Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 99 – Pallas’ Cat

Pallas' cat

“As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

These captivating, incredibly furry little cats manage to survive the winters of some of the coldest regions on earth outside the Arctic Circle.  When they can hold onto their coats, that is.  Unbelievably appealing, though I think a little grumpy lookingPallas' cat sometimes, they are not much bigger than the average domestic cat, and were once wrongly thought to be the progenitors of the sleeky, long-haired domesticated Persian cat. Also known as manul, steppe cat or rock wildcat, Pallas’ cats are now in desperate trouble.

As you can imagine, that beautiful, luxurious coat has been much in demand over the centuries. Perfectly suited to its owner, enabling it to survive the harsh winters of the steppes, it is highly valued by local fur traders for the same reasons.  The warmth and durability properties of the coats are legendary.  As many as fifty thousand cats were killed every year for their pelts in the early 1900′s, severely depleting their numbers.  Annual numbers of deaths are now far less, nevertheless, the killing continues.  Despite hunting being now banned altogether, it has not ceased, and Pallas’ cats are still an eagerly sought after ‘commodity’.  FurPallas's cat or manul  is used to make hats, gloves and clothing for the Chinese and Russian markets.  In Mongolia, traders have found a loophole in the law  (the species can be legally hunted for “household purposes”)  which they abuse with consummate ease, and which, at best, is poorly enforced;  and legal permits to hunt the cats, available upon application, are freely dispensed without proper investigation.

Then, as we have all come to expect, thriving, ridiculous, ill-founded superstition rears its ugly head again;  Pallas’ cats are slain for their fat and other body parts for use in Traditional medicine within Mongolia and Russia, and no doubt China. Locals believe their body fat relieves frostbite. Uses for other body parts are not known.

An equally serious threat to the species is the government-sanctioned poisoning of pika, the Pallas’s main prey.  As a result, the cats either lack food or suffer secondary poisoning.

Pallas’ cats are not quite as big and heavy as you might think they are.  Being all bolstered out with that thick, long fur gives one a Pallas' cat WWF Russiafalse impression.  Weighing in at roughly ten pounds, they reach a height of fourteen inches at most, and have a body length of twenty-six inches.  The long, striped, bushy tail can add another twelve inches to the overall size of the animal and can be wrapped around the body to keep it warm.

That gorgeous, dense, woolly fur is twice as long on the underside, which may well provide additional insulation when crawling along the ground hunting its prey. The fur colour ranges from pale grey to a faint tawny red.  The white tips of the fur give the cat an icy, powdered look which helps camouflage it on the snow-covered ground.  The species is instantly recognisable with its flat head, low-set ears and high-set eyes. These are thought to be adaptations allowing it to peer unnoticed over rocks and ledges when hunting.  They also help when stalking prey as the cat flattens its body on the ground.

Pallas cat (Tula) residing at Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Smarden, Kent by Adrian Herridge   wikiThe Pallas’ cat’s eyes differ from other felids.  They are round, not slit-like, and react like human eyes by contracting when faced with strong light rays.  As with all cats, they possess a third eyelid (nictitating membrane).  In the case of Pallas’ cats, this may be crucial for protection against extreme weather conditions such as severe winds and dust storms.

Unlike other felids, Pallas’ cat is diurnal and crepuscular.  Their days are spent under cover of rock crevices and in small hollows under stones. They have also been known to inhabit the burrows of other wildlife, such as foxes and marmots.  They hunt mostly, but not exclusively, on the open grasslands where there is an abundance of small prey.  Their skilful hunting techniques include stalking in the open, flushing prey out of cover and ambushing others outside their burrows and nests. They are skilful climbers, too, and scale the rocky crevices with an agility you would not expect looking at the cat’s bulk.  This ‘bulk’ also fluctuates with the seasons, with the males weighing less during the breeding season and the females weighing less when rearing their young.

The Breeding season takes place between December and March.  The male attracts the female with sounds resembling a mix of a yapping bark and a hoot.  After a gestation Pallas' cat 5period of sixty-six to seventy-five days  (this has been recorded in captivity),  kittens, weighing just over three ounces, will be born. The litter size is between one and six, more commonly three or four. The kittens are born with dark, fluffy coats with noticeable stripes on the side which diminish as the kittens reach two months of age, or thereabouts, and moult. They are independent at four to five months, and reach full size at about eight months.

