Guest Video: The Salton Sea


A study at the end of June made headlines about earthquake hazard on the San Andreas Fault. The research looked at the area covered by the Salton Sea:



According to news reports, geologists found:

. . . a nearly 15.5-mile-long, sheared zone with two, nearly parallel master faults and hundreds of smaller, rung-like cross faults. . . The discovery . . . reveals the southern tip of the San Andreas Fault changes fairly gradually into the ladder-like Brawley Seismic zone. The structure trends northwest, extending from the well-known main trace of the San Andreas Fault along the Salton Sea’s northeastern shore, to the newly identified East Shoreline Fault Zone on the San Andreas’ opposite edge.

. . .

Future earthquakes in that zone or near the San Andreas Fault could potentially trigger a cascade of earthquakes leading to the overdue major quake scientists expect along the southern San Andreas fault zone . . .

So, perhaps it’s good that the “Riviera” scheme never worked out.

While seismologists scramble over the area to learn more about earthquake hazards, the USGS is monitoring the local volcano situation–which includes five vents discovered in 2013–through the California Volcano Observatory.

Again, not a good place for a resort!


Featured image: 12019, at Pixabay. Public domain.


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Cats v. Wildlife: Where’s the Middle Ground?


Predation on wildlife is one of the more controversial domestic cat issues today. That is to say, emotions run very high and there are two extremely polarized interest groups:

  • Conservationists cite horrific statistics about the effects house cats have on wildlife, up to and including statistics like “millions” and “billions” of lost prey animals in some some studies. (McDonald and others)
  • Pet owners simply say “Not my cat.” Nuances range from “my cat doesn’t do that” to “hands off my cat.”

At this point, even though government agencies are involved and some places have passed cat control legislation, owners overall seem to be holding.

Screenshot_2018-04-10-14-18-22

A sense of humor helps. (Source)

In order to sway cat lovers, researchers who support such laws now emphasize welfare issues – the risk of road accidents, etc., if cats are let outside – instead of predation on wildlife. (Hall and others; McDonald and others)

The basic problem here is that domestic cats are both adorable pets and very efficient carnivores. We have always used cats for both these purposes, and each of these two very different parts of the feline nature inspires strong emotions.

Non-cat-lovers appreciate the pest control but don’t understand the affection people pour out on these little hypercarnivores.

We cat lovers freak out if Fluffy brings in a dead animal, and we ignore the very clear fact that house cats are the dominant small predator in any human-dominated environments.

Zoologists can’t ignore that unpleasantness. The numbers they crunch come from data showing, for example, that 63 animal species (26% of all extinctions today, according to Doherty and others) have already been completely wiped out by domestic cats. This is why they turn to the state–it’s hard for them not to get frustrated over what seems like blindness in cat owners.

We’re not blind, really. We just are wary of any conservation argument that involves killing cats, especially when it appears to be the obvious solution. There are plenty of historical bad examples we could point to for support of this position.

A recent one that doesn’t involve literal demons and witches happened in Singapore where, despite lack of solid evidence, street cats were culled out of fear that they might spread SARS.

Only afterwards was it discovered that domestic cats, feral or owned, have nothing to do with SARS. But those beloved animals cannot be revived and reinserted into Singapore’s complex urban ecosystem. As far as I can tell, no one is even looking at what effect(s) this sudden removal of a top predator had there.

History also shows many examples of hoarding and other ways cat owners sometimes go off the deep end. And we can’t ignore those 60-plus extinct species correctly chalked up to cat predation.

We need to admit that cats can be serious environmental threats.

And conservationists need to look at the practical, ecological, and ethical concerns that some experts have with lethal control. (Doherty and Ritchie)

It wouldn’t hurt for them also to acknowledge that someone who loves a cat probably cares a lot about other animals, too–including local wildlife. We just don’t like getting clobbered with statistics, especially when it’s to change how we view a situation that has political aspects.

