Happy International Cat Day!


Just had to share a post by the US Department of the Interior about this – good information on wild cats and beautiful images! Enjoy!

Let’s have a couple of videos, too.


The rusty-spotted cat actually has competition for the title of smallest cat–Africa’s black-footed cat and South America’s kod-kod.

But there is no doubt in anybody’s mind who is the king of cats . . .




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Wildcats

It’s hard to describe how wildcats and domestic cats are different, apart from their very different tolerances for people and the fact that domestic cats are generally nimbler and come in many more colors than wildcats. (Montague and others)

Experts are still debating what specific physical or genetic features define a wildcat. (Yamaguchi and others, 2004)
Starting in the nineteenth century, biologists identified wildcats by location and appearance. That system got so cumbersome – and the basic differences between many species were so few – that in 1951, they simply erected a species name Felis silvestris and then made each of the various wildcat groups a subspecies. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

What it boils down to is that all wildcats got a third scientific name.

For example, gordoni is the Arabian wildcat’s third name. 

European wildcats – F. s. silvestris – are the oldest group of wildcats. They first evolved in Europe some 450,000 years ago. (Kurtén; Yamaguchi and others, 2004)

One of the latest wildcat filing arrangements puts the 21 currently recognized subspecies (Lyons, 2013) into one of these five basic wildcat groups (Yamaguchi and others, 2015):

1. and 2. African wildcats have short fur and the lithe steppe-cat look, with some tabby striping of their legs and body. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

There are two groups:

  • F. s. cafra is found in southern and southeastern Africa.
  • F. s. lybica lives in northern Africa, coastal Arabia, the Near and Middle East, southwestern Asia, and on most Mediterranean islands. This is gordoni’s group.



3.  F. s. silvestris. Europe’s rugged forest cats look massive, but they’re about the same weight as the much slimmer-appearing African wildcats. Their favorite prey is rodents, but they also go after hares, rabbits, and even young deer. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)


4.  F. s. ornata. The dainty Asian wildcat is another steppe wildcat like Lybica and Cafra. Ornata has yellowish fur on its ears and, sometimes, small ear tufts. It’s the only spotted wildcat, with a coat that’s usually short but will vary by season and according to the wildcat’s age. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

5.  F. s. bieti.  This cat has more common names than any other wildcat. This Chinese steppe, mountain, desert, or grass cat is about twice as big as Fluffy and has been sighted only in a small area that includes Sichuan, Shanxi, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Xingjiang, and Qjinghai. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

“Where’s my lawyer?”


As you can see, Bieti doesn’t resemble the other wildcats very much. There is ongoing scientific debate whether it really is a wildcat or a separate Felis species. (Driscoll and others, 2007; Werdelin and others, 2010; Yamaguchi and others, 2015)
Special note:  This post is adapted from one that I posted earlier this year at my other blog, RobinHuntingdon.wordpress.com.  I am very busy working on the final draft of “50 Facts About House Cats” and today I got up to Fact #12, which is about wildcats and domestic cats.  I don’t know that I’ll be able to get all fifty facts together in final draft by Cyber Monday; my alternate self-publication goal is December 15th.  Ultimately, though, since I’m not facing a contract deadline, the book will be published when it is in the most complete and enjoyable form that I can achieve for the reader.  Thanks to everyone for your interest!

IMAGES:

Featured image: European wildcat in open-air enclosure in Bavarian Forest National Park: Aconcagua (talk). CC BY-SA 3.0.

Flying Scottish wildcat, Cormack by name, at the British Wildlife Centre: Peter Trimming. CC BY 2.0.

Arabian wildcat: Michal Mañas. CC BY 2.5.

Felis silvestris lybica (Sardinian wildcat): Gurtuju. CC BY-SA 3.0.

European wildcat: Luc Viatour/www.Lucnix.be. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Asian wildcat video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsy69yIFSWI:  Wild India.

Bieti: 西宁野生动物园.  CC BY-SA 3.0.


