Category: panthera

Happy International Cat Day: The World Is A Better Place With Felines

Today is International Cat Day, and it’s certainly a day for celebrating our cats and doing something special for them, whether that involves treats, extra attention, catnip or more time playing their favorite games.

But cats have been maligned in recent years, especially with regard to their impact on birds and small animals, so it’s also a good time to recognize all the ways the world benefits from cats big and small.

Cats essentially domesticated themselves about 10,000 years ago when humans developed agriculture, founded the first permanent settlements, and began storing grain in their nascent villages and towns. The grain attracted rodents, which in turn attracted the four-legged, furry little felines, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship between species.

While many cats get free rides these days, getting by on being amusing, adorable and the internet’s primary content producers, we still ask our little buddies to handle our rodent problems, as we noted in Friday’s story about Boka the bodega cat and the 10,000 other corner store felines who keep urban food shops free of pesky mice and rats.

Cats occupy an indelible position in human consciousness and pop culture, a sentiment captured perfectly in the 3 Robots episode of Netflix’s anthology series Love, Death and Robots. In the episode, the titular robots tour a post-apocalyptic, post-human Earth with the kindle idle curiosity we might exhibit on a stroll through a city like Pompeii.

“What’s the point of these things?” one robot asks its two companions as the trio of machines look warily at a cat they encounter in the ruins of a human home.

“Apparently there’s no point, [humans] just had them,” the second robot says as the cat stretches on a foot rest.

“Well, that’s underselling their influence,” the third robot says. “They had an entire network that was devoted to the dissemination of pictures of these things.”

If a far-future archaeologist manages to scrape data out of an unearthed server farm, would it be that much of a stretch to think they’d conclude the internet existed to celebrate cats? (Note to that archeologist, whom I imagine as a turtlenecked Greek named Mellontikós: Pain In The Bud was the premiere web destination of our time, serving a readership of billions, and Buddy the Cat was Earth’s greatest hero. Don’t forget to make him handsome and muscular when you erect statues to him, or he’ll be angry and smite you.)

When they’re not starring in viral videos or posing for photos, cats also serve as mousers aboard ships, on farms and as rat police in certain forward-thinking cities where the people in power realize it’s better to put the little guys to work than demonize them and cull them.

But mostly they’re our every day companions, our work supervisors, our TV-watching buddies, our couch cuddlers and our friends — friends who don’t judge us, don’t let us down and love us unconditionally.

While house cats aren’t endangered, we’re at a critical juncture now, one that will determine if future generations put their kids to bed promising to take them to zoos to see tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards and cheetahs, or if they’ll kiss their kids goodnight after explaining, sadly, that the majestic animals in their storybooks were extirpated from the Earth a long time ago along with elephants, orangutans, gorillas, whales and virtually every other example of charismatic, iconic megafauna.

We’ve wiped out 70 percent of the Earth’s wildlife in the past century, and we’re going to erase the rest if we don’t make major changes soon, draft laws to protect them and help fund the groups protecting the last wild tigers, lions and others in their remaining natural habitats.

The world is a better place with cats, and we’re lucky to have them. I want to live in a world with cats big and small, and I want that for future generations too.

Finally, Wild Cat ‘Ownership’ Could Be Banned Under The Big Cat Public Safety Act

There are more tigers living in cramped backyards in Texas than there are in the wild.

At roadside zoos, shady people like Joseph Maldonado-Passage, Joe “Exotic” of Tiger King fame, breed big cats like rabbits so they have an endless supply of cubs to steal from their mothers before they’re weaned, pumped full of sedatives, and handed off to tourists who take selfies with them but never stop to consider the welfare of those baby cats or the harm they’re enabling.

And in states like Florida, where “Muh freedoms!” reign supreme over all other values, people can own any wild animals they want, with no real oversight and no mechanisms to ensure they’re doing right by the animals. There’s nothing forcing “exotic” animal “owners” to keep the big cats, monkeys and other mammals in proper enclosures where they have stimulation and — just as importantly — won’t escape and hurt neighbors.

India the tiger Transported to BBR
India the tiger was still just a cub when he was spotted wandering through residential neighborhoods in Texas, where he’d been dumped by his former “owner.” Credit: Humane Society

Thankfully, things could change soon as lawmakers are expected to vote on the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a rare bipartisan effort that would finally make it illegal to keep tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, pumas and other wildcats privately, whether in homes, businesses or non-accredited “zoos.”