Of course, I’m prejudiced. Still, I can see that few stakeholders seem interested in just talking it over. Yet there is plenty of room on the middle ground, if each side can accept that the other has a point.

My review of the literature hasn’t been anything like comprehensive, but I have found three supporters of this approach.

Robertson, who focused on feral cats in 2008, takes down the “cats are non-native predators disrupting an ecosystem” argument by pointing out that most farm animals are non-native, too, and no one has a problem with controlling native predators that attack them. At the same time, she agrees that wildlife is going to suffer if you let your cat out.

Turner, in 2014, flat out says, “Both sides . . . should view evidence before making hasty judgements.”

He addresses flaws in some studies, including mixing different types of statistics, failing to take into account where the study was done, and some factors that skew the results.

Fitzgerald and Turner (2000) note that, when cranking the numbers, you have to consider the combined effects of all predators, not just domestic cats. And cat predation studies rarely use the typical scientific method of dividing feline hunters into two groups: the study group, which is manipulated to test hypotheses, and a control group that is left alone.

Turner (2014) also says that what is observed locally might not be true across every habitat–you can’t just extrapolate to get “millions” and “billions.” As well, estimates of “total predation” are meaningless unless you also take into account the entire population of a prey species and its annual production rate.

Nevertheless, he is in favor of removing cats from islands or restricting them indoors to protect sea birds. If there are other mammals on an island, like rats, mice, or rabbits, cats will leave most of the birds alone, but if not, they easily switch to birds, with devastating results.

Rabbits may not be the first mammal that comes to mind when you think of small islands, but they were an important factor in one of the most famous examples of how challenging conservation and predator control can be.

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Sea elephants, royal penguins, and people on Macquarie Island in the 1950s. (State Library of New South Wales. Public domain)

Sea elephants, royal penguins, and people on Macquarie Island in the 1950s. (State Library of New South Wales. Public domain)

Macquarie Island

You might have heard of this little Australian island near Antarctica. Attempts to protect its penguins, seabirds, and other rare wildlife and plants from introduced species have been covered by media ranging from the BBC to an Internet comedy site (F-bomb warning for link).

The successes and failures of Macquarie Island predator control programs are also a hot research topic. Even the short story from a literature review is too long for this post (see source list below), so here is the basic outline:

  • 1810: Tundra-covered island, rich in wildlife, discovered by Europeans.
  • 1818: Cats introduced and do their thing: companionship and pest control.
  • 1820: By now, there are also feral cats.
  • 1830: House mice are present.
  • Late 1870s: Rabbits brought in as a food source; they quickly reproduce and cats switch over to this plentiful prey item.
  • 1890s: When ornithologists visit to collect some native birds, people notice that these two bird species are extinct.
  • Early 20th century: Ship rats arrive.
  • 1950s: People notice that rabbits are overgrazing the vegetation.
  • 1960s: Recognition that the overgrazing is having catastrophic effects. Management begins in 1968 by spreading a rabbit flea; it takes a while for that to get established.
  • 1978: With rabbit flea now common, a rabbit virus is introduced. The rabbit population begins to shrink after this.
  • 1970s: People notice that cats are killing seabirds, and a control program begins.
  • 1980s: People notice that cats are switching to seabirds as the rabbits die off. In 1985, a cat eradication program begins and is ramped up in 1998. “The primary knock-down for the eradication used cage trapping and shooting, with most surviving cats captured with leg-hold traps . . . The successful eradication of cats from Macquarie Island [by 2000] . . . provides valuable experience for cat eradication attempts on other large remote islands . . . with minimal use of poisons and provides possible options for sites where broad-scale poisoning, or where aerial distribution of poisons, cannot be used.” (Robinson and Copson, 2013)
  • Early 2000s: An estimated pulse of at least 103,000 mice and 36,000 rats enters the Macquarie Island ecosystem after cat eradication. (Bergstrom and others)
  • 2006: For technical reasons, the annual distribution of rabbit virus is stopped. After this, rabbit population increases again, with overgrazing of plants and subsequent erosion and other environmental effects.
  • 2007: Australia begins an A$24-million project to eradicate rabbits, rats, and mice from Macquarie Island. Success is claimed in 2014.

