The Biggest Ever!
From 17 – 19 September 2007, the “Felid Biology and Conservation Conference” united 300 cat specialists, both researchers and colleagues from other fields dedicated to cat conservation. Many more wanted to come, but the number of people allowed in the conference room was limited. The conference was organised by David Macdonald and Andrew Loveridge and their team of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit from the Zoology Department at University of Oxford, better known as the WildCRU, with the Panthera Foundation as generous donor and the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group as co-organiser. The venerable Oxford University Museum of Natural History provided the dignified frame for the opening ceremony, the plenary lectures – and for the group picture below. At the welcome party, after David Macdonald had inaugurated the conference, Thomas Kaplan, chairman of the Panthera Foundation, presented the Kaplan-Rabinowitz Prize to Georg Schaller for his merits in cat conservation research. The following three days brought 103 oral presentations and 77 posters – the largest compilation of felid research ever. In their introduction to the abstract book, David Macdonald and Andrew Loveridge expressed the hope that this conference would become a memorable occasion. This hope became more than true!
The 180 oral or poster presentations in the abstract book provide a comprehensive overview on cat research and offer an opportunity to assess our efforts to understand and preserve the wild living cats. Figure 1 shows the distribution of the 180 papers on the 36 cat species. Presentations looking at more than one species were counted for each species or listed under “multi species” if they dealt rather with a guild than the individual species. Such papers often concerned the Neotropical cats, which are especially interesting to look at from a multi-species perspective. It is obvious that the big charismatic cats get most of the attention, with the four Panthera species particularly outstanding, followed by the not less charismatic cheetah. On the other hand, nine of the smaller species were not at all addressed, and some others were presented by only one oral presentation or poster. Such preferences may be justified if they consider the conservation status of the species. Figure 2 lists the relative share of the Oxford presentations according to the Red List classification of the species studied compared to the relative number of cat species in the respective category. On the first sight, the two columns match almost perfectly, with slightly more works than species in the two highest threat classes Endangered and Critically Endangered. However, if we distinguish the species, we realise that of the 32 presentations on Endangered species, 24 concerned tigers, 4 snow leopards, 2 Andean cats, and none the Bornean bay cat.
Of course, the amount of research goes hand in hand with the awareness and the reliability of our assessment of the conservation status of a species. The tiger is presently not doing well – but at least we know this. For many of the smaller cat species, including those listed as Endangered or Vulnerable, our knowledge is so limited that we cannot even be certain to grasp a significant decrease of the population. After the felid conference, the Cat Specialist Group held a workshop to review the Red List assessment of all cat species (see article in this issue). Even though this workshop united an impressive group of cat specialists from all corners of the world, much of the assessment of the lesser cats is still pure guess work.
The Oxford felid conference was an impressive compilation and demonstration of our present knowledge on cats, their biology and their conservation. Increased awareness, more funding and modern techniques have allowed significantly advancing our understanding of these elusive species so difficult to study. At the same time, the conference also revealed, which species we still lack on our screen and how much work is left to do. But we left Oxford with the feeling that, in spite of all difficulties we face conserving cats, we have achieved a lot and will succeed with such a bunch of dedicated folks working together.
Re-evaluation of the Felidae for the 2008 IUCN Red List by K. Nowell, J. Schipper and M. Hoffmann
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (www.redlist.org) is the leading measure of global plant and animal conservation status. It illustrates IUCN’s great strength in the knowledge, expertise and dedication of its Species Survival Commission (SSC) members. The IUCN Red List is updated annually and, to remain useful, species should be re-evaluated regularly, especially groups with relatively large numbers of threatened species such as the Felidae. The last comprehensive IUCN Red List evaluation for cats was in 2002.