Currently keeping big cats is illegal or severely restricted in most states, but like many things in the US, there’s a confusing patchwork of laws and things that would be unthinkable in other states are perfectly acceptable in places like Texas and Florida.

Because, you know, “muh freedoms.”

Now is a good time to point out that this blog has always been, and will remain, politically agnostic. I have my own political beliefs as any other person does, but PITB is a cat humor, news and advocacy blog, and the only politics we discuss here are those that relate to animal welfare. Equally important, Buddy and I want people of all political persuasions to feel comfortable as readers and commenters on PITB. (Although that could change if one or both political parties suddenly makes a move against the nation’s Strategic Turkey Supply. Then Buddy’s gonna have to get biblical.)

The Big Cat Safety Act is co-sponsored in congress by representatives Mike Quickly, D-IL, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA, and in the senate by senators Susan Collins, R-ME, Tom Carpenter, D-DE, Richard Burr, R-NC, and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT.

It’s endorsed by a wide range of groups, from the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums to the Humane Society and various bar associations. The proposed legislation also has the support of the White House, which released a statement this week urging its passage.

If your congressional representative or your senators aren’t publicly on board with the Big Cat Safety Act, you can make your voice heard via the Humane Society’s site, which allows you to draft and send letters to the offices of your lawmakers.

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Cheetahs, already critically endangered, have been almost entirely wiped out by poachers who sell their cubs on the illegal wildlife market. Credit: Magda Ehlers/Pexels

Sanctuary Jaguar Gives Birth To Beautiful Melanistic Baby, You Can Help Name Her

The Big Cat Sanctuary of Kent, UK — not to be confused with Florida’s Big Cat Rescue — is welcoming a newborn melanistic jaguar, and everyone from the vet staff to the caretakers are fussing over her.

The as-yet-unnamed baby was born to mom Keira and dad Neron in a big-cat breeding program designed to ensure the species survives as wild populations plummet due to habitat reduction and poaching. Staff at the UK sanctuary say the baby opened her eyes the day she was born and was walking by two weeks. That’s an unusually quick development for most cats, but apparently not for jaguars, who live in the deepest jungles of the Amazon.

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The Big Cat Sanctuary’s newest addition. / Credit: Alma Leaper

The sanctuary is allowing the public to pick the baby’s name from among three choices as part of a fund-raiser.

The choices are Inka (Inca) after the Inca people and their empire, Inti, a Quechuan (pre-modern Peruvian) word meaning “Sunshine,” or Killari, a word from the same language that means “Moonlight.” I’m partial to the latter, especially for the image it evokes of the world’s largest black panther — and the largest cat in the Americas — stalking the jungle on a moon-lit night.

The term “black panther” is a catch-all for any felid with melanism. Both jaguars and leopards can have the black color morph, as can domestic cats. Cats with melanism retain their spots, and if you look closely you can see they’re a shade darker than the rest of the cats’ black fur.

Check out the video below to see the little one behaving just like any other kitten.

Finally, The US Is Poised To Outlaw Big Cat ‘Ownership’

Even though Tiger King, the tawdry Netflix documentary about a redneck and his “zoo” full of tigers, focused more on the eccentric people involved than the plight of the big cats in their “care,” it got people talking about the problem of captive tigers in the US.

In 2020, congress passed a rare bipartisan bill to ban all big cat ownership in the US. The bill stalled when the senate failed to vote on it before the end of the legislative session, but now it’s back — and the recent saga of a confused tiger wandering around Houston may finally provide the nudge for politicians to pass the badly-needed bill.

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After almost exterminating tigers, Chinese poachers have turned to South America, where they’re poaching jaguars at unprecedented rates to feed demand for big cat parts in the traditional Chinese medicine market. Jaguar poaching has increased 200-fold in the past five years to fuel Chinese demand for their body parts.

There are more tigers living in Texas and Florida backyards than there are in the wild, an ignominious fact that says volumes about humanity’s indifference to the plight of the Earth’s most powerful and iconic predators. Devastated by habitat destruction and poaching to feed the bottomless Chinese appetite for tiger parts used in traditional Chinese “medicine,” the worldwide wild tiger population is about 3,900, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

By contrast, there’s an estimated 7,000 tigers kept as “pets” in the US, with as many as 5,000 of them in Texas.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act would ban the private ownership of tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cougars and cheetahs. It would also outlaw the practice of taking tiger cubs from their mothers so guests can hold them and take selfies with them, which has become an increasingly-popular and controversial feature of “roadside zoos” — unregulated, poorly run, unaccredited facilities — in the US.