The most commonly cited reason for the resurgence in Macquarie Island rabbits is the loss of their predators–cats. However, some sources (Springer, 2018) attribute it to less effective virus and the recovery of vegetation.

There is no easy summary for what happened to Macquarie Island’s plant and animal inhabitants after humans got there in the 19th century.

Up until the relatively recent time of environmental awareness, such extinctions and other devastating effects routinely happened–it’s a part of the history of life on Earth. Something similar probably happened in Australia when people and their dogs got there many thousands of years ago.

But today we know much more about what’s going on. Unfortunately, we still don’t understand it all. And human nature being what it is, we very much want to believe that we have corrected our “original error” in bringing invasive species to Macquarie Island, especially after spending millions on it.

But computer modeling of the great Macquarie Island predator eradication programs (Raymond and others) shows that it is possible that mice survived it. If this verifies, that’s bad news.

Experience on Marion Island in the South Atlantic in particular, and in a few other places where all introduced mammals except mice were eradicated, shows that mice will turn carnivorous and go after chicks, thus endangering seabirds all over again.

Obviously conservation and predator control is a much bigger problem than just cat control/eradication, but cat owners and conservationists can help solve it by moving past the emotion toward middle ground. The more people work together, the sooner we will find a good solution for everyone.

There must be a better approach than this:

To achieve success, every single individual of the three pest species [mice, rats, and rabbits on Macquarie Island] must be killed. Anything less is project failure.

— Springer, 2018

Life is going to find a way no matter what we do, so we should tailor our efforts around it instead of focusing on death.

Beginnings are much harder than endings, but they are so worth it!


Featured image: Sponchia at Pixabay. Public domain.



Sources:

Angel, A.; Wanless, R. M.; and Cooper, J. 2009. Review of impacts of the introduced house mouse on islands in the Southern Ocean: Are mice equivalent to rats?. Biological Invasions, 11(7), 1743-1754.

Bergstrom, D. M.; Lucieer, A.; Kiefer, K.; Wasley, J.; and others. 2009. Indirect effects of invasive species removal devastate World Heritage Island. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46(1), 73-81.
Doherty, T. S., and Ritchie, E. G. 2017. Stop jumping the gun: a call for evidence‐based invasive predator management. Conservation Letters, 10(1), 15-22.

Doherty, T. S.; Glen, A. S.; Nimmo, D. G.; Ritchie, E. G.; and Dickman, C. R. 2016. Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(40), 11261-11265.

Fitzgerald, B. M., and Turner, D. C. 2000. Hunting behaviour of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations, in The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, eds, Turner, D. C., and Bateston, P., 151-175. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Galbreath, R., and Brown, D. 2004. The tale of the lighthouse-keeper’s cat: discovery and extinction of the Stephens Island wren (Traversia lyalli). Notornis. 51(4): 193-200.

Greve, M.; Mathakutha, R.; Steyn, C.; and Chown, S. L. 2017. Terrestrial invasions on sub-Antarctic Marion and Prince Edward Islands. Bothalia-African Biodiversity and Conservation, 47(2): 1-21.

Hall, C. M.; Adams, N. A.; Bradley, J. S.; Bryant, K. A.; and others. 2016. Community attitudes and practices of urban residents regarding predation by pet cats on wildlife: an international comparison. PloS One. 11(4): e0151962.

McDonald, J. L.; Maclean, M.; Evans, M. R.; and Hodgson, D. J. 2015. Reconciling actual and perceived rates of predation by domestic cats. Ecology and Evolution. 5(14): 2745-2753.

