Cat News Nr 54


The plight of the lion

In 2005/06 the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group, together with many other conservation organisations and representatives of the African lion range states, developed and published the Conservation Strategy for the Lion in West and Central Africa and the Conservation Strategy for the Lion in Eastern and Southern Africa. The IUCN engagement was based on a mandate from the CITES CoP 13 in 2004. The Conference had, as an alternative to the proposal to transfer the lion to CITES Appendix I, decided to hold a series of conservation workshops in order to develop regional conservation strategies.

What have these two strategies brought? Within SSC and the Cat Specialist Group, the experience with the development of the lion strategies have advanced process that was then in an early stage: strategic planning for species conservation. Kristin Nowell and Hans Bauer where the driving forces behind this process, the IUCN Regional Offices were involved, and Holly Dublin, then holding the SSC Chair, has facilitated the workshop in Johannesburg. She has later established a task force for that was commissioned to develop guidelines for a standardised approach in species conservation planning. The task force has produced two documents, the “Strategic Planning for Species Conservation: A Handbook” and a short version called “Strategic Planning for Species Conservation: An Overview”. Nowadays, the SSC Species Conservation Planning Sub-Committee continues to advance our understanding of species conservation planning.

SCP is, above all, a standardised, well-structured and therefore understandable way of how to work together in species conservation. Not only GOs, NGOs and scientists engaged in conservation need to cooperate, they also need to involve other private and public sectors and often institutions, which consider conservation to be a hindrance to their goals. And such cooperation must, for most felids, be organised at international level. The lion is a perfect example to demonstrate both the need for and the challenges of SCP: On the one hand, transboundary co-operation is an absolute must, but on the other hand, it is impossible to organise a workshop involving stakeholders and local people on almost half of the African continent. Consequently, lion conservation planning needed to be organised at two (or more) scales: Regional conservation strategies and (national) action plans for concretising and implementing conservation measures. To our knowledge, 7 out of 42 range states have so far developed a National Action Plan based on the Strategies: Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Some of these NAPs are officially endorsed, how many of them are actually implemented and have an effect on the ground we do not know.

In the meantime, lion populations seem to decline further. Two review publications estimated the African lion populations ranging from 23,000 (Bauer & van der Merwe 2004) to 39,373 (Chardonnet 2002), respectively. While the first figure was an “at least” (hence a minimum) estimation, the second was an extrapolation considered too optimistic by many lion experts. The controversy over these two estimations was part of the debate leading to the CITES discussion and the subsequent development of the conservation strategies – and the discussion is still going on. The fact is, we do not know. However, even Chardonnet’s optimistic estimation was then lower than other available “estimations” (e.g. Nowell and Jackson 1996 gave a range of 30,000 to 100,000), and recent in situ studies in various areas showed that almost everywhere, lion populations are (considerably) smaller than expected. The situation looks especially grim in Central and West Africa.

Within the African Lion Working Group ALWG, there is a lasting debate on various aspects and important challenges of lion conservation that fills our mailboxes. Participants agree, disagree, consider and reconsider. The discussion is most interesting and lead on a high professional level by the world’s leading lion experts. As marginal observers (with no chance, to be honest, to read all contributions), our impression is that the debate is not about a pessimistic versus an optimistic view, but rather about how pessimistic the view should be. Six years after the development of the two regional Lion Conservation Strategies, nobody can disagree that the lion is far from being safe and that the general tendency is still negative. How negative it is, we may not know. But this is not important for what we should do, only how urgent more and better conservation measures might be.

Do we need a Global Lion Initiative? At least in two points, a GLI would be good: First, we need better political support for lion conservation throughout the range states, and this can probably only be gained through international or global political awareness. The second point is a Cat SG co-chair inside aphorism: in our language “gli” means “soon”. What we need even sooner is a consensus within the science-based lion conservation community on a number of questions, e.g.: (1) What is the agreed base of information on the status of the lion populations (and where do we agree that our data is weak)? (2) How can we step by step improve the monitoring of lions across Africa? (3) How can we (the lion conservation community) further support the improvement and implementation of the Strategies and NAPs? And last but not least (4) What are the most urgent measures and/or the priority populations that we should propose to the range states and the global community?

