Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bengal Tiger Video

Recent trip to the zoo yielded some pretty cool big cat videos. Here is one I captured yesterday of an adult male Bengal Tiger growling in his cage - it was great to be so close to this lord of the jungle and hear his distinctive roar that frightens everything in the wild.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cheetah Distribution

Cheetah Distribution
Cheetah was once found widely across all of Africa extending eastwards into Asia as far as India. However hunting, habitat destruction and loss of prey has meant that Cheetah is now only found in select countries in high density in Africa. Namibia has the world's highest wild Cheetah population. Organizations in South Africa are also active at boosting their Cheetah numbers. Asiatic Cheetah is critically endangered with roughly one hundred individual animals left, predominantly in Iran and to an extent in western Pakistan. Cheetah is extinct in India. Attempts by Indian wild life officials at reintroducing the Asiatic Cheetah in the wild by borrowing a Cheetah couple and/or cloning the Cheetah by obtaining their samples from Iran have met with a cold response from the regime. Of the current population, five subspecies of Cheetah exist, classified according to their range:


Acinonyx Jubatus Hecki - West Africa

Acinonyx Jubatus Jubatus - Southern Africa

Acinonyx Jubatus Raineyii - East Africa

Acinonyx Jubatus Soemmeringii - Central Asia

Acinonyx Jubatus Venaticus - Iran

Cheetah

CheetahBuilt for speed, Cheetah is one of the most fascinating of all animals. A design in the epitome of pace, Cheetah outruns everything on the plains of Africa, establishing itself as one of the most successful hunters in family felidae. Although not included in big cats by many experts owing to its inability to roar, Cheetah is one of the most envied big game predators in the wild, arousing frequent backlash by lions and leopards who often find themselves unable to compete with Cheetah's hunting prowess.

Honed to a sleek and slender physique Cheetah ranges in weight from 100 to 150 lbs, with its long body and tail assisting it in high speed pursuits. The coat is generally yellowish with small black spots running throughout its length. The belly, like most cats, is whitish. Evolutionary adaptations that enable Cheetah to generate tremendous speed include large nostrils, heart and lungs (that enable maximum oxygenation during rapid pursuits), big adrenal glands (for the adrenaline rush!), rudder-like tail (for balancing and rapidly turning to match the clever Thomson gazelle) and non-retractable claws (to provide 'grip' on the ground during the chase).

Cheetah's speed means that it can take down prey that most predators don't even think about - the Springbok is magnificent in its own right and yet can't evades the Cheetah half the times. Impala and hares are also frequently preyed upon, whereas wildebeests are taken down only in pairs. Usual approach is to stalk the prey and approach as near as possible. When it is near to being spotted, Cheetah begins the chase - reaching from 0 to 100 km/hr in three seconds, Cheetah outclasses most modern automobiles - capable of reaching 125 km/hr with its feet almost seeming not to touch the ground! After bringing the prey animal down, powerful jaw muscles enable Cheetah to crush the victim's wind pipe while the large nostrils allow it to breathe simultaneously enabling it to hold on for long periods. The high speeds tire this great hunter also, elevating body temperature to dangerous levels. The cat thus rests after the hunt, making it vulnerable to scavengers like hyenas who often claim the kill.

Cheetah has an organized social structure, with males forming coalitions and female doing solitary hunting and parenting. A big litter is born after mating that continues year round, though a fraction of the cubs survive, and are often killed by lions, leopards and hyenas. Maturity is reached at one year for males and two years for females, after which time they leave the mother to establish their territories, with the ranges varying with habitat. Cheetahs prefer relatively open grasslands and are not very adaptable to changes in their environment.