First Photographs in Nature of the Chinese Mountain Cat by Y. Yufeng, Drubgyal, Achu, Lu Zhi and J. Sanderson
The Chinese mountain cat Felis bieti was the last member of the family of cats described to science (Milne-Edwards 1892). The original description, provided only as a footnote, was made from skins acquired in China during an expedition in 1889 by Prince Henri of Orléans (Milne-Edwards 1892) and returned to Paris. Though illustrations were by the late 1800s commonly produced when describing a species new to science, no illustration was included in the description of Felis bieti. Neither the Prince nor the mammalogist Alphonse Milne-Edwards, employed at the Musée d’Historie Naturelle in Paris, saw the living cat and knew its habitat, but this was not unusual at this time in history. The species name bieti assigned by Milne-Edwards derives from his Lordship Biet who led the French missionaries in China.
Historical Records of Felid collections in the Sarawak Museum by Mohd Azlan J., Dayang Noorafizah and J. Sanderson
Because the importance of historical records contributes to the conservation of a species, a review was made of the felid specimens housed in the Sarawak Museum, Kuching, Sarawak (SMK). SMK houses 51 specimens of five felids collected from 1891 to 1983.
Two Modern Species of Clouded Leopard: A Molecular Perspective by A. Wilting, H. Feldhaar, V. A. Bucley-Beason, K. E. Linsenmair, S. J. O’Brien
In the last issue of Cat News (No. 46, Spring 2007) Kitchener and co-workers suggested the reclassification of clouded leopards from Borneo and Sumatra into a “new old” species Neofelis diardi. As Kitchener et al. focused mainly on two scientific publications in the journal Current Biology from 2006, we offer here a short update of the molecular phylogenetic analyses and interpret these results for the future conservation and management of clouded leopards.
The Use of Logging Roads by Clouded Leopards by C. H. Gordon and A.-M. Stewart
Due to their secretive behaviour, nocturnal habits and low densities, there has been a distinct lack of research conducted on clouded leopards (Neofelis spp.), and thus little information exists on their ecology and behaviour. Recently, the clouded leopard has been reclassified into two distinct species: Neofelis nebulosa on mainland Asia and N. diardi on the Sundaic islands of Borneo and Sumatra. This taxonomic change heightens the conservation concern with two species presently under threat.
Recent Cat Records by Camera Traps in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo by M. Yasuda, H. Matsubayashi, Rustam, S. Numata, J. R. Abd. Sukor, S. A. Bakar
Recent cat records were extracted from the results of camera trapping surveys of mammalian fauna carried out separately in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. A total of 27 pictures of 5 species of cats were obtained at 13 different locations in 6 study sites.
A Pilot Study on a Single Male Cheetah in Zimbabwe by M. Jacquier and T. Woodfine
While considered to be a threatened species globally following historic declines in numbers and distribution, the cheetah Acinonyx jubatus has a paradoxical status in Zimbabwe. Here, the cheetah is a protected species, but it is also perceived to be a ‘problem’ predator blamed for livestock losses on farmland. Consequently, many landowners have sought to remove animals from their properties, replicating the treatment of cheetah in other parts of their range.
First Trapping Results from a New Sand Cat Study in Saudi Arabia by W. M. Strauss, M. Shobrak and M. Sher Shah
The sand cat is a little-known desert specialist, despite a wide distribution range through much of the Arab world and into southwest Asia. A study in Saudi Arabia now aims to investigate the effects of habitat degradation on the range use patterns and prey-availability of the sand cat. First results regarding the trapping effort and success are reported here.
First Iberian Lynx Tracked With GPS-GSM Collars by J. V. López-Bao, A. Rodriguez and F. Palomares
The Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus is considered as the most endangered felid in the world. Recently, this species has been classified as “Critically Endangered” by the World Conservation Union, thus recognizing that its extinction will be likely in the short-term if suitable conservation measures are not urgently adopted (IUCN 2006).
