Enjoy this short but important clip! Spread the message!
Enjoy this short but important clip! Spread the message!
So as you may or may not know, big cats are clumped into this nebulous category of “big cats” mainly due to the fact that they are, well, bigger than other cats (domestic or wild), are apex predators, and can roar- except for the Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard, Cheetah, and Puma (aka Cougar).
Many of these big cats face endangerment. Some subspecies even face critical endangerment, such as the Sumatran Tiger with only 300 left in the wild!
They are all unique, distinct, and beautiful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a favorite. So let me know which cat is the “coolest” to you!
It was Jeff that welcomed me so kindly to the Big Cat Rescue centre. Without him, all my BCR posts could not be! Jeff introduced me to the cats individually at length (no hand-paw shaking, of course). In detail he shared with me their stories, the donor appreciation engraved plaques, and the history of the centre. He filled me with even greater desire to excite the public about wild cat rescue so that we could better promote their conservation. Hopefully I’ve been pumping you guys up, too!
For those of you who do not particularly know everyone from BCR, who is Jeff? Jeff is a super-sonic, gold-hearted, 1/8 full-time and highly accredited employee at the Big Cat Rescue. He specifically is in charge of donor appreciation, but it’s evident from his record he is more than just that. And each and everyone of you are more than just “that” (or whatever it is that you think defines “you”) by the fact that you care, as Jeff cares, for such creatures. But why is Jeff really so special?
Jumping from the Americas to Africa, we bring you the serval, a medium-sized cat weighing between 15-49 lb and standing between 52-66 cm tall,
depending on the sex. These kitties may remind you of another cat. If you are thinking “strange-looking, little, cheetah”, you would be thinking of the correct cat. In fact, it is believed that cheetahs are descended from an ancient serval.
Servals are classic creatures of the African savannah. Their black-on-tawny spotted fur is well-adapted for the environment, making them able hunters of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Variations to this classical colouration exist. Just like the leopard, servals can be melanistic (i.e. black). These ones, again like leopards, are mainly found in more forest-dense, mountainous regions. There have supposedly been four white servals observed, but they were all born in captivity.
One thing you may notice upon looking at a serval is the size of their ears. These cats have incredibly acute hearing due to their rather large ears and prominent auditory bullae, which is a vital bone required to optimally hear, as they enclose part of the middle and inner ear.
And as though the serval wasn’t already a cool enough cat, it has one other feature that may be surprising: it has the longest legs of ANY cat for its body size! Wacky, right?
Many of these servals have found their way into the hands of private owners (instead of staying into their own private paws). And the story is “same old, same old”: the owners often don’t know what they are getting into, they adopt the cat, realize they can’t handle it, and then the cat often suffers. Well, not all cats- especially those that are salvaged by Big Cat Rescue.
Keep your claws tucked in your paws because we are still going full-force on adventures to Stay Wild,
Also known as the dwarf leopard, the ocelot is one of ten “small cats”. The in-crowd of small cats consists of a posse of 1) the ocelot; 2) the Tiger cat; 3) the Jaguarundi; 4) the European wildcat; 5) the African wildcat; 6) the Black-footed cat; 7) the Sandcat; 8 ) the Jungle cat; 9) the Leopard cat; and last but certainly not least, 10) the Asiatic golden cat. And what makes a small cat different from a big cat is, well, the obvious (i.e. their size) and the fact that they can’t roar. The rest of the differences are genetic…
Our showcase small cat, the ocelot, has gotten quite a bit of attention over the past fifty years. In the 1960′s and 1970′s, small cats such as the ocelot were in such high demand for their fur that ~250,000-600,000 small cat pelts each year were being distributed. The cats with the heaviest hit were the Geoffroy’s cat and, of course, the ocelot, with its beautiful jaguar/clouded-leopard-like colouration. From 1980 to 1990, the number of pelts fell from 450,000 to 100,000. In the 1990′s the fashion trends changed, and popular pelts swapped from being ocelot to lynx and leopard cat. Fortunately the ocelot species as an entirety is not an endangered species, though subspecies of ocelot are endangered. Regardless, endangerment shouldn’t be a criteria for keeping fur on their backs!
So where can you find one of these beauties in the wild? They range from Arizona to Argentina with some being spotted in Trinidad and the Caribbean. They are kitties that prefer living out in leafy vegetation (especially that found in rainforests). But because these ocelots deceptively appear like our domestic cat, many people think that they make phenomenal and loving housecats. Those people who were so duped find out the hard way that these are no purring Persians. Once the angry behaviours from mere tearing up the house to urinating on the furniture like its going out of style take shape, the next thing to fear is their bite. They are WILD! They may purr, but there is no cuddly kitten in the heart of that creature. It longs to breathe in the warm, dew-dropped air of freedom, catch small animals, climb trees, and swim in freshwater lakes.
