Cat News Nr 50


25 years of Cat News

With this issue, we celebrate No 50 of Cat News, the Cat Specialist Group’s newsletter!

Cat News was launched in July 1984 with a summary of the first international review of the status of wild cats at a workshop in Kanha National Park in central India. The meeting brought together 20 members of the Cat Specialist Group from around the world, with 35 observers and invitees, including directors and senior staff of India’s 15 tiger reserves and other conservation areas. Group members unable to be present sent reports and papers. The aim was to provide a basis for the status survey and conservation action plan, which was published by IUCN in 1996 as “Wild Cats”, compiled and edited by Kristin Nowell and Peter Jackson.         

The format of the first issue of Cat News was simple, with flexible numbers of pages to report on Cat Specialist Group activities, information of IUCN activities relevant to cat conservation, and news about cats and cat studies. The 10th issue, in 1989, introduced a magazine style with a photo of a cat on the cover, and the Cat Specialist Group icon of a silhouetted lion, a small cat and a cheetah. Cat News was available for non-members who subscribed to “Friends of the Cat Group”. Over time photos were introduced in black and white. The style remained until issue No 41 in 2004 appeared in real magazine form with colour illustrations.

The current issue, No 50 brings a new, modernised look. We are very grateful to Barbara Surber for designing the new layout, and to Patrick Meier for his support. But not only has the appearance changed, we have also formalised the submission and publication process. Cat News has now five defined categories of articles: original contributions, short communications, news from around the world, from our partners, and the forum. Original contributions present papers relevant to cat conservation up to four printed pages. Short communications report interesting field observations on a single page. These two categories are now subject to a formal review process.

It is not our intention to transform Cat News into a full-grown scientific journal; it remains a newsletter of an IUCN/SSC specialist group, and news will continue to be the most prominent articles. As a matter of fact, we would welcome more contributions of this kind from our Members and Friends! However, as an increasing number of manuscripts are submitted, and as papers published in Cat News get more and more cited in other works, we must care about the scientific quality of articles printed in our newsletter. Alan Rabinowitz, our first forum author, addresses exactly this question on the following page.  Cat News also offers an opportunity to young colleagues to get experience in publishing papers; and for this, clear guidelines and a formal peer review process are helpful. The Cat News guidelines to authors can be downloaded as a PDF from the Cat Specialist Group website But bear in mind that we still appreciate articles submitted by old hands in cat conservation!

The production of a full-colour magazine like Cat News is not cheap. Our publisher, Stämpfli Publikationen AG in Bern, Switzerland, offers us special conditions as a highly appreciated contribution to cat conservation, but an online or electronically distributed digital newsletter would still be cheaper and save high mailing costs. But when we talked to a number of members and friends of the Cat Specialist Group, most of them said that they prefer to read Cat News in an easy chair (or on the home exercise machine) and not on the computer screen. Pictures of cats are always worth a high quality print!

And we need the financial support from the Friends of the Cat Group! At present Cat News presently goes to 207 members and to 320 friends. We hope that the new Cat News will remain an interesting magazine, providing not only important and correct, but also entertaining articles on cats and their conservation, and we appreciate all comments and contributions to make our newsletter better. We have also updated the Archive CD with all issues up to 2008 allowing interested people to have access to all past issues. We are very greatful to all of you who help advertising for Cat News and with that help to save its future!

Urs Breitenmoser, Christine Breitenmoser-Würsten and Peter Jackson

Letter to the editors

Letter to the editors

I wish to praise you on a fine Special Issue No. 4 to CAT NEWS titled The Jaguar in Brazil. I also wish to thank the contributors for some excellent work that adds to our knowledge about jaguars in Brazil. Brazil is indeed a very important country for the future of jaguar conservation and as well as that of many other wildlife species. However, I would also like to raise the warning that some people might consider using CAT NEWS in lieu of writing up data for peer reviewed publications. I hope this is not the case for most felid biologists and that the editors of CAT NEWS encourage their contributors to publish significant findings in peer-reviewed journals. I found several statements and conclusions in The Jaguar in Brazil that I believe would have been questioned and modified had the papers gone through peer review. One set of data in particular really stands out in this special issue and I need to bring it up with your readers. In the paper titled Jaguar Conservation in Brazil: The Role of Protected Areas, the authors Sollmann, Torres and Silveira produce an estimate of nearly 52,000 jaguars in the Amazon biome of Brazil with a total figure of more than 55,000 jaguars in the entire country. These are, quite frankly, unbelievable figures. I would be surprised if there were 55,000 jaguars surviving at present throughout the entire range of the jaguar from Mexico to Argentina. In a book soon to be published on jaguars by Yale University Press, Brazilian jaguar biologist Peter Crawshaw, a friend and colleague, is quoted as saying: “I wouldn’t dare give numbers for estimates of jaguars remaining in Brazil.” He then states that while the ja-guar might be more threatened outside the Amazon and Pantanal, it is still very threa-tened within these biomes as well.