CITED AND UNCITED REFERENCES:
Anderson, E., and Stebbins, Jr., G. L.: 1954. Hybridization as an evolutionary stimulus. Evolution. 8(4):378-388.

Arnold, M. L. 2004. Transfer and origin of adaptations through natural hybridization: Were Anderson and Stebbins right? The Plant Cell. 16:562-570.

Barton, N. H., and Hewitt, G. M. 1985. Analysis of hybrid zones. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 16:113-148.

Dowling, T. E., and Secor, C. L. 1997. The role of hybridization and introgression in the diversification of animals. Annual Reviews of Ecology and Systematics. 28:593-619.

Driscoll, C. A.; Menotti-Raymond, M.; Roca, A. I.; Hupe, K.; and others. 2007. The Near Eastern origin of cat domestication. Science. 317:519-522.

Driscoll, C. A.; Macdonald, D. W.; and O’Brien, S. J. 2009. From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Supplement 1. 106:9971-9978.

Driscoll, C.; Yamaguchi, N.; O’Brien, S. J.; and Macdonald, D. W. 2011. A suite of genetic markers useful in assessing wildcat (Felis silvestris ssp.) – domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) admixture. Journal of Heredity. 102(SI):S87-S90.

Herbst, M. 2009. Behavioural ecology and population genetics of the African wild cat, Felis silvestris Forster 1870, in the southern Kalahari. PhD thesis, University of Pretoria. http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/28963/Complete.pdf?sequence=6 Last accessed November 4, 2015.

Hewitt, G.  2000.  The genetic legacy of the Quaternary ice ages.  Nature.  405:907-913.

Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; Antunes, A.; and Teeling, E. C. 2006. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. Science. 311:73-77.

Kitchener, A. C.; Yamaguchi, N.; Ward, J. M.; and Macdonald, D. W. 2005. A diagnosis for the Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris): a tool for conservation action for a critically-endangered felid. Animal Conservation. 8:223-237.

Kitchener, A. C., Van Valkenburgh, B., and Yamaguchi, N. 2010. Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 83-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kurtén, B. 1965. On the evolution of the European wild cat, Felis silvestris Schreber. Acta Zoologica Fennica. 111:3-29.

Macdonald, D. W.; Yamaguchi, N.; Kitchener, A. c.; Daniels, M.; Kilshaw, K.; and Driscoll, C. 2010. Reversing cryptic extinction: the history, present, and future of the Scottish wildcat, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 471-491. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mallet, J. 2005. Hybridization as an invasion of the genome. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 20(5):229-237.

Montague, M. J.; Li, G.; Gandolfi, B.; Khan, R.; and others. 2014.Comparative analysis of the domestic cat genome reveals genetic signatures underlyling feline biology and domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111(48):17230-17235.

Nussberger, B.; Wandeler, P.; Weber, D.; and Keller, L. F. 2014. Monitoring introgression in European wildcats in the Swiss Jura. Conservation Genetics. 15:1219-1230.

O’Brien, S. J., and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American. 297 (1):68-75.

O’Brien, S. J., and Koepfli, K-P. 2013. Evolution: A new cat species emerges. Current Biology. 23(24):R1104.

Oliveira, R.; Randi, E.; Mattucci, F.; Kurushima, J. D.; Lyons, L. A.; and Alves, P. C. 2015. Toward a genome-wide approach for detecting hybrides: informative SNPs to detect introgression between domestic cats and European wildcats (Felis silvestris.) Heredity. 115:195-205.

Pierpaoli, M.; Birò, Z. J.; Herrman, K.; Fernandes, M.; and others. 2003. Genetic distinction of wildcat (Felis silvestris) populations in Europe and hybridization with domestic cats in Hungary. Molecular Ecology. 12:2585-2598.

Randi, E. 2008. Detecting hybridization between wild species and their domesticated relatives. Molecular Ecology. 17:285-293.

