Cat News Nr 58


En busca de conejos

The Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus, the world’s most endangered cat species, is doing better. Not well, but better. There are now 309 lynx (85 breeding females) living in four populations compared to 94 (with only 27 breeding females) in two populations in 2002. And the four conservation breeding centres in Spain and Portugal now host a total of 77 mature individuals. The first Iberian lynx was born in captivity only 2005. Experiences in the Guadalmellato and Guarrizas study areas have demonstrated that both, wild-to-wild translocation and the release of captive born lynx are appropriate methods for bringing the Iberian lynx back to where it once roamed. And suddenly, problem No. One is no longer the lince, but the conejo, the common rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, the lynx’ most important prey species. The frantic search for the rabbit has been launched. We have enough lynx to be released and we know how to reintroduce them – but where are the rabbits that can support at least a small lynx population?

The meeting of all partners of the IberLince Life Project in Moura, Portugal, on 20–21 May 2013 was dedicated to this question. The project teams from Portugal and from the Spanish provinces of Andalucía, Extremadura and Castilla la Mancha presented their ideas for suitable release areas. The criteria to select an area were (1) habitat quality (dens cover habitat, e.g. Mediterranean hard shrub), (2) size of the habitat patch (at least 10,000 ha or space for 50 lynx), (3) sufficient prey base (spring density of ≥2 rabbits/ha), and (4) connectivity to neighbouring potential lynx subpopulation with a distance of maximum 42 km. This last criterion aimed to secure that animals dispersing from a new nucleus would not be lost, but would have a certain chance to find another population. The first phase of the recovery strategy foresees to create a metapopulation along the Sierra Morena from the remnant population near Andújar towards Portugal in the west. However, it soon turned out that not many release area would meet all criteria and that the idea to create a “chain of pearls” along the Sierra Morena simply lacks sufficient spots with high rabbit densities. Hence the strategy or at least the priorities for the next years needs to be adapted to the availability of rabbits. All sites with decent rabbit populations within the project area in the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula will now be assessed for their potential to host a small lynx population. Most of the seven sites favoured so far are still within or adjacent to the Sierra Morena, but there was a consensus at the meeting to also consider release sites in Monfragüe (northern Extremadura) and in the Montes de Toledo (northern Castilla La Mancha).

Isn’t it ironic: The rabbit, introduced to many areas across the world, often with devastating consequences for the local biodiversity, domesticated and bred by the millions to feed people, is a major conservation problem at its place of origin, the Iberian Peninsula. There are two subspecies, the northern O. c. cuniculus (the one that was domesticated and known world-wide as a pest species), and the southern O. c. algirus. This southern subspecies is more threatened (with an estimated decline of 95% in the second half of the 20th century), suffers more from diseases like Myxomatosis or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease – and is the main food not only for the Iberian lynx but also for other threatened species such as the Spanish imperial eagle Aquila adalberti.

Although the research on rabbits and their diseases have considerably increased in recent years, we know relatively little about this keystone species. The population decline is estimated from studies in a few areas, the dynamics of the populations and the epizootics are not understood, and for many areas with suitable habitat for lynx, but no rabbits, we do not know why and for how long the rabbits are gone – if they ever were there. The rabbit was for a long time simply not a species worth to be considered, leave alone studied.

Prey decline is known to be a major threat to the survival of large cats. Shortage of prey is most often the underlying reason for the collapse of cats depending on ungulate prey. Even Panthera species can stand a rather strong persecution as long as there is sufficient prey. Exceptions from this “rule” – one is e.g. mentioned on page 18 of this issue – concern most often small and isolated, hence highly vulnerable populations. The Iberian lynx seems to be a special case among the medium-sized cats. We generally assume that prey supply is sufficient for the lesser cat that hunt small or medium-sized prey, rodents, birds, or lagomorphs. But how much do we really know about the feeding ecology and about the availability of prey of the small and medium-sized cats? Clearly not enough to be reassuring!