Ratcliffe, N.; Bell, M.; Pelembe, T.; Boyle, D.; and others. 2010. The eradication of feral cats from Ascension Island and its subsequent recolonization by seabirds. (Abstract only) Oryx, 44(1), 20-29.

Raymond, B.; McInnes, J.; Dambacher, J. M.; Way, S.; and Bergstrom, D. M. 2011. Qualitative modelling of invasive species eradication on subantarctic Macquarie Island. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48(1), 181-191.

Robertson, S. 2008. A review of feral cat control. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 10:366-375.

Robinson, S. A., and Copson, G. R. 2014. Eradication of cats (Felis catus) from subantarctic Macquarie Island. (Abstract only) Ecological Management and Restoration, 15(1), 34-40.

Ruscoe, W. A.; Ramsey, D. S.; Pech, R. P.; Sweetapple, P. J.; and others. 2011. Unexpected consequences of control: competitive vs. predator release in a four‐species assemblage of invasive mammals. Ecology Letters, 14(10), 1035-1042.

Springer, K. 2016. Methodology and challenges of a complex multi-species eradication in the sub-Antarctic and immediate effects of invasive species removal. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 40(2), 273-278.

Springer, K. 2018. Eradication of invasive species on Macquarie Island to restore the natural ecosystem, in Recovering Australian Threatened Species: A Book of Hope, Garnett, S.; Latch, P.; Lindenmeyer, D.; and Woinarski, J. https://books.google.com/books?id=r9FNDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false Last accessed April 9, 2018.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=IF8nDwAAQBAJ

Turner, D. C. 2014. Social organisation and behavioural ecology of free-ranging domestic cats, in The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, eds D. C. Turner and P. Bateson, 63-70. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Guest Videos: Keep on Chuffin’

This is my favorite video out of all the ones I’ve looked at thus far in researching my book (due out this fall/winter) on the cat family:

He’s a very good chuffer.

Actually, there are now two species of clouded leopard recognized – one on mainland Asia and the recently discovered Sunda clouded leopard.

I don’t know which species that is in the video.

If you’re curious why the presenter said “my tigers,” check this out:

Here is a little more information about tigers from the research group associated with the IUCN, the organization that publishes the Red List of endangered species.


Featured image:
Tiger cub, by Steve Wilson. CC BY 2.0.


Citizen Scientists, Cats, and Computers

All cats, big and small, like to keep secrets. It is our task as cat lovers to learn some of those secrets so we can make life even better for these beauties.

The cats don’t make it easy for us. So we fool them.

Today, technology like camera traps and GPS tracking collars collect a lot of data about unsuspecting domestic and wild cats.

Then we laypeople help the experts use these tools to learn more about cats.

Here are a couple examples of citizen science in action.

Cat Tracker

An outdoor cat usually just walks out the door, comes back many hours or days later, and tells no one what it did or where it went.

You’re probably curious about that. So are scientists who want to better understand the social behavior of domestic cats.

They also want to know what effect house cats have on the local wildlife.

You can help their research along, if you live in North Carolina and have an outdoor cat that you can harness (no leash required)

People at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and at North Carolina State University want to enroll a thousand local cats in their Cat Tracker program. As of 2014, they just had forty. (Cooper)

Each cat in the program wears a GPS harness for nine days. You then use your computer to upload that GPS information into the same database that many conservationists around the world use to track zebra and other wildlife.

You do have to pay the equipment cost – currently $62 at Amazon, per the SciStarter Cat Tracker website.

Instead (or in addition), you can fill out a Cat Tracker survey about your cat’s personality and/or send litter box samples to the program.

Would you rather hunt big cats at home with your computer monitor? The conservation organization Panthera has you covered.

Camera CATalogue

Zooniverse is another online citizen science platform like SciStarter. They’re host to Camera CATalogue, a collection of tens of thousands of wildlife images that Panthera and some other international organizations need identified.

Panthera has developed special cameras – called PantheraCams, of course – that take very high quality images of whatever wildlife passes by.