Randi, E., and Ragni, B. 1991. Genetic variability and biochemical systematics of domestic and wild cat populations. (Felis silvestris: Felidae). Journal of Mammalogy. 72(1):79-88.

Rhymer, J. M., and Simberloff, D. 1996. Extinction by hybridization and introgression. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 27:83-109.

Shurtliff, Q. 2013. Mammalian hybrid zones: A review. Mammal Review. 43:1-21.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the world. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Turner, A., and M. Antón. 1997. The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives: An Illustrated Guide to Their Evolution and Natural History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; and O’Brien, S. J.. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae), in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 59-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yamaguchi, N., Driscoll, C. A., Kitchener, A. C., Ward, J. M., and Macdonald, D. W. 2004. Craniological differentiation between European wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris), African wildcats (F. s. lybica) and Asian wildcats (F. s. ornata): implications for their evolution and conservation. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 83:47-63.

Yamaguchi, N.; Kitchener, A.; Driscoll, C.; and Nussberger, B. 2015. Felis silvestris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015:e.T60354712A50652361. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/60354712/0 .  Last accessed April 11, 2017

How Lions Roar

In what must have been one of the simplest and most enjoyable lab experiments ever, researchers found that house cats purr at a frequency of around 25 Hertz (25 times per second). They can keep purring for up to two hours.

To appreciate how amazing that is, imagine yourself humming the same note, without changing pitch as you breathe in and out, for two hours.

The big cats can’t do it, either, though they’re certainly equipped to make a lot of noise. This is why zoologists divided the cat family up into “roaring” and “purring” cats for most of the twentieth century.

It wasn’t a perfect system – some leopard-sized cats, for instance, like the cheetah, can purr – but feline anatomy seemed to back it up. The hyoid bone and some related neck structures are arranged differently in big cats and small cats. It seemed clear that this somehow allowed big cats to roar and smaller cats to purr.

However, more research has shown that muscles and vocal cords are probably involved, not the hyoid bone and its supports.

Small cats twitch a muscle – the vocalis muscle – in their neck. This triggers nearby vocal cords to vibrate, causing a purr. Big cats have the same muscle and the same vocal cords, but their cords are big enough to actually slow down the twitching muscle.

This is why you’ll never hear a lion purr.

Those vocal cords still vibrate, though at a much lower frequency. The rest of the big cat’s vocal tract is also perfectly shaped to deepen the vibrations into one of the most awesome sounds in nature.

Yes, that’s in a zoo, but I like the way this lion ignores the crowd after doing his thing. He is truly above it all.


Featured image: Steffen Wienberg at Pixabay


Sources:

Kitchener, A. C., Van Valkenburgh, B., and Yamaguchi, N.  2010.  Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 83-106.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Species Facts: The Puma

Call it what you will – cougar, panther, puma, catamount, or mountain lion. This beautiful animal is impossible to ignore.

The Inca reportedly built their capital city Cusco in the shape of a puma.

In what is now New Mexico, the Cochiti people made life-sized statues of this cat and dedicated a mesa to it.

And further north, native legends said the puma could stir up waves and storms on the Great Lakes.

Today, we’re not immune to the puma’s charisma, either.

Read on for more facts about this namesake of the puma lineage.

Who’s this?

Puma concolor is the other big cat of the Americas (after jaguars).

Technically, it’s closer to the small cats because it can purr, but any feline that has a five-foot-long body, with a three-foot-long tail, and can weigh up to 180 pounds is not exactly a lap cat.

Puma size varies according to its range. Cats in Chile and Canada are at the high end of the scale, while those living in jaguar country tend to be smaller, weighing as little as 60 pounds.

Cubs may be spotted or striped, but those markings fade away in an adult. This is why early North American settlers called the cat a panther – it was a solid color, generally a tawny brown to silvery gray, depending on location.

How friendly/dangerous is it?

This cat can kill you. Although attacks are rare, they are on the rise because more people are moving into the puma’s range.