Urs Breitenmoser

Ciudad de Piedra, an important site for the conservation of Andean cats in Bolivia by J. C. Huaranca, L. F. Pacheco, Ma. L. Villalba and A. Rocio Torrez

Andean cat Oreailurus jacobita has been found to occur in patchy rocky areas, at high altitudes, which might result in either a metapopulation structure or a pattern of small number of individuals using a small rocky area for some period of time, and then passing to another rocky area. Either of these patterns may result in low densities at the landscape level but inflated estimates when surveys are done at small scales. We present data from a preliminary survey at the site Ciudad de Piedra in Bolivia where rocky areas cover a continuous surface of >1,500 km2. Presence of Andean cat, pampas cat, puma, and other carnivores, plus a relatively very good conservation status of this very large area, reveal Ciudad de Piedra as an important site for the conservation of Andean cat in Bolivia, and probably in the region.

Cats captured in the High Andes close a door to potential monitoring programs by J. Reppucci, C. Tellaeche, E. Luengos Vidal and M. Lucherini

Because of their similarities, pampas cats Oncifelis colocolo and Andean cats Oreailurus jacobita are usually studied simultaneously in areas where they overlap, but these similarities have been often an obstacle for researchers. The foot morphology was reported as useful to differentiate these species and potentially develop monitoring programs based on footprints. With the objective to attach radio-collars, two Pampas cats and one Andean cat were captured in the Argentinean High Andes. This enabled us to observe a high variability in the Pampas cat foot and conclude that a monitoring program based on footprints would be unreliable at least until a more detailed study on foot morphology is carried out.

Records of occasional puma hunting for consumption in Colombia by J. F. González-Maya, J. Racero-Casarrubia and A. Arias-Alzate

Hunting of large felids in Latin America is common throughout their range mostly as retaliation for cattle predation. Until recently, few records reported hunting of these species for consumption, and in general its use, other than as a trophy, was scarcely reported in literature. Here we present two noteworthy records of puma Puma concolor hunting for meat consumption in Colombia. Both records are considered occasional. However, they fit with an apparent widespread pattern in the Northern regions of Colombia.

Behaviour of two male jaguars scavenging on a marine dolphin in Honduras by F. E. Castañeda, L. A. Herrera and S. C. Pereira

Little research has described jaguars Panthera onca as scavengers. Here we report a scavenging event on a marine dolphin carcass on the northern Honduran coast. After a dead dolphin was washed ashore a jaguar dragged the carcass 35 m into the forest. We installed and kept functional camera traps for 51 days on site. Two male jaguars were detected 14 times, both cats fed on the carcass during the first three days. Behaviors such as sniffing, rubbing on and rolling over the bones were documented during the final days. We speculate that in areas where large prey density has been reduced, scavenging may play a more important role on jaguar’s diet than was previously known.

Observations of leopard and caracal responses to novel scents in South Africa by A. Braczkowski and L. Watson

Several recent studies tested the efficacy of commercially available perfumes and colognes on captive jaguars Panthera onca and cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus in ascertaining their potential use in in situ camera-trap and hair snaring studies. The authors of these reported Calvin Klein’s ObsessionTM and Chanel No5TM were effective in eliciting various behaviours including sniffing, cheek rubbing and whirling. However, these studies were chiefly ex situ trials. Here we report on some of the first behaviours elicited by leopards Panthera pardus and caracal Caracal caracal in situ during a camera-trapping study in South Africa’s southern Cape. Leopards and caracal elicited a variety of behaviours including sniffing, cheek rubbing and even licking of rocks scented with several perfume and cologne varieties (e.g. Lentheric I Love Vanilla, Junique and Dolce & Gabanna The One). Our results support previous ex situ trials, in that commercially available perfumes and colognes entice animals to stop and exhibit conspicuous behaviours at scent stations, allowing remote cameras to obtain a number of high quality photographs for use in capture-recapture studies. We also make various recommendations on how such trials could be improved with better sampling designs.

