Guest Video: Rare Views of the African Golden Cat


This video was posted in 2011. Now, the IUCN Red List has moved this species up to “Vulnerable.”

It is an amazing video–this is one of the few cat species I have had difficulty finding images for.



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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 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.

Species Facts: Snow Leopard


Snow leopards aren’t leopards that live in snowy country.

Panthera uncia is actually a separate species and more closely related to the tiger.  Despite that, the resemblance between Uncia and leopards is astounding. See for yourself!

The first cat in this video is a leopard, the second a snow leopard.



Their worlds only overlap in the southern part of Uncia’s range, especially in the Himalayan ranges of Nepal and Bhutan. (McCarthy and others; Stein and others)

Who’s this?

The video above is the first time anyone has seen these two very similar cats sharing a territory. (Snow Leopard Trust).

Each one is a winner, instead of one driving the other into local extinction.

Leopards and snow leopards can share the mountain country up to around 17,000 feet, but snow leopards go even higher in the Himalayas. (Cat Specialist Group; McCarthy and others; Stein and others)

They own alpine and subalpine zones (Cat Specialist Group) from the Himalayas northward, across the Tibet plateau and the Central Asian high country, to mountainous southern Siberia. (McCarthy and others)

That’s twelve countries:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bhutan
  • China
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Russia
  • Tajikistan
  • Uzbekistan

Uncia may also be in northern Myanmar, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet. (McCarthy and others)

During the winter, snow leopards follow their prey – mainly wild goats and sheep – down to the Gobi Desert, which still puts them two to three miles above sea level. (ISEC)

What does it look like?

Genetic testing proves that snow leopards belong with the big cats, but their appearance is more like a 60- to 100-pound house cat with an extremely long tail and huge front paws. (Heptner and Sludskii; McCarthy and others)

But no house cat has that smoky gray to yellowish fur, soft yet dense, and sprinkled with spots and rosettes that help the snow leopard blend into its rocky background. (Heptner and Sludskii; ISEC)

Snow leopards also have small, rounded ears that are set wide apart, the better to avoid being seen by prey in the mountains, where there is little cover. (ISEC)

The air is thin up in snow-leopard country. The cats have adapted to this by developing extra-large nasal cavities, well-developed chest muscles, and blood chemistry changes similar to those that help humans live at high altitudes. (Cat Specialist Group; Cho and others)

Their broad foot pads are covered with hair that provides insulation and also increases the paw’s surface area. (ISEC)

Snow leopards can therefore walk a little easier on snow and, with the help of their broad tail, they are incredibly agile on rocks.

The Coolness Factor:

Besides its adorable appearance, Uncia is the only cat that can do this:



Just for the record, a snow leopard covers from 20 to 50 feet in a single leap (ISEC), and that tail makes an excellent counterbalance/rudder.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

At the time of writing, there is a big disagreement among conservation groups over the precise extinction risk snow leopards face.

What makes assessments so difficult is that these cats avoid people, and they live in very difficult terrain for census taking. No one even knows what their historic range used to be. (Cat Specialist Group)

Whatever the finer points are in this debate, Uncia is still at risk of extinction.

The best interests of the snow leopard will ultimately come first in anyone whose heart this wild feline has touched.


Featured image: Two snow leopards playing, by strichpunkt at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:

Cat Specialist Group. Snow leopard. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=100 Last accessed September 15, 2017.

Cho, Y. S.; Hu, L.; Hou, H.; Lee, H.; and others. 2013. The tiger genome and comparative analysis with lions and snow leopard genomes. Nature Communications. 4:2433.

Heptner, V. G., and Sludskii, A. A. 1972. Mammals of the Soviet Union, volume II, part 2: Carnivora (hyaenas and cats). Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola Publishers. English translation by Rao, P.M., 1992. General editor: Kothekar, V. S. New Delhi: Amerind Publishing.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC). Snow leopard. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/eurasia/snow-leopard/ Last accessed September 15, 2017.

McCarthy, T.; Mallon, D.; Jackson, R.; Zahler, P.; and McCarthy, K. 2017. Panthera uncia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017:e.T22732A50664030.

Snow Leopard Trust: Facebook post February 13, 2017. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10155040344106913&id=77272446912 Last accessed September 15, 2017.

Stein, A. B.; Athreya, V.; Gemgross, P.; Balme, G.; and others. 2016. Panthera pardus. (errata version published in 2016) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15954A102421779.Snow Leopard True statement: https://www.snowleopard.org/statement-iucn-red-list-status-change-snow-leopard/ Last accessed September 2017.


Last edited June 17, 2018.


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/

Species Facts: The Leopard

The world’s most famous spotted cat is a little better off than other big cats. Although its range has shrunk, the leopard still calls two continents home. (ISEC; Stein and others)`

Since leopards can adapt to almost any environment from sea level up to around 17,000 feet in the Himalayas, you will find them in most of sub-Saharan Africa and across much of southern/northeast Asia. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC; Panthera; Stein and others; Uphyyrkina)

While the overall species isn’t endangered, some leopard subspecies are. (ISEC)

But in India the high numbers of both leopards and people are causing serious problems. (Cat Specialist Group)

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

Who’s this?

They may be smaller than lions, but leopards are large enough and pack enough muscle to bring down prey two to three times their size. (Cat Specialist Group)

Leopards are also built for climbing and do well in lion country wherever there are trees available for refuge. (Cat Specialist Group; Kitchener and others)

With a massive skull and powerful jaws, leopards resemble jaguars but are slimmer. Their tail is also longer, and the head is not quite as big. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC)

What does it look like?

These cats have a lot more variety than we give them credit for.

Yes, all leopards have black spots on their head, legs, and tail, with black-rimmed rosettes elsewhere and whitish fur on their undersides. (ISEC)

But their size and background fur color vary according to habitat. African leopards are the biggest, weighing up to 200 pounds or more.

In the chilly Russian Far East, the leopard’s coat is so long and the background is such a pale color that some confuse this cat with the snow leopard – a totally different species. (Uphyrkina and others)

And in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, leopards are often black, though you can still see their spots in the right light. (ISEC; Kitchener and others)

Scientists are still debating how to classify leopard subspecies (Stein and others), but the best known common names for them include:

How friendly/dangerous is it?

This is one of the most dangerous cats in the world.

The Coolness Factor:

leopard-518210_640 (1)

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

The Cat Specialist Group sums it up well:

The main threats to the leopard are of anthropogenic origin. Continuing persecution by humans, habitat loss and fragmentation, prey base declines, illegal wildlife trade, retaliatory killing and poorly managed trophy hunting are the main problems leading to leopard reductions.


Images:
Featured image: Persian leopard in snow. Felix Broennimann at Pixabay. Public domain.

Leopard in tree: designerpoint at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:
Cat Specialist Group. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=110 Last accessed September 10, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC). Leopard. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/africa/leopard/ Last accessed September 10, 2017.

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