CheetahLimited degree of adaptability, inbreeding, hunting by farmers and poachers and removal of animals from the wild for use as pets - through history - have meant that Cheetah lacks genetic biodiversity as a species to an alarming extent, with some experts fearing its survival. The splendid cat is considered threatened in Asia and vulnerable in Africa, with foundations in Africa working to restore their ecosystem in the wild and overcoming the shortage of prey and habitat that are threatening the flourishing of this fantastic animal.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cougar Distribution

Cougar Distribution
Felis Concolor, aka Puma Concolor - the Cougar - enjoys a huge geographical range in the Americas owing to its great adaptability to varying habitats and prey. It is currently divided into six subspecies owing to its regional distribution:


North American Cougar (Puma Concolor Couguar)

Argentine Puma (Puma Concolor Cabrerae)

Costa Rican Cougar (Puma Costaricensis)

Northern South American Cougar (Puma Concolor Concolor)

Eastern South American Cougar (Puma Concolor Anthonyi)

Southern South American Cougar (Puma Concolor Puma)


Even as significant research has been carried out on Cougar in North America, little is known about it in its South American range, apart from the observation the Cougar is lesser in size in the south owing to availability of smaller prey animals, the larger prey being consumed by the Jaguar there. The widespread occurrence does however ensure genetic biodiversity and bright future prospects for at least one great cat :)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Cougar

CougarThe fourth largest cat, cougar is a marvelous animal. A terrific hunter, cougar is a design in strength and speed. Prowling over a range greater than that of any other felid in Western Hemisphere, cougar reigns supreme as the best individual hunter in the Americas. Though not included in big cats owing to its inability to roar, cougar is a very strong cat with a weight range of 120-200 lbs for the males and 80-130 lbs for the females.

Included in small cats owing to its physical attributes, cougar shares an ancestor with the African Cheetah. Its great bounds of speed along with its long balancing tail are indeed reminiscent of the fastest land mammal, even as cougar masters in stalk and ambush predation. Its great hunting abilities have enabled it to survive in diverse habitats and become subject of folklore in many communities, earning it more names than any other cat, including – mountain lion, mountain screamer, puma, panther, catamount, pi-twal, carcajou, couguar, and cuguacuarana.

The coat is of uniform color, typically tawny. Cubs are spotted, but become plain colored as they mature. Patches of lighter color may occur on chin and throat. The body structure is designed chiefly for agility and power. A robust head, powerful forequarters, deep chest and strong jaws enable cougar to be a fearsome predator. The proportionately longer hind legs enable greater bounds of speed along with a leaping ability second to none among land predators - up to 40 feet horizontally!

Though capable of generating tremendous speed, cougar prefers to stalk its prey before pouncing on it with few lightning bounds, generating great momentum. Upon knocking down the prey cougar delivers a lethal neck bite – suffocating the animal. In case of smaller prey, the cougar breaks the neck by crushing the cervical vertebrae and severing the spine. Usual prey is deer, though the cat's great adaptability enables it to take a wide prey base – from insects to large ungulates.

Conflicts are rare with other species owing to its huge ranges in the wild. Though in certain regions in the north, cougar does compete with bears and wolves for its kills. In the south cougar is outmuscled by the Jaguar, though its versatile hunting ability give it the edge. Attacks on humans are rare and are often provoked by encroachment into mountain lion territory. Staring the cat in the eye and intimidating it with controlled loud noise along with attack by rocks and sticks often drives the cat away in case of a confrontation. Playing dead, as with bears, doesn’t help – the cougar quickly approaches and delivers a fatal neck bite!

Cougar

As with other cats, the solitary cougars come together for mating several times a year. Three to four kittens are born, though typically one or two survive in the wild – with the mother doing the sole parenting. The young begin hunting at six months and are capable of surviving independently at one to one and a half years of age. Life span is generally ten years in the wild and up to twice that much in captivity.

Despite a distribution from Yukon to Andes in the Americas, cougar’s population is facing a trend towards decline – owing primarily to habitat and prey loss accompanied by predation by their only natural threat – humans. The species is not vulnerable yet though and debate is gaining ground about reintroducing them to the eastern territories, yielding bright prospects for the future of this splendid panther!