Population status of carnivores in Pendjari Biosphere Reserve, Benin, in 2001-2002 by I. Di Silvestre and H. Bauer

Pendjari National Park and Biosphere Reserve is part of the regionally important WAP-ecosystem, the last stronghold for many West African savanna species; here we summarize unpublished data from 2001- 2002 on large carnivore status. Different census methods were combined to assess carnivore species: call-ups, opportunistic sightings, nocturnal spotlighting, spoor, interviews and literature review. Lion density was estimated at 0.97-2.9 per 100 km2 and spotted hyaena at 3.3-4.4 per 100 km2. Small numbers of leopard, cheetah and wild dog were regularly observed, but population size was not estimated. Finally, 14 medium sized and small carnivore species were identified.

First pictures of a hunting African golden cat by D. Sheil and B. Mugerwa

We report here, based on camera trap images taken in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, the first images of an African golden cat Profelis aurata catching prey in the wild.

African golden cat, caracal and serval in the Chinko/Mbari Drainage Basin, CAR by R. Hickisch and T. Aebischer

We report here that all three species of the caracal lineage were recorded in the same area of the Chinko/Mbari drainage basin of eastern Central African Republic. Using camera traps, we recorded the African golden cat Profelis aurata three times at one site, 190 km north of its currently recognised range. The caracal Caracal caracal was recorded once, 250 km south of its recognised range and 7 km from where the golden cat was recorded. Finally, the serval Leptailurus serval was recorded on 12 events, 4km from where the golden cat was recorded. The indication of this sympatric presence of all three species of the caracal lineage has not been reported for many (if any) areas in Africa and is worth further investigation.

A recent record of Eurasian lynx in northern Iraq by M. Saddik Barzani

A Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx was photographed in the Barzan area in Iraqi Kurdistan in December 2011. There are only three other records from the last century documented for this region.

Clouded leopard camera-trapped in the Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal by Y. Ghimirey, R. Acharya, B. Adhikary, G. Werhahn and A. Appel

During a camera-trapping survey in the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA), Nepal,  a clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa was photographed on 8 February 2012 at 19:11 h. The felid was captured at an altitude of 2,174 m in a mixed broadleaved temperate forest dominated by ring-cupped oak Quercus glauca.

High elevation record of a leopard cat in the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, Nepal by K. Thapa, N. M. B. Pradhan, J. Barker, M. Dhakal, A. R. Bhandari, G. S. Gurung, D. P. Rai, G. J. Thapa, S. Shrestha and G. R. Singh

During a camera trapping survey in Khambachen valley of Kangchenjunga Conservation Area KCA from 24 April to 26 May 2012 we camera trapped one leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis at an altitude of 4,474 meter. This is probably the highest altitudinal record for the species in its range. Additionally, one melanistic leopard Panthera pardus was captured at an altitude of 4,300 m, which is probably as well the highest documented record in the country. Yet at this stage, no obvious reason can explain these unusual high records for both species, thus more surveys are recommended for this region.

First photographic evidence of a Pallas’s cat in Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan by P. Thinley

During a recent camera trap survey of snow leopards Panthera uncia in Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) in Bhutan, several photographs of a Pallas’s cat Otocolobus manul were captured. This is the first photographic evidence of a Pallas’s cat in the park and the second evidence of its presence in Bhutan after the first photographic evidence was collected in a similar study from Wangchuck Centennial Park in April 2012 (WWF 2012). These new records confirm an extension of the species’ distribution in the Eastern Himalayas.

First radio-telemetry study of snow leopards in Afghanistan by A. Simms, S. Ostrowski, H. Ali, A. M. Rajabi, H. Noori and S. Ismaili

We report on the first snow leopard Panthera uncia telemetry study ever conducted in Afghanistan and the only major research effort of its kind presently carried out in the country. Between May and September 2012 we captured and fixed GPS telemetry collars on two male and one female snow leopard in the Hindu Kush mountain range of Wakhan District, Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan. The specific aims of this study are to determine ranging patterns and habitat preferences of the species, and better understand the prevalence of and reasons for livestock predation.

