Zoos around the US are closed because of the Coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on the milestones of baby animals like the San Diego Zoo’s Ryder and Skyler, two black-footed kittens.
Black-footed cats are notable not only for their diminutive size — typically maxing out at two or three pounds — and their cuteness, but also for their astonishing hunting skills. The tiny terrors have voracious appetites and a 60 percent success rate when hunting. That eclipses the 25 percent success rate of lions, 32 percent success rate of domestic cats and the zero percent success rate of Buddy.
Ryder, a male, and Skyler, a female, were born in April. They haven’t started hunting yet, but they’ve now reached the stage where they’re eating meat instead of milk, as this video shows:
One photo shows a melanistic leopard — better known as a black panther — cautiously but curiously poking its head out from behind a tree. Another shows the same cat, tail raised and ready to spring as it stalks prey in the jungle mists.
The photos went viral this week, accumulating millions of views as people hailed the leopard as the second coming of Rudyard Kipling’s Bagheera, the beloved leopard from The Jungle Book.
Both photos come from the lens of Shaaz Jung, known as the “Leopard Man of India” for his astonishing shots of the majestic cats taken deep in the country’s jungles and forests.
“When people see these pictures, they think there are several leopards, but actually there’s just one black panther where we are — one melanistic leopard in the dense forest of Nagerhole. So it was like finding a needle in a haystack,” Jung told BusinessInsider.
The leopard has been named Saya by local wildlife enthusiasts, and he’s a bit out of his element in the deciduous Kabini forest, which is also home to a tiger preserve. Normally, leopards like Saya live in dense jungle, where the thick canopy and lack of light play to their advantage.
Jung patiently followed Saya, snapping photos of the big cat hunting, fighting and courting potential mates.
“He’s not just surviving, he is thriving,” Jung said.
Jung is a wildlife photographer, NatGeo’s director of photography for films and a big cat specialist in his own right. He also photographs India’s tigers, and his shots reveal a connection to — and a deep appreciation of — these regal apex predators who have been pushed back by human development and the resulting habitat loss.
Sometimes it seems like writers at the New York Times are in a competition with each other to prove who’s the most out-of-touch.
The latest effort comes courtesy of Alexandra Marvar, who begins her profile of a designer cat breeder by reminiscing about the good old days when those lacking sense or self-awareness could be fabulous by keeping wild animals as “chic pets”:
Not so long ago, wild cat companions were associated with glamour, class and creativity. Salvador Dalí brought his ocelot to the St. Regis. Tippi Hedren lounged with her lions in her Los Angeles living room. Josephine Baker’s cheetah, collared in diamonds, strolled the Champs-Élysées. In their time, these wild creatures made chic pets.
But, Marvar writes, those animal welfare activists had to come and ruin things for fabulous people:
But by the mid-1970s, a wave of awareness and wildlife protection legislation changed both the optics of owning a big cat, and the ability to legally purchase one.
Killjoys. Don’t they know Dali, Hedren and Baker were just being fabulous? They were being classy and creative! Who has time for people who claim it’s wrong to keep a wild animal that ranges 50 miles a day confined in a living room? They have gilded cages, diamond collars and meals of filet mignon!
Now that wild cat ownership has been relegated to mulleted felons and gun-toting Texans who keep exotic cats to hold on tight to “muh freedoms” — stripping the practice of all glamour, class and fabulousness — where can the wealthy turn when they don’t just want pets, but status symbols?
The creators of the latest designer breeds, Toygers and Bengals, of course. Meet our heroes, the late breeder Jean Mill and her daughter, Judy Sugden:
Meanwhile, a cat breeder named Jean Mill was working on a more practical alternative: her leopard-spotted companion was just ten inches tall. At her cattery in Southern California, Ms. Mill invented a breed of domestic cat called the Bengal, which would offer wild cat admirers the best of both worlds: an impeccable leopard-like coat, and an indoor-cat size and demeanor.
Note: If you think a Persian makes you fabulous, surrender that cat to the nearest shelter immediately. Persians are so 2013!