Here are some safety tips to remember when going for a walk.

When did it evolve?

Pumas go way back, to the late Pliocene. Their fossilized remains have been found in North America and Eurasia.

When North and South America hooked up, pumas traveled south. This turned out to be a very good move for them.

At the end of last Ice Age, many big animals, including the puma, went extinct in North America. As the world warmed back up, South America’s pumas recolonized the north.

Today this cat is the most widespread carnivore in the Western Hemisphere, ranging from the Yukon across western North America through Central and South America to the southern tip of Chile.

The Cool Factor:

It’s easy to see something human in the sleek lines of this cat, its prim but whiskery muzzle, and its expressive face.

The puma is a survivor, too. Except for a small population in Florida, it went extinct throughout eastern and central North America after European settlers arrived. Now this cat is making a comeback.

It’s also a tremendous athlete. With the longest hind legs of any member of the cat family, in proportion to its body, the puma is an excellent jumper, climber, and swimmer.

In real life, this cat is even cooler than the Pink Panther.


Images
Featured image: Female puma, near Glendale and Los Angeles, leaving a scent mark in the Verdugo Mountains. National Park Service. CC BY 2.0.

Puma profile: Skeeze at Pixabay.

Standing puma: Kaz at Pixabay.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group: Puma. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=94 Last accessed October 7, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada: Cougar. http://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/north-america/cougar/ Last accessed October 7, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada: Safety in Cougar Country. https://wildcatconservation.org/canadian-cats/cougar-safety/ Last accessed October 7, 2017.

Species Facts: The Flat-Headed Cat

What’s rarer than the fishing cat?

Its neighbor, the flat-headed cat! This unusual-looking feline is also considered to be a better fisher.

Who’s this?

What little is known about Prionailurus planiceps comes from observing captive animals. In the wild, flat-headed cats live in swamps, along rivers and lakes, and in forested wetlands. They apparently only come out at night.

Researchers can’t get many camera-trap images of these elusive kitties.

Flat-headed cats have been seen in parts of the Malayan Peninsula as well as on Sumatra and Borneo, but it’s difficult to find many images of them online. Here are some from Arkive.

What does it look like?

Planiceps is about the size of a domestic cat, with a longer body and shorter legs. This rather weasel-like feline was named for its long sloped muzzle as well as the slighty flattened skull.

Adding to the strange appearance are close-set big eyes and tiny ears that are situated more along the sides of the head than up on top, like with most cats.

Flat-headed cats have a short, extremely furry tail. The rest of their reddish brown/gray fur is thick and soft. Each hair has a white tip, giving the cat an overall shimmering appearance.

How friendly/dangerous is it?

Unlike its relatives – the fishing cat and the leopard cat – there don’t seem to be any reports of flat-headed cats kept as pets.

The Cool Factor:

Flat-headed cats are adorable little Tim-Burton-style Halloween cats.

Along with its huge eyes, Planiceps’ teeth are sharper, longer, and more pointed than in other cats (the better to catch and eat fish and other slippery water-loving critters).

Its toes are also longer and the claws stick out of the sheath. If that reminds you of a raccoon, then this will blow your mind. Flat-headed cats sometimes wash their food, just like a raccoon, and they carry it away from the water so the prey can’t escape.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

The conservationists don’t know much about this cat, but it obviously needs wetlands. These are vanishing quickly in Southeast Asia. There is also concern about water pollution and overfishing in the fishing cat’s home region.

Fishing cats were last seen in Thailand about twenty years ago, and they may already be extinct there.

A few have been recorded in the Sunda Islands, but overall the number seems to be in decline and things don’t look very good for this cat’s future.

This is why the IUCN/World Conservation Union gives Planiceps the highest priority of any small Southeast Asian wild cat.


Featured image: By Jim Sanderson. CC BY-SA 3.0.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group (CSG): Flat-Headed Cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=119 Last accessed October 6, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada: Flat-Headed Cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/flat-headed-cat/ Last accessed October 6, 2017.

