Cat News Nr 56


Leopards for the Caucasus

In May 2012, IUCN/SSC and EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation to cooperate in a project to reintroduce the leopard into the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is an UNESCO World Heritage Site (IUCN Ia) and one of Russia’s oldest protected areas. It was declared a Zapovednik (strictly protected area) in 1924 and was already a hunting preserve under the tsar.  The Biosphere Reserve, neighbouring Sochi National Park (IUCN II) and adjacent refuges stretch over about 6000 km². It is the most natural and most beautiful mountainous landscape of temperate forest in Europe I have ever seen.

The leopard reintroduction project has become known as part of the environmental programme of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games – and has been criticised as such. As a matter of fact, the idea is much older, but materialised only with the financial support from the 2014 Games. The Sochi leopard breeding centre was built, and now hosts two male leopards from Turkmenistan and two female leopards from Iran. Indeed, the transfer of the Iranian leopards bases on a high-level agreement between Russia and Iran to exchange tigers against leopards for reintroduction projects. A tiger breeding centre is presently constructed in northern Iran to host the Siberian tigers received from Russia. IUCN/SSC and its Cat Specialist Group were asked from the environmental agencies of both countries to advice on these projects – and we are committed to do so.

The leopard is the number one flagship species for conservation in the Caucasus, a region listed among the biodiversity hot spots of the world. In 2007, the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group was invited by WWF to facilitate the development of the “Strategy for the Conservation of the Leopard in the Caucasus Ecoregion”. Three of the six countries sharing the Caucasus have since implemented the Strategy by means of National Action Plans: Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Turkey has endorsed the Strategy, but not taken further action so far; there is no proof that the leopard still exists in the Turkish part of the Caucasus. Actually, the situation of the leopard in the Caucasus seems to be more critical than assumed five years ago when the Strategy was developed. There are infrequent leopard observations in southern Armenia and southern Azerbaijan, but these might be animals dispersing from northern Iran, the only area with confirmed leopard presence and reproduction in the past years. However, the status of the population in the Caucasian provinces of Iran is not well known either, and there is no evidence that the north-western nuclei are still connected to the populations further south (Zagros Mountains) or further east (Alborz Mountains).

Considering the dire situation of the Caucasian leopard, the Sochi reintroduction project could be an important part of a long-term recovery plan. The first priority must be the strict protection of the source population in the south (Iranian part of the Caucasus). The creation a new population in the north-west could facilitate the recolonisation of the entire ecoregion. The Caucasian Biosphere Reserve is clearly the best-suited area in the ecoregion. But in the long term, an isolated population there will remain vulnerable, considering the fact that the north-western Caucasus was always the edge of the distribution area of the species. Hence preparing the central areas in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey for the return of the leopard either from the south or the north is another important step.

The EAZA Felid TAG and the IUCN Cat Specialist Group have suggested using Persian leopards from the EAZA EEP for the breeding programme in Sochi. First, breeding wild-caught leopards might be difficult, and second, we recommend first assessing the status of the leopard in Iran and developing a National Action Plan before removing leopards for a conservation breeding programme. In the long term, the integration of north-west Iranian leopards into the breeding pool is surely welcome.

The project and the cooperation will now go ahead. It is without any doubt a most challenging project. The 2014 Games will be a first checkpoint, with a wold-wide and high-level attentiveness. This is both a burden and an opportunity.  

Urs Breitenmoser

Records of Bornean felids from and around Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia by H. Bernard, E. L. Baking, H. Matsubayashi and A. H. Ahmad

We photo-captured four of the five species of Bornean wild cats in Tabin Wildlife Reserve (Tabin WR) and in the nearby forest fragments located within a matrix habitat of mature oil palm plantations. The four species were Sunda clouded leopard Neofelis diardi, Bornean bay cat Catopuma badia, marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata, and leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis. A fifth species, the flat headed cat Prionailurus

planiceps, was photographed in 2002 (Yasuda et al. 2007), but was not detected during our study. The leopard cat was photographed at all sampling sites, but all  other species were photographed only in the forest habitats of Tabin WR. Despite consisting mainly of regenerating secondary forest, Tabin WR may still constitute an important component for the preservation of the Bornean wild cat species in Sabah.

Supporting Online Material:

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New high elevation record of the bay cat from Malaysian Borneo by J. Brodie and A. J. Giordano

Very little is known of the ecology and distribution of the bay cat Catopuma badia, a felid endemic to Borneo. During camera-trapping in Pulong Tau National Park in the Kelabit Highlands of northeastern Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, we obtained photos of the bay cat at two different stations. These photos represent the first confirmed observations of the species from the Kelabit Highlands and probably the highestelevation

record for this species (1,460 m), most observations of which have occurred below 800 m. This new information suggests that the bay cat may occur in more areas than previously thought, and in particular highlights the potential importance of this highland region for conservation.