First Jaguar Photo-trapped in the Caatinga of Bahaia State, Brazil by R. G. Morato, R. C. Paula, C. B. Campos, F. Lemos, C. Cheida, L. Maffei
Jaguar Panthera onca status in the Caatinga biome is unknown for 75% of the total area. Lack of knowledge on jaguar populations has hampered conservation strategies in this biome. Information on distribution, density, ecology, and population dynamics for the species need to be generated to better design an action plan in this region. To get this information, we have started a project in a Caatinga area in the northeast of Brazil to identify first the potential areas for a long term study.
Does the Serval Still Exist in North Senegal? by C. Clément, M. Niaga and A. Cadi
In November 2006, the serval Leptailurus serval has been observed several times in the Katane enclosure, a small area protected from human exploitation in the Ferlo-North Faunal Reserve, in Senegal. In a Sahelian area still threatened by desertification, the presence of this species is a proof of the good health of this restored ecosystem.
The Last Tigers in Xinjiang by A. Abdukadir and U. Breitenmoser
When Sven Hedin crossed the Takla Makan Desert from west to east in 1895 and almost died of thirst, he finally reached the Hotan River, where he found “countless tracks of wild animals: of tigers and wolves, foxes and deer, antelopes, gazelles and hares!”. We cannot be sure whether what the Swedish explorer saw at the shores of the Hotan River were really tiger tracks, but the Tarim Basin was indeed considered the south-eastern distribution edge of the extinct Caspian tiger Panthera tigris virgata.
A Rare Morph of the Asiatic Golden Cat in Bhutan’s Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park by S. W. Wang
An intensive camera trapping exercise targeted at tiger and leopard has for the first time captured several photos of the Asiatic golden cat Catapuma temmincki from two locations in the high altitude mountain forests of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in Bhutan. Both the normal and the ocelot morph have been captured by cameras. This is not only the first record for the existence of these cats on high altitudes in Bhutan, but for the ocelot morph it is perhaps the only photo from the wild. The only available physical evidence of this morph was so far available from a zoo in China.
Sighting of Asiatic Golden Cat in the Grasslands of Assam’s Manas National Park by A. Choudhury
The Asiatic Golden Cat Catopuma temmincki is a relatively poorly studied felid, which occurs from eastern Nepal through southern China to Sumatra. Its main habitat is forests, both tropical and sub-tropical; however, it occasionally has been reported from more open habitats, such as shrub and grassland. In India it is found only in north east India where it mainly occurs in the forests of the hills and foothills.
First Experience with GPS-GSM Telemetry with Eurasian Lynx in the Swiss Alps and the Jura Mountains by A. Ryser and U. Breitenmoser
Telemetry using GPS positioning and GSM reporting would be a wonderful technique to track animals with minimum effort and disturbance. The use of GPS/GSM devices was so far limited through GSM coverage, poor GPS reception in rugged terrain and dense vegetation, and, for small to medium-sized animals, through system weight. First experience with Eurasian lynx in the Swiss Alps and in the Jura Mountains demonstrate that the new, improved and lighter generation of GPS-GSM systems now can be used for medium-sized cats, even though GPS reception and GSM feedback are still limited and system failures before reaching the theoretical lifespan of batteries occurred.
Cats at CITES CoP 14 by K. Nowell, H. Bauer and U. Breitenmoser
The 14th Conference of the Parties to CITES met 3-15 June 2007 in The Hague, The Netherlands, and several cat issues were taken up.
Strategic Planning for the Conservation of the Leopard in the Caucasus by Ch. Breitenmoser-Würsten, U. Breitenmoser and D. Mallon
The leopard in the Caucasus is under threat; only some small and isolated population nuclei remain in the whole eco-region. To save the species in the Caucasus, urgent conservation actions are needed. Significant investment into the conservation of the leopard is justified as this charismatic large cat is both an umbrella species – its conservation will also include the preservation of the prey species and their habitats – and a flagship species – the leopard is the ideal carrier of the conservation idea to the local population, between the range states, and to the international conservation community.