Cat in Thin Air project launched!

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The Andean Mountain Cat has been in my heart for a very long time. It is a high altitude specialist and less than 2.500 remain. This is not another sad depressing environmental story however. The Andean Cat has a real chance at survival, but its up to us who care to make sure that happens. The Andean Cat Alliance has been working exclusively on this amazing species since 1999, and they have made real progress. Since however there are less than 10 high resolution pictures of this cat in existence, I want to do my part in helping the Andean Cat by getting more high resolution pictures which can then be used to introduce a ton more people to the cat.

And so, the Cat in Thin Air Project was born. The goals of the project are to first get more pictures of this very elusive cat, but then, and much more importantly help with established education programs as well as create additional avenues to show the cat to the world. Have an interest in wild cats, go check out the project page, want to help? Email me!

Wild Cat Profile: Arabian Caracal

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) in forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) in forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Anytime before I go into the field I research the species I am intending to photograph intensively. Sometimes, the information available isn’t very extensive–this is often because the species is very elusive (which is also why I am sent in to photograph them using camera traps) or simply has not been studied much. This is the case for the Arabian Caracal, which was one of the species I was looking for when I went to Yemen. I mean, it doesn’t even have its own wikipedia page.

Therefor, to those looking for information on this amazing wild cat, I wanted to share the information I have found from different sources as well as my own personal observations about the Arabian Caracal.

Names
Arabian Caracal, Asian Caracal, Indian Caracal, Desert Lynx

Taxonomy
Latin Name: Caracal caracal schmitzi

The Arabian Caracal is one of the seven subspecies of Caracal (this simply means that it is a type of Caracal, and in theory it should be able to reproduce with any of the other subspecies of Caracal). Caracals belongs to the Caracal lineage and is therefor closely related to the Serval and African Golden Cat. Previously it had been placed in the Felis and Lynx genera, but molecular evidence has placed it in its own (monophyletic) genus.

Distribution

Overall Caracal range with the Arabian Caracal range denoted in red - Copyright Panthera and IUCN Cat Specialist Group

Overall Caracal range with the Arabian Caracal range denoted in red – Copyright Panthera and IUCN Cat Specialist Group

The Arabian Caracal is found in the Middle East as well as central and south west Asia. It’s range extends over the following countries: Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Description
The Arabian Caracal is a medium sized cat (though in broader terms it would fall into the small cat category). The Arabian Caracal subspecies is the smallest subspecies of Caracal. Its tawny brown fur with a white underside is lighter in coloration than the African subspecies. It has a slender body, with long legs. Its conspicuous features are its triangular ears, which have 4-5 cm long black hair tufts. Its tail is short relative to its body size and is about a third of its head and body length. It has hairs between its pads, to protect them when traveling over hot rocks or sand. The subspecies exhibits sexual dimorphism with males being larger than females.

Habitat

Shrubland, forest, and rocky outcrops are the perfect Arabian Caracal habitat - Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Shrubland, forest, and rocky outcrops are the perfect Arabian Caracal habitat – Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Forest and outcrops, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Forest and outcrops, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Caracals are found in this habitat, but probably not as high of densities - dried valleys (wadis), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Caracals are found in this habitat, but probably not in as high of densities – dried valleys (wadis), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

The Arabian Caracal uses a variety of habitats but prefers drier woodland and semi-desert habitats. It requires some form of cover and is therefor associated with vegetated or rocky areas. It is not found in a true desert environment (this is also shown by the range map, as much of Saudi Arabia is a true desert).

Activity

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) at night, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) at night, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

The Arabian Caracal is solitary, and only comes together with a conspecific for breeding. It is mostly active at night, especially in areas affected by humans, but can also be day active. In winter, with lower average temperatures, it will be more active during the day. On average, they will travel 6-9 km over the span of a night. In Saudi Arabia, resting sites consisted of dirt overhangs and the base of mature shrubs, in dry river valleys (wadis) and drainage areas.

Predation

Potential Arabian Caracal prey - Arabian Partridges (Alectoris melanocephala)  in forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen - notice it is the same location as the Caracal shot above.

