Tag: wildlife conservation

Spectacular Tigress Image Wins Wildlife Photo Of The Year

A photo of a tigress hugging a tree in Siberia has won the prestigious Wildlife Photo Of The Year from London’s Natural History Museum.

Photographer Sergey Gorshkov beat out almost 50,000 other entrants with his winning photograph, taken in Land of the Leopard National Park, a large reserve for tigers and leopards in Far East Siberia.

Gorshkov set up his camera facing a tree that already had claw marks, signaling that it’s been used as a territorial marker by at least one of more than 30 adult tigers in the park.

Sure enough, a tigress stopped to claw new marks on the tree and rub her scent on it, which is the same behavior we see with house cats when they rub on objects — and people — in the home. Cats have scent glands on their faces and paws which allow them to mark objects with pheromones. It’s a cat’s way of leaving a “sign” saying “This is mine.”

The photo has an ethereal quality, with the tigress and tree illuminated by shafts of sunlight poking through the canopy of the ancient forest.

Wild and free Siberian Tiger!

An announcement from the park’s staff describes the scene:

The photo titled “Hugs” shows the moment in which the rarest Amur tiger hugs a century-old fir to mark the target tree with its scent. Sergey Gorshkov, with the support of professional guides from Land of the Leopard, took a picture using a professional camera with a motion sensor.

“This is a scene like no other, a unique look at an intimate moment deep in a magical forest,” said Rose Kidman Cox, chairwoman of the contest’s jury.

The photo “inspires hope” for the endangered Amur tiger, Cox said. In addition to the 30-plus tigers, Land of the Leopard National Park is also home to at least 10 tiger cubs and almost 100 leopards.

Gorshkov’s photo wasn’t the only feline winner this year. “When mother says run,” a photograph by China’s Shanyan Li, shows a trio of Pallas’ cubs with their mother “on the remote steppes of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in northwest China.” The photograph won in the mammalian behavior category.

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NYT Columnist: ‘If I owned a gun, I swear I would have shot that cat’

What would you do if you encountered a hungry, injured feral cat hiding under a car near your home?

If your first thought is to help the poor little one, enlist the aid of a local rescue and get the cat some much-needed veterinary attention and food in its belly, congratulations: You’re a human being with a conscience.

One New York Times columnist, however, thinks the solution is to indulge in a fantasy about murdering the innocent animal, of using a weapon she doesn’t own and soundly disapproves of to wipe it from existence.

When Margaret Renkl saw the “ragged, battle-scarred tom, thin but not emaciated, with one eye that didn’t open all the way,” her first thought was to kill it, not help it.

“If I owned a gun, I swear I would have shot that cat,” Renkl wrote in her Aug. 3 column, titled “Death of a Cat. “I would have chased that hissing cat out from under the car without a thought and shot it as it fled.”

Imagine: An effete, 60-something, morally self-satisfied woman playing Charles Bronson, standing over the corpse of a cat and slipping a still-smoking pistol into its holster before heading back inside to tweet-lecture the unwashed masses on civil rights, COVID etiquette and respect for wildlife.

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A feral cat. (Credit)

The staff of the New York Times really seems to be working overtime to prove it’s tone-deaf and hypocritical: It wasn’t so long ago that a Times columnist tut-tutted those who disapprove of breeding and selling $20,000 designer cats while millions of homeless animals are euthanized annually.

Times columnist Alexandra Marvar even went so far as to praise people who use their wealth and connections to flout laws against poaching illegal wildlife, reminiscing about the days when “wild cat companions were were associated 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,” Marvar wrote.

While Marvar romanticizes wild animal “ownership,” the reality is sadly less glamorous: Instead of Josephine Bakers leading “chic” diamond-collared cheetahs on idyllic walks through Paris, it’s Texans prodding confused and depressed tigers into tiny backyard enclosures at taser-point, insisting that “muh freedoms” guarantee them the right to treat the world’s iconic megafauna like toys.

So why does Renkl hate cats? Because she’s read bunk scientific research that claims cats kill billions of birds and small animals every year:

I was thinking of the first nest the bluebirds built this spring, the one in which not a single baby survived. I was thinking of the gravid broadhead skink who would lie on our stoop every afternoon, warming her egg-swollen body in the sun. She disappeared one day to lay her eggs and guard her nest, I assumed, but now I wasn’t sure. I was thinking of the chipmunk who lives in a tunnel under our stoop and of the little screech owl, its feet holding down some small prey, its eyes glowing in the infrared light of our trail camera.

The more I thought about those vulnerable creatures, already crowded out by construction and starved out by insecticides, the angrier I got at the feral tom. In truth, I would never kill a cat, but I can surely hate one with a murderous rage. A person who has spent a quarter-century trying to create an oasis for wildlife can go a little mad when a cat shows up in the photos on her trail camera.