The occurrence of small felids in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, India by R. Kalle, T. Ramesh, Q. Qureshi and K. Sankar

Systematic camera trapping surveys were conducted to study elusive small cats in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Western Ghats in 2010 and 2011. A total effort of 7,380 trapnights in an intensive sample area of 114 km2 yielded 89 photographs of small cats of which 72 were of jungle cat Felis chaus, 6 leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, and 11 rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus rubiginosus. Photographic captures were highest for jungle cat compared to the other two species. Results from this study revealed the distribution of small wild cats and the ecological importance of the reserve for future conservation planning of small felids.

First evidence of fishing cat in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, India by A. Sadhu and G. V. Reddy

The fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus is a medium-sized felid found in south Asia. A large degree of habitat destruction and anthropogenic intervention has caused a severe decline in the fishing cat population including local extinctions of the species in its historical range. A recent camera-trapping survey in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve RTR revealed the presence of a fishing cat in a dry deciduous forest area. This is the first photographic record of a fishing cat in RTR.

Albinism in fishing cats from the Haor Basin of Bangladesh by A. J. Giordano, A.H.M. Ali Reza and M. M. Feeroz

The fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus is a small to medium-sized felid that ranges across southern Asia from Pakistan east to Vietnam and south to the island of Java. To date very little is known about the ecology and natural history of this species. Here we document an adult albino fishing cat believed to have been captured in the Hail Haor region of Sylhet Division, Bangladesh and propose that albinism may be well established among fishing cats in the Haor Basin. We are unaware of any other aberrant pelage patterns that have been documented in fishing cats.

Highest recorded elevation of tiger presence in Peninsular Malaysia by S. Wan Mohamad, W. Chai Thiam Christopher, E. Sagtia Siwan, M. Hamirul, C. Fong Lau, A. Mohamed and D. M. Rayan

While conducting large mammal research, tiger Panthera tigris sign was detected several times at areas of high altitude, including the highest record from within Peninsular Malaysia. These observations are important because information on tigers and other large mammals from such highland habitats are severely lacking within the country. Our findings suggest that highlands are being used by tigers and possibly other large mammals, and may serve as important natural corridors for wildlife traversing between different forest patches. Therefore it is imperative that these highlands be preserved and not converted for agricultural activities or to other land uses without prior knowledge on the importance of such habitats for large mammals, especially tigers.

Recent record of a flat-headed cat from a rural area in Sarawak, Malaysia by O. B. Tisen and J. Mohd-Azlan

A trapped flat-headed cat was surrendered to the authorities in late 2011. This cat was held in captivity for observation, health screening, treatment of injury and habitat assessment at point of capture to determine if it was suitable for immediate release. The cat was examined and identified positive for feline panleukopenia and later died despite treatment. Here we report the cause of death and information on the locality.

Observation of a road-killed Sunda clouded leopard in Malaysian Borneo by F. Nájera, G. Bolongon, N. K. Abram, B. Goossens, L. N. Ambu, D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Hearn

A Sunda clouded leopard Neofelis diardi, recently killed by a vehicle, was discovered alongside a main road which runs through an extensive landscape of predominantly  oil palm. We discuss this observation in light of dispersal in a fragmented, oil palm dominated landscape.

Bornean felids in and around the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia by H. Bernard, J. Brodie, A. J. Giordano, A. H. Ahmad and W. Sinun

We photo-captured three of the five species of Bornean felids in and around the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area in central Sabah, Malaysian Borneo - the Sunda clouded leopard Neofelis diardi, marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata and leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis. The Sunda clouded leopard was the most frequently photographed felid (11 photos), followed by marbled cat and leopard cat (2 photos each). The Sunda clouded leopard and marbled cat are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN/SSC Red List of Threatened Species, whereas the leopard cat is a species of Least Concern (IUCN 2012). All three species were detected within primary and logged forest habitats. These findings may indicate that, in addition to primary forests, regenerating secondary forests are important to felids conservation.