Potential Arabian Caracal prey – Arabian Partridges (Alectoris melanocephala) in forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen – notice it is the same location as the Caracal shot above.

The Arabian Caracal primarily feeds on rodents and birds, but will also take small desert gazelles, hares, hyraxes, reptiles, and invertebrates. Though quite a capable climber, it hunts mostly on the ground. It will approach its prey in a slow stalk, after which it pounces on its prey. When hunting birds, it has the ability to jump up to two meters in the air, to swat its prey out of the sky.

Livestock, in the form of chickens, goats, and sheep, are sometimes preyed upon. In non-protected areas, these can make up a significant part of its diet.

It will also scavenge readily — in Saudi Arabia, it was observed to scavenge on dead Camels and Gazelles.

When no water is available, the Caracal can get the water it needs from its prey.

Social Organization
Due to the arid climate, which supports less prey, the home range size of the Arabian Caracal is much larger than that of the other Caracal subspecies. One male in Saudi Arabia had a home range size of 270 km² in winter and spring, which increased to 448 km² by the end of summer (it even eventually increased to 1116 km²). In an Israeli study, the home ranges of male Arabian Caracals averaged 220.6 km². This is a large difference when compared to the wetter environments of South Africa, where the home ranges of males averaged 26.9 km². Additionally, the Arabian Caracal has not been found to use a core area (an area most time is spent), unlike the subspecies in Africa. This may be due to the lack of prey densities.

Although unknown specifically for the Arabian Caracal, males territories are probably larger than female territories (as is the case for the other subspecies) and will encompass multiple females for one male.

The young will leave their natal home range at around 9-10 months.

Communication
The Arabian Caracal has a multitude of vocalizations including growls, spits, hisses, barks, and meows. To communicate without direct contact, they will scent mark, deposit feces, and spray urine as part of territorial marking and to denote mating prowess. Smells can be picked up over larger distances through the vomeronasal organ.

Reproduction and Development
Age at Sexual Maturity: males – 12.5-15 months; females – 14-16 months
Birth Season: unknown, but most likely in the spring
Estrus: 5-6 days
Estrus Cycle: 14 days
Litter Size: unknown in the wild, in captivity they give birth to 1-3 kittens
Gestation: 78-80 days
Longevity: unknown in the wild, in captivity they have lived up to 19 years

Population Status
Though the species as a whole is common through much of its range (the IUCN classifies it as Least Concern), the populations which the Arabian Caracal comprises are the rarest. Population counts have not been completed or estimated in recent times, but even old estimates in Pakistan and Iran, labeled the subspecies as being rare. The overall population trend is unknown, but Jordon reported a declining trend.

Main Threats

Hunting is the major threat to Arabian Caracals - Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Hunting is the major threat to Arabian Caracals – Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Hunting is the major threat to this feline. As some individuals predate on livestock, many farmers will kill any Caracal they see on site.

Overgrazing caused by livestock, like this camel, leads to less vegetation, which leads to less food for native herbivores, and therefor a decrease in the native prey of the Arabian Caracals.

Overgrazing caused by livestock, like this camel, leads to less vegetation, which leads to less food for native herbivores, and therefor a decrease in the native prey of the Arabian Caracals.

Habitat destruction through agriculture, overgrazing, and desertification is the second biggest threat to the survival of the Arabian Caracal.

Conservation
Hunting of the Arabian Caracal is prohibited in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. From my personal observations in Yemen, where truth be told no hunting restrictions exist, it would not have mattered if they had. If a local would have seen one of the animals, he would have most likely tried to shoot it since they were perceived to be a threat to their livestock.

The subspecies is categorized as Appendix I by CITES, which means they are considered to be threatened with extinction and are subsequently prohibited from the international trade in specimens of this subspecies.

A positive for the subspecies is that due to its adaptability it is able to recolonize areas after eradication. It can live in human areas, if there is no direct persecution. With better protection of livestock, this species can survive well even in areas inhabited by people.

