Cat News Nr 55


A revised felid classification

How many cat species are there today – thirty-six, thirty-seven, a few less or a few more? What is the correct scientific name of the African golden cat - Profelis aurata (as in Nowell & Jackson 1996) or Caracal aurata (as in the Red List 2008)? Do you refer to the snow leopard as Uncia uncia or Panthrea uncia? How many subspecies should we recognise for the leopard – nine (as proposed by Uphyrkina et al. 2001) or twenty-four (as listed in Nowell & Jackson 1996) or many more? Is Felis bieti the only endemic cat of China or only a subspecies of Felis silvestris?

Why are these questions important? Evolution is a continuous, although not constant process, and grouping specimens or extant populations into a discrete system of classes may sometimes require arbitrary decisions and compromises, especially if our knowledge is incomplete. For the cats themselves and for conservation practitioners, these questions seem hence to be rather irrelevant and academic. However, the “proper” classification of the felids has important practical implications. Red lists, national legislation and international treaties do not deal with populations (which are the true biological conservation units), but with genera, species and subspecies (which are taxonomic units developed to explain phylogenetic models). 

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is “widely recognized as the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species”, aiming to identify and document those species most in need of conservation attention if global extinction rates are to be reduced; and provide a global index of the state of change of biodiversity (citation from In order to play this leading role, the Red List should use a taxonomy that is widely recognised and accepted by most of the customers of the Red List. To assure this, taxonomic standards are being adopted, and “all new species' listings, and any revisions to listings, must be in accordance with these taxonomic standards, but deviations may be permitted provided they are fully documented and substantiated”.

The IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group has so far followed the taxonomy used in “Wild cats – status survey and conservation action plan” (Nowell & Jackson 1996), which was based on Wozencraft (1993) and on a compilation of subspecies by C. Groves and A. Shoemaker. In the past twenty years, numerous publications using molecular-genetic approaches have challenged the traditional use of scientific names of species and genera, and the exaggerated splitting of species into subspecies. Many of these publications provided new– and inspiring! – insights into the evolutionary relationships of taxa within the Felidae, but most of the publications were not in “accordance with these taxonomic standards”. However, the Red List recognises the lack of sufficiently clear taxonomic standards as being a weakness. If the Cat Specialist Group, together with the IUCN Red List, wants to be the main reference and focal point for cat conservation, we need an agreed and generally accepted taxonomy.

We have therefore decided to establish a Cat Classification Task Force with the goal to propose on behalf of the Cat Specialist Group and the IUCN Red List Unit, and based on the best science and expert knowledge presently available, an updated and practical classification of the Felidae, including genera, species and subspecies with the most likely distribution ranges of the respective taxa.

The starting point of the CCTF is the classification used by Nowell and Jackson (1996) and the classification (species, subspecies) used in the 2008 version of the Red List, generally based on Wozencraft in Wilson and Reader (2005). The CCTF will consider all recent taxonomic reviews and scientific publications on the taxonomy of cats, but it will also review earlier works, especially the original species’ descriptions. The review should be based mainly on new molecular genetics and morphological research, but should also consider general evolu­tio­nary, phylogenetic, palaeontological and biogeographical principles, especially in cases where molecular genetics and morphology are in disagreement. Conventional rules of zoological taxonomic nomenclature have to be respected, but traditions in the use of vernacular names – especially in cases where subspecies are merged – are also to be considered in order to produce a classification of cats useful for the practical work of the Cat Specialist Group and conservation in general. The CCTF will suggest a set of principles and criteria for decisions regarding the acceptance of proposed species and subspecies that can also be applied for future reviews. In case of uncertainty or lack of con­sensus, a conservative approach will be suggested.

Further cat specialists will review the proposals of the CCTF, especially in regard to the distribution of the taxa (e.g. the borders between neighbouring subspecies). After the peer review process, the proposal of the CCTF will be published and formally adopted as the current cat classification used by the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group until the next revision. An important role of the CCTF will be to identify key areas for future research in order to resolve current taxonomic inadequacies. We suggest future reviews every five years in order to keep pace with future research, but so as not to be too disruptive for legislators, field workers and other cat workers.

The CCTF will be chaired by Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator of Vertebrates at the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh, and supported by a Core Group. An Expert and Review Group will be established as soon as the Core Group has defined the working procedures and schedule, and many of our Cat Specialist Group members will be asked to join and help. The aim is to finish the work until the end of 2012 and to publish the updated cat classification as a Cat News Special Issue in spring 2013.

Urs Breitenmoser, Christine Breitenmoser-Würsten and Andrew Kitchener

A new record for the Borneo bay cat in central Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo by J. Hon

A new locality of the Borneo bay cat Catopuma badia was recorded in a logging concession area in Anap Muput Forest Management Unit in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. The bay cat was recorded in the wild in video format using a camera trap. This new discovery extends the distribution of bay cat to include central Sarawak, where there have been no records to date. This record suggests that, in addition to protected areas where bay cat has also been reported, logged over forests, where sustainable forest management is practiced may be beneficial for the conservation of bay cat and other wildlife.