Friday, May 25, 2007

'Wikified' the Blog

I just thought since this blog is becoming a small information portal about cats, I should make it more like an online encyclopedia, adding links to various terms that relate to individual posts in this blog. I think it will make it more interactive and easily searchable :)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tiger Numbers on the Decline!

TigerBefore going any further, there's some very disturbing tiger news to deal with. For a while now I've been reading in different places that authorities in India are over-reporting the tiger numbers in the wild to attract tourists - now my suspicions have been confirmed by a major study that just came out. Indeed the number of tigers has drastically gone down in India instead of stabilizing or increasing! Poaching and habitat destruction are reported as the major causes. You know there is so much poverty in rural India and the population is booming at such alarming intervals that it is only inevitable that this will happen. The government there has apparently failed to protect their tigers and it's such a shame :( . I had my doubts even about the way they used to do the census - using the paw prints to identify individual tigers - 'pug marks'. However, this method is considered obsolete now since pug marks vary according to terrain and an individual tiger can leave several different paw prints depending on the pace at which it is walking - I mean unless the tiger has a clearly identifiable anomaly like a limp etc it's impossible to tell one tiger from another simply by looking at the pug marks. And the greatest decline is reported to be in the state of Madhya Pradesh, that has a major chunk of the wild leopard population - God help the leopards there! You know I think if we can't save the most magnificent animal on earth - what can we save???

Well I've lost my appetite over this one! Hope things change for the better in India and government acts quickly and effectively there for the good.

[pic - a young tigress nuzzles against her mother in captivity - I guess that's where we are destined to see the tigers - only in zoos :( ]

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Leopard Distribution

Leopard Distribution
A very nice map showing leopard's current and former range in the wild. Best sites for leopard enthusiasts include Yala National Park, Sri Lanka, with the world's highest concentration of wild leopards, Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve in South Africa with its leopards adapted to human presence and numerous national parks in India (though man-eating is on the rise there owing to increasing human infringement into leopard territory).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Leopard

LeopardThe most beautiful of all big cats, the elusive leopard is also the most accomplished. A marvelous hunter and opportunistic predator, leopard hunts what others do not and resides where other cannot. With a wide geographical distribution, leopard lives everywhere yet is seen virtually nowhere owing to its supreme stealth and cunning. Smallest of the four big cats of the Panthera genus, leopard - Panthera Pardus, has a weight ranging from 80-150 lbs for the males and 65-100 lbs for the female, subject to subspecies variation.

The word leopard reflects the supposed evolutionary origin of the big cat, with the original belief being that it was a hybrid of lion (leo) and panther (pard). However, the closest resemblance is to the Jaguar, even as the leopard is less stocky and its rosette coat markings are smaller, more numerous and lack internal spots. The rosettes also distinguish it from the spots of the Cheetah. Plus leopard is a more gifted tree climber and a nocturnal hunter, whereas Cheetah prefers the less competitive daytime for his kills.

Coloration is usually tawny yellow with the black rosettes ranging from a circular shape in East African leopard to square in South African Leopard. Melanism is frequently seen with the black leopard often found in dense forests of South East Asia. Called 'panther', the black coloration is a result of the merging together of skin markings. Designed for camouflage, leopard's coat is generally considered as one of the most beautiful in animal kingdom and varies according to the habitat of the great hunter. Its geographical distribution is also used for classification purposes as leopard is segregated into nine modern species (down from a previous thirty), namely the African Leopard, Amur Leopard, Arabian Leopard, Indian Leopard, Indo-Chinese Leopard, Java Leopard, North China Leopard, Persian Leopard and Sri Lankan Leopard. The Snow Leopard, Clouded Leopard and Bornean Clouded Leopard are all considered separate species now (to be discussed later!).