CAT Walks in Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor by K. Kawanishi, Y.C. Aik, C. R. Shepherd, M. Gumal, S. Suksuwan and S. M. Bidin

Malaysia one of the most mega-diverse countries, is showing sign of the emptyforest syndrome; its 130 million year old forests are being emptied out by systematic poaching of commercially valuable species. Besides strengthening law enforcement, it is critical to engage members of the public to bring about the change needed in our society. Using the Malayan tiger as the flagship species, MYCAT expands its

citizen conservation programme towards ending the societally endorsed passivity towards wildlife conservation and strives to save large expanses of living forests rich in biodiversity.

Rusty-spotted cat in Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh State, India by M. Anwar, D. Hasan and J. Vattakavan

Rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus, one of the smallest of the wild cats in the world was photo-captured and sighted for the first time in Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary of Uttar Pradesh State. It was recorded seven times between 18 January and 17 May 2011, through camera traps and a direct sighting at six different locations.

Camera-trap records of tigers at high altitudes in Bhutan by K. Jigme and L. Tharchen

Recent camera-trap evidence from four locations obtained during investigation of incidents of human-wildlife conflict by the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) between 2008 and 2010 demonstrates the wide altitudinal range occupied by tigers Panthera tigris within a narrow band of 175 km on a north-south axis across the country. The elevations at which the tiger photos were recorded so far vary from 100 to 4,200 m. The highest altitudinal record of a tiger in Bhutan was from Jigme Dorji National Park at 4,200 m, making it also the highest altitudinal record of the tiger throughout its entire range.

Diversity of carnivores in Manas National Park - a World Heritage Site, Assam, India by J. Borah, T. Sharma, D. Das, N. Rabha, N. Kakati, A. Basumatri, F. Ahmed, J. Vattakaven, C. Bhobora and A. Swargowari

Manas National Park in Assam, India, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and part of an Indian Tiger Reserve, Elephant Reserve and Biosphere Reserve. During late 1980’s & 1990’s it faced tremendous anthropogenic pressure due to ethnic agitation in the area resulting in large scale destruction of the forest and its wildlife. However, after the resolution of this agitation, Manas is on its way back to normalcy. Camera trapping surveys that were conducted to determine tiger and prey status also helped in obtaining the first detailed baseline data of carnivores in the park in the postconflict period. Here we present information obtained on major carnivore’s presence in Manas. We recommend more research based studies to understand the existing carnivore diversity and to understand whether any management interventions aimed at tigers affects other carnivore species.

Efforts by TRACT to conserve tigers in human-dominated landscapes of central India by J. C. Crawford, H. Dhanwatey, P. Dhanwatey and C. K. Nielsen

Conserving tigers Panthera tigris in human-dominated landscapes is extremely challenging. Human-tiger conflict is inevitable around reserves, as tigers continue to  disperse across reserve boundaries into outlying communities (Ogra & Badola 2008, Barlow et al. 2010, Goodrich 2010). Tigers with established home ranges within protected areas may cross boundaries to predate livestock or use water resources and inadvertently encounter residents. As such, human-tiger conflicts present important local challenges to conservation, even as broader regional or national conservation efforts are implemented (e.g., reserves, legal protections). In this paper, we describe our approach to local conflict prevention and mitigation in central India, and discuss the challenges of conserving tigers in human-dominated landscapes.

Status of felids in Makalu-Barun National Park, Nepal by Y. Ghimirey, B. Ghimire, P. Pal, V. Koirala, R. Acharya, B. V. Dahal and A. Appel

The status of felid species was assessed in Makalu-Barun National Park and Buffer Zone during April - May 2009, November - December 2009 and June - July 2010 at an altitude of 1,600-3,500 m. During a camera trapping survey with a sampling effort of 1,184 trap nights, leopard cat and Asiatic golden cat were photographed. Leopard cat was observed to be the most common felid species. Only indirect evidences suggested the presence of jungle cat and leopard, both of which are threatened due to conflict with humans.

