Our Big Cat Cousins
Distinctive Lions Will Live Better Lives Thanks to Genetic Testing
Scientists thought there was something different about the fifteen lions living in the rundown Addis Ababa Lion Zoo. The male lions living in the Ethiopian zoo have large, dark brown manes that extend down their chests through their front legs, down their backs below
their shoulders and the length of their belly through the groin. These male lions are also smaller in body size than their cousins from eastern and southern Africa. These distinguishing features in the Addis Ababa Lions made the biologists think this group of lions are distinctive, and in fact, made them wonder if they could be the relatives of an extinct lion subspecies.
It had been speculated that the Addis Ababa lions might be the last pure relatives of North African Barbary lions or South African Cape lions, both subspecies now extinct. Or could these 15 lions be a completely genetically distinctive population of lion?
The lions are descended from a private collection of the last Ethiopian ruler, Emperor Haile Selassie, who captured their ancestors from the wild and brought them to his palaces in the 1940′s. Today, these lions live in the same holding pens as the first lions captured, only now the zoo is in poor condition and the lions are lacking proper nutrition, and inadequate space.
Addis Lion zookeepers became so overwhelmed caring for the lions that they reached out to their German “sister city” Leipzig, for help. Vets from the Leipzig zoo traveled to Ethiopia to check the health status of the lions. While examining the lions, a team of vets took blood samples for genetic investigations for an international breeding program in case the results confirmed these lions are their own subspecies or perhaps their own genetic construction.
by Joanne McGonagle
Richard Turere’s “Lion Lights” Save Lives
Maasai, Richard took over the responsibility for herding and safeguarding his family’s livestock when he was only 9 years old. One of the threats to his family’s cattle, sheep and goats is the presence of African lions when they wander out of Nairobi National Park following the path of zebra and other prey animals searching for savannah grasses.
Richard grew up hating lions because at night, lions would sneak in and kill the family’s livestock while the boy was sleeping. Determined to protect the families valuable livestock, Richard knew he had to think of a way to help him protect his animals from lion attacks.
Richard first built a fire, but realized even though the lions are afraid of fire, they were not afraid to go around the fire and snatch up a meal and in fact their path was made easier by the light of the fire. Richard then tried to place a scarecrow to fool the lions into thinking that he was guarding his cattle, but this only worked for one night. Richard said, the lions are very clever, so when they returned the second night, they must have realized this scarecrow is not moving and so were no longer intimidated.
Male and Female Lions Hunt Using Different Strategies
I t has long been thought that male lions did not hunt, but rather were dependent on the lioness’s hunting prowess to sustain the pride. A study recently published in the March 2013 issue of Animal Behaviour discusses how researchers used airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LDAR) measurements of vegetation structure in Kruger National Park, and combined a global positioning system (GPS) telemetry data on lion kills to quantify lines-of-sight where lion kills occurred as compared to where lions rested. What they found was significant differences in use of vegetation structure by male and female lions during hunts.
Males Ambush and Females Work as Team
Amur Tiger Seeks Help from Humans
In the Russian Far East Primorye, a young Amur tiger left the forest with an illegal poachers trap grasping his paw. The weakened tiger was crying out from the pain as he entered the village. The tiger appeared to be asking for help as he walked from place to place and didn’t seem interested in returning to the forest.
Paw Caught in a Trap
Local hunters, came to the aid of the young male, thought to be about one year of age, by calling on the police and forest rangers for their assistance. The tiger was humanely captured and the trap was successfully removed from his paw. Local experts think the tiger accidentally got caught in a trap set for a much smaller animal. The lure of the bait in the trap was too hard for the tiger to resist.
Get Well Soon!
Circuses End Performing Lions and Tigers in the United Kingdom
Big changes are underway under the Big Top in the United Kingdom. Traveling circuses have started their season but for the first time no circus will be entertaining the crowd with performing big cats. The Great British Circus was the last show to feature tigers doing tricks and they sent their cats to an operator in Ireland just in time before the new animal welfare regulations became active last month.
The Victorian era ushered in circuses with performing elephants, lions and tigers on tour. The last time the circuses toured without exotic animals was around 1768 when the first modern circus entertained the spectators with horses and riders performing daring feats. Wild animals did not debut in the circus until after the British empire expanded in the 19th century. Wild animals were captured and brought back to be put on display at a time when the average person had little chance of seeing a live lion, tiger or elephant let alone watch them performing tricks.
Over the last couple hundred years, our world is a very different place. We have access to learning about and seeing lions, tigers and elephants from many sources, whether that be a zoological park, a sanctuary, learning via the internet or nature programs on television. We also know more about the big cats that share our world and most people are concerned about how they are treated and find physical abuse unacceptable in modern society.
Burning Bushes to Restore Habitat Land and Save Cheetahs.
Most of us know our big cat cousins are struggling to survive in in the wild. You might even know that loss of habitat, human-wildlife conflict, loss of prey and poaching are among the biggest reasons the big cats are fighting for their lives. But did you know the loss of habitat is not just due to the increasing human population but due to another invasive species, the thorn-bush.