Captive Status
There are about twenty five Arabian Caracals in captivity today (or to be more accurate, this number represents the animals officially registered as being captive and does not take into account any illegally held individuals). Most of these animals are in the middle east, with the exception of Moscow Zoological Park, Russia and Melbourne Zoo in Australia which both have an adult male in their collections. The average life span for an Arabian Caracal in captivity is 4.4 years (range 1 day to 19 years).

An interesting fact to me was that out of the 45 deaths that have been noted historically, 9 were caused by injuries from an exhibit mate, five of those from animals less than four months old. Why are kittens killing each other, and is this limited to the captive population?

Traditionally, Arabian Caracals were tamed by people in India and Iran to be used for hunting and for sport in which they had two Caracals compete to see which could kill more birds in a flock of pigeons.

Bibliography
Avenant, N. L. and Nel, J. A. J. 1998. Home-range use, activity, and density of caracal in relation to prey density. African Journal of Ecology 36: 347-359.
Avenant, N. L. and Nel, J. A. J. 2002. Among habitat variation in prey availability and use by caracal Felis caracal. Mammalian Biology 67: 18-33.
Budd, J. 2011. European Regional Studbook for the Asiatic Caracal. Report: 1-46. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife.
Bunaian, F., Hatough, A., Ababaneh, D., Mashaqbeh, S., Yousef, M., and Amr, Z. (2014). The carnivores of the northeastern Badia, Jordan. Turkish Journal of Zoology 25: 19-25.
Divyabhanusinh. 1995. The end of a trail – The cheetah in India. Banyan Books, New Delhi, India.
Eizirik, E., Johnson, W. E. and O’Brien, S. J. Submitted. Molecular systematics and revised classification of the family Felidae (Mammalia, Carnivora). Journal of Mammalogy.
IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 5 October 2008).
Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
Roberts, T. 1984. Cats in Pakistan. In Jackson, P. (Ed). Proceedings from the Cat Specialist Group meeting in Kanha National Park. p. 151-154.
Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. In press. Caracal caracal. In: J. S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa, Academic Press, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Stuart, C. T. 1982. Aspects of the biology of the caracal (Felis caracal) in the Cape Province, South Africa. M.S. Thesis, University of Natal.
Stuart et al, 1995. Minute to Midnight. Arabian Leopard Trust.
Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. 1996. Report from the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. African-Arabian Wildlife Research Centre.
Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press.
Thalen DCP. 2005. The caracal lynx (Caracal caracal schmitzi) in Iraq. Earlier and new records, habitat and distribution. Bull Nat Hist Res Center 6(1):1-23.
Van Heezik, Y. M. and Seddon, P. J. 1998. Range size and habitat use of an adult male caracal in northern Saudi Arabia. Journal of Arid Environments 40: 109-112.
Weisbein, Y. and Mendelssohn, H. 1990. The biology and ecology of the caracal (Felis caracal) in the Aravah Valley of Israel. Cat News 12: 20-22.
Winger, J. 2005. “Smithsonian Zoogoer” At the Zoo: Caracals, A Black-Eared Mystery. Accessed April 16, 2009 at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/ZooGoer/2005/6/caracals.cfm

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) in forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) in forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

California Wildlife Gallery on BBC Wildlife’s Website

The magazine posted seventeen of my California Wildlife pictures on their website!

The magazine posted seventeen of my California Wildlife pictures on their website!

The editors at BBC Wildlife magazine just let me know that my story pitch made it to the final round of selection for their BBC Wildlife Photographic Grant, sponsored by Kowa. Though I did not get the grand prize, I am honored that the editors picked my pitch to be in the final and that they asked me to submit a gallery of images for their website. Thank you photo editors! And am very much looking forward to finding out who the overall winner is in a couple of days!

Thank you for 2014!

In my profession it is often simply impossible to get the picture without the help of other people. To follow up on the Reviewing the 2014 Photographic Year post, I would like to thank those amazing people and organizations who made it possible for 2014 to be such an awesome year.