Kitten mortality is high in this species, with only thirty-two per cent of the kittens surviving to adulthood.  Pallas’ cats have been known to live up to twelve years of age in captivity and assumed to live less in the wild.

Pallas’ cat is named after the German naturalist , Peter Simon Pallas, who was responsible for describing this, and several other species, during a late 18th century Russian expedition.

Natural Habitat
Grasslands and rocky montane steppe regions up to three thousand metres.
Central Asia – Including Mongolia, China and the Tibetan Plateau.
What they eat
Pikas, small rodents, ground birds and the occasional marmot.
Over-hunting and illegal poaching for fur and medicine.   Capture for the illegal international pet trade.  Depletion of their prey base by the government sanctioned poisoning of their prey, and exposure to the poison themselves.   Plus, they are often mistakenly shot as marmots. Diseases passed on by domestic cats and dogs have also affected populations.
Status: Near Threatened
Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  The species is also listed in  CITES Appendix II.  Hunting of Pallas’s cat is prohibited in all countries across its range, except in Mongolia where they can be legally hunted for “household purposes”. Hunters must obtain permits from local authorities, but enforcement of the law is very shaky and the situation is poorly controlled.
Numbers in the wild are not known.  The range of the Pallas’ cat is vast and populations are difficult to assess.  There are, however, many of the species in captivity across the world, where breeding programs have been moderately successful.  Sadly, in general, survival rates are low due to infections.  The cats would not have previously been exposed to any of these viruses, therefore have not developed any immunity to them.

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N.B.  This article was first published as  “Endangered Species No. 100”  in error.  It is,  in fact, “Endangered Species No.99”.  My apologies for any confusion.

The Clock Has Struck Twelve!

Tiger in the snow

May 2014 also bring about the much-needed changes so many yearn for.

For the noble animals of the wild, new global (enforceable) laws which will put an end to cruelty in all its forms, and the repealing of misguided existing laws which permit ruthless, indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent.

An end to the merciless, murderous activities of poachers in Africa, and an end to the brutal and dispassionate slaying  of the majestic and blameless wolf in other countries.

An end to the shameless narcissism and one-upmanship aiding and abetting the prosperity and growth of the cold-blooded fur industry, and the expansion of savage, sadistic fur factory farms.

An end to the rampant corporate greed destroying the rainforests.

New laws protecting domestic and factory farm animals, some so heartlessly abused and in such dire need of our help.

An end to cruelty to our fellow human beings, abuse of civil liberties and acceptance of those who are different.

If we continue to fight against all such wrongs in this world, I believe we will one day be where we want to be, allowing ourselves to enjoy a more peaceful, healthier and happier global society.  A society fit for all to live in on this still beautiful planet.

No-one really wants a perfect world, but right now, we all need a much better one.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 88 – The Red Panda

Two young red pandas in a tree

Photographer: Aconcagua

“The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge;  for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future”
Marya Mannes

Native to the Himalayan foothills, and arguably one of the most heart-melting little bears on the planet, the red panda has seen a big rise in popularity lately, and ‘awwws’ and ‘ahhhs’ galore follow wherever it is seen. But, just like its namesake, the giant panda, man is robbing the red panda of its basic needs in the wild – food and shelter. Throughout most of the red pandas range, theRed panda sleeping in a tree by Aconcagua trees it nests in and the bamboo it eats have disappeared. With over ninety per cent of its diet made up of something which is now in very short supply, hunger now looms.

The red panda’s striking red fur has made it a much sought after clothing item in some parts of China and Myanmar. And, red panda fur hats are still very popular in Bhutan. The killing of red pandas is highly illegal across its range, but the poaching continues, often unchecked.

But… at least what is left of the population can sleep easy in their nests tonight – the International Fur Trade Federation doesn’t do red panda any more!! Lucky red pandas!! Red panda

To veer slightly off topic for a moment – anything else, of course, is fair game to these self-serving, greedy and ruthless fur traders, who somehow seem to be missing the point.
To quote from the International Fur Trade Federation website:  

“Wild fur is only taken from abundant species”
“Over 85% of fur sold today is farmed”
“The legitimate fur trade does not trade in endangered species”
These are not principles. These are hoodwinking statements attempting to justify their egregious activities.  Surprisingly, they have the full approval of the IUCN.

