Cat in Thin Air project launched!

CatinAirLogo

 

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!

2014 BBC Camera Trap Pictures of the Year Announced

BBC Camera Trap Competition Winner's Gallery

BBC Camera Trap Competition Winner’s Gallery

The results are in for BBC’s Camera Trap Photo of the Year Competition. I have entered some of my SLR camera trap pictures every year into this camera trap photography contest and this year the quality level of images has definitely stepped up in this competition. I think it was smart of them to separate the contest into a research and photography category as that allows for the lower resolution research pictures to shine on the same level as the SLR camera trap shots.

I’d like to first highlight that a good friend of mine, and an amazing biologist, Laila Bahaa-el-din, was commended in the Rare Species category with a beautiful picture of a red morph African Golden Cat. This stunning photograph perfectly fits in the rare species category since it is extremely difficult to get even a camera trap picture of this cat. After nine weeks trying to get a high resolution picture of this species, I was only able to photograph two individuals. Laila has hundreds of pictures and videos of this cat! You deserved this recognition, nice job Laila, I am really happy for you!

I had the honor of sharing an award in this same category of Rare Species with Laila, as the picture of the Marbled Cat got runner up (behind an Iranian Cheetah so, I mean, that’s a given first place!). This picture was a total team effort, to read more check out both of these past blog posts. (Borneo Bay Cat and Thank you for 2013).

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Rare Species Catergory Runner Up: Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

The magazine’s editors always do a separate selection from the winners of the category, in their Editor’s Choice Gallery. This too is another great collection of images (I love the tiger coming out of the darkness), and I was again truly honored to have one of my images associated with such great pictures, photographers, and biologists. It is of a Malay Civet, captured as it is crossing over a buttress root in the dense rainforest of Malaysian Borneo (my friend Andy Hearn and I were trying to get a Sunda Clouded Leopard here, but we’ll take what we can get).

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

There are a few things I am really excited about in regards to the results (I am of course happy that two entries placed, but that’s not important). One, is that the competition winners are filled with cats — in fact nine out of the 39 winning photographs depict one of our feline friends. Better yet, it highlights some of the least known and endangered species in the cat family. This contest allows a lot more people to be exposed to these amazing amazing animals, hopefully converting a few people out there into cat conservationists, or at the very least into more environmentally aware people (how can one not be excited about that?!?!).

I am so very glad BBC has started this competition and it is truly blooming into a great project that is not only entertaining, but also will drive environmental change.

 

Most Endangered Cats in the World

Updated on May 9th, 2017 to reflect new taxonomic decisions made by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group’s Cat Classification Task Force.

Being cat obsessed, I always want to find out more about these amazing animals. So recently I was searching for the most endangered cats in the world. I ended up finding conflicting results (I think this is partially due to the fact that listing certain species is ‘sexier’ than others and that some addressed subspecies while others did not). So I decided to do my own research. It took some time, looking up every subspecies of wild cat, but it was well worth it.  And now, in honor of Endangered Species Day, which was this last Friday I decided to put together a list of the ten most endangered felines in the world. Now a list depends on the parameters set and since the exact numbers of breeding individuals for many subspecies or even species is not known, I will deal only with the numbers that are known.

This is the overall list of the most endangered wild cats in the world, including subspecies and species.

1. Balkan Lynx (Lynx lynx balcanicus)

Balkan Lynx SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size1: 20-39
Population Trend: Decreasing


2. Asiatic Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)

Asiatic Cheetah Silhouette

Status: Critically Endangered
Population Size2: Less than 40
Population Trend: Decreasing


3. Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr)

Arabian Leopard SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size3: 45-200
Population Trend: Decreasing


4. Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)Amur Leopard Silhouette

Status: Critically Endangered
Population Size4: Less than 60
Population Trend: Increasing


5. Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

Iberian Lynx SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size5: ~ 156
Population Trend: Increasing


6. Javan Leopard (Panthera pardus melas)

Javan Leopard SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size6: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


7. Barbary Serval (Leptailurus serval constantina)Barbary Serval SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size7: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


8. Northwest African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki)

Northwest African CheetahStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size8: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


9. Sunda Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) – This subspecies includes the formerly accepted Javan Tiger and Sumatran Tiger subspecies, together lumped into the Sunda Tiger since the reclassification of 2017.9

 

South China Tiger SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size10: 342-509
Population Trend: Decreasing


Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)

Sri Lankan Leopard
Status: Endangered
Population Size11: 700-950
Population Trend: Decreasing

There are a few really interesting things to note when looking at this list. One thing for example is that all but two of these subspecies and species’ population numbers are decreasing (the exceptions being the Amur Leopard and Iberian Lynx). This downward trend is really not a great sign for the survival of these cats in the long run.