People

I first traveled to Uganda to try and photograph the African Golden Cat (this was my second try as this species was also my goal in Gabon last year). In Uganda I teamed up with David Mills who has been studying these elusive cats for the last four years. David and Laila Bhaa-el-din (from Gabon), are the experts on this species. For most information that is known about this felid, either of the two had a hand in attaining it. David is currently finishing up his PhD looking at thousands of camera trap images along with other data to determine the ecology about the Golden Cat in the eastern part of its range.

We were able to get two series of pictures of two different grey morphed African Golden Cats, all due to you, David. Thank you also David for your generosity, your willingness to help, not letting me be killed by that charging elephant, but most importantly your friendship! (Also for all of your help with setting up camera traps in Scotland!!!)

African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata aurata) researcher, David Mills, placing camera trap on tree, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata aurata) researcher, David Mills, placing camera trap on tree, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Alongside David, was Sam Isoke. Sam has been conducting wildlife research in Uganda for over two decades. He has also been assisting David since the start and knows as much as there is to know about the African Golden Cat. While I was there, Sam was even afflicted with a bout of Malaria. Unwavering, after a few days rest, he was right back in the jungle!

Thank you Sam for guiding me through the forest, helping me set up camera traps, your amazing cooking, and the great conversations.

African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata aurata) researcher, Sam Isoke, stepping between buttress roots in rainforest, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata aurata) researcher, Sam Isoke, stepping between buttress roots in rainforest, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

I had the privilege of joining an anti-poaching team for two days as they looked for illegal activity in the forest. Both John Okwilo and Godfrey Nyesiga are extraordinary men as they head into the jungle every day, possibly risking their lives to protect the forest and the animals that live within it. During the two days I was with them, they found numerous examples of illegal logging activity and they removed both a neck and a foot snare, directly saving the lives of at least two animals.

Thank you John and Godfrey for allowing me to join you, but more importantly for the great conservation work you are doing in Kibale National Park!

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Anti-poaching snare removal team member, John Okwilo, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Anti-poaching snare removal team member, Godfrey Nyesiga, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Anti-poaching snare removal team member, Godfrey Nyesiga, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

A very heartfelt thank you also to Florence, who washed my extremely dirty clothes and ironed all of them to ensure that all potential Mango Fly eggs that may have been laid on them were killed. Thank you Florence for your smile, your help, and your beautiful fabric!

Florence, Kibale National Park, Uganda

Florence, Kibale National Park, Uganda

Francis, thank you for getting me and all of my gear safely in and out of the field. Thank you for your patience, your help, and your willingness to answer all of my questions!

Francis driving, Uganda

Francis driving, Uganda

Due to the help of Michelle Anne, I was able to go into a local classroom to photograph the educational outreach programs that David initiated and that Michelle manages and impliments. These lessons teach the children about the nearby forest, what animals live in them, and why those animals are important. It’s incredibly important information that most of these children would never otherwise receive. Thank you Michelle for your continued persistence to the cause and for sharing your work with me.

Michelle Anne in elementary school classroom, western Uganda

Michelle Anne in elementary school classroom, western Uganda

After Uganda came Scotland, where I was looking for the Scottish Wildcat. Kerry Kilshaw has been studying these small cats in the eastern part of the country for quite a while there. She finished her data collection last year and is now in the process of writing up her dissertation. She has helped the government on multiple occasions to answer the questions about Scotland’s largest carnivore. The Scottish Wildcat has a much better chance at survival with Kerry’s knowledge and research.

Thank you Kerry for all of your generous help as the Scottish Wild cat picture exists because of you, for helping with the organization, and for driving all the way to meet me, all while taking care of a toddler!

Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) biologist, Kerry Kilshaw, Scotland, United Kingdom

Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) biologist, Kerry Kilshaw, Scotland, United Kingdom

And finally, I would like to thank my fiance Kailani, because of her, we went abroad (since she was doing her PhD research), which meant that I was able to spend time in France, Spain, England, Wales, and Australia. Being with you is always the most fun and all the adventures we have together mean the most to me. Thank you for being so supportive and for caring so much about what I treasure. I love you.