Some of the captures are works of art.

Most just show animals walking around, and some are blank. But it’s not boring.

People who have tried Camera CATalogue say it’s addictive. You never know what you’ll see next! (Braun)

There are about eighty PantheraCams out there, and only about a tenth of the images have made it online (Panthera), so this program is going to be around as long as they can keep it funded.

Europe and Latin America

Cat-related citizen science projects exist in non-English-speaking countries, too,.

For instance, there are ongoing studies of house cats in France.

Proposals have also been made for a study of endangered Mexican jaguars.

All of these projects help scientists directly, but there are indirect benefits, too.

Owners can better protect both their cats and the other neighborhood animals if they know where their pet goes after it leaves the house.

And the more interactions people have with wildlife – even when it’s only through images – the more inclined those will be to heed information about endangered species.

Finally, there are international awards for the best camera-trap images:


Featured image: Bobcats in New Mexico. J. N. Stuart. CC BY 2.0.


Sources:

Braun, D. M. August 8, 2016. Camera CATalogue: Help cat conservation without going to Africa. National Geographic, Cat Watch. https://voices.nationalgeographic.org/2016/08/08/camera-catalogue-help-cat-conservation-without-going-to-africa/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Panthera, Camera CATalog. https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/panthera-research/camera-catalogue/about/research
Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Cooper, C. July 25, 2014. The nine simultaneous lives of cats: Cat Tracker. Discovery Magazine. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/citizen-science-salon/2014/07/25/cat-tracker/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Vergara-Huerta, J. August 18, 2017. Impulsan en Sinaloa programa de Ciencia Ciudadana para salvar el Jaguar. Tercera Vía. http://terceravia.mx/2017/08/impulsan-programa-ciencia-ciudadana-proteger-al-jaguar/ Last accessed September 18, 2017, machine translated into English.

The Florida panther and Hurricane Irma


Fact: Hurricane Irma severely disrupted Florida’s wildlife preserves.


September 19, 2017, 4:10 p.m. Pacific: I just found these pictures on the Everglades emergency management team’s Flickr site.

The damage to human infrastructure is tremendous, and no doubt the fragile ecosystem there has suffered. But Irma’s aftermath on nature there appears to be something a panther and its prey could survive.

September 16, 9:02 a.m.:  They did an overflight on Wednesday.  Reportedly, the Everglades mangrove forest, at least near the Snake River, is okay.  That is good news for panthers and their prey.  Lots of damage there, though.

The Everglades Visitor Center, per National Park Service 9/15 update.

Per the National Park Service Irma update last evening, heavy equipment arrived at the Gulf Coast yesterday to help with the Everglades cleanup.  They also say that assessments are ongoing at Big Cypress National Preserve.  No mention of wildlife yet, of course.

Original post:  This post was intended to be the usual brief fact about how well the rare Florida panther survived Hurricane Irma.

I figured that enough time has passed for people to have some idea of how these cats and other wildlife on the mainland fared.

I underestimated Irma’s impact on Florida.

First and foremost, as of September 12, the parks had accounted for all employees except in the Everglades National Park, where damage and power outages had made it impossible to confirm everybody there was okay. (Repanshek)

So the format here will be a live blog. I’ll check in with updates at the top of the post as I have been able to find them online (I’m in Oregon and don’t know anyone on the scene).

Don’t expect very many updates.  The focus of recovery efforts now, of course, is on people and infrastructure. It will take some time for conservationists to get any estimates of Irma’s effects on the mainland wildlife.

I suspect that the panthers and other critters out there did okay, but it would be nice to confirm it.