Some people who did find out the hard way at least had Big Cat Rescue to turn to. At the time they had space for these ocelots, but only so many people can make this grave mistake!
More to come of other small cats and Life ‘O Wild!
Until then, Stay Wild,
They’re sleek, but not as sleek as the cheetah, and they’re strong, but not as strong as the lion. They’re successful in the wild for being very secretive, making it hard for prey and poachers to find them. So which kitty could I possibly be referring to? (Drum roll) The Leopard!
What is the leopard? How are they unique? Once upon a time, people (notably the famous Carl Linnaeus) used to believe that the leopard was a cross between a lion and a panther. In Latin this would create the name Leo-pard (lion= “leo” and panther= “pard” in Latin). Today they are considered their own species from the generic rank of Panthera and not just a subspecies. The last common ancestor of leopards with lions, tigers, jaguars, snow and clouded leopards is believed to be ~6.37 million years ago.
Let’s compare the leopard with other cats just to get them straight, as their similar patterns and builds can be confusing:
1) Leopards vs Jaguars: leopards will not naturally be found near jaguars, so this is one easy way to recognize them in the wild based solely on geography. (Jaguars are found in South and Central America). The jaguar has these polygonal rosettes with small spots inside of them, while the leopard has rounder and smaller rosettes. (Rosettes, by the way, are a “rose-like” marking that forms on the skin and fur. They can appear as blotches or spots.) In comparing their build, leopards are a little bit smaller than jagauars.
2) Leopards vs Cheetahs: cheetahs and leopards, in some regions, do overlap geographically. But they are fairly easy to tell apart being that cheetahs have round solid spots (except the extremely rare king cheetah) that are evenly distributed across the body in comparison to the description above of the leopards’ rosettes. Also, leopards are more muscular and have a more dominant frame to that of the more delicate, willowy cheetah.
Leopards can survive in a world of extremes: from the grasslands, woodlands,and forests of eastern and central Africa/sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent/Southeast Asia/China to the temperate forests of the Russian Far East that reach temperatures in winter as low as -13 degrees F (or -25 C)
But does anyone know what colour leopards can be? The most common is the one at the top of this post, which is the African leopard. There are several subspecies of leopard that are actually critically endangered. These endangered cats range in colour patterns and variation. But have you ever seen a black leopard, also known as a melanistic leopard? What you may not know, if you have seen or heard of them, is that not only is the fur of the melantistic leopard black, but if you shaved off their fur (let’s say because you needed to do surgery on one), you’d find that their skin is black, too! In most areas the melanistic leopard is very rare, as this “black-skinned” trait is the recessive allele (which is a gene, like blue eyes in humans, that will only appear if both parents provide the DNA to their baby for their “black-skinned” trait) to the more common golden/white-bellied appearance. In forests, mountainous regions, and in Asia the melanistic leopard has a higher frequency. In fact, ~50% of leopards in the Malay Peninsula are black. These melanistic leopards are sometimes called “black panthers” erroneously. In fact, other species of wild cat, such as the jaguar and serval, also possess “melanistic” alternatives. Big Cat Rescue saved a melanistic leopard, Jumanji. This little star in the operant conditioning programme even caught the attention of People Magazine, which wonderfully exposed more awareness for big cats (and wildlife as a whole).
Why are leopards particularly efficacious in the wild compared to other big cats? They not only are able to hide well from other predators, but they can compete for food extremely well. While large predators such as lions, tigers, spotted hyenas, and African wild dogs eat larger prey, leopards subsist on smaller mammals, medium-sized antelope, birds, reptiles, and other carnivores such as cheetahs and bat-eared foxes. They are efficient when exerting energy to capture prey due to their secret-agent stealth: they can stalk behind their soon-to-be-lunch up to 2 metres (!) before making their mad, cold-blooded kill.
In some regions leopards (especially subspecies) are dwindling due to (cough) humans that are inducing habitat loss, killing them off as nuisances when they attack their livestock, and “sport” hunting them down. In fact, leopards are considered one of the “Big Five” most highly rated prey in Africa. The other four in this list are lions, buffalo, elephant, and rhino. Fortunately, because people so love them, tourism is helping keep them protected. Thus national parks in places such as Namibia are being built to increase conservation efforts. So keep it up, wild lovers! It’s through the individual that culminates the results we see!