Advocating, and profiting from, the breeding of animals solely for the purpose of killing them for their coats, or snatching animals from the wild simply because there are more than enough to go round, and then wallowing in the ill-claimed  glory of  avoiding using endangered species, does not make this barbaric trade any more acceptable. It simply serves to illustrate  how wide a range of species are targeted,  and how there is such a total lack of any form of moral compass involved.

baby red panda sleeping in treeBut, back to the red panda itself.  Also known as the lesser panda or red cat-bear, these little bears are not much bigger than the average domestic cat.  They have rust-coloured fur on top with black legs and undersides, long bushy ringed-tails and cream-coloured markings on the face, and cream to white ears.  Their fur is thick and covers their entire bodies including the soles of their feet.  In winter they wrap their long, fluffy tails around themselves maintain heat.  They have a low metabolic rate to further ensure their survival in extreme temperatures.  A red panda can lose up to fifteen per cent of its body weight during the winter months.

Red pandas have semi-retractable claws and a thumb-like wrist projection for gripping bamboo. Their wrap-round tails also act as a balancing tool when moving through the trees.  And, sweetly, red pandas dip their paws into water to drink.

Red pandas spend most of their waking time looking for and eating bamboo.  They nibble away at it one leaf at a time.  They have flattened teeth and well-developed chewing muscles.  They are excellent tree climbers, and are most active during the day.  If called upon to defend itself, the red panda will stand upright on its hind legs and show its sharp, ready to strike claws.

Red Panda mother and baby huggingRed pandas are shy and solitary except when mating.  Females (sows or she-bears) birth once a year. They build nests in hollow tree trunks or small caves.  There is a gestation period of about one hundred and thirty-five days followed by the birth of one to four cubs.  Baby red pandas weigh an average of one hundred and ten grams when born.  They have fluffy cream and grey fur and their eyes and ears tightly closed.  They remain in their protective nests for roughly ninety days.  Only their mothers care for them.  Male red pandas (boars or he-bears) take little or no interest in the babies.  At six months old, the babies are weaned from their mother. Red panda friends Young red pandas grow relatively slowly, reaching adult size after one year.  They reach full maturity at eighteen months.  This pattern of growth results in an inability to recover efficiently from the devastating declines in population.  There is also a fairly high infant mortality rate.

Contrary to popular belief, the red panda is not closely related to the giant panda.  They are very distant cousins, sharing only the panda name and a penchant for bamboo.  Nor is the red panda related to the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae

The red panda is the state animal of the Indian state of Sikkim.

Natural Habitat
Subtropical and temperate bamboo forests at sites above four thousand feet.
Bhutan, China, Myanmar, India and Nepal.
What they eat
Almost all of their diet consists of bamboo shoots and leaves, but, they will also eat fruit, grasses, acorns, roots, bird eggs and some insects.
Habitat destruction is the greatest threat across the red panda’s range.  In India, this threat is particularly significant.  Loss of habitat has been caused by the medicinal plant trade, grazing, logging, livestock competition and agricultural cropping. In Nepal ,in the Dhorpatan Hunting reserve (the only area in Nepal where licensed hunting is allowed) deforestation has occurred, red pandas are caught using snares, overgrazing of domestic cattle has impacted ringal bamboo growth, and herders and their dogs are damaging the population further. In China and Myanmar, the threat of poaching looms large. Pelts are commonly found in local markets.  In Bhutan, the pelts of the red panda are made into caps and hats.
Status: Endangered
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (high risk of endangerment in the wild). The red panda is also listed under CITES Appendix 1  and Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life Protection Act 1972.   The exact numbers of red pandas left in the wild are not known, but, are said to be declining rapidly. Red pandas have been kept and bred successfully in captivity across the world. Management programs have been created in North America, Japan, Europe, Australia, and China.

Related Articles

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 84 – The Long-tailed Chinchilla

Long-tailed chinchilla (CR) Chinchilla lanigera

Today is Worldwide Fur Free Friday

When celebrating Worldwide Fur Free Friday, I felt I could not possibly ignore the plight of the long-tailed chinchilla. This little animal has become critically endangered because of man’s actions; a sordid story which can only serve to illustrate, once more, how man’s narcissism and greed has allowed him to put himself before the needs, and, even the most basic rights of, innocent, defenceless beings.