Another interesting thing is that seven out of the ten cats are larger cats (though not all of them are classified as Big Cats). Larger animals require larger areas to contain enough prey to sustain themselves. As their habitat is constantly disappearing so do their numbers decrease. The only plus side of this is that if we can protect these large cats, so do we protect lots of habitat not only for them but many other animals as well.

Another thing to note is that only one species (not subspecies) has made the list, the Iberian Lynx. It proves how threatened of extinction this animal really is. Some tiger and lion subspecies have gone extinct due to humans in recent times, but if the Iberian Lynx was to disappear for good, it would be the first cat species to go extinct since the Saber-toothed Cat, which died out 11,000 years ago.

On a personal note, in creating this list, it was amazing was to discover the Balkan Lynx, a subspecies of Eurasian Lynx I had never heard of, and it is the most threatened cat of extinction!

Sources:

  1. Balkan Lynx Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/68986842/0
  2. Asiatic Cheetah Population (2016): Cat News, Special Issue, Number 10, Autumn 2016: Cats in Iran
  3. Arabian Leopard Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  4. Amur Leopard Population (2014): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  5. Iberian Lynx Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12520/0
  6. Javan Leopard Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  7. Barbary Serval Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/11638/0
  8. Northwest African Cheetah Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/221/0
  9. Sunda Tiger Reclassification (2017): Cat news, Special Issue, Number 11, Winter 2017: A revised taxonomy of the Felidae
  10. Sunda Tiger Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15966/0
  11. Sri Lankan Leopard Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0

 

Bornean Bay Cat

Screenshot of Bay Cat story of LIveScience

Screenshot of Bay Cat story on LiveScience

Some of you may have read the Live Science article about the Bay Cat photo that was published last week. If not, you can check it out here. I am really excited that the photograph was published by a media outlet with such a large readership. It even made the front page of yahoo!! Even more importantly, I am ecstatic because the Bay Cat is getting more attention. As an endangered feline it needs all the help it can get.

I do want to elaborate on the article — they have word limits, I do not :). I wanted to discuss the tremendous importance of working with the biologists studying this wild cat to make a photograph of this incredibly elusive feline.

But first some background…

As always before an assignment, I read as much about the Bay Cat before I went into the field. The research allows me to put myself in a better position to either encounter the animal or place the camera traps in the right locations.

As soon as I started reading about this cat, I knew that getting a photograph of it was going to be tough. There was so little known about it. In fact, by 2004 only 12 specimens had ever been found, and direct sightings (known to the outside world) could be counted on one hand. Nothing, besides educated guesses, is known about their predation, social organization, reproduction, and development.

And this isn’t even the case just on a global level, but even on Borneo, which the Bay Cat is endemic to (only found there). Less than 30 percent of people that live in the rainforest who were interviewed in a study could identify the Bay Cat.

The percentage of people able to name the species of Borneo's wild cat - Copyright and All Permission belong to Andrew Hearn

The percentage of people able to name the species of Borneo’s wild cat (Ross et al. 2010)

I left for Sabah, the most northern Malaysian state in Borneo, in February with high hopes and expectations (what can I say, being naive and optimistic is just the way I am). I would have five weeks to get the first ever high resolution picture of a wild Bay Cat. Luckily for me, I would not have to go at this endeavor alone, nor would I have ever had any chance of success without the help of Andrew Hearn and his team.

Andy is the expert on felids in Borneo. He knows everything there is to know about the five species of cats found on the island. In fact, most of the stuff I had read about the species was written by Andy. He has been doing his PhD research on the wild cats here for the last seven years and has seen all of them in person. Like I said, Andy is THE expert.

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) researcher Andrew Hearn checking camera trap, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) researcher Andrew Hearn checking camera trap, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Andy had gotten one or two pictures of the Bay Cat in some of his previous research sites, but none of the cats ever showed up at the same camera set twice. There seemed to be no predictable behavior for this animal. Not a good thing when you only have four digital SLR camera traps and a huge rainforest to put them in. Then, the luck seemed to change our way, at Andy’s latest research site he had gotten four pictures of the same cat at the same camera location. We knew where we had to place our cameras.

Two of them went right along the cats travel path, another 60 feet down the trail and another near a nice buttress root — I figured we may as well go for a pretty picture 🙂

After three weeks we checked the cameras. Besides finding the cameras covered with mold (due to the extreme humidity) there were no cats on the cameras. A very disappointing start, but at least we had gotten a few pictures of the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga).

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

My confidence diminished, my optimism grew slim. A nice punch in the face came when Andy pulled the pictures of this research cameras, next to my SLR camera traps, showing how the Bay Cat had used a different trail this time walking right by my set-up, but also avoiding the camera further down the trail.

