Cat News Nr 49


Iberian Lynx on its Way to Recovery

European Rabbit now Listed as Near Threatened

At the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona in October 2008, the Iberian lynx was one of the standard-bearers, and the only cat species listed as Critically Endangered is also the frontispiece of the 2008 edition of the IUCN Red List launched in Barcelona. In the light of the charismatic endangered species in the Red List, another up-listing went almost unnoticed: The European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus is now Near Threatened: This species is a widespread colonizer and is considered a pest outside its natural range, where eradication of the rabbit is priority for conservation. Within its natural range, almost exclusively the Iberian Peninsula, however, populations have declined an estimated 95% since 1950, due to disease, habitat loss, and human induced mortality. O. cuniculus nearly meets the Red List Criteria for Vulnerable ( As a matter of fact, in southern Spain, where the last strongholds of the Iberian lynx are found, the rabbit is partially too rare to allow for the presence, leaving alone the reproduction of lynx. The rabbit is an absolute keystone species of its ecosystem; e.g. no Iberian lynx population can survive without a sufficient supply of this little lagomorph. And yet, the intelligence available on the demography, ecology, and epidemiology of the European rabbit is surprisingly scarce. Hopefully, the up-listing helps to generate more awareness for rabbit research and conservation.

In Andalucía, the two remnant lynx populations are maintained through an artificial supply of rabbits, either directly in feeding station or indirectly in breeding enclosures where only lynx have access. These measures show effect; the Coto Doñana total population has stabilised in recent years and is now 50 (total estimation, 19 breeding females), and the Sierra Morena population has even increased to an estimated 150 (total estimation, 40 breeding females). The magnificent photography by Joe Zammit-Lucia on the 2008 Red List brochure is not only beautiful, but also symbolic for the Iberian lynx emerging from the dark. On 17–19 November 2008, the III Iberian Lynx Conservation Seminar took place at the University of Huelva in southern Spain – and the topic of the meeting was “reintroduction”. About 300 scientists and conservationist from Spain and Portugal, representatives of the national and regional environmental agencies, exponents of NGOs,  journalists and foreign experts joined to discuss one of the goals of the LIFE-Nature programme 2006–2011: Creation of new population nuclei of Iberian lynx in its former range by means of reintroduction.

At the first and second international seminar on the conservation of the Iberian lynx in Andújar 2002 and Córdoba 2004, respectively, the following short-, mid- and long-term goals for the preservation of the Iberian lynx where defined: (1) to stop the further decline and to maintain the two remnant populations in Coto Doñana and Sierra Morena; (2) to establish a conservation breeding population in captivity; and (3) to secure the survival of the species by creating new population nuclei independent of the two existing ones through reintroduction using captive stock.

Sooner than expected, the third goal is now tackled. The captive breeding programme will soon provide animals for the in situ projects (see report by Astrid Vargas on page 25 of this issue). However, the encouraging turn around in the Sierra Morena population allows – or even forces us – to consider wild-to-wild translocations, too. The population is almost at its carrying capacity. The lands surrounding the occupied areas are unfavourable for rabbits and provide therefore no suitable habitat for further expansion. The fate of lynx dispersing from the area is only anecdotically known, but the demography of the population shows that a considerable number of animals are “lost” every year. The people from the LIFE project have identified two areas not too far away from the remnant population, but still far enough to build new independent nuclei.

There is still a lot of work to do to prepare a first reintroduction. But with exception of a small group of animal right activists, who believe that any intervention in a free living population is bad, the participants at the seminar agreed that reintroduction is the way forward. This first releases will by no means create a viable population; the areas considered are too small. But creating new nuclei reduces the risk that any catastrophic event that may hit the two remnant populations pushes the species over the edge. The subsequent tasks will then be to prepare more suitable sites for further reintroductions, not only in Andalucía, but also in other regions of Spain and in Portugal. And this brings us back to the rabbit...  

Urs Breitenmoser

Updating the Inventory of Zanzibar Leopard Specimens by M. T. Walsh and H. V. Goldman

The Zanzibar leopard Panthera pardus adersi was once widespread on the Indian Ocean island of Unguja (Zanzibar, Tanzania), but most authorities now consider it to be extinct, or very nearly so. This little-known endemic has never been studied in the wild, and our knowledge of it therefore rests largely on historical and ethnographic reports and the physical evidence of museum specimens.

First Pallas’s Cat Photo-trapped in Khojir National Park, Iran by M. Chalani, A. Ghoddousi, T. Ghadirian and R. Goljani

As part of a camera-trapping survey for the identification of felid species in Khojir National Park, Iran, a manul or Pallas’s cat Otocolobus manul was photographed on 6 February 2008 for the first time. There being only a few reports of this secretive cat in Iran, this new locality is very interesting with regard to its national range.

First Record of Pallas’s Cat in Northwest Iran by A. Agili, R. Masoud, J. D. Murdoch and D. P. Mallon

Pallas’s cat Otocolobus manul is a wide-ranging small cat that occurs throughout northern and central Asia. Although populations are relatively robust in some areas like Mongolia, little information exists on populations elsewhere, particularly in the southern portion of the species’ range. Consequently, the distribution limits of the species are largely speculative and often inferred from the distribution of potentially suitable habitats.