Today there are multitudes of chinchillas kept in captivity, either for the pet trade, for research (specifically the auditory system), or for the fur trade. And, all three are prospering. The fur trade, undoubtedly, being the most despicable of these.

Chinchilla coat for sale on eBay- Farm Raised Genuine (Empress Breeders Cooperative) Chinchilla LanigeraAll wild chinchilla species are listed in  Appendix 1 of CITES.  But, since these captive animals are considered domesticated, they are not protected by CITES provisions (a fact pointed out with tedious regularity by those selling furs on eBay). Furriers and farmers can, therefore, keep breeding, butchering and promoting the wearing of chinchilla as much as they wish. Many, with more money than conscience and compassion, can’t wait to adorn themselves in the poor creatures’ fur; so there is a very willing market waiting in the wings. A market which would far rather wear the chinchilla’s coat as a status symbol or fashion statement than see the rightful owner wearing it as a natural layer (or, one hundred and fifty rightful owners to be precise – that’s how many tiny chinchillas it takes to make a full-length coat). A coat can cost anything between ten thousand and one hundred thousand dollars, so it’s highly profitable.

Apart from depriving these little creatures of a normal life, what desperately needs to be remembered is that there is no easy, pain-free way to skin an animal alive! They are not shearing sheep here!

To quote the obviously caring Natalie Imbruglia, “There is no kind way to rip the skin off animals’ backs. Anyone who wears any fur chinchilla - adultshares the blame for the torture and gruesome deaths of millions of animals each year.”

But, these particular animals have not all been taken from the wild. At least not directly. They are farmed from stock stolen from their natural habitat, mostly in times past. The international trade in chinchilla fur began in the 16th century. However, the chinchillas we see today are almost all descended from chinchillas taken from Chile in the 1800s and early 1900s. This was the cause of depletion, and, sadly, despite efforts, this depletion was so severe, the species has been unable to recover. In two centuries, of vanity and greed, over twenty-one million chinchillas have been taken from their homes; over seven million of these were exported between 1828 and 1916. At one stage they were being shipped from Chile at a rate five hundred thousand per annum. The devastation to the species was unimaginable.

Very young chinchillaIn 1918, the government of Chile, (along with those of Peru and Bolivia) declared the trapping of animals and exportation of pelts illegal; ­ but, it was all too little, too late. Needless to say, this activity did not cease then, and has still not ceased today. Poaching in Chile persists. But, possibly due to much smaller populations now, they are not being taken in such large numbers.

Originally, chinchilla populations flourished within their range.  Now, it is the trade in the animals which thrives, as their pelts continue to be found amongst the most valuable in the world. As a result, these endearing little rodents are now facing extinction in the wild.

Chinchillas are small, just slightly larger than ground squirrels. They have strong legs and can leap around in a very agile manner. They have bushy tails, and soft, silky dense fur. As many as sixty hairs grow from one follicle. The fur was designed by nature to insulate the species against the cold of the barren mountain regions it inhabits.Baby chinchilla Lanigera

Chinchillas sit upright on their hind legs to eat, grasping their food in their front paws. They are social animals living in colonies of up to one hundred individuals (you can see by this how easy it must have been to capture them in large numbers). These colonies are properly referred to as herds, so named by the first fur farmers who treated them as livestock. And, just to add to that trivia; a female is called a velvet or sow, and a male is called either a bull or a boar.

Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal, though they have been seen in broad daylight foraging for food. They sleep or rest in rock crevices and holes. They are expected to live up to ten years in the wild, but, can live to as much as twenty years in captivity.

Breeding takes place during May and November. The female will give birth to two litters a year.   The average gestation period lasts one hundred and eleven days,  after which, a litter of between one to three babies (known as kits) will be born. Kits are precocial at birth (fully furred and with eyes open) and weigh about thirty-five grams. They are usually weaned by sixty days.

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.