Note that Renkl didn’t actually see the starving cat kill those birds or squirrels. She simply assumes that a bird who doesn’t return to her glorious backyard oasis has been gobbled up by evil felines. Her rage is prompted by emotion and assumption, not fact.

She doesn’t have a negative word to say about the construction and pesticide industries either, reserving her “murderous rage” for a raggedy cat just trying to survive because she read studies claiming cats are furry little Adolf Hitlers, exterminating birds one bloody feather at a time.

We’ve talked about those cat-blaming studies here on Pain In The Bud: They’re sloppy meta-analyses of earlier studies using plugged-in, arbitrary data and dubious numbers from questionnaires to arrive at the conclusion that cats kill as many as 20 billion small animals in the US alone.

It’s cherry-picking at its worst, beginning with a pretedermined conclusion and inventing, massaging and selecting “data” to support that conclusion rather than doing the hard work of collecting authentic data and honestly interpreting the results.

The researchers who published those studies should be mortified to have their names attached to them. They’re engaging in activism, not science.

We’re not the only ones who have a problem with the aforementioned studies. A team of scientists and ethicists examined the claims and “found them wanting,” blaming the sloppy science of those studies for the claim that “cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity” and the subsequent war on cats in countries like Australia, where some states offer $10 a scalp for people who kill adult cats and $5 a scalp for kittens.

What kind of twisted logic compels people to kill kittens in the name of protecting animals?

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Bunk research claims are repeated as fact by media outlets. (Source)

The primary and most-cited studies claiming cats kill billions of animals “take specific, local studies and overgeneralize those findings to the world at large,” the critics wrote. The studies ignore “ecological context,” bury contrary evidence and ignore mitigating factors, like the fact that cats often prey on other animals that kill birds.

In other words, they start with a pre-determined conclusion and shape the dubious data to fit, as I wrote above.

And so the claim that cats kill billions of birds and small mammals is repeated as fact by an unskeptical press, and ostensibly serious people, like the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Pete Marra, advocate a “nationwide effort to rid the landscape of cats.” That’s a nice way of saying he wants to kill hundreds of millions of innocent domestic cats because he doesn’t want to see the glaring flaws in studies about the species’ ecological impact. (Marra also compares feral cat advocates to tobacco companies and climate-change deniers, which is an astounding claim from a man whose name is synonymous with manipulating research data to support his views.)

This is absurd stuff, akin to the extermination of cats in the Dark Ages prompted by stories alleging cats were the agents of Satan, witches and heretics, and central figures in devil-worshiping ceremonies. The only difference is the people of the Dark Ages, who didn’t know better, were driven by religious belief. Their modern day counterparts are driven by religion masquerading as science.

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An illuminated text on cats from the Dark Ages, when felines were considered agents of the devil. (Source)

This is what sloppy research has wrought: An army of self-professed animal lovers stalking the dusty plains of Australia and the backyards of the United States, shooting domestic cats with pistols, bows, air rifles and pellet guns.

These people don’t seem keen on thinking about how they justify the callous culling of hundreds of millions of domestic cats — intelligent, sentient animals who have feelings — in an unproven effort to protect birds and rodents.

Renkl ends her column by telling us she got her wish, in a way. A few days later, a neighbor’s kid came to her for help after some wildlife-loving do-gooder poisoned the poor animal. As she watched the tomcat convulse and twitch in an agonizing death, Renkl stopped to take pity…on herself.

“For weeks I have been trying to understand my own tears in the presence of a dying cat I did not love,” she wrote.

To her credit, by the end of the column Renkl does acknowledge her rage is misplaced, generously allowing that a cat trying to survive isn’t evil. But that concession comes after several hundred words painting cats as the driving force behind the destruction of wildlife and presenting flawed studies as credible science.

The damage has already been done.

 

Featured image courtesy of PETA.

World’s Smallest Kittens Born At UK Sanctuary

Just look at these little guys!

Two rusty spotted cat kittens were born just days ago at the Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary in Cornwall, which announced the good news on Facebook.

“They have only recently been spotted out of their den and seem to be getting more curious each day. They both seem very healthy and have started to show a little bit of personality,” a spokesperson for the sanctuary told the Independent. “They’ve been giving our very small team a lot of joy during this all this uncertainty and put a smile on our faces each morning.”

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Mom cat keeps a close eye on her kittens. Credit: Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary

Their mom (pictured above) has been so protective of her babies that staff at the sanctuary haven’t gotten close enough to determine the gender of the kittens.

