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.

Related Articles

The Challenge of Conservation in a Terrorist Age
Rare Pallas Cats Born
Save the world’s fluffiest cat

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.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 83 – The Malayan Tiger

Malayan Tiger at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Photographer: Greg Hume

“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

Regrettably, the magnificent tiger has been exploited for body parts and skins for centuries, and the Malayan tiger is no exception. Much is done in many countries to try and save tigers from extinction.  In Thailand, the home of the Malayan tiger, there are 20,000 forest rangers employed to protect all wildlife, but this is becoming an increasingly dangerous occupation.  In September Malayan Tiger in water2013, two rangers were fired upon by five poachers they had tracked to the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Thailand.  On their way, the poachers had poisoned various animals, which the rangers suspected had been left behind as tiger bait (although, it is known they were hunting for various species). Four of the rangers were shot  in the incident, and two later died.  To add to the tragedy of the deaths of the rangers, when shots were exchanged, shockingly, the hunters were seen to be armed with AK-47 and carbine automatic rifles.  This does not imply poaching for subsistence food.  Instead, it smites heavily of terrorist activity.

Sadly, these incidents have become commonplace across Asia.  In the past four years, forty-two forest rangers have been killed on duty in Thailand alone.  These poorly paid, hard-working, dedicated rangers could do with a lot more support from the rest of the world as well as their own people.

A large part of the market for body parts and skins is created by the demand of middle class Asian consumers, in particular the fast-growing middle classes of China  (many of whom think elephants shed their tusks naturally), and it is not slowing down.  The demand for young animals as pets and exhibits has also become huge.  But, more often, it is terrorism which benefits most from these killings and live trade.  The trade in illegal wildlife, dead or alive, is now worth an estimated nineteen billion dollars a year.

Under such adverse circumstances, it seems only matter of time before the beautiful Malayan tiger, like so many other species, is lost to this world forever.

Slightly smaller than their Indian counterparts, female Malayan tigers can reach an average of seven feet ten inches in length, and Malayan Tiger and cubmales as much as eight feet six inches. They can stand at anything between two and four feet high at the shoulder and weigh between one hundred and four pounds and two hundred and eighty-four pounds.

The tiger’s orange, black and white striped coat is designed as camouflage in the forest or long grass.  It has huge front paws with five retractable claws on each.  It has incredibly powerful jaws housing large canines with which it is able to grab its prey and suffocate it.  In fact, in favourable circumstances it would have a more than fair chance of defending itself against its human predators.

Not always successful in every attack, one in twenty seems to be the kill rate, tigers can eat up to eighty pounds of meat in one feeding session.  The rest they will cover and come back to later, having already marked their territory with deep claw marks on trees.

Malayan tiger - Three-month-old Malayan tiger triplets at San Diego ZooThere is no specific breeding season for tigers.  It is an all-year-round event which is followed by a gestation period of roughly fourteen weeks.  Females birth in deep grass hollows or caves. Normally, a litter will consist of three cubs weighing about three pounds each.  They will stay with their mother for the first eighteen months to two years of their lives, in which time they will be taught all they need to equip them for a life of independence.

Tropical forests, grasslands, and subtropical moist broadleaf forests.
The southern tip of Thailand and the Malaysian Peninsular.
What they eat
Deer, wild boar, sun bears and occasional livestock.
Habitat destruction due to logging operations and development of roads for the same, and conversion of forests to agriculture or commercial plantations.   Poaching for skins and Traditional Chinese medicine, and human conflict.  An ever-diminishing prey base.
Status: Endangered
The Malayan Tiger  (Panthera tigris ssp. jacksoni)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also listed on  CITES: Appendix I.  Only five hundred or so Malayan tigers are still thought to exist in the wild.  Many are kept in captivity around the world. In the wild, most live outside protected areas.
Various agencies are addressing the issue of the Malayan tiger.  The World Wide Fund for Nature, for example, has initiated programs focusing on raising awareness, education and the reduction of human conflict.

Related Articles
How to Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade from Funding Terrorist Groups
Two forest rangers killed in gun battle with tiger hunters 
Scientists: to save the Malayan tiger, save its prey
Thousands come together for the Malayan Tiger!
Little Rock Zoo: 5-year-old tiger gives birth to 4 cubs

Related posts by me
Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)
Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
Indochinese Tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti)

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 67 – The California Condor

California condors from mother nature network

“There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Native American tribes see the condor as a symbol of power.  Known to them as the Thunderbird, they believe it creates thunder in the sky by beating its enormous ten foot wings.

In flight, the majestic wings can be seen in all their splendour.  When airborne, the distinctive white patch underneath each wing is highly visible, distinguishing it from other vultures.  These great birds soar as high as fifteen thousand feet across the skies, catching thermals on the way up, rising as the ground below gets hotter.  They can stay up for hours watching, searching for food and other needs.

California condors are vultures.  Like all vultures, they are carrion feeders, not predators. As such, they are a very important part of the ecosystem, acting as  ‘nature’s cleaners’ by recycling dead organic waste.  They pick up all sorts of animal debris that would otherwise be left to rot where it fell.  They come equipped with a very tough immune system which protects then against any harmful bacteria found on decaying animals. They have incredibly keen eyesight, but a poor sense of smell, which is perhaps quite fortunate considering their feeding habits.  Their baldness is one of their many assets.  It allows them to bury into the carcasses they feed on without too much mess.  Meal over, they clean their heads and necks by rubbing them on grass or against rocks or branches.