Here is what I have been able to find today:

    • Panthers aren’t listed here as Florida Key wildlife. Even with bridges around these days, it’s unlikely any of these cats were out there when Irma hit. Panthers live on the mainland, mainly south of the Coosahatchee River.
    • A long-term USGS employee told Tampa Bay News that in thirty years he has never noticed a change in panther movements from tropical weather. That’s encouraging!
    • Per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website, Florida panther major locations are in Collier, Glades and Lee counties, but the cats also have a presence in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
    • The key protected areas where you may see them are in Big Cypress National Preserve (no one could get in there as of September 12, per online reports I found), Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS says it is sending crews from Louisiana and Mississippi to open this up again), Fakahatchee State Park (reopened to the public at least for day use by the 13th, per online reports), Picayune Strand State Forest, and Everglades National Park (reportedly hit hard by Irma, with a foot of rain and strong winds).


The Picayune Strand website doesn’t seem to be working just now, but from what little I can see via Google, it looks like parts of it are open to the public.

The Naples Daily News has online updates on the situation in Collier County. I think President Trump is visiting Naples today.

The most complete information on things in Glades County that I could find online is the Glades County Emergency Management Facebook page.

The News-Press reports that Lee County is slowly getting back to normal.


Images:
Featured image: Florida panther by skeeze at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:
Repanshek, K. September 12, 2017. National Park Service assessing Hurricane Irma damage to parks in Florida, Caribbean. National Parks Traveler. https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2017/09/national-park-service-assessing-hurricane-irma-damage-parks-florida-caribbean Last accessed September 14, 2017.

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) updates post Irma: https://www.fws.gov/hurricane/irma/

The Iberian Lynx – A Survivor

There’s endangered as in “let’s put this species on the list” and then there’s endangered as in “we could only get fourteen into vehicles before the wildfire smoke got too thick; we had to leave the other thirteen behind.”

The Iberian lynx is in that second group.

    • Good news: There are more than twenty-seven lynx on the Iberian peninsula – this particular emergency happened on June 25th at a single breeding center. One cat died of stress, but the others, including the thirteen that couldn’t be evacuated, survived. (Lyne)
    • Bad news: In 2016, camera traps counted a total of only 483 wild Iberian lynx. And that June wildfire destroyed part of one of their remaining two wild habitats. (Lyne; Martín-Arroyo)

The other major members of this adorably bearded, ear-tufted, and furry-footed group of middle-sized cats – bobcats, the Canada lynx, and the Eurasian lynx – are doing all right.

Why the problem in Iberia?

This is one of the lynx species that specializes in rabbits. Unfortunately, the bunnies in its region are especially vulnerable to some diseases, so finding prey has been a problem. (Rodríguez and Calzada)

Iberian lynxes are also very well attuned to their habitat, which people are disrupting as the population grows. Other human influences including poaching and the spread of roads. (Martín-Arroyo; Rodríguez and Calzada)

Their future is still uncertain, but if not for the ongoing conservation programs, Iberian lynx would go extinct in less than fifty years. (Rodríguez and Calzada)


Featured image: Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Programme. http://lynxexsitu.es/album.php?sec=fotos&id=26 CC BY 3.0 ES

Sources:
Iberlince website (English version). http://www.iberlince.eu/index.php/eng/sitemap . Accessed multiple pages August 14, 2017.

Lyne, N. 2017. “After a month in the wild, tired and thin, Fran the lynx makes it home.” El País in English. https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/07/25/inenglish/1500982478_184023.amp.html Accessed August 14, 2017.

Martín-Arroyo, J. 2017. “La población de linces supera los 500 ejemplares pese a los atropellos.” El País.  https://politica.elpais.com/politica/2017/08/04/actualidad/1501858925_047732.html Accessed August 14, 2017, translated into English by online machine.

Planelles, M. 2017. “El incendio de Doñana golpea a uno de los núcleos de población del lince.” El País. https://politica.elpais.com/politica/2017/06/27/actualidad/1498553055_680421.html Accessed August 14, 2017, translated into English by online machine.

Rodríguez, A., and Calzada, J. 2015. Lynx pardinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T12520A50655794. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12520/0 Downloaded on August 14, 2017.