First photos of marbled cat in Pakke Tiger Reserve, Western Arunachal Pradesh, India by S. Lyngdoh, K. M. Selvan, G.V. Gopi and B. Habib

The marbled cat is the least studied small cat in Southeast Asia and is also perhaps the most enigmatic. We present the first photographic evidence of a marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata in the semi-tropical evergreen forests of Pakke Tiger Reserve in the Assam Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, northeast India. We also present evidence of hunting which is one of the threats to marbled cats in this region.

First image of an Amur leopard recorded in China by L. Feng, R. Wang, P. Mou, X. Kou, and J. Ge

As a part of a research project on the Siberian tiger Panthera tigris altaica and the Amur leopard Panthera pardus orientalis of northeast China, we established a camera-trap network to monitor the dynamics of the population. A wild male Amur leopard was recorded by camera trap in the Hunchun National Nature Reserve, Jilin province, China, on 18 October 2010. This was the first time that a Amur leopard has been photographed in the natural forested area of northeast China and confirmed the existence of the species in this area.

Trapping of fishing cat in Chitwan National Park, Nepal by S. Dahal and D. Raj Dahal

The fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus is Endangered with a decreasing population throughout its distribution range in South and Southeast Asia (IUCN Red List 2010). Ten live traps in a 200 m line transect were deployed near the Tiger Tops Tent Camp area in Chitwan National Park at the interval of 20 m. Two individual fishing cats were captured in March 2011. Regular fishing in the wetlands by local fishermen living nearby was identified as the major threat.

Four colour morphs of and the altitudinal record for the Asiatic golden cat in Bhutan by K. Jigme

During camera-trapping exercises carried out by the park staff and the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD), Department of Forests & Park Services, in 2008 and 2010, a total of 13 records of four colour morphs of Asiatic golden cats Catopuma temmincki were recorded from four sites in Bhutan. Camera traps recorded three photos of the golden cat at 4,033 m in Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) in 2008, making this the highest altitudinal record for the species in its range. The capture time and frequency of photos revealed that 76.9% of photos occurred between 12:00 and 18:30, while 15% are night-time photos and 7.6% were taken in the early morning. These data suggest that golden cats in Bhutan are mainly diurnal with some crepuscular activity.

Diurnal rhythm and feeding preference of flat-headed cat, in seminatural conditions by C. Traeholt and M. Idris

The flat-headed cat Prionailurus planiceps is one of the smallest species of wild cats in Southeast Asia. It has partly webbed feet and is known to be semi-aquatic. Its main distribution ranges include Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo but little else is known about the ecology of this species in the wild as well as in captivity. This study took place in a 70 m2 semi-natural enclosure over a period of three weeks in Sg Dusun Wildlife Reserve, Malaysia. Using automatic infrared still and video cameras a pair of adult flat-headed cats was studied. The results revealed crepuscular diurnal activity irrespective of feeding times. Feeding trials using four kinds of food (quail, amphibian, rat, fish) did not reveal any preference for the type of food, but there was a tendency to kill larger prey (rat, quail) with a bite to the back of the head/neck and then devour the prey head first. The study also revealed frequent scent marking by the male.

Enhancing herders' livelihood and conserving the snow leopard in Nepal by G. S. Gurung, K. Thapa, K. Kunkel, G. J. Thapa, M. Kollmair and U. Mueller Boeker

Loss of livestock to snow leopards Panthera uncia is one of the primary concerns of subsistence herders’ communities and one of the primary threats to conservation of this endangered species throughout the alpine regions of the central Asia. Unless the relationship between snow leopards and humans is better understood and appropriate strategies are applied, coexistence may not be sustainable. Thus, to address this issue, WWF Nepal piloted a community-managed livestock insurance scheme in Ghunsa valley of Kangchenjunga Conservation Area simultaneously with various types of mitigation measures (i.e. preventive and curative). We found significant advantages of the insurance scheme including that it is self-sustaining and locally managed thereby ensuring it is economically viable and effective in preventive retaliatory killing of snow leopards. The main strength of the insurance scheme is that it was designed and developed in close co-operation with the affected herders’ communities. The communities start by designing a simple livestock insurance plan whereby owners contribute to a common fund that is later administered and managed at the local level, thus reducing likelihood of fraud. Benefit sharing of funds among subsistence herders’ communities from income generating activities is one of the positive motivating tools for people towards snow leopards. Since initiated, snow leopard killings have gone from 1-3/year to 0/year for 3 years.