M. Frida Hartley
(Animal Rights Activist)

Barren, arid, rocky or sandy mountainous areas.
What they eat
Plant leaves (mostly of the cactus family), fruits, seeds, and small insects.
Human activities; mainly poaching, followed by grazing of livestock, mining and firewood extraction. Their natural predators include birds of prey, skunks, cats, snakes and dogs.
Status: Critically Endangered
The long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.
The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists all chinchilla species in Appendix 1, making international trade in the animals or their skins illegal among participating nations. Frighteningly, there are only 10,000 individuals thought to be left in the wild. There have been attempts to reintroduce chinchillas to the wild, but these have been markedly unsuccessful.
A great deal more could be done to monitor hunting in the remote mountain ranges of the Andes. However, this has proven to be a difficult place to patrol leaving the chinchillas vulnerable.

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Fur Free Friday

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 57 – The Giant Otter

two otters by the river

Photograph from the Karanambu Trust

For decades these adorable otters were hunted for their fine silky pelt. Now, they are suffering from devastating habitat loss. Giant Otters are large, diurnal, extremely active, playful, sociable and very noisy. Despite their evil-looking eyes, they can be very friendly towards human beings; which clearly hasn’t protected them too well.

Giant otters are semi-aquatic land mammals who depend upon both land and water to survive. They can grow to six feet in length and weigh up to seventy-five pounds, making them the largest living otter, next to the sea otter. They have coats of dense velvety fur made up of short, waterproof guard hairs with some under fur. The colour ranges from reddish-brown to grey with irregular chest markings in a pale creamy colour. Some lack these markings. They have short, stubby legs with huge webbed feet. They have broad heads and stocky necks. The tail is dorsoventrally flattened and broad and powerful at the base. Highly adapted for swimming and diving, their sensitive whiskers aid prey location in unclear waters and their ears and nostrils close when entering the water.

They are capable of travelling long distances overland between bodies of water. They build camp sites on the river banks. Vegetation is pounded and trampled into the ground over an area of thirty by twenty feet. Latrines are dug around the perimeter. They maintain several of these camp sites in various locations. The camp sites are the sort of social club where they all gather to groom, play and relax. Dens are dug near the sites for sleeping and rearing cubs. Between the camp site and the dens the otters will have established a home territory which they will defend very aggressively against intruders.

They live in groups of up to ten individuals consisting of an adult pair (they are monogamous) and various generations of offspring.

The gestation period for a giant otter is between sixty-five and seventy days. Females will give birth to up to six cubs between August and early October. The young are altricial, meaning they are born helpless and need a lot of parental care. After four weeks the cub’s eyes will open and they will follow the mother around. After ten weeks the cubs will be able to eat fish, but will still depend on the mother’s milk until they reach at least sixteen or seventeen weeks. They grow quickly, and at ten months it is difficult to tell the cub from the adult. Unfortunately, there is a high juvenile mortality.

The estimated lifespan of a giant otter, in the wild, is ten to thirteen years.

Freshwater rivers, swamps, creeks and streams.
Scattered populations exist throughout the rainforests of South America.
What they eat
Fish, crustaceans and snakes, with the odd caiman now and then.  One giant otter will normally consume up to nine pounds of seafood in a day.
Up until the 1970s, this sleek river mammal was ruthlessly hunted for its silky pelt.   They are friendly creatures by nature, and will approach humans without fear.  This made them easy targets for ruthless, greedy hunters, and the population became decimated. Poaching still continues today on a lesser scale.  But, now there is an even greater threat; that of habitat loss.  Heavily degraded by logging, mining, exploitation of fossil fuels and hydroelectric power, river and land pollution, and over-fishing, their habitat is disappearing rapidly.  And, in some areas, cubs are being taken illegally and sold as pets. They need specialist care, which they are very unlikely to receive, and most will die through lack of it.  They have few natural predators.  Other threats include conflict with fishermen and diseases transmitted by domestic animals.
Status: Endangered
The giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis ) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also listed under  CITES Status: Appendix 1.   Within the next three otter generations, the IUCN predict their numbers will be reduced by half due to accelerating habitat destruction.  No-one knows exactly how many are left in the wild, but an estimation of one to five thousand individuals has been put forward.   There some kept in zoos around the world.   Efforts are being made to help the giant otter by way of education, research, awareness-raising programmes and management of protected areas.

“All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”
Edmund Burke