Rusty spotted cats are among the smallest felids in the world: As adults they max out at between 2 and 3.5 pounds, with a body between 14 and 19 inches. That’s about a third the size of a typical domestic cat.

Along with black-footed cats, who are about the same size, they’re the tiniest of the entire feline family.

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One of the kittens ventures beyond the den to explore. Credit: Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary

Rusty spotted cats range in parts of India and Sri Lanka, but like so many other wild animals, they’re threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation. They’re famously elusive, difficult to photograph or film in the wild, and the Porfell sanctuary says there are only about 50 of them in captivity around the world. The sanctuary is a participant in a breeding program to help conserve the species.

Like so many other sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, Porfell is hurting due to the SARS-CoV2 outbreak. You can support their efforts via GoFundMe.

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Amazing Cats: He Who Kills With One Bound

The name jaguar comes from the indigenous Tupian word yaguara, meaning “he who kills with one bound.”

On the Scale of Badassery that’s an 11, which is appropriate for such a regal, ephemeral creature who seems to exist only in glimpses before melting back into the jungle.

From ancient chronicles etched in Mayan pictograms to modern-day descriptions of encounters with jaguars, one thing is consistent: When you’re fortunate enough to set eyes on a jaguar, it’s because the animal allows you to.

The world’s most elusive hunter is like smoke: There one moment, gone the next, without any physical evidence that it was present in the first place.

There’s a lot of confusion about jaguars, so let’s get that out of the way first. The jaguar is the third-largest-cat on the planet, behind tigers and lions. Jaguars are the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere and are the apex predators in the Americas.

They’re often confused with leopards, the other spotted big cats, but aside from living on different continents, jaguars are visibly larger, heavier and more sturdy than their African cousins.

Compounding the confusion is the widespread habit of using “panther” to describe both jaguars and leopards, and sometimes other cats too, like pumas.

A panther isn’t a type of cat: Panthera is the genus to which big cats — tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards — belong, while a black panther can refer to any melanistic jaguar or leopard.

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Like its cousins in the genus, the jaguar is an ambush hunter.

But unlike tigers, leopards and lions, jaguars do not kill by going for the spinal cord — they go for the head itself, puncturing skulls, turtle shells, heavily armored caiman scales and anything else they want to make a meal of.

That’s where the “one bound” in their name comes from: By the time a jaguar pounces, it’s already too late for the victim.

Jaguars are paragons of feline grace, yet even among cats they’re strikingly beautiful animals:

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Unlike tigers and lions, there are no recorded cases of prolific man-eaters among jaguars, and the mysterious cats are careful to avoid conflict with humans. The one exception is when a female jaguar feels her cubs are threatened.

Travelers who brave the untamed, near-impenetrable remote rainforests of South America may not see jaguars on their journeys, but the jaguars see them: Humans who venture into the thick tangle are “calmly watched by a jaguar or two” and most of them “don’t realize they’re under surveillance,” Nadia Drake wrote in a 2018 Atlantic story about encountering the enigmatic felids in Peruvian jungles:

Those who have studied jaguars say they sense a kind of preternatural consciousness in the beasts, a combination of disciplined energy and shrewd awareness that allows the jaguar to unleash its power in calculated ways. Alan Rabinowitz, struggling to find the right words, calls it simply “jaguarness.”

The ancient Aztecs saw that same cunning in the eyes of jaguars, naming them the “kings of the animal world” and employing jaguar motifs on statuary, stone reliefs and other artwork. Jaguar imagery was common throughout the pre-European Americas, and at the time the animal ranged across North and South America without a true rival at the apex.

Like tiger imagery is used to denote power, grace and agility in Asian cultures, the jaguar’s image was used for similar purposes, associating the animals with royalty and gods.

In Mayan culture, deities took the form of jaguars, and the big cats were known as gods of the underworld, fertility, war, protection and fire. Ek Balam, for example, was the Mayan god of the underworld, and was depicted as a black (melanistic) jaguar.

Jaguars share another quality with tigers, one that’s rare among cats: They not only enjoy the water, they excel at swimming and even hunting in rivers and swamps. While most cats will do almost anything to avoid entering water, jaguars and tigers have no reservations about immersing themselves, particularly on hot days.

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Like all big cats, jaguar numbers are decreasing. The animal is classified as “near-threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as its habitat has been fractured.

Unlike the other members of the panthera genus, habitat loss hasn’t led to conflicts between humans and the majestic cats. Jaguars, it seems, would rather retreat deeper into the jungle than go to war with humans. It’s crucial to preserve what’s left so these beautiful, amazing cats still have a jungle to go back to.

All photos courtesy of National Geographic and Mexico Lore.

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