Kailani photographing, Sierra de Andujar Natural Park, Sierra de Andujar, Sierra Morena, Andalusia, Spain

Kailani photographing, Sierra de Andujar Natural Park, Sierra de Andujar, Sierra Morena, Andalusia, Spain

Organizations

Like last year, I would like to thank (my gratitude is really beyond words) the cat conservation organization Panthera. Their continued efforts in saving wild cats is immediately apparent and it is a true honor to have had the privilege to work together last year (and as always, I very much look forward to working together in the new year!). Please keep doing what you are doing; cats and people all over the world are thankful for it. To the general public, please donate to them, if you are in any way interested in cat conservation. 100% of your donation will go directly into the field!Panthera_Logo_wider

 

WildCRU, an Oxford based research unit, who often partners with Panthera, conducts carnivore research all over the world. Many of the researchers I have worked with in the past, including last year are associated with them. WildCRU also allowed me to photograph their Badger work this last year, for which I am very grateful. Please check out their website for more information.

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Reviewing the 2014 Photographic Year

As is becoming tradition, I wanted to review the last year and see what goals I was able to accomplish from my bucket list. Last year was quite amazing as I traveled to six different countries to spend almost all of 2014 abroad. This provided many opportunities to have some very unique experiences.

I am including only the highlights from this year in this post (for the full list just click the link above). I am also only showing one or two images of each species/location, if you want to see all the pictures from that subject just click that name and the link will take you to the appropriate gallery.

Visit and or Explore
Tropical Rainforests (Adding to last years jungle adventures was a four week trip in June to Uganda)

Tropical rainforest in swamp, Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, Magombe Swamp, western Uganda

Tropical rainforest in swamp, Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, Magombe Swamp, western Uganda

Australia (2014)

Gum Tree (Eucalyptus sp) forest, Murramarang National Park, New South Wales, Australia

Gum Tree (Eucalyptus sp) forest, Murramarang National Park, New South Wales, Australia

Photograph

African Golden Cat (June 2014) – More on that later :)
Scottish Wildcat (September 2014) – More on that later :)

3 species of Civet (Completed this goal with getting a picture of an African Civet in June, 2014)

African Civet (Civettictis civetta) walking through rainforest at night, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

African Civet (Civettictis civetta) walking through rainforest at night, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

This year I added “All 3 Puffin Species” and I have one species of the three after photographing the Atlantic Puffins on Skomer Island:

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

1000 bird species in the wild (I am at 234, having added 44 species this year), just a few here:

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) carrying nesting material, Bay of Somme, Picardy, France

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) carrying nesting material, Bay of Somme, Picardy, France

Red Grouse (Lagopus scoticus) male, Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, United Kingdom

Red Grouse (Lagopus scoticus) male, Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, United Kingdom

Crowned Hornbill (Tockus alboterminatus) male, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Crowned Hornbill (Tockus alboterminatus) male, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) landing with fish prey, Lake Albert, Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Western Rift Valley, Great Rift Valley, western Uganda

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) landing with fish prey, Lake Albert, Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Western Rift Valley, Great Rift Valley, western Uganda

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles), Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles), Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus), Jervis Bay, New South Wales, Australia

Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus), Jervis Bay, New South Wales, Australia

300 mammal species in the wild (I am at 107, having added 10 species this year), just a few here:

L'hoest's Guenon (Cercopithecus lhoesti) in tree, Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, Magombe Swamp, western Uganda

L’hoest’s Guenon (Cercopithecus lhoesti) in tree, Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, Magombe Swamp, western Uganda

Red-tail Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius) in tree, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Red-tail Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius) in tree, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) female chewing grass at sunrise, Mount Taylor Nature Reserve, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) female chewing grass at sunrise, Mount Taylor Nature Reserve, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

20 critically endangered and 50 endangered species (I am at 6 and 22 respectively)

Eastern Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus) mother and young, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Eastern Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus) mother and young, Kibale National Park, western Uganda (endangered species)

Another great year, which always gives me enthusiasm for making next year even better!

How about you, anything particular that you photographed in 2014 that you are really happy/proud of?