Leopard DistributionA graceful hunter, leopard epitomizes stealth and predation. Leopard's ability to go undetected enables it to prey on the most sensitive of animals like gazelles and dogs. The most successful hunter amongst big cats, leopard spares nothing - takes everything as prey from insects to birds, reptiles, monkeys, fish and deer. Its wide prey base supplemented by its ability to survive in diverse environments ensures leopard's survival beyond the realm of its peers. Despite rare predation by the tiger in India, leopard enjoys greater success since it survives in areas with scarce water. The same is true in Africa where conflicts with lions and hyenas are won by the leopard's terrific ability to carry prey up to three times its weight into trees, beyond the reach of its competitors. Its tree climbing abilities are the best among cats and alongside a strong swimming ability make it the best hunter in all of Africa, surviving in drought and tough climatic conditions where others perish.

Whilst the prey base is diverse, leopard may at times attack humans. The risks are supplemented in case of disease, eradication of prey animals and habitat encroachment. As man-eaters, leopards are extremely dangerous and very hard to eliminate. Their great stalking ability and cunning makes them the most feared killers amongst men. Many in Africa and India don't fear the lion and tiger, respectively, as much as they do the leopard that spares nothing and yet is never seen. In fact many hunters maintain the leopard to be ten times as dangerous as a lion or tiger, making it a killer of great notoriety. Whereas other man-eating cats almost never dare to enter human settlements at day time, leopard has been known to take people from inside their houses! The famous Panar Leopard and Rudraprayag Leopard of India are startling examples (more on man-eating later!).

LeopardSolitary creatures, leopards come in unison for mating, that may occur seasonally or year-round depending on the individual subspecies. Two or three cubs are born that the female takes great care to protect and hide, warning intruders into its territory by roaring and hissing (leopard's growl is slightly different from lion and tiger's loud roars - I personally find the rumbling growl of the leopard more frightening!). The young are able to hunt at nearly one year of age but may stay with the mother up to one and a half to two years.

Leopard often appears on coat of arms of nations and has great admiration worldwide for its beauty, something that poachers relish as they try to market its splendid fur. Though not vulnerable as a species yet, leopard is under threat in certain parts of the world, spared only by its adaptability and reclusive nature!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Jaguar Distribution

Jaguar Distribution
Just a map from Wikipedia showing Jaguar's current and historic geographical range.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jaguar

JaguarThe third largest felid, Jaguar is an incredible animal. The most active and vigorous of the big cats, it is designed for tremendous strength and agility. It is a versatile cat and perhaps the most 'complete' predator in family felidae. A resident only of the Americas, the reclusive Jaguar holds a high place in local folklore and big cat analyses owing to his prolific predation. Despite the outside resemblance with the leopard, the Jaguar is more muscular and compact - with weight ranging from 275-350 lbs for the males, the females being roughly 15% lighter. Length ranges between 1.61-1.85 metres. Significant size variations are however observed in the species depending on the habitat of the animal, with the smallest Jaguar recorded at 80 lbs!

Panthera Onca, the Jaguar is the only New World Mammal amongst the four big cats of the Panthera genus. Ancestry is shared with the other big cats, with the closest genetic resemblance being to the leopard. Chromosomal analysis suggests the species originated somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 years ago. Three subspecies are generally recognized based on geographic distribution - the Peruan, Mexican and Paraguan Jaguar.

Coloration is usually yellowish, with variations towards red and black. The coat is covered by rosettes having a pattern unique to each individual. Stark color variations do exist, with some Jaguars being totally black or white. The former are often incorrectly referred to as 'black panthers'. Appearance varies also on the habitat of the animal. Usually denizens of the dense forests have darker coats to aid them in conditions of low lighting, whereas Jaguars of relatively open plains have a lighter coloration to assist in their camouflage. These animals are also considerably bigger than their jungle counterparts since they have to tackle larger prey animals.