Wilting, A.; Brodie, J.; Cheyne, S.; Hearn, A.; and others. 2015. Prionailurus planiceps. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:e.T18148A50662095.

Species Fact: The Pallas cat/Manul

This adorable little feline has an impressive scientific alter ego: Otocolobus manul.

Despite such a metal-sounding name, Pallas cats aren’t superheroes – they are little cats that have carved out their own niche in an enormous, unfriendly world.

“Manul” is their name in Mongolia, and “Otocolobus” is just another way to say that they have small ears.

Here is a Pallas cat starting its day in Russia’s Daursky nature reserve:

Who’s this?

Pallas cats only weigh 7-10 pounds and can’t run very far on their stubby legs. (Cat Specialist Group) In the wild, life for such a small animal is full of emergencies.

Manul avoids large predatory birds, as well as wolves, red foxes, and domestic dogs by staying close to a hideout or crouching on the ground, flat and very still. Its fur blends in well with the rocky landscape. (Ross and others)

Its ears are small, rounded, and set wide apart. They help make that little curve of a head, with its speckled facial camouflage, almost invisible as Manul peeks out from a rock or bush. (Cat Specialist Group)

Pallas cats are thinly spread across Central Asia’s steppe lands and rocky terrain. Their core population is in Mongolia and China. Russian Pallas cats are usually found near the border with Mongolia – this border region is where the Daursky Reserve sits – and China. (Ross and others)

When did it evolve?

The little Pallas cat is quite a challenge for scientists.

  • It has round pupils like many big cats, but it’s the size of a house cat.
  • It doesn’t look anything like the other small cats of Eurasia, which are either wildcats (the Felis lineage) or related to leopard cats (the Prionailurus lineage).
  • It even has an extra eyelid for protection against the dust storms and icy winds of the Central Asian high country!

Experts are still working on this, but many of them put Manul into the leopard-cat group. Others suspect that it’s closer to Felis. (Kitchener and others)

The Cool Factor:

Just look at it!

Also, this cat’s combination of cuteness, killing efficiency, and ability to survive in some of the harshest land on Earth is amazing.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

People are moving into Pallas cat country.  

Livestock change the environment and they are accompanied by dogs, this cat’s natural enemy. Human activities that range from the fur trade to mineral exploration and exploitation also directly affect Manul. (Ross and others)

Researchers say that it’s very difficult to get an accurate count of wild Pallas cats, but from what they’ve learned so far, the species does appear to be in decline, especially in the southwestern part of its range.

That’s why they have listed Manul as near threatened and may upgrade that to vulnerable fairly soon. (Ross and others)


Featured image: Pallas cat by Nick Jewell on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.


Sources:

Cat Specialist Group: Pallas cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=103 Last accessed September 20, 2017.

ISEC: Pallas cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/eurasia/pallas-cat/ Last accessed September 20, 2017.

Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, Ch.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; and others. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae. The final report of the Cat. Classification Task Force of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Cat News Special Issue 11, 80 pp.

Ross, S.; Barashkova, A.; Farhadina, M. S.; Appel, A.; and others. 2016. Otocolobus manul. The IUCR Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15640A87840229

Species Facts:  The Fishing Cat

Most people wouldn’t consider “saving wetlands” as the method of choice for protecting an endangered cat, but it’s just what Southeast Asia’s fishing cat needs.

Fishing cats have a layer of waterproof fur as well as somewhat webbed hindfeet. The front claws retract just like in other cats, but they are never completely covered. This way, the cat can grab prey while its hindfeet paddle along. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC)

There is even a report that a fishing cat swam underwater to catch an unsuspecting waterfowl! (Sunquist and Sunquist)

Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the leopard-cat lineage.

Who’s this?