Urs and Christine Breitenmoser

Pallas's cat in the Altai Repulic, Russia by A. Barashkova and I. Semansky

Pallas’s cat is a small wild cat occurring in Russia at the northern periphery of its global range. The results of Pallas’s cat surveys conducted in the Altai Mountain area are presented in this paper. Before the 2000s, there was no special research undertaken on Pallas’s cat population numbers and distribution in the Altai part of its range, except for the gathering of interview data in the late 1990s. This study carried out snow-tracking and obtained survey data on the species from 2006 to 2009 in the Altai Republic, one of the core habitats for Pallas’s cat in Russia. Pallas’s cat density reaches 1.20-2.18 individuals per 10 km2 in the main Pallas’s cat habitats. A total of 480-650 Pallas’s cats were estimated to live within the Altai Republic. The areas of high conservation value for Pallas’s cat are situated on the Sailughem and Kurai ridges. The main threats to the species are poaching and killing by dogs. It is necessary to estimate the threats from possible human activity, such as mining. It is presumed that educational work with local people will reduce deaths amongst Pallas’s cats. The creation of new protected areas within the key habitat of Pallas’s cat in the Altai Republic, including the enlargement of the recently-created national park on Sailughem ridge, is very encouraging.

Preliminary survey of small cats in Eastern Gujarat, India by K. Patel

The deciduous forest habitats of the Baria and Chhotaudepur forest divisions spread over the Vadodara and Dahod districts of the Panchmahals region in eastern Gujarat in western India. This paper deals with the preliminary observations made of small cats in 270 km2 of the area studied intensively between December 2005 and February 2007. A total of 207 sightings of three species of small cats were obtained. The jungle cat Felis chaus was seen in 109 sightings and found to be widespread. 17 sightings of the rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus constitute a new distribution record for the region. The presence of the Asiatic wildcat Felis silvestris ornata in the study area cannot be ruled out. Many cats were found with similar coat patterns and activity as the Asiatic wildcat, but because of the lack of clear photographs and in absence of DNA techniques the cats observed were considered as Felis spp.; 84 sightings of such cats were recorded. Observations revealed rodents as the major food item for all three small cats. Ten species of small rodents were found in the study area. The forest areas of Kevadi (N 22° 31’/ E 73°56’), Fangia (22° 32’N/ 73° 56’E)  and Ratanmahals (22° 32’N/74° 08’E) were found  to be the most important sites for the rusty-spotted cat since sizeable populations of this cat were found within these forest pockets.

Supporting Online Material:

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Roadkill of a flat-headed cat in Pahang, Peninsular Malaysia by S. K. Syed Mohd Kamil, Z. Z. Zainuddin and A. Z. Abidin

Any findings related to a rare species like flat-headed cat is crucial for conservation of the species. The discovery of a male flat-headed cat carcass on 1 January 2010 in Pahang had confirmed one of the historical habitats predicted by Wilting et al. (2010). Previous records verify that the flat-headed cat was widely distributed in Pahang including within the district of Kuantan and Pekan, Upper Sungai Rompin, Krau Wildlife Reserve as well as Fraser’s Hill.

Home range size of a tigress in Sundarbans, India: preliminary results by R. K. Sharma, Q. Qureshi and Y. V. Jhala

Tigers Panthera tigris are extremely difficult to study in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, as standard sampling methods do not work well in this habitat. Therefore, little is known about the ecology of tigers in the Sundarban mangroves. Two long-term studies have been undertaken on the Indian and Bangladesh side of the Sundarbans to address this gap. Tigers in a part of the Indian Sundarbans were successfully habituated to cage traps and this technique was used to radio-collar a female in December 2007. Based on data collected over 45 days, the home range of the tigress was estimated at 40 and 28 km2 using the 100% and 95% minimum convex polygon method, respectively. Radio telemetry offers a promising tool for studying certain important aspects of tiger ecology in mangrove habitat.

Sighting and first photograph of Asiatic golden cat in western Arunachal Pradesh by S. Lyngdoh, K. M. Selvan, G. V. Gopi, B. Habib and M. Hazarika

Asiatic golden cat Catopuma temmincki is an enigmatic and elusive forest predator. In Asia, little is known about the status of the Asiatic golden cat and it is rarely seen in the wild. We present the first photographic evidence of an Asiatic golden cat in Assam valley semi-tropical evergreen forests of Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh.