With powerful limbs, rounded skull and a robust physique, the Jaguar is a study in strength. Pound for pound it is one of the strongest land mammals. Its jaw strength goes unrivaled amongst all big cats. The great strength in canines and jaw bones has in fact enabled the Jaguar to practice a mode of killing most frightful among all predators of land - whilst capable of the usual neck bite and strangulation technique of big cats - the Jaguar prefers to kill its prey by a bite through its skull! The devastating bite is delivered between the ears of the prey as its teeth pierce the skull to enter the brain. The caiman is hunted in this manner as is the tortoise whose shell is cracked with ease by the great cat. At times the Jaguar may prefer to crush the cervical vertebrae or simply kill by a tremendous blow from its paw.

Jaguar DistributionAt stalking, Jaguar has no peer. Designed for stealth and a powerful pounce, Jaguar is considered as the best ambush hunter in all of animal kingdom. Its remarkably silent approach towards prey is simply incredible to watch. The other outstanding feature is its terrific hunting prowess in water. With a prey base from baby alligators to fish, Jaguar's aquatic hunting abilities are the best among land predators. Yet another remarkable weapon in the Jaguar's arsenal is the superb climbing ability of the heavily muscled cat - that enables it to prey on surprised monkeys and birds and carry prey as big as cattle to tree tops to avoid rising flood levels, using its great strength.

Territorial and solitary animals, adults meet solely for courtship. Mating continues year round and after a gestational period of three and a half to four months, two to four cubs are born. The females are highly protective of the defenseless young and roar frequently to warn other animals away. Maturity is reached at two years of age, by which time Jaguars are able to hunt on their own and establish their territory. Lifespan is the longest among big cats with ranges of up to 15 years in the wild and 25 years in captivity.

The range of the Jaguar in the wild is declining owing to deforestation. Numbers are also decreasing due to escalating conflicts with poachers and ranchers. However the species is not threatened yet and there is encouraging news for the future with flourishing of the ecotourism industry and strict conservation policies gaining ground in parts of the Americas, ensuring future hope for the magnificent apex predator of the Amazon!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lion Subspecies

Just a quick look at the two existing lion subspecies:

African Lion DistributionAfrican Lion

Weight: 350-520 lbs (Males)
250-350 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Sub-Saharan Africa

Numbers in the wild: 20,000-30,000











Asiatic Lion DistributionAsiatic Lion

Weight: 350-475 lbs (Males)
225-325 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Gir Forest (Western India)Numbers in the wild: 350-400

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lion

LionThe King of Beasts - through ages the lion has earned an unparalleled amount of respect from mankind for his strength, courage and nobility among all other animals. Named 'Panthera Leo', lion is the second largest cat with a weight ranging from 350-520 lbs and a body length from 2-2.8 metres for the males. The females are smaller with a weight and height range of 250-350 lbs and 1.4-1.9 metres respectively. Having a wide geographic distribution historically, lions currently reside in the wild only in Africa and India. Similarly two distinct subspecies are now broadly recognized - the African and Asiatic Lion.

The oldest fossil record of Panthera Leo dates back 3.5 million years and was discovered in Tanzania. Lions had a huge range historically and were found in Europe and America as early as 10,000 years ago. The Eurasian Cave Lion, followed closely by the American Lion, was perhaps the largest cat to have existed. Both these great cats became extinct during the last ice age with the eradication of their prey animals. Widespread hunting also contributed to their downfall as lions disappeared from North Africa and major parts of Asia, limited today to Sub-Saharan Africa and Gir forest in India.

Lions usually have a uniform coloration, varying from golden to brown. Cubs frequently have spots on their coat that disappear as they age. Sometimes they persist and are visible on limbs and belly, that usually is whitish in color (particularly in lionesses). Male lions are the only cats to sport a mane, though male tigers frequently have mane-like hair surrounding their skull. However, mane in case of lions extends to their neck, shoulders and belly. The evolutionary origin of the mane is a subject of some controversy with some authorities maintaining that is an indication of sexual prowess and testosterone levels while others argue that its chief function is protection against other lions in fights. Both views appear to be true, however mane is frequently seen to be linked with environmental conditions. Captive lions in cooler climates of Europe and North America sport heavier manes whereas the lions of bushy Tsavo region in Kenya are maneless. Lions have the largest skull amongst all cats, with strong jaws and canines designed to suit their carnivorous lifestyle.

