitat linkages and climate resilient habitats.

“Nepal’s Himalayas are a rich mosaic of pristine habitat, freshwater and wildlife species including the iconic snow leopard,” stated Mr. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal. “The success of the collaring expedition opens up new frontiers in snow leopard conservation as well as new avenues to profile Nepal as a living laboratory to help build on international collaboration in conservation science.”

The existing snow leopard conservation projects in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area include snow leopard monitoring using camera traps and prey-base monitoring with the partnership of local citizen scientists and Snow Leopard Conservation Committees, a population genetic study using fecal DNA, and a livestock insurance scheme built at reducing human-snow leopard conflict.

“The snow leopard conservation program has given the local communities the opportunity to build their own capacities in snow leopard monitoring,” stated Mr. Himali Chungda Sherpa, Chairperson of the Snow Leopard Conservation Committee-Ghunsa. “This is further aiding the overall understanding amongst the local communities on the importance of protecting the species thereby building on our commitment towards snow leopard conservation.”

Italian medical soldier jailed for saving cat’s life?


Doctor Barbara Balanzoni

Nearly a century ago, in World War I, British military top brass ordered a cat to be shot for treason.

Now, in 2013, an Italian woman doctor may have to spend a year or more in a military jail for saving a cat’s life.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Italian army reservist to be prosecuted for saving cat’s life in Kosovo

Barbara Balanzoni, who saved dying cat while serving as a medical officer at a Nato base, is charged with insubordination

John Hooper in Rome

Sunday 22 December 2013 15.35 GMT

A question is to be raised in the Italian parliament over the case of an army officer who was sent for trial at a military court last week for saving the life of a dying cat.

Lieutenant Barbara Balanzoni, a reservist who has since returned to her civilian job as an anaesthetist in Tuscany, is charged with gross insubordination. She committed the alleged offence while serving as medical officer at a Nato base in Kosovo.

It is claimed that, by attending to the cat, Lt Balanzoni disregarded an order issued by her commanding officer in May 2012 forbidding troops at the base from “bringing in or having brought in wild, stray or unaccompanied animals”. She faces a minimum sentence of one year in a military penitentiary.

Lt Balanzoni told the Guardian she intervened after receiving a call to the infirmary from military personnel, alarmed by the noises the cat was making. She said the cat – later named “Agata” – normally lived on the roof of a hut.

“There are lots of cats on the base,” she said. “In theory, they are strays, but in practice they belong there.”

Lt Balanzoni said the veterinary officer was in Italy when she received the call. “Far from disobeying orders, I was following military regulations, which state that, in the absence of a vet, the medical officer should intervene.”

She said she found that the cat had been unable to deliver the last of her kittens, which was stillborn, and was certain to die. “If the cat had died, the entire area would have had to be disinfected. What is more, the surviving kittens could not have been fed. So they too would have died and created an even greater public health problem.”

Lt Balanzoni’s trial is due to open in Rome on 7 February. Her case has been taken up by Italy’s oldest animal defence association, the Ente Nazionale Protezione Animali and a question to the defence minister is due to be tabled in the Senate, the upper house of the Italian legislature, when parliament reassembles after the Christmas break.

See also here.

Lynx caught on camera in Armenia


This video says about itself:

3 Dec 2013

Camera-trap footage of a Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx), from WLT’s Armenian partner FPWC (Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets).

Further proof of FPWC’s successful conservation work.

From Wildlife Extra:

Lynx caught on camera in Caucasus Wildlife Refuge

December 2013: Fleeting footage of a Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) has been recorded in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge in Armenia on a camera-trap funded by World Land Trust (WLT).

The Eurasian Lynx was once quite common in all of Europe but, by the middle of the 19th century, it had disappeared from most countries in Central and Western Europe.

Although registered as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, the sighting is nonetheless significant because numbers of Eurasian Lynx in Armenia have declined, and are now very rarely seen.

The Eurasian Lynx has a short tail, long whiskers on its face, and tufts of black hair on the tips of its ears. Its paws are large and padded, and the legs relatively long, designed for walking through snow. The colouring and markings of its fur varies and can be medium brown, tawny or beige-white, occasionally with dark brown spots.

The Eurasian Lynx lives throughout the mountainous forests of Europe, Russia and Central Asia and is the third largest predator in Europe after the Brown Bear and the Grey Wolf. It is the largest of the lynx species. It is a carnivorous, opportunistic predator, consuming up to two kilograms of meat every day. In the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge the Eurasian Lynx feeds on small mammals such as foxes and rabbits.

The reserve is managed by WLT’s conservation partner in Armenia, the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC).

New wild cat species discovery in Brazil


Leopardus guttulus, the new species. Image credit: Trigo TC et al.

From Wildlife Extra:

A new species of wild cat has been identified living in Brazil

November 2013: Scientists had thought that there was just one single species of the housecat-sized Brazilian tigrina, Leopardus tigrinus. However, the latest DNA evidence show that the tigrinas that occupy northeastern Brazil are a completely separate species from their southern counterparts, now called Leopardus guttulus, with no evidence of interbreeding between them.

A team of researchers led by Dr Eduardo Eizirik from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, and Tatiane Trigo of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul examined samples of DNA from the two species and found them to be evolutionary distinct, having been separated by at least 100,000 years.

The two tigrina species, the researchers suggest, are suited to different habitats, with the northeastern cats living primarily in savannahs, as well as dry shrub lands and forests, and the southern species living in denser and wetter Atlantic forests.