The Status of the Persian Leopard in Bamu National Park, Iran by A. Ghoddousi, A. H. Kh. Hamidi, T. Ghadirian, D. Ashayeri, H. Moshiri and I. Khorozyan

The Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor is the largest member of eight felid species surviving today in Iran, after the extinction of the Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica and the Caspian tiger Panthera tigris virgata in the past 70 years. The stronghold of this endangered subspecies is Iran. Over the past 25 years the Persian leopard was exterminated in many areas of its global range and in the others its numbers have plummeted. Bamu National Park (BNP) has long been one of the best habitats for the subspecies in southern Iran, but leopards there face severe threats nowadays.

Is Food Availability a Reliable Indicator of Cheetah Presence in Iran? by M. S. Farhadinia, A. Jourabchian, M. Eslami, F. Hosseini and B. Nezami

It has been widely believed that the Asiatic cheetah occurs wherever gazelles exist. However, most of the present cheetah main habitat in Iran has a low density of gazelles, although there are neighbouring high-density gazelle areas without cheetahs. We found that cover has been usually ignored as an essential need for its hunting success and thus its survival. We propose to conduct more surveys in habitats which provide both food and cover to cheetahs.

Cheetahs in Afghanistan by A. R. Manati and G. Nogge

The Asiatic cheetah Acinonyx jubatus venaticus (Schreber 1776) once ranged from the Arabian Peninsula to India. Today not more than 100 cheetahs seem to have survived in the deserts of Iran (Farhadinia 2004). In Afghanistan the cheetah is considered to have been extinct since the 1950s.

Monitored Release of Leopard Cats in the Phnom Tamao Protected Forest, Cambodia by N. Marx

Two adult leopard cats Prionailurus bengalensis and two dependent kittens were released from an enclosure within Phnom Tamao Protected Forest. The adults had been in captivity for a substantial period of time. They were radio collared and tracked for three months. Food was provided daily. The male proved difficult to follow but appeared sporadically. The female was easier to locate, perhaps because her kittens limited her movements. Once familiar with the area she could usually be found near water. After an initial period of dependence neither cat seemed to experience difficulties, preferring to catch their own food.

The Use of Remote Camera Traps to Estimate Density of Free-ranging Cheetahs in North-Central Namibia by L. Marker, E. Fabiano and M. Nghikembua

Remote camera trapping RCT, although successfully used to estimate abundance on other species such as the tiger and jaguar in Bolivia, has not been fully explored for cheetahs. Apart from Marnewick et al. (2008), who investigated the use of the technique for estimating abundance, no other study was found in literature that explored the feasibility of the technique for estimating both abundance and density. This study is therefore the first of its kind, as it addresses the feasibility of using RCT within the capture-recapture CR framework.

Update on the Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Program by A. Vargas, I. Sánchez, A.Rivas, F. Martínez, J. A. Godoy, E. Roldán, R. Serra and M. J. Pérez, M. A. Simón, M. Delibes and M. Aymerich

The Iberian Lynx Conservation Breeding Program follows a multidisciplinary approach, integrated within the National Strategy for the Conservation of the Iberian lynx, which is carried out in cooperation with national, regional, and international institutions.

Sighting of a Rusty-spotted Cat in the Varushanad Valley, India by R. Pillay

A solitary rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus was sighted in a dry deciduous habitat of the Varushanad valley (9° 40’ 3.72”N/77° 25’ 44.15”E) in Tamil Nadu, India on 6 June 2008. The Varushanad valley is located in the southern Western Ghats, an ecological subunit of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot.

First Report on the Geoffroy’s Cat in a Highly Modified Rural Area of the Argentine Pampas by D. F. Castillo, E. M. Luengos Vidal, M. Lucherini and E. B. Casanave

Although the ecological data obtained from protected areas showed a certain degree of flexibility in the Geoffroy’s cat Leopardus geoffroyi foraging and spatial behaviour, no information has been published about this species in highly modified rural areas. We report here the first data about the Geoffroy’s cat from an unprotected farming area in the Pampas of central Argentina.

Human-Puma Conflicts in Three Areas from the Southern Cone of South America: Preliminary Data by M. Lucherini, L. Ríos, C. Manfredi, M. J. Merino and J. Arellano

Of the two large species of felids occurring in the Neotropical Region, the puma Puma concolor is by far the most widespread and common. Nevertheless, its populations are declining in many areas and hunting is one of the most frequent causes of this decrease. This paper presents the preliminary results of an interview-based assessment of human-puma conflicts in three areas of Argentina and Chile located in very different ecoregions.

First Official Record of Human Killed by Jaguar in Brazil by R. C. de Paula, M. F. Campos Neto and R. G. Morato

Large felids are not commonly known worldwide as predators of humans, although such cases are sometimes reported in African and Asian countries. However, once habituation to human presence and activities increases, the possibility of aggressive confrontation rises proportionally. Deadly conflicts thus become more probable and coexistence between predators and humans is jeopardized. On the American continent, pumas Puma concolor are well known as attackers of humans, as shown by several lethal attacks. Although attacks by jaguars Panthera onca have been recorded in several areas (CENAP, unpubl. data), they were all provoked and most of them were caused by an animal cornered during hunting; man-eating jaguars have never been reported throughout their range. This report presents a unique case of a predatory attack by a jaguar in the Pantanal, Mato Grosso State (western Brazil) that happened in June 2008.

A High-elevation Report of Oncilla in Mesoamerica by J. F. González-Maya and J. Schipper

We report a high elevation record of the Central American oncilla.