The acacia thorn bush overgrowth has claimed thousands of acres of savannah in Namibia where the largest number of wild cheetahs still live. Overgrazing, drought, extirpation of elephants are a few of the reasons for the bush encroachment. As the bush thickens and the sharp thorns of the acacia entwine to form a barrier, not only is the cheetah at risk but so are the prey species that thrive on the savannah.
The African Lion needs our help.
Hope for Lions through Protection
Some of you might remember when we talked about The African Lion Hope through Protection last year. If so, you might remember that on March 1, 2011, an alliance of wildlife protection and conservation groups petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to list the African lion as an endangered subspecies pursuant to the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA). These groups included Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, The Fund for Animals, Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The USA is the world’s largest importer of sport-hunted African Lion trophies
The United States is the world’s largest importer of African lion parts, for hunting trophies and for commercial use. From 1999 and 2008, 7090 lions from a wild source were traded internationally for recreational hunting purposes. Most of these lions, 64% of the total, were imported to the United States. Even though there has been a continuous population and range decline for the lion, the United States lion trophy imports have increased. Imports in 2008 were larger than any other year in the decade and twice the 1999 number. The Endangered Species Listing would make a significant difference to crackdown the trophy trade. A listing under the ESA would put strict controls on the import of lion “trophies” by Americans, and would ban the commercial trade of lion parts in the United States.
African Lions are the ONLY big cat not protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act!
On November 26, 2012, the U.S. government issued a favorable finding that a listing may be warranted, but before making a final decision, they’ve allowed for a 60 day public comment period. They want to hear from you. African lions are the only big cat not protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Take Action! Please add your signature and comment in favor of the ESA listing for the African Lion now!
December 4 is International Cheetah Day
Khayam was the inspiration for today.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) has declared December 4 to be International Cheetah Day. The cheetah is not just the fastest, but the oldest of the big cats having survived over 3 million years of glaciations and warming cycles, and even its own genetic bottleneck. But with habitat destruction and conflict with humans, the cheetah could become extinct in less than 20 years.
In 1977, Dr. Laurie Marker traveled to Namibia with a female cheetah named Khayam. Dr. Marker wanted to see if it was possible for a cheetah that had lived their entire life in captivity to be released into the wild. But when Dr. Marker and Khayam arrived in Namibia, she learned the cheetahs needs were quite different from what the wildlife community had assumed.
Cheetahs were considered vermin, pests that should be shot on sight. The Namibian farmers worried about their small livestock herds, thought of the cheetah as a threat to their own livelihood. Dr. Marker soon realized that if the cheetah was to survive in Namibia, a solution must be found to enable the farmers and the cheetah to live side-by-side, allowing both to thrive. Shortly after the assessment of the cheetahs’ needs, Dr. Marker also realized there was no group working to find a solution to help the farmers that would in turn save the cheetah.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund
This past summer we had the honor of being able to speak with Dr. Marker as part of our course work in Namibia. When we were sitting in a meeting room at CCF, talking with Dr. Marker she explained that she realized “There is no “they” and if you want something done you have to do it yourself.”
A Moment of Silence for the Amur Tiger
I have something super serious to tell you. Eight Amur tiger skins have been seized from a citizen in the town of
Arseniev in the Russian Far East. Wildlife experts think the poachers killed the entire tiger family including two cubs estimated to be 1-2 months old.
The deaths of these tigers is a crushing blow to wild tiger conservation. There are only an estimated 8-10 adult Amur tigers living in the Lazovsky Nature Reserve, one of the largest nature reserves in the Primorye, the far south-eastern edge of Russia.
Amur Tiger Conservation Efforts
The Amur tiger is in a battle against extinction. Scientists are worried that even though there are around 500 Amur tigers surviving in the wild, low genetic diversity is making the subspecies vulnerable to disease. In fact the effective population was estimated at just 14 individuals remaining. The troublesome low effective population size dims the hope for the recovery of the big cat. To lose 8 healthy tigers, an entire family, to poachers is devastating.
It is important to understand there are many people in the Russian Far East that are protective of the Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), you might know this tiger better by the name Siberian tiger. This tiger subspecies is listed as critically endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and in the Red Books of the Russian Federation. Following the International Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg in 2010 the Russian Government began allocating money to conserve Amur tigers in protected areas. But they are facing a formidable opponent and that is the demand for tiger skins and tiger derivatives, such as bones and other parts for tiger wine, soups and traditional medicinal practices. As the tiger population dwindles, the price of tiger parts goes up because of scarcity.
Younger Generation is Driving the Illegal Trade!
The Snow Leopard is Asia’s Mountain Ghost
The Snow Leopard’s secretive and elusive nature combined with the precarious and remote landscape they inhabit have made conservation data collection efforts difficult and even less is known about snow leopard cubs survival in the wild. The cat is so evasive it has been given the name “Asia’s Mountain Ghost” by the natives of Mongolia’s Tost Mountains.
Up until now, snow leopard breeding studies were conducted on individuals in a captive zoo environment. Captive snow leopard litters typically consist of one to three cubs but no information is available about litter size in the wild. Wild snow leopard cubs are exposed to not only natural predators and disease but also human threats such as poaching and the illegal wildlife market. The wild snow leopard’s chance of survival to adulthood has only been speculated.
Unprecedented Footage of Snow Leopard Mother and Cubs
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