Status and distribution of the leopard in the central hills of Sri Lanka by by A. M. Kittle, A. C. Watson, P. H. Chanaka Kumara and H. K. Nimalka Sanjeewani

The Sri Lankan leopard Panthera pardus kotiya is an endangered sub-species and data on its status, distribution and abundance in the island’s central hills is lacking. A main objective of this long term study (2003-2011) is to determine these fundamental aspects of leopard ecology in this highly fragmented wet zone region. Here we report results from presence/absence surveys, camera trap surveys initiated to estimate leopard abundance, and trail index surveys comparing relative abundance between two contrasting highland sites, the first a mid-elevation secondary wet zone forest adjacent to a large town (pop. 100 000) and the other a mix of regenerating secondary and primary montane forest adjacent to a large (98 km²) protected area. Results indicate that leopards inhabit a wide variety of landscapes in the region ranging from large intact forest swaths to small (<5 km²), isolated patches of heavily impacted secondary forest. Long term (minimum 6 years) use of small patches by individually identified leopards and repeated cub-rearing confirms residency, highlighting the importance of these seemingly marginal lands. Leopard abundance differs markedly between hill country sites with a higher relative abundance in areas adjacent to large, intact forests than more isolated forest patches. Leopards are using a range of landscapes within the region including established and regenerating forests, plantation lands (e.g. pinus, eucalyptus, tea), and areas in close proximity to human settlement.

New records of Persian leopard in Bashagard area, southeastern Iran by T. Ghadirian and M. Ghasemi

During a carnivore survey carried out from 2009 to 2010 in the Bashagard area, southeastern Iran, new records of the endangered Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor were obtained. These records include: one carcass of a young female leopard (Fig. 2), first camera-trap photos of leopards in Hormozgan Province (Fig. 1), and some tracks and scrapes. The results show that despite the harsh environment and scarcity of prey, Persian leopards still survive in one of the most remote areas of Iran.

"In Search of Persian Leopard" won cinema prize by F. Amiri, M. S. Farhadinia, B. Nezami, M. Eslami and N. Asgari

As the Best Documentary Feature of 2011, the ICS’ recent documentary, entitled “In Search for Persian Leopard” won Crystal Simorgh in Fajr International Film Festival in Iran. It was the highest eligibility an Iranian wildlife documentary has ever achieved in the country and it can be a milestone to provide community support for effective protection of the Persian leopard in Iran.

First photographic record of the Persian leopard in Kurdistan, northern Iraq by H. A. Raza, S. A. Ahmad, N. A. Hassan, K. Ararat, M. Qadir and L. Ali

Under a grant from the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), the Nature Iraq team has been researching wild goat Capra aegagrus in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. On the IUCN Red List (Weinberg et al. 2008), wild goat is listed as Vulnerable, and our research will help to enrich international understanding about the status of this animal in Iraq and conserve this species. During the CLP field surveys the team set one camera trap in a habitat where it was thought to be a suitable place for different carnivorous animals. The Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor was our main target species because our team was already working on their prey species, wild goats, and because we have seen a few incidents of the killing of leopards, which made us want to clarify their status in our study areas. Persian leopard is an Endangered species whose presence in Iraq, according to IUCN Red List (Khorozyan et al. 2008) is uncertain.

Supporting Online Material:

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First captive-bred individuals released in the Iberian lynx reintroduction programme by M. Simón, J. Boixader, M. García-Tardío, A. Rivas, G. López, M. J. Pérez-Aspa, J. M. Gil-Sánchez, J. Martín-Jaramillo, F. Martínez, I. Sánchez, A. Vargas and J. M

With only about 350 individuals, the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus continues to be the world’s most endangered felid. Ongoing conservation measures include both in-situ and ex-situ conservation programmes. As part of the first Iberian lynx reintroduction programme, two captive-born individuals were released in the wild in the 2010-2011 season for the first time with this species. The development of both individuals in the wild was good, as they showed natural feeding and social behaviours. Although results are preliminary, this case shows that training protocols designed for this species are working in the right direction.

Pumas in central-south Chile by F. Vidal and J. Sanderson

In Chile, professional and public understanding of pumas Puma concolor is limited. For instance, it is widely believed that all pumas are a threat to humans and their livestock. Pumas that are believed to be habitual livestock killers are captured and relocated with no regard for the consequences of this action. To better understand the behavior of pumas living in close proximity to rural communities and livestock in central Chile we live-captured and radio-collard two individual pumas, and radiocollared three pumas that were captured elsewhere and translocated to our study area. For the first time in Chile, the fate of translocated pumas was documented. Our results suggest that resident pumas living in the Central Valley of Chile do not enjoy a long lifespan, and that translocated pumas are unable to adapt to a new area and are likely to perish within a few weeks. Programs are needed to educate professionals and the public that co-existing with wild pumas is possible.

Bishopwood: a tree preferred by Bengal tiger and leopard for clawing by N. K. Xavier

Tigers Panthera tigris and leopards Panthera pardus use the bishopwood tree Bischofia javanica for clawing in order to remove worn-out sheaths and to leave scent marks behind. This tree can serve as an effective item of environmental enrichment when planted inside tiger and leopard enclosures in zoos.