Fishing cats are a little bigger than the average domestic cat, with a top weight of around 35 pounds. Their head and body are 2-3 feet long. That muscular tail adds less than a foot of extra length, but it makes a great swimming rudder! (Cat Specialist Group; Sunquist and Sunquist)

These felines pack a lot of muscle and are capable of killing a dog with one blow of their powerful paws. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

That’s why villagers in the above video are so concerned. Fishing cats do supplement their diet with livestock and dogs. (Cat Specialist Group)

The question is, how much of the perceived threat to human property is real and how much is just fear?

That’s still under debate, but the concern has led to a sharp decline in fishing cat numbers in Southeast Asia, where they are often killed as pests. (SCARLK)

Conservationists say that, besides protecting wetlands, this cat’s survival also depends on preventing its indiscriminate slaughter. (Mukherjee and others)

The Coolness Factor:

In addition to being a fish-catcher by trade, this cat has an adorably round face and stubby ears. Multiple dark lines run from its forehead down the neck and back, and there are beautiful cheek stripes, too.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

Today you’re most likely to see a fishing cat in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and parts of the Himalayan foothills and eastern India. It’s hard to find them in other parts of a range that once extended from Pakistan through Cambodia and south to Sri Lanka. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC; Mukherjee and others)

Little is known about actual numbers, though. (Mukherjee and others)

Research on fishing cats only began in 2009, and the cat was red-listed at first as endangered. As of 2016, it is rated vulnerable, but only because experts have more information now, not because there has been much conservation progress. (Mukherjee and others)

Fishing cats have declined an estimated 30% in the last fifteen years, and if present trends of urbanization in Sri Lanka and India – and more Indian industrialization – continue, then the world’s fishing cat population will probably drop another 30% as its habitat disappears.


Featured image: By Gellinger at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group: Fishing cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=121 Last accessed September 19, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC): Fishing cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/fishing-cat/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Mukherjee, S.; Appel, A.; Duckworth, J. W.; Sanderson, J.; and others. 2016. Prionailurus viverrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:3.T.18150A50662615.

Small Cat Advocacy and Research (SCARLK): Fishing cat. https://scar.lk/fishing-cat/ Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the world. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

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.

Species fact: Clouded leopards

Clouded leopards are adorable.

The “clouds” are those beautiful dark blotches on the coat.

These wild felines aren’t close relatives of the leopard, but modern research shows that clouded leopards do belong with the big cats. (Cat Specialist Group)

Their head and face are a little weird looking. That could be because these Southeast Asian cats are primitive – the first big cats to evolve some 11 million years ago. (Werdelin and others)

But some paleontologists have a different explanation for it.

Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the big-cat lineage.

Who’s this?

Think of this as the BOGO cat.

Biologists recently discovered that what we call clouded leopards are actually two different species. They just resemble each other, like leopards and jaguars do. (Cat Specialist Group; Culver and others)

However, leopards and jaguars are easy to tell apart since they live on different continents and do have some physical differences.

Both the mainland clouded leopard – Neofelis nebulosa – and the Sunda clouded leopard – Neofelis diardi – call Southeast Asia home.

One ranges over the mainland and the other lives on a few Indonesian islands. They share the Malaysian peninsula. (Cat Specialist Group; Grassman and others; Hearn and others; ISEC)

The big difference between these two cats is in their genes. (Macdonald and others) On the outside, they’re almost identical.

For our simple purpose here, let’s just buy one and get one free, keeping in mind that the genetic differences are very important to scientists.

What does it look like?

As you can see in the video above, clouded leopards are smallish – about 40-50 pounds for an adult. Their tail is longer than in most cats, and their legs are short and powerful, with those very broad paws giving them sure footing as they race through treetops. (Cat Specialist Group)

Clouded leopards also hunt and travel long distances on the ground. In the wild, they are very secretive, so very little is known about them. (Cat Specialist Group; Hearn and others)

How friendly/dangerous is it?

Any wild cat can hurt you, but clouded leopards avoid people. They occasionally go after poultry and other small livestock, but it’s not a major problem. Cubs can be tamed, and poachers trap these endangered cats for the illegal pet trade as well as for their fur. (Cat Specialist Group; Grassman and others; Hearn and others)

When did it evolve?