Translocation a success, but poaching remains a problem for Amur tigers by C. S. Miller, Y. K. Petrunenko, J. M. Goodrich, M. Hebblewhite, I. V. Seryodkin and D. G. Miquelle

Several recent publications have strongly criticized using translocation of carnivores as a management tool for conflict situations. Here we report on another successful translocation of an Amur tiger Panthera tigris altaica and detail the conditions that make this a valuable tool for managers in the Russian Far East. We took advantage of the high spatial and temporal resolution provided by GPS collars to closely monitor and assess translocation success after release. We argue that translocation of conflict animals can be successful and remains a viable option for consideration by managers obligated to otherwise remove individuals from a critically endangered population. Regardless, as this example showed, without reducing poaching pressure, managers will be unable to recover populations on the edge.

Systematic survey efforts of the African golden cat - Part 1. Results from Gabon by L. Bahaa-el-Din, P. Henschel, R. Slotow, D. W. Macdonald and L. Hunter

Despite being classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, the African golden cat Profelis aurata has never been the subject of a dedicated research effort. Threats such as logging and bushmeat hunting are ubiquitous across the golden cat’s range, likely producing widespread but undocumented consequences for the species. With so little known about the African golden cat, baseline data on its status and an assessment of anthropogenic impacts is long overdue. We conducted a systematic camera-trap effort of golden cats in Gabon to assess the applicability of the technique to study this shy species. The survey produced 37 photographic captures of golden cats (at a rate of 1.44 per 100 trapping days), validating this method as a useful data-collection tool. The study also helped identify technical considerations which have been included in our ongoing research, which aims to assess the effects of human disturbance on the African golden cat, while also examining intra-guild competition with leopards Panthera pardus.

The status of cheetah and African wild dog in the Bénoué Ecosystem, North Cameroon by H. H. de Iongh, B. Croes, G. Rasmussen, R. Buij and P. Funston

Here we present the results of a research programme on large carnivores implemented in the Bénoué Ecosystem of North Cameroon. The area comprises three national parks (Bénoué, Bouba-Ndjidda and Faro, with a total surface of 7,300 km2) and a large area comprising 28 hunting zones (with a total surface of 15,700 km2) that is contiguous and surrounds all three parks. Three years of surveys (2007-2010) covered 4,200 km of spoor transects, 1,200 camera-trap days, 109 interviews with local villagers, and direct observations. From these data we conclude that cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus and African wild dogs Lycaon pictus are functionally extinct in the Bénoué Ecosystem and probably also in other areas of the country. Spotted hyenas Crocuta crocuta and leopards Panthera pardus were found in hunting zones and national parks in similar densities, but lion Panthera leo densities were significantly lower in hunting concessions than in national parks. Our immediate recommendation is that local authorities drastically improve management strategies in both national parks and hunting concessions, to facilitate restoration of wild dog and cheetah populations by immigration from neighbouring countries Central African Republic and Chad.

Ocelots in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, USA by M. A. Sternberg and J. L. Mays

From 18 November 2009 to 15 February 2010 we used paired camera traps to photograph ocelots Leopardus pardalis in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding area. Eleven adult ocelots (8 male, 3 female) and two kittens (estimated age <1 year) were photographed. One adult female and one adult male, previously unknown to this population, were documented, as well as an adult male that had not been documented in 4 years. Program CAPTURE estimated 11±0.32 adult ocelots. The area sampled by the camera traps, including a buffer zone, was 125.7 km2. Ocelot density was estimated to be 0.09 ocelots/km2. As part of a long-term ocelot recovery effort, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to increase available habitat through acquisition and restoration while acting to minimize threats such as traffic-caused mortalities.

School kid saved female leopard and her cub by S.R. Mehr, Y. Talebi, A. S. Khayat, A. K. Hamdidi, H. Moshiri and A. Ghoddousi

While most of the eight felid species of Iran are threatened, mainly from poaching by local communities at reserve boundaries due to livestock depredation, as a result of two year educational programme in surrounding villages of the Bamu National Park, a female leopard Panthera pardus and her cub were saved from poaching by a school kid. After killing a goat inside corral, leopards would have been shot or poisoned in a retaliatory action, but this didn’t happen as the kid informed his parents on significance of endangered Persian leopards. A reproducing female leopard is a crucial member for long-term survival of the six adult leopards identified from camera trapping in the park.

Mistaken identity by G. Breton and J. Sanderson

Though large cats are easily distinguished where they co-occur, some sympatric small cat species appear very similar in morphology, especially coat pattern. Often even specialists cannot distinguish one species from another. Determining which species has been photographed in a camera trap picture is often difficult, leading to confusion and controversy. Here we present three comparisons of several morphologically similar sympatric species that have created much confusion.

Malaysia, a leading country for green infrastructure by K. Kawanishi, Y. Chin Aik, E. John, M. Gumal and S. Sukor

In the Year of the Tiger 2010, while highest ranking politicians, the World Bank and large international NGOs were busy making political as well as financial commitments to the future of the tiger, the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers MYCAT worked at the grassroots to maintain the connectivity and functionality of the last critical linkage that connects the two largest tiger landscapes in Malaysia.