Condors can travel up to one hundred and fifty miles a day, with a maximum flight speed of fifty-five mph.  These magnificent birds have a wing span of just under ten feet.  Their feathers are essentially black with white patches under the wings.  Their bald heads are white to reddish-purple.  They can reach a height of fifty inches, weigh up to twenty-five pounds and can live up to as much as eighty years, although sixty is more common.

The mating season for the California condor is winter to spring, followed by an incubation period of about fifty-four days.  One chick will hatch, which will receive the parents full attention.  The chick will learn to fly at the age of six months, but may stay with its parents for the next two years.  It will not gain full adult plumage until five or six years of age.

Rocky, forested regions permeated with caves, gorges and ledges for nesting.  Open grassland for hunting.
By reintroduction:  Mexico and the United States of America
What they eat
Carrion:  Condors will tuck into most carcasses they find, but prefer the larger ones, such as deer, cattle and sheep.
Lead poisoning, habitat loss, illegal shootings and human intolerance.
Status: Critically Endangered
The California condor is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  It is also under the protection of  CITES Appendix I

By 1982, only twenty-two individuals existed.   The species became extinct in the wild in 1987, when the last free-flying condors were taken into captivity to save the species via a breeding program.  At this point, only nine birds remained on the planet.  The captive breeding program was successful, and, in 1991, action was taken to start releasing the birds back into the wild.  By the spring of 2013, there were over four hundred and thirty California condors in existence, either in captivity or free-flying.
The problem of lead poisoning from  ammunition  has been addressed in California. Where, since 2007, only lead-free ammunition is permitted when hunting.  However, you will see from the link below, the LA Times reports a rise in lead poisoning of condors.  Effective or not, no such laws have been passed elsewhere yet, making the problem widespread.

Some interesting links you may like:
LA Times: Record 21 California condors treated at L.A. Zoo for lead poisoning
Hi Mountain Look Out
Kern County Look to Prevent More Condor Deaths

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 49 – The Persian Fallow Deer

Persian fallow deer looking at camera

Photographer: Heinz Koloska

The Persian fallow deer, also known as the Mesopotamian fallow deer, has been hunted down for centuries, for food and in the name of sport.  In the 1940s, by which time firearms had become far more widespread and poaching had increased dramatically, the species was thought to have finally become extinct.  A species once prolific throughout the Middle East had finally been lost to guns and knives.  But, good things do happen, and in 1956 two small, wild populations (twenty-five individuals in all) were discovered in Iran. Clearly not yet extinct, the Persian fallow deer instantly became one of rarest mammals on earth.

This astonishingly pretty little deer has a short, smooth reddish-brown to sandy-coloured coat covered with bold, white spots.  The muzzle, chin, neck and undersides are a creamy white.

The male of the species has long, thick flattened antlers.  Their horns grow after their first year.  By the second year, the antlers will have shown.  Antlers are shed annually, but grow back immediately.  The antlers are covered with ‘velvet’, protecting them during growth.  By the end of the summer, the bucks emerge resplendent with full antlers again. Each year, the buck’s antlers grow a little larger.  This continues until their eighth year, when they will be fully mature.

The Persian fallow deer is the largest of all the fallow deer.  Adult bucks typically weigh about two hundred pounds.  They average five feet in length and can reach a height of three feet.  Does are slightly smaller.

Fallow deer are herd animals.  Mating occurs during the rut.  Males fight during this time, but mostly without injury;  they follow a sort of Marquis of Queensbury rules system, and they all stick to it.  Each herd has a dominant buck.  The rut takes place during August and early September.  Calving follows at the end of March to early April, after a gestation period of two hundred and thirty days.  One fawn will usually be born and twins are very rare.

Persian fallow deer are excellent swimmers.  When sensing danger, they are fast to escape and can leap up to two metres if necessary. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help if someone is pointing a gun at you.

Woodlands,  such as tamarisk and pistachio, and dense riparian thickets.
Iran and Israel  (where it has been re-introduced)
What they eat
Grass, leaves and nuts.
The species’  most dangerous predator is man.  Humans have been mercilessly killing fallow deer (for venison)  for a very long time and, no doubt, the skins have also been made use of.   Habitat destruction has played its part, as has grazing competition with livestock and natural predators, such as the  jackal, hyena and Syrian brown bear.   As numbers have dwindled,  they have become susceptible to inbreeding as well.
Status: Endangered
The Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) is listed on the  IUCN List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  They are listed on Appendix 1 of  CITES.   Sadly,  although it is now illegal to hunt the Persian fallow deer,  poaching continues.  Some are bred in captivity (in Germany, Iran, and Israel)  and,  by all accounts,  there has been a good success rate in these projects.   The remaining natural members of the species can only be found in south-western Iran.  Re-introduced populations exist in other locations in Iran and in Israel. All stem from the native population.

“There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is”
Isaac Bashevis Singer