More to come from the wild!
Have you ever noticed that if you give a puppy who happens to be sitting under your dinner table a scrap from your plate, he is more likely to come under the table more often in hopes of getting another scrumptious delight? This observation follows a basic law of learning, that behaviour becomes more or less likely to occur depending on the consequences of that behaviour. This is the fundamental principle of “operant conditioning”.
According to the very noteworthy psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) behaviour can have usually 3 types of consequences:
1) A neutral consequence results in neither increasing or decreasing the probability that the behavioural response will occur again (i.e. you have a key on your computer that is harder to press than the others. You will continue pressing that key regardless because you need that letter. You won’t ignore the key or press it more often. You just “deal” with it.);
2) Reinforcement strengthens a behavioural response so that it is more likely to occur (i.e. how I am now giving my chihuahua, Dolly, some of my Chex Mix snack and how she is increasingly begging for more each time I stick my hand in the cereal box to feed myself);
3) Punishment will weaken a response to make it less likely to recur (i.e. you place a bitter ointment on someone who chews their fingernails so that they are repulsed to then bite on those fingernails.)
How do these basic concepts relate to animals? Well, if you want to train your dog, if you see a tiger jump through a hoop of fire (shamefully!), or if you ride a horse, the concept of operant conditioning will be at play. This can have even fundamental effects on the veterinary care of these animals. Such is what occurs at Big Cat Rescue.
The veterinarian of Big Cat Rescue makes great use of operant conditioning in order to teach these animals to respond to her so that she can more easily and safely take care of them, being that despite meaning them well, they can mean her great harm if fearful of her purposes. Although, yes, she could just use a tranquilizing gun to fully relax an animal so that she can check them, this method may take more time to work out, but it has greater benefits (not to mention, there are some difficulties with tranquilizers such as: a) only getting half the dose of the tranquilizer into the animal because of the way the dart hit the animal or because the dart fell out of the animal before all of it could enter the bloodstream; b) hitting a sensitive area of the animal by accident; c) antagonizing the animal; d) chasing the animal around its cage for hours to get the right angle to pull the tranquilizing trigger; and there are several other difficulties with this traditional though completely valid route of getting close to a wild animal.
In order to help in medical condition evaluation, the veterinarian of Big Cat Rescue commands to the animals the simple word “Up!”, and as soon as they hear her, they place their paws above their head and rest them atop the cage (as though they are giving the fencing a hug). She then rewards them with a meaty treat while doing her evaluations as quickly and thoroughly as possible. This process helps her evaluate their undercarriage and the condition of their paws. She then rewards them equally when they respond to her “Down!” command.
Not only does the veterinarian get to have fun helping the cats using operant conditioning, but so, too, do the caretakers on a daily basis in an effort to further sharpen the cats’ operant conditioning skills. Cats housed together, such as some of the bobcats, usually need to be trained to respond to operant conditioning privately by two different trainers/caretakers. The reason for needing such privacy is to remove any aggression between the cats that could arise when treats are being rewarded. In order to do this, the cats are individually taken into different stations by first placing them into a “lockout”. The lockout is a separate portion of their enclosure that they must enter willingly upon hearing the command “Lockout!” Once they enter their lockout, the lockout gate is closed, and they can privately begin their training for veterinary care. Lockout commands are not only important for more personal veterinary care, but they are also useful for caretakers who need to go into the animal enclosure to clean and survey it.
But how do you give a big kitty medicine it doesn’t like? (This is the million dollar question for parents trying to feed their own little “animal” children at home.) One (i.e. the veterinarian or “parental unit”) can use operant conditioning in many circumstances! You can give the critter the meds followed immediately by a positive reward. Some cats (and children) just can’t be fooled, so they are given their meds hidden in meat.
With these tools that combine modern medicine, caretaking, and psychology, Big Cat Rescue is forthcoming with their integration of the fields to provide the best life and health to the cats that they so passionately care for. Check out the Big Cat Rescue website on my links to the right to learn more about their animals, their Operant Conditioning Program, and how to help them continue their success!
Coming next will be the superstar of Big Cat Rescue’s Operant Conditioning Program…
Being grossly judgmental has led to many of the biases and even prejudices in today’s society, but being quiet about actions that appear inherently wrong according to the ethics you were imbued with should also not happen- here’s your chance to speak out!