The problem with the figures put forth in this special issue of CAT NEWS is that they come from a completely erroneous analysis in which jaguar density estimates, which are based on good camera-trapping methodology, are extrapolated over large areas. Unfortunately, this erroneous kind of analysis has been done elsewhere and has even been published in at least one peer-reviewed journal. But such wide ranging extrapolation, producing completely unrealistic numbers for biomes throughout Brazil in this Special Issue No. 4 of CAT NEWS is incorrect and dangerous. This kind of analysis and extrapolation goes completely against the assumptions and the rigorous methodo-logy as described in the seminal work done on camera-trapping for tiger density estimates by Ullas Karanth. If an entire study area cannot be camera-trapped, then the density estimates obtained with selective, non-random placing of camera traps can be used reliably ONLY for those areas that were part of the camera trap study. Does this mean that field biologists can never do reliable estimates or “guesstimates” of jaguar numbers over large areas? No it does not. But in order to do so, scientists must show that they are carefully and systematically taking into account factors that affect jaguar numbers and densities throughout existing habitats. Optimal densities must then be adjusted in a standardized manner if any kind of ballpark estimate is to be believed and accepted.

I believe that our field has a serious issue with the use of camera traps and that many field scientists are using camera traps incorrectly in the first place. But in this case, the greater error was to extrapolate optimal densities over large landscapes producing numbers that any big cat biologist would find simply impossible to believe. Worse still, such figures could be used by those wanting to show that jaguars are really doing better than they are in the wild. We cannot have erroneous figures and erroneous analyses such as these getting out to the public in the guise of acceptable and peer-reviewed data.

Alan Rabinowitz

President and CEO, PANTHERA




Response to the letter



We appreciate the concern of Mr. Rabinowitz regarding the results presented in “Jaguar Conservation in Brazil: The role of protected areas” (Sollmann et al. 2008) and their meaning for jaguar conservation. However, we feel his critique misses several key points of the paper.

First, although Cat News is not a peer-reviewed journal, it is edited by renowned cat biologists. Additionally, the cited article went through external review by some of today’s leading conservationists prior to publication.

Second, Mr. Rabinowitz contradicts himself in stating that reliable jaguar abundance estimates can be obtained “systematically taking into account factors that affect jaguar numbers and densities throughout existing habitats” and at the same time calling our analysis “completely erroneous”. By estimating jaguar abundance only for protected areas of a minimum size and using biome-specific densities, we take into account two major factors influencing jaguar numbers and build a simple yet systematic model. In contrast, during the 1999 Jaguar in the New Millennium workshop organized by WCS, which led to the classic paper by Sanderson et al. (2002), assessment of jaguar population status was entirely based on expert opinion – Jaguar Conservation Units could be defined as areas researchers “believed to contain” a resident jaguar population.

Third, extrapolating local information to larger spatial scales is a common practice (see Ranganathan et al. 2008 for just one recent example) and often the only option for species with limited available information. In exposing all steps taken to obtain abundance estimates, we unambiguously inform the reader about all associated uncertainties (although we agree that we did not quantify them). While any extrapolation has to be treated with caution, this approach is very different from simply guessing a number. Just like Mr. Crawshaw, as cited by Mr. Rabinowitz, we, too, would not dare to guess, neither would any serious scientist. To further avoid misinterpretation we state in our paper that “results should be understood comparatively”. Indeed, the objective of the paper was not to estimate jaguar abundance in Brazil, but instead to compare how protected areas contribute to jaguar conservation in the different Brazi-lian biomes. While jaguar numbers for Brazil may well be different from our estimates, the conclusions derived from them continue to hold true: For Brazil, only in the Amazon do existing protected areas cover enough land to be the centerpiece for regional long-term jaguar conservation.

Fourth, when the Jaguar in the New Millennium data set was updated in 2006, the species was estimated to currently occupy 61% of its original range – an increase compared to the 46% estimated in 1999. Following Mr. Rabinowitz’s line of reasoning, these numbers also support “those wanting to show that jaguars are really doing better than they are in the wild”. The true interpretation is obvious - we simply know more today than we did 10 years ago and we should be happy that the jaguar has actually disappeared from less of its range than previously assumed. Instead of branding such information counterproductive to conservation, positive findings should be acknowledged as what they stand for - a better chance of saving the jaguar in a world where habitat loss and direct persecution continue to threaten it.