Sighting of a Eurasian lynx near Chushul village in Ladakh, India by A. Kotia, K. Angmo and G. S. Rawat

In India the status of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is unknown despite it being recognized as a Schedule I species under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 (WPA). The inaccessibility of the areas where the species is found often makes scientific studies difficult to conduct with specific reference to this species which often is subjected to persecution by local communities primarily as a result habitat loss and livestock predation. This is the report of an observation of a lynx in Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian cold desert of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir.

The cat and the tree: a desert tale by C. Tourenq and L. Coleman

Because of its ability to interbreed with domestic cats Wildcat Felis silvestris spp. taxonomic status is still unclear in the Arabian Peninsula and the United Arab Emirates in particular. Other than genetic pollution recognised threats are:  introduction of disease by feral cats, foxes’ persecution by poisoning and trapping, and road kills due to the developing road infrastructure of the country. Basic information on the species ecology and behaviour in the region is sparse. Using the report of the use of a trunk cavity of a native Ghaf (Prosopis cinerea) as a resting place for a Wildcat, we highlight the importance of preserving such habitat for desert wildlife. As part of the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) programme of work, the production of an official National Red List of Endangered Species is a necessary step to clarify the conservation status of the Wildcat in the UAE and propose relevant conservation actions.

Cheetahs in Kafue National Park and Nkala Game Management Area, Zambia by E. Chilufya and N. Purchase

The distribution of cheetah in the Kafue National Park south and the adjacent Nkala Game Management Area was obtained using data from cheetah sightings. The information was collected by Zambia Wildlife Authority and Wildlife Police Officers during their routine law enforcement operations in the national park and adjacent GMAs during the period 2005 to 2009. Comparing the cheetah sightings in the park and the vegetation distribution of the park, most of the cheetah was sighted near grasslands (i.e. Nanzhila and Shakalongo Plains) and open forests, although this probably reflects the ability of the scouts and police officers to detect cheetah rather than habitat preference. More detailed surveys for cheetah in the park are recommended as this area of Zambia is likely to be important for the conservation of the species in the country and the region.

The Yungas Biosphere Reserve of Argentina: a hot spot of South American wild cats by M. S. Di Bitteti, S. Albanesi, M. J. Foguet, G. A. E. Cuyckens and A. Brown

We conducted three camera-trap surveys in a productive conservation landscape within the Yungas Biosphere Reserve of NW Argentina. The surveyed area contains portions of Premontane Forest and sugar cane and citrus plantations and is intersected by riparian forest corridors. We recorded six of the seven wild cat species present the area. These species make different use of the different environments present in the landscape: Geoffroy’s cat was the only species recorded in the plantations, pumas and margays were restricted to the forests, jaguarundis were only recorded in the corridors, while ocelots and oncillas were recorded in both corridors and forests. Jaguars were not photographed during the surveys but are present in the study site. The Yungas Biosphere Reserve contains not only these seven species, but two other felids that inhabit the highlands of the reserve: the Pampas cat and the Andean cat. We drew the attention to the Yungas, a small region of the Planet, shared by Argentina and Bolivia, which harbors ¼ of the World’s cat species.

The use of commercial perfumes for studying jaguars by M. E. Viscarra, G. Ayala, R. Wallace and R. Nallar

Chemical signals have broadly been used as carnivore attractants to estimate population densities and relative abundance, as well as for animal capture and for zoo enclosure enrichment programs, among others. However, attractants are difficult and expensive to obtain outside the US, and therefore alternative attractants have been chosen, such as commercial fragrances used by humans that may be potentially attractive to carnivores. In the present study we present the frequency of jaguar Panthera onca behavioral patterns induced by the presence of Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men, Margaret Astor Jovan Musk and Chanel Nº5 fragrances in a total of 14 individuals at the Vesty Pakos Municipal Zoo in La Paz, Bolivia. The reported behaviors were: Sniffing, Rubbing, and Whirling, which were defined based on behavioral response intensity (low to high). Results show that the fragrance that induced the highest frequency of behavioral responses was Chanel Nº5, followed by CK Obsession for Men, and Margaret Astor Jovan Musk. Jaguars induced by Chanel Nº5 whirled for long periods of time, a relevant result for wildlife research work.

Coexistence between jaguar and puma by F. Palomares

Mechanisms allowing for coexistence between potential competing species are not well known. Jaguars and pumas have a high potential for interspecific interference and exclusion since both species are commonly found in the same habitats and areas. We are developing a large-scale study to look deeper into the mechanisms that allow for coexistence between both species, mainly focusing on individual characteristics. We want to establish collaboration with research teams working with any of the two species.