I am not here to support or “tear apart” the fur industry as a whole because there are justifiable arguments on how some furriers (not really fur farms) make use of animal waste products, but I am here to tell you that the amount of animal bloodshed in the US alone is frighteningly huge and should never reach such levels. Of the 31 million animals killed on fur ranches each year, about twenty-six million are mink, 4.5 million are fox, 250,000 are chinchillas, 150,000 are sable, 100,000 are fitch, 100,000 are raccoon dogs (which is a separate species from the American raccoon), and, fortunately, a smaller number (but not small enough) are lynx, bobcat, and nutria.
Frightening numbers, right? Not frightening enough…
Electrocution. She was four weeks old, had barely lost the baby blue in her eyes, and since the day she was seen to have a beautiful coat on the farm that raised her, she was selected to be electrocuted. ELECTROCUTED! How does one electrocute anything, let alone select a little kitten still milk-fed for such torture? I do not know how this happens, nor can I even begin to understand. The baby saved from this horrific death goes by the name of Raindance, and she, along with 55 other kittens at a bobcat fur farm, were saved by Big Cat Rescue. Once rescued, the kittens had to be fed every two hours. Friends, family, and anyone with a heart and desire to hold a bottle to a baby bobcat came to help these rescues.
Sadly, this North American species finds itself on death row if they are not sold to a pet home before they are 1 year old. Others, like Raindance, are simply bred to be killed.
Big Cat Rescue has gone through enormous hoops, leaps, and bounds to preserve the lives of wildcats. One of their greatest success stories was a struggle between three bobcat fur farmers and the co-founder of Big Cat Rescue. After strong negotiations that ended up costing Big Cat Rescue a pretty penny, Big Cat Rescue’s Co-Founder paid for each and every single cat and kitten from each of these three farms. In addition, they had the fur farmers agree in contract that they would never buy and breed cats for slaughter ever again. Yes, some of the cats that the fur farmers were purchasing were from careless owners who had no other idea what to do to get rid of their bobcats other than selling the their lives away.
When other individuals “drop off” their cats to be rescued at Big Cat Rescue, the sanctuary can’t always be certain that the individual “loading off” their cat isn’t just going to go buy a cuter kitten and perpetuate the exotic cat trade further. Thus, before Big Cat Rescue takes in any pets, they make the individual dropping off an animal sign a contract that they will never again own another exotic cat. They enforce this by requiring them to surrender their license.
As implied above, there is seemingly a market for pet adoption of bobcats, but should these animals be household pets when they are used to roaming in forests, hunting small prey and sometimes even hunting large prey like deer? I dare say the answer is “no”. They are not domesticated creatures and do not have the same capacity of domestication, like our anciently selected modern, domesticated dog. Bobcats are wild. Unfortunately most people do not understand this until it is too late- i.e. when their little kitten they adopted tears up the house, cuts them with her claws and/or teeth, pees along the furniture, or even gravely injures or kills someone upon feeling instinctually threatened.
One bobcat that arrived at Big Cat Rescue was fortunately experiencing a polar opposite existence to that of poor, rescued Raindance. This other bobcat, Angelica, was a gift to a couple who after 14 very difficult years with Angelica, had to give her up to Big Cat Rescue after their home foreclosed. Originally they kept the cat as an “indoor pet” and treated her lovingly. But still Angelica would pee on the head of the husband (she really was not fond of him) and naturally appeared a little aggressive at times. The family then made an outdoor area for her, but despite a life that seemed mild, it was no life for a creature meant for the North American forests. Angelica was fed domestic cat food in her previous “domesticated” life and had to undergo a whole lifestyle and diet change when she was given to Big Cat Rescue. She was exposed to the joy of fresh meats and then found how much she loved rolling in leaves and dirt- the way her relatives do each and every day. Angelica and Raindance, though from these different backgrounds, both find themselves ending up at the same place. Did this need to happen?
There is thus a connection between Raindance and Angelica that delves deeper than being the same species and living at Big Cat Rescue: they both are symbols of what happens when you perpetuate the exotic pet trade. Whether getting/buying an exotic as a “loving” pet or purchasing a fur coat, the results are the same regardless of intent: the instigation of inevitable wildlife cruelty and snuffed wildlife freedom (one of the worst oxymorons I know).
Please spread the word! We can only end such brutality by advocating an end to any private exotic pet ownership and perhaps by encouraging more regulated legislation.
As implied in the 1st blog about Big Cat Rescue, a few of the stories I wish to share with you will and should make you sad, some more than others. You perhaps will furrow your eyebrows in disgust, narrow your eyes in anger, tighten your jaw in frustration, shake your head in disbelief, and/or cry in pity of the human race. While I love sharing my knowledge about all these beautiful creatures in upbeat posts, the truth is that wildlife isn’t doing too well. It’s actually doing pretty terribly, and there are many factors to this. These blogs about Big Cat Rescue are vital, though! If you’re a true animal lover, you need to know what some people are doing to these animals. Thus, I’ll tell you some sad stories that have mostly happy endings. Hopefully through them we can try to learn just a few lessons so they don’t repeat.