Finally, we would like to know based on what data Mr. Rabinowitz renders our estimates “impossible to believe”. Our extrapolation is not absurd in light of previously published regional estimates (e.g. Maffei et al. 2004). While there is a growing number of jaguar studies, data on abundance patterns are still sparse. In 1985, Soulé called conservation biology a “crisis discipline”, where “one must act before knowing all the facts”. The 2008 update of the IUCN Red List clearly shows that this crisis is not over. Listed as “Near Threatened” with decreasing population trends, the jaguar is part of this crisis. Hopefully, in 10 years, more data on jaguar abundance will allow a more reliable assessment of jaguar population status. Hopefully, these data will bear a positive surprise, as did the update of the Jaguar in the New Millennium data. Until then, point estimates are the best we have in hand to outline large scale jaguar conservation strategies. For most of Brazil, and probably for most of the species’ range, the conclusion derived from these estimates is that protected areas are not enough to guarantee the jaguar’s long-term survival. To show that was our main purpose. We believe that no big cat biologist would disagree with that.

 For the authors: Rahel Sollmann

Scientific Manager, Jaguar Conservation Fund/Instituto Onça-Pintada




Maffei L., Cuéllar E. & Noss A. 2004. One thousand jaguars (Panthera onca) in Bolivia’s Chaco? Camera trapping in the Kaa-Iya National Park. Journal of Zoology 262, 295-304.

Ranganathan J., Chan K. M.A., Karanth K. U. & Smith J. L. D. 2008. Where can tigers persist in the future? A landscape-scale, density-based population model for the Indian subcontinent. Biological Conservation 141, 67-77.

Sanderson E. W., Redford K. H., Chetkiewitz C. B., Medellin R. A., Rabinowitz A. R., Robinson J. G. & Taber A. B. 2002. Planning to Save a Species: the Jaguar as a Model. Conservation Biology 16, 58-72.

Sollmann R., Tôrres N. M. & Silveira L. 2008. Jaguar Conservation in Brazil: The Role of Protected Areas. Cat News. Special Issue 4 – The Jaguar in Brazil, 15-20.

Soulé M. 1985. What is Conservation Biology? BioScience 35, 727-734

How the fishing cat came to occur in Sumatra by J.G. Sanderson

There is widespread belief that the fishing cat occurs in Sumatra. I examined camera trap photographs, museum records, and conducted an extensive literature search to determine if the fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus in fact occurs in Sumatra. All four camera trap photographs of fishing cats were determined to be leopard cats P. bengalensis. Not one of four well-known museums housing collections of fishing cats contained specimens from Sumatra. Literature searches revealed that before 1940 Sumatra was never included within the geographic range of the fishing cat. From 1940 to the present an increasing number of authors included Sumatra as having fishing cats. There is no physical evidence that the fishing cat occurs in Sumatra and therefore Sumatra should not be considered as part of the geographic range of the fishing cat. This is bad news for the endangered fishing cat, and places increasing importance on the presence of the fishing cat in Java that was last recorded in 1932.

Status of caracal in Bahram’gur Protected Area, Iran by A. Ghoddousi, T. Ghadirian and H. Fahimi

The current status and distribution of caracal Caracal caracal in Bahram’gur Protected Area (BPA), southern Iran, were studied using different methods for 12 months.  Direct observations were restricted to spot-lighting at night, a method which produced three caracal observations.  Twelve photos of a male caracal were taken with camera traps.  The main prey items were determined from a limited number of scat samples to be cape hare Lepus capensis and various rodents.  Attack by herd dogs and road kills were determined to be the main threats facing this species in BPA.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.

New jaguar records from montane forest at a priority site in southern Mexico by J. J. Figel, E. Durán, D. Barton Bray and J.-R. Prisciliano-Vázquez

We report here on the first camera-trap photos of jaguars Panthera onca in both Oaxaca and on cummunity land where community conservation areas (CCAs) have been declared. The study site was based in the Chinantla, a mountainous, hyper-humid region in the southern Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico. We conducted camera trap surveys from June 2007-June 2008. Two jaguars were identified after 1,164 trap nights (TN) in a total sampling area, not including a buffer area, of 144 km². Human-jaguar conflict resulting from livestock depredation presents an immediate threat to jaguars in the study area. Habitat conversion is virtually non-existent and the area is very remote with a diverse prey population, of which some hunting has been regulated. Therefore we believe the Chinantla should remain a priority region for jaguar conservation in Mexico. 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.

Sighting of a jungle cat and the threats of its habitat in Turkey by B. Avgan

At a wetland in southern Turkey, two jungle cats Felis chaus were observed in July 2007. Though almost nothing is known on the status of the species in the country, all its potential habitats were either lost or highly degraded in the last two decades due to dams and irrigation practices.

Spotted: the elusive sand cat in Algerian Ahaggar Mountains, central Sahara by F. Belbachir

The sand cat Felis margarita is traditionally reported from Algerian Central Sahara based on poorly documented literature. A summary of previous reports on the species in the above region is supplied followed by a description of a new record dated 2008 obtained by camera trapping in Ahaggar National Park.