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I could hear myself saying “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. This wasn’t the time to give up. We had the cameras in great locations, we just had to hope the cat would return before I had to leave.

Five weeks had almost passed and I was leaving in a few days. We hiked up the hill to check and pack up the cameras. Still, no Bay Cat, but at least we were able to get photographs of both the Marbled Cat and Sunda Clouded Leopard.

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

I returned home excited for having pictures of these species but also disappointed for not having gotten a picture of the Bay Cat. I felt like the ship had sailed on that opportunity. Little did I know that I would return to Borneo to work with Andy once again a few months later. Returning in November we once again placed the cameras in or near areas where Andy had gotten a Bay Cat photograph before using his research trail cameras. This had to be the time, it just had to.

Again things proved difficult. The rain was unrelenting making set-up quit difficult. “Just got to get on with it” is something Andy would always say when he encountered a difficult situation and I admire that about him, but it is also something I have tried taking to heart for myself. Even with the rains, difficult terrain, fire ants, leeches, horse flies, we just had to get on with it. Finally, after six days, all the cameras were in place.

Then, Andy and Gilmore Bolongon (Andy’s former research assistant and now a masters student) had to return to their principal research location on the Kinabatanagan River. I would meet up with them in ten days, right after doing the first camera check.

Arriving at the first camera after an exhausting first part of the hike I was hopeful, yet cautious. Scrolling through the pictures, reality struck, no Bay Cat picture.

Two more cameras await three more miles up the mountain. Not knowing what pictures await me up there is both a driving force, and a barrier. It would almost be easier not knowing if there was a Bay Cat picture, then knowing for sure that there were none. I am way too curious of a person not to know, so I kept hiking.

I arrived at the second camera, only feet from the third camera. Again, no Bay Cat picture.

The third camera didn’t hold much promise due to its proximity with the unsuccessful second camera trap. It was located on a very faint game trail off of the main trail. My hopes were low. The scream I let out once I saw what was on the camera must have scared all the animals away in a two mile radius. If that didn’t do it, the dance I did after that would have. I was exhilarated. As soon as I could, I let Andy and Gil know. This Bay Cat picture exists because of the teamwork between all three of us.

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Andy has eighty camera set-ups in this research site (160 in total, but there are always two per site to get both sides of the animal). Without them we would have had no clue where a good spot would have been to get the high-resolution picture. Even more importantly, with all of Andy’s research there will finally be some light shed on the biology of the wild cats here.

His research is looking at population size, density, habitat preference, habitat use, and prey base. With this information, it will be possible to draw up a conservation plan to protect this endangered species, as well as the other felids on Borneo. You can read more about his incredibly important (and fascinating might I say!!!) research here: http://borneanwildcat.blogspot.com/

Panthera, the world’s leading cat conservation organization, is partially funding Andy’s research. By donating to them you are directly helping them implement steps into conserving our wild feline friends. If you have a chance visit their webpage.

 

References:

Hearn, A., Sanderson, J., Ross, J., Wilting, A. & Sunarto, S. 2008b. Pardofelis badia. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
Ross et al 2010. Framework for Bornean wild cat action plan
Sunquist, M., Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the World, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 48–51

 

Bad News for West African Lions

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera's survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera’s survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012 Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

Survey

Felid biologist Phillip Henschel’s paper was just published after conducting six years of thorough presence and absence surveys of Lions in West Africa. The results are bleak. West African Lions are only found in five countries with a total population of less then 5oo individuals. More specifically of those 500, less than 250 mature individuals exist. This would categorize them as critically endangered if they were considered their own species.

Before the study took place, 21 protected areas within western Africa were said to have lions. Once Phil showed up, he realized most of these areas were paper parks. This means a park on the map, with no infrastructure or on the ground staff. The presence surveys of these fake parks showed they were devoid of lions. In fact, he only found signs of their presence in one area in Senegal, two areas in Nigeria, and in a larger protected spanning Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Having less than 20 mature lions in three out of the four areas does not bode well for those populations to survive in the long term. Moreover, these areas are not anywhere near each other which prevents possible movement from one population to another.

It was recently determined through DNA studies that West African Lions are very different from their East and South African cousins. They are far more related to the extinct Barbary Lion, that occupied northern Africa, and the Asiatic Lions holding on in India. This study at least provides the conclusive evidence of their dire situation. Fro here, conservationist can make informed decisions on the next steps.

Next Steps

The greatest need is providing protection for the remaining animals. The West African Lion only has a chance if governments receive financial aid to increase enforcements within the park. And by increasing the infrastructure in the parks. The cat conservation organization Panthera is leading that charge. You can donate to them here.

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques -- Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques — Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

If you would to to read the full scientific paper, click here here.