The first tale of abuse is about a regal lioness by the name is Nikita. She was found famished, groaning with excruciating hunger pains, and painfully covered with raw, blister-like swells on her elbows and back joints when the police found her shackled like a prisoner of war to a concrete floor. She had been chained for what seemed to be months. Nikita was so thin, she could be carried under one arm without ever needing the other for support. This was not just animal cruelty, this was animal sadism.
So why was Nikita rolling around in excrement, pain, and misery until the police found her? The answer: because she was a “guard dog” for a crack house in Tennessee. Had it not been for the police busting the place for drugs, they never would have found her, and she very well may have been dead soon thereafter.
Where these drug dealers got Nikita is a mystery, but as you can see from online exotic pet stores and wacko exotic breeders for mostly people who don’t understand what they are doing by purchasing one of these creatures, it isn’t all that hard get an exotic pet like this.
Right after her rescue, she was taken to the Nashville Zoo at Grasmere, but when authorities at the zoo saw that she had been DECLAWED, they realized that they couldn’t keep her around other lions- she would have no way of adequately protecting herself should they fight. (By the way: declawing a cat is similar to taking the the first knuckle off of your finger. Ouchers, right?)
Nikita’s issues were even worse that all this: she was barely eating because she was so weak. And when she did eat, she only would eat white rabbits. Her very picky appetite were signs of previously huge nutritional inadequacies from her abuse and neglect. Needing great attention medically, nutritionally, and emotionally, Big Cat Rescue saved the day and took her in.
Today she is one of the largest lionesses in the US. Standing next to her, I felt particularly like the pip-squeak I am, in constant awe of her prowess. More amazingly, you would never know that this beautiful creature had been so abused because Big Cat Rescue fastidiously worked to heal her and provide her with serenity. It takes $5,000 a year to keep her well fed at Big Cat Rescue- you think those well-to-do drug dealers could have managed that much for her? Big Cat Rescue takes care of their animals, such as Nikita, through public donations! Check them out on my charities links if you are interested in sponsoring Nikita or any kitty.
More tales of adversity and triumph to come!
Until then, Stay Wild,
As I was walking through the beautiful sanctuary of Big Cat Rescue, I chanced upon one of the most unusual looking creatures I had ever seen. Was it a cat? Was it in the bear family? I just couldn’t make it out, and apparantly most others couldn’t either, hence its nickname the Bearcat.
It is the only member of its genus (for example the human genus is homo and our species is sapien, which is why we are called “Homo sapiens”). The real meaning behind the name Binturong has been lost with the exinct language that named it.
These interesting fellas are nocturnal and sleep on branches in their bushy canopies. They habitat rainforests in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, India, China, Bhutan, Burma, the Rhio Archipelago, Borneo, Palawan, and Bangladesh.
And how they have personality! They are known for making chuckling sounds when they are very happy and high-pitched wails when a little more than perturbed! And when perturbed, they will unexpectedly pull out their hairy “third arm”, which is really just its prehensile tail that they use for climbing and eating, like one would use one’s hands.
Mainly omnivorous, binturongs eat mostly fruit with sometimes the addition of eggs, shoots, leaves, rodents, and birds.
Other than being particularly beautiful and the only one of their genus, why are they unique? It is thought that the binturong is 1/100 species that can delay implantation of their fetus, a process known as embryonic diapause. The reason for wanting to delay this process may be to coincide the birthing of the baby with optimal environmental conditions. Thus the mother and baby have a higher chance of surviving.
Smelly? Only to some! You might notice a strong scent of muskiness, sometimes described as “warm buttered popcorn” if you stand downwind of it. This smell is released from glands on either side of the anus in both males and females, which binturongs use to communicate. On my little adventure to Big Cat Rescue, it seemed that this binturong either mistook me for another binturong, which is quite a compliment, was trying to speak to its relatives far off on the Asian continent, or was just emptying its scent glands because it so kindly released its musky-hi-I-love-kettle-corn smell right in front of me.
Unfortunately the binturong numbers have decreased in the wild. If you’ve been reading my previous posts, you probably have the answer on the tip of your tongue. That’s right: humans. And specifically humans causing deforestation. Without their rainforest, where do these creatures sleep, eat, and survive?
Enjoy your Wacky Wednesday and Stay Wild,