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Cheetahs, already critically endangered due to habitat loss, are on the verge of extinction as they’ve become the exotic pet of choice among the wealthy of the UAE and Russia.

The Houston tiger, named India, is one of those unfortunate cubs. While the public freaked out and Houston residents huddled in their homes, hoping to record footage of the wandering tiger, an important fact was often left out of media reports: India is only eight months old. He’s essentially a baby, albeit a 175-pound one, and he had no idea what was happening to him, where he was, how to feed himself, or how to escape the endless sprawl of urban and suburban Texas.

Despite the fact that he was a confused-yet-playful cub, India could have easily been shot by authorities. Thankfully he survived his ordeal, and while his “owner,” Victor Cuevas, is sitting in jail on $300,000 bond, India has been relocated to a sanctuary in northern Texas, where he’ll be looked after and will get to live in the company of other tigers.

In the meantime, we all have an opportunity to lobby our respective senators and demand that they vote for the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can fire off a letter to your senators and congressional representative in less than two minutes using the Animal Welfare Institute’s site — just punch in your address and the site will draft automated letters to all three, with fields to sign your name and to personalize the letters.

Tell them you support the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and you’ll take their vote into consideration the next time you head to the ballot box.

All images credit Wikimedia Commons.

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In the wild, tigers range more than 50 miles a day. Backyards, no matter how large, are not suitable environments for them.

 

Cats In Games: The Magnificent Jaguars Of ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’

Lara Croft has come a long way since the days when she was the polygonal, hyper-sexualized protagonist of the early Tomb Raider games.

Thanks to a reboot the new Lara is a smart, adventurous and brave young woman voiced and motion-capped by the talented Camilla Luddington, and she’s never felt more real. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara ventures to the Peruvian jungle to chase down Mayan artifacts, and among the many obstacles in her way are jaguars.

Gorgeous, magnificent, regal jaguars who seemingly manifest out of the mist and blend back into the green inferno at will.

Here’s our new Lara, now starring in her third game:

The new Lara Croft
The new Lara Croft is a fearless adventurer and archaeological expert who travels the world unearthing clues to humanity’s past.

Like previous games, her adventures revolve around archaeological digs, ancient tombs and uncovering the history of humanity one find at a time. What would a Tomb Raider adventure be without a bit of danger?

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Lara crosses an underground chasm in search of a Mayan relic.

After an opening sequence, Lara and her friend Jonah head deep into the Peruvian jungle. This being Tomb Raider, they can’t land like normal people — a powerful storm sweeps in, sending their plane crashing into uncharted territory.

Lara finds herself alone, lost in the jungle without her gear. The sounds of the jungle reach a fever peach, with birds fleeing branches and monkeys howling, heralding the arrival of the apex predator of the Americas: Panthera onca, the jaguar, a name that translates to “He who kills with one bound.”

Jaguar of the Tomb Raider
“Hey there, could you tell me how to get to Lima?”

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Okay, stay calm! Remember your training! You’re face to face with an apex predator with the strongest bite force of any animal, but you can do this!

Besides, it can’t get any worse at this point.

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Can it?

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Oh shit. Even the monkeys are like “Dayum! Grab the popcorn!”

Don’t panic! Maybe these jaguars are just saying hello!

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Or maybe not.

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What’s worth noting is that these are not cut scenes — what you see here are screenshots within the game engine. For people who aren’t familiar with video games, that means you’re looking at the game itself. This is what the gameplay looks like.

We have come a long, long way from this, haven’t we?

Old Tomb Raider
The low-texture, low-polygon world of the original Tomb Raider games.

It’s a difference allowed by several generations’ worth of improved computer hardware and software, resulting in billions of additional polygons, millions of additional colors, improved lighting, physics, art assets, high definition textures, motion capture technology and all the little things that fuel progress from a world made from flat, blurry environments and cartoonish characters to a hyper-realistic, almost photo-quality world which makes incredible immersion possible.

Most of our readers may not be gamers, but for those who are, I’ll avoid spoilers here even though Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a 2018 release.

Suffice to say jaguars play a prominent role in the game and serve as the Big Bads, the game’s ultimate threat made even more terrifying by the knowledge that they can appear at any time and ambush our hero before she’s even aware of their presence.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a fantastic job of immersion, making all of the dangers of the jungle feel real through meticulously crafted visuals and sound, and a compelling story. And like everything else in life, it’s better with cats!