Volunteer expeditions support felid research projects by M. Mazzolli

Volunteer expeditions have helped to support research projects with two large wild cats. Results have raised concern regarding the conservation status of the Atlantic Rain Forest jaguar Panthera onca, and have successfully evaluated habitat conditions for Arabian leopards Panthera pardus nimr in two areas of their distribution.

Observation of a wild marbled cat in Sumatra by L. Morino

I here report a prolonged encounter with a wild marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata in the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park TNBBS, Southern Sumatra, Indonesia.

Iberian lynx conservation breeding program - update by A. Vargas, A.Rivas, I. Sánchez, F. Martínez, J. A. Godoy, E. Roldán, R. Cunha Serra and M. J. Pérez

At the moment there are 77 Iberian lynx in three centers: Acebuche, Olivilla and Jerez Zoo. 60 animals are adults (30 males and 30 females), and 17 are cubs born this year in captivity. 10 cubs are in Acebuche and 7 in Olivilla. At the moment, the different litters go through the second critical stage in their development, the period of aggressiveness where fights between siblings can take place. All litters born this year have experienced periods of fights during their second month of life.

First Portuguese Iberian lynx captive breeding facility by R. Cunha Serra

The newest captive breeding facility to join the Iberian lynx ex situ program was inaugurated in Silves, Southern Portugal, on 22 May 2009. This centre has 16 breeding enclosures with audio and video surveillance, a coordination and monitoring building, clinic, laboratory and quarantine facilities.

Policy for human-leopard conflict management in India by L. Marker and S. Sivamani

A national workshop was held 23-24 January 2007 in New Delhi, India to develop a pragmatic management policy for human-leopard conflicts in problem areas. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) jointly hosted the workshop. Over 25 participants attended, including scientific experts who have worked with leopards and other carnivores in India and abroad, and Chief Wildlife Wardens and Forest officials from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. Topics of the workshop included status reports from States, overview of leopard ecology, legal issues of handling the species, and the formulation of a national policy for human-leopard conflict management.

Threat of a lion population extinction in Waza National Park, North Cameroon by H. de Iongh, P. Tumenta, B. Croes, P. Funston, H. Bauer and H.U. de Haes

In this short note we want to publicise recent reports on killing of lions in Waza National Park, northern Cameroon. Population surveys in the 1990s resulted in an estimate of 50–60 lions (Bauer & de Iongh 2005, de Iongh & Bauer 2008). The population was reassessed in 2008 and was estimated to be 14-21 adult individuals (Van Rijssel 2008, Tumenta et al. in press). We fear that this lion population may become extinct very soon if no measures are taken to improve protection in the park.

Panthera launches Jaguar Corridor Initiative by K. Zeller

Panthera has launched the Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI), a project that seeks to conserve jaguar populations, mitigate threats, and implement genetic corridors across the entire range of this species. Inspired by genetic analyses indicating there are no subspecies of jaguars from Mexico to Argentina, Panthera began the JCI to preserve the genetic continuity of the jaguar throughout its range (Eizirik et al. 2001; Ruiz-Garcia et al. 2006). Implementing a corridor at this scale has not previously been attempted and Panthera is developing innovative strategies for work at all levels. We are identifying the corridors with new scientific methods and implementing the corridors by working across the spectrum of stakeholders, from national leaders to individual land owners.

The Kaplan Graduate Awards: Building the next generation of cat conservationists by N. Williams

The Kaplan Graduate Awards (KAP) is a grants program established in early 2005 to support outstanding graduate students working on in situ conservation of wild felids. The program was initiated at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) with funding provided by Panthera, and was relocated to Panthera in May, 2008 where it forms part of the organization’s growing commitment to train and mentor young conservationists working on felids.

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Table of all Kaplan Graduate Award recipients through 2008



Max and the lynx by M. Conduret

My name is Max Condouret and I am a kid with a special project. This is my story. I am nine years old and I am in the 3rd grade at a primary school in Geneva, Switzerland.  But, Geneva wasn’t always my home. I was born in San Antonio, Texas and I have two older sisters, two cats, one kitten and a dog. We moved to Switzerland when I was five years old. It was difficult at first, but then I learned French and I made a lot of friends.  My two best friends, Cristofe and Alexandre are part of my story.

Clouded leopard and small felid summit by K. Povey

Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand was host to the Clouded Leopard and Small Felid Conservation Summit January 28-30, 2009.

Action Planning workshop for cheetah, wild dogs and lions in Southern Sudan by Ch. Breitenmoser-Würsten, S. Durant and A. Dickman

A national conservation action planning workshop for cheetah, wild dogs and lions was held 30 March – 3 April 2009 in Juba, Southern Sudan.