[A Bengal cat breeder] recalled there used to be “tons” of ads for Persian cats in the back of Cat Fancy magazine. But the Persian’s prim, manicured aesthetic is no longer en vogue. “That look doesn’t say, ‘I can survive in the jungle,’” Mr. Hutcherson said. “It says, ‘I need somebody to open this can of cat food because there’s no way this cat is catching a mouse.’”
Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue and a star of Netflix’s “Tiger King,” has called toyger owners “selfish” and said creating new breeds is “strapping a nuclear warhead to the feral cat problem.” Others might argue that compared with shelter pets, designer species (the rarer of which may cost as much tens of thousands of dollars per kitten) are a different beast altogether.
Others might argue! Who are those others? Uh, Marvar and…and…nevermind. The important thing to realize is that there are cats — the riff-raff adopted from animal shelters by plebs — and there are chic, elegant, glamorous beasts. To compare a shelter pet to a Toyger would be like comparing a Geo Metro to an Aston Martin.
In the glowing profile of Mill’s daughter, the toyger breeder — whose cats the Times compares to the Mona Lisa and whose work it describes as a “creative effort” in “cultivating” perfect “beasts” — the newspaper devotes a single line to those who object to the industrial manufacture of designer pets when shelters are forced to euthanize cats who aren’t adopted:
…the designer cat market is a thriving one where supply rarely meets demand, and in its service, more than 40,000 registered house cat breeders around the world are devoted to supplying pet owners with Ragdoll, Sphynx and other prized breeds. (PETA has argued this clientele should instead adopt cats from a shelter.)
The fact that 1.4 million pets are put down every year in the US wasn’t considered important enough to mention in the Times story. Too much of a buzzkill. Ain’t no one got time for that!
The rest of the Times’ editorial staff and its stable of contributors will have a tough time topping Marvar’s masterpiece. But as they try — and try they will — remember these are the same people who want to teach the rest of us about privilege and inequality in modern society as they social distance in their Scarsdale homes and file their stories from their couches next to their $10,000 pets.
The British press dubbed the Savannah “The Beast of Billionaire’s Row” after it popped into a back garden in the upscale neighborhood of Hampstead on Monday, scaring a mom and daughter who were eating dinner outside.
They called the police to report a large wildcat, and authorities responded in force before realizing the mysterious felid was a Savannah, a cross between a Serval and a domestic cat. A wildlife expert confirmed the cat wasn’t dangerous and police stood down, leaving the cat to its own devices.
And that’s exactly the problem, homeowners in the neighborhood told UK newspapers: They say the rare feline has been wandering the area for eight months, and believe it was abandoned by its owner or escaped from its home.
“Anyone saying it’s a recent escape is talking absolute rubbish,” said Kate Blackmore of Highgate, an adjacent neighborhood less than a mile from Monday’s sighting.
Blackmore told the Daily Mail she’s seen the cat in her yard 10 times over the months, and shot video of the hybrid in September when it crossed her yard.
“Look at you, you’re massive. Wow! Where do you come from?” Blackmore says in the video. “What’s with the growling, mate?”
The cat looks underfed and scared, making unmistakably nervous noises as the camera rolls. At one point Blackmore raises her voice and the cat flashes its teeth in response, hissing anxiously.
Blackmore told the Daily Mail she thinks the large hybrid may have chased one of her cats, who turned up dead in a nearby road last year, but admits it’s speculation. That hasn’t stopped the Mail from reporting the Savannah “has savaged a kitten” with nothing but Blackmore’s word to go on.
Blackmore told the Daily Mail she’s “really passionate about rehoming this cat,” which contradicts statements she gave to the Sun and other newspapers, in which she seems determined to blame the scared ex-pet. She’s the sole source for severalirresponsibly speculative articles claiming the Savannah has been eating pets in the neighborhood.
“We have had ten visits from the Savannah. It scared one kitten away and eight weeks later it was found dead,” Karen Kate Blackmore told the Sun. “So you can understand my rage towards the cat — it could be killing other people’s pets.”