“Such distinct habitat associations provide a hint to potentially adaptive differences between these newly recognized species and may have been involved in their initial evolutionary divergence,” says Tatiane Trigo.
“Our study highlights the need for urgent attention focused on the Brazilian northeastern tigrinas, which are virtually unknown with respect to most aspects of their biology,” says Eduardo Eizirik.

See also here. And here.

The scientific description of the new species is here.

Saving South African leopards with fake fur


This video is called Leopard [HD Documentary].

From SouthAfrica.info (Johannesburg):

South Africa: Imitation Fur Project to Save Leopards

14 November 2013

High-quality imitation leopard skins will be given to members of the Shembe community in South Africa to use in their traditional ceremonies in an innovative project to protect the endangered big cat.

Panthera, a US-based conservation organisation, has partnered with logistics company DHL to ship the faux furs to Africa, DHL said in a statement on Wednesday. DHL will ship the imitation skins from manufacturers in China to South Africa on a pro bono basis.

Leopard skins have become customary ceremonial attire worn by the more than 5-million members of the Shembe church, DHL’s Anita Gupta said.

The skins – or amambatha as they are known locally – were used as ceremonial and religious dress by Zulu royalty and chiefs, symbolising beauty, power and prestige. They have become popular among male Shembe members, with more than 1 000 skins being worn at a single gathering.

“Although many skins are old and are passed down from generation to generation, many new ones are a result of poaching, leading to shrinking leopard numbers,” Gupta said.

‘Amambatha’

About 2 000 imitation leopard traditional shoulder capes have already been shipped by DHL for the project.

Panthera is working with Shembe leadership to educate its members about the leopard crisis across southern Africa. It says it has partnered with digital designers and clothing companies to create a “high-quality, affordable faux leopard skin” for use in ceremonies.

“The Shembe have shown they are willing to embrace the use of our high-quality alternatives to real leopard skin – that translates to 1 000 leopards saved from poachers,” said Luke Hunter, the president of Panthera.

Lizwi Ncwane, a Shembe elder and legal advisor, is quoted as saying: “As a leader of the Shembe community, I have seen firsthand how receptive my community is to using these fake skins. We’re grateful that Panthera has worked with us in finding a solution that interweaves the conservation of leopards with the customs of the Shembe.”

See also here.

Did big cats evolve in Tibet?


This video about African lions is called Big Cats Of The Timbavati – National Geographic Wild Documentary.

From the BBC:

13 November 2013, Last updated at 00:19 GMT

Oldest big cat fossil found in Tibet

By James Morgan, Science reporter, BBC News

The oldest big cat fossils ever found – from a previously unknown species “similar to a snow leopard” – have been unearthed in the Himalayas.

The skull fragments of the newly-named Panthera blytheae have been dated between 4.1 and 5.95 million years old.

Their discovery in Tibet supports the theory that big cats evolved in central Asia – not Africa – and spread outward.

The findings by US and Chinese palaeontologists are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

They used both anatomical and DNA data to determine that the skulls belonged to an extinct big cat, whose territory appears to overlap many of the species we know today.

“This cat is a sister of living snow leopards – it has a broad forehead and a short face. But it’s a little smaller – the size of clouded leopards,” said lead author Dr Jack Tseng of the University of Southern California.

“This ties up a lot of questions we had on how these animals evolved and spread throughout the world.

“Biologists had hypothesised that big cats originated in Asia. But there was a division between the DNA data and the fossil record.”

Surprising find

The so-called “big cats” – the Pantherinae subfamily – includes lions, jaguars, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards.

DNA evidence suggests they diverged from their cousins the Felinae – which includes cougars, lynxes, and domestic cats – about 6.37 million years ago.

But the earliest fossils previously found were just 3.6 million years old – tooth fragments uncovered at Laetoli in Tanzania, the famous hominin site excavated by Mary Leakey in the 1970s.

The new fossils were dug up on an expedition in 2010 in the remote Zanda Basin in southwestern Tibet, by a team including Dr Tseng and his wife Juan Liu – a fellow palaeontologist.

They found over 100 bones deposited by a river eroding out of a cliff, including the crushed – but largely complete – remains of a big cat skull.

“We were very surprised to find a cat fossil in that basin,” Dr Tseng told BBC News.

“Usually we find antelopes and rhinos, but this site was special. We found multiple carnivores – badgers, weasels and foxes.”

Among the bones were seven skull fragments, belonging to at least three individual cats, including one nearly complete skull.

The fragments were dated using magnetostratigraphy – which relies on historical reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field recorded in layers of rock.

They ranged between 4.10 and 5.95 million years old, the complete skull being around 4.4 million years of age.

“This is a very significant finding – it fills a very wide gap in the fossil record,” said Dr Manabu Sakamoto of the University of Bristol, an expert on Pantherinae evolution.

“The discovery presents strong support for the Asian origin hypothesis for the big cats.

“It gives us a great insight into what early big cats may have looked like and where they may have lived.”

However, Prof William Murphy of Texas A&M University, another expert on the evolutionary relationship of big cats, questioned whether the new species was really a sister of the snow leopard.

“The authors’ claim that this skull is similar to the snow leopard is very weakly supported based on morphological characters alone, and this morphology-based tree is inconsistent with the DNA-based tree of living cats,” he told BBC News.

“It remains equally probable that this fossil is ancestral to the living big cats. More complete skeletons would be beneficial to confirm their findings.”

Dr Tseng and his team plan to return to the fossil site in Tibet next summer to search for more specimens.

See also here.