People interested in ancient life study it through fossils – basically, whatever few anatomical remains have come down to us through geologic time.

This approach is very limited. In the last few decades, though, molecular techniques have been developed to study the ancestors of today’s living cats in much better detail. (Rose)

According to this genetic data, the big-cat lineage was the first modern group to evolve, and clouded leopards were its first members. (Werdelin and others)

Dates vary (Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds), but according to one well-known study, this all happened around 11 million years ago. (O’Brien and Johnson; Werdelin and others)

The problem is that this can’t be backed up yet by fossils, which don’t go back that far. (Werdelin and others)

Some paleontologists, working strictly with fossils, have found evidence that suggests another story.

They say that snow leopards, not clouded leopards, are the most primitive big cat. According to this view, clouded leopards have their unique look because their evolutionary path converged on that of the big cats instead of being in on its start. (Christiansen)

Who’s right? The cats aren’t saying.

All of these experts are doing the best they can. The problem is that all methods of investigating the distant past have their limits, and their results often can be interpreted differently. (Rose)

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

Clouded leopards are found from the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia into China and, for the Sunda clouded leopard, also in Sumatra, Borneo, and the Batu Islands. (Grassman and others)

They are adaptable but mostly live in evergreen tropical forests that are fast disappearing in the region. Their range has shrunk, and while exact numbers are hard to pin down, there are only about 4500 mature clouded leopards left in the wild, per current estimates. (Grassman and others; Hearn and others)


Featured image: Clouded leopard, by Spencer Wright, Flickr. CC BY 2.0.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group: Mainland and Sunda clouded leopards. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=116 and http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=225. Last accessed September 17, 2017.

Christiansen, P. 2008. Evolutionary changes in craniomandibular shape in the great cats (Neofelis Griffith and Panthera Oken). Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society. 95:766-788.

Culver, M.; Driscoll, C.; Eizirik, E.; and Spong, G. 2010. Genetic applications in wild felids, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 107-123. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Grassman, L.; Lynam, A.; Mohamed, S.; Duckworth, J. W.; and others. 2016. Neofelis nebulosa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T14519A97215090.

Hearn, A.; Ross, J.; Brodie, J.; Cheyne, S.; and others. 2015. Neofelis diardi. (errata version published in 2016) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:e.T136603A97212874.

International Society for Endangered Cats: Mainland and Sunda clouded leopards. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/clouded-leopard/ and https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/sunda-clouded-leopard/ . Last accessed September 17, 2017.

Kitchener, A. C., Van Valkenburgh, B., and Yamaguchi, N. 2010. Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 83-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Lee, S. June 12, 2017. Move to protect the Sunda clouded leopard. The Star. http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/06/12/move-to-protect-the-sunda-clouded-leopard/#iQuVGjP6h94qzKT2.01 Last accessed September 17, 2017.

Macdonald, D. W.; Loveridge, A. J.; and Nowell, K. Dramatis personae: an introduction to the wild felids, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 3-58. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Nyakatura, K., and Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. 2012. Updating the evolutionary history of Carnivora (Mammalia): a new species-level supertree complete with divergence time estimates. BMC Biology. 10:12.

O’Brien, S. J., and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American. 297 (1):68-75.

Rose, K. D. 2006. The Beginning of the Age of Mammals. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Werdelin, L., and Olsson, L. 1997. How the leopard got its spots: a phylogenetic view off the evolution of felid coat patterns. Biological Journal of the Linnaen Society. 62:383-400.

Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; and O’Brien, S. J.. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae), in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 59-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilting, A.; Christiansen, P.; Kitchener, A. C.; Kemp, Y. J. M.; Ambu, L.; and Fickel, J. 2011. Geographical variation in and evolutionary history of the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) with the description of a new subspecies from Borneo. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 58:317-328.