Blackmore’s crusade against the Savannah seems especially odd considering she has two Bengal cats, which are also hybrids. Bengals are a mix of domestic felines and Asian leopard cats(*). Like Savannahs they’re sold for thousands of dollars, valued for the wild-looking rosettes on their coats, and can wreak havoc if they’re not provided with enough attention and stimulation.
Other neighbors say they’ve encountered the animal and haven’t seen any signs of aggression. Laura Rosefield, who lives nearby, told the Sun she interacted with the cat in a neighborhood park, calling it “very tame.”
“I suddenly went ‘Oh my god what is that?’ and we saw the cat and said ‘It’s a leopard, it’s a mini leopard,’” Rosefield said.
She said the “shockingly beautiful” hybrid even sat with her family and was comfortable around people.
“We were ohh-ing and ahh-ing, and it padded around us for quite a long time, it padded over my foot for quite a long time,” she said. “My partner stroked it and it purred along while he was stroking it.”
Looking at the cat’s condition and body language in the video, it doesn’t seem like a well-loved pet out for a fun stroll near its home — it looks like a sad, confused and abandoned former pet.
Savannah cats retain the energy and intelligence of their wild cousins and are similar to working dogs in that they need near-constant stimulation and socialization. If their needs aren’t met they can become bored, destructive and could escape to make their own adventures.
First-generation hybrids, known as F1 Savannahs, are considered too wild to be kept as pets and are used as breeders. Typically pet Savannahs are third- or fourth-generation (F3 or F4), retaining the rosette-and-dot coat pattern of their wild forebears and most of their size, but with dispositions more like typical house cats.
The animals can fetch up to $20,000 in the US, with F1s commanding the highest prices. Unlike the US, where many caretakers keep their cats indoors for their safety, it’s common for owners in the UK to allow their cats to wander outside.
CORRECTION:An earlier version of this post misstated the origins of the Bengal breed. Bengals are hybrids of the domestic cat, felis catus, and the Asian leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis. Thanks to reader M.A. for pointing out the error.
Wealthy Londoners freaked out at the sight of a Savannah cat on Monday, confusing the domestic-Serval hybrid for a big cat.
The pet kitty was stalking the gardens of a neighborhood known as billionaire’s row in East Finchey, north London, when it caught the attention of a mother and daughter who called police to report a large felid.
“I was sitting having dinner with my daughter in the garden when the head appeared. It looked normal so I didn’t take much notice but then the body came out,” the mother told the Evening Standard. “It was elongated, really too big for a domestic pet. The markings were like that of a cheetah or leopard.”
“We were scared. I said to myself ‘we should not be here’ and ran in the house. I took a picture on the way, it was frightening.”
“We called the police and armed officers started the hunt for the animal. They told us to stay inside. There were two police helicopters overhead. It was very dramatic, I can understand it. At that stage they had to think it was a dangerous wildcat.”
Leon Grant, who lives nearby, told the newspaper that police and neighbors thought they were dealing with a big cat.
“It was pandemonium,” Grant said. “There was a police helicopter whirring overhead and armed police and all sorts. It was being dealt with as a huge incident.”
The police, who were accompanied by a wildlife expert, stood down after they realized they were dealing with a pet, the BBC reported. The cops hadn’t found the owner, but said keeping a Savannah cat isn’t illegal in London or its outlying areas.
Savannah cats are hybrids of domestic cats and servals, mid-sized African wildcats. The somewhat controversial breed is energetic, intelligent and needs a lot of stimulation, much like a working dog.
To be fair to the Londoners who were alarmed by the sight of the rare cat, the breed is considerably larger than typical domestic cats. A pet Savannah is about the size of two, maybe two-and-a-half Buddies: (Although not nearly as ripped or as fearsome, obviously.)
First-generation hybrids, known as F1 Savannahs, are not considered suitable pets. Typically breeders sell F3 (third generation) or F4 cats to the general public. A Savannah cat can cost as much as $20,000 in the US, and like all exotic breeds, they’re controversial because many activists feel people shouldn’t buy pets when 1.5 million homeless cats and dogs are euthanized every year.
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.