Lions have a social lifestyle unique from all other cats. They live in groups, called prides, that vary in number from 3-5 in case of Asiatic lions to up to 30-40 in African lions' case. Group living offers them several advantages including cooperative hunting and protection for the cubs. A pride usually consists of 1-3 adult male lions and 10-20 lionesses and their cubs. Female lionesses usually stay in a pride for the entirety of their lives, wheres males are removed from the pride by the adults as they reach maturity, and must search and take over a pride of their own. Lions are excellent hunters and are capable of taking down prey of any size owing to their specialized hunting skills. Females are the chief hunters and owing to their sleek yet immensely strong body structure are one of the most fearful hunters in all of animal kingdom. Usual approach is to circle the targeted prey and close in gradually. Couple of lionesses initiate the charge with the specific purpose of scaring and confusing the herd as they run straight towards the remaining members of the pride that stalk the prey's exit routes. Death is usually by suffocation however, lions are fully capable of killing up to medium-sized animals by swats from their giant forepaws. In fact lionesses often specialize in killing even large prey like zebra by breaking their neck through shear momentum as they try to avulse it during their leap. Contrary to popular belief, recent research shows that males partake in up to 50-60% of all hunts - particularly for big prey like the cape buffalo. However, the chief function of the big males is protection of the pride from outside threats. With a big mane, immensely strong forequarters and powerful jaws - lions are perhaps the best fighters amongst land mammals. The other predominant feature of the male lion is his bravery. Great hunters and historians maintain the lion as the king of beasts because of its great strength and courage. While the tiger slinks away through the forest, the lion stands his ground, at times showing incredible daring. There are few things more fearful than a hungry lion and at times his mere roar has caused many a hunters to fall from the machan to lion's hungry jaws. Lion's roar is in fact the loudest amongst all cats and on a clear day carries over several kilometers.

Lions usually prey on antelope, gazelle, zebra, wildebeest, warthog and buffalo. However lions have been known to prey on elephants and hippos in Botswana. There are accounts of black rhinoceros kills in Etosha national park by lions. At times lions, driven by disease, lack of prey or habitat encroachment by humans, turn to man-eating. Man-eating lions display supreme cunning and daring and are highly feared by African natives, considered demons and supernatural spirits. Apart from all his savagery, lion displays nobility too and unlike the leopard, rarely attacks humans unless driven by extreme hunger.

LionessLions mate several times in a year and females give birth to up to four or five cubs after a gestational period lasting nearly three and a half to four months. Cubs suckle from their mothers and other pride females up to six months and in case of males usually stay with the pride up to two years of age. Despite protection of the pride, up to 50% of lion cubs in the wild do not survive owing to starvation or occasional cannibalism by other lions. When nomadic male lions take over a pride from the resident males, after a bloody and often mortal battle, they kill their cubs. This serves not only to bring the lionesses in heat but also to ensure only their gene pool continues in the next generation. The average reign of a male lion over a pride is usually 3 years. He is in his peak condition from 4 years to 9 years of age, and his authority is absolute over the plains of Africa!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tiger Subspecies

Here is a quick glance at tiger subspecies - some of their demographics etc:

Tiger DistributionRoyal Bengal Tiger

Weight: 450-650 lbs (Males)
205-400 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, India and Nepal.

Numbers in the Wild: 2500-3500

Indochinese Tiger

Weight: 320-440 lbs (Males)
230-320 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Numbers in the Wild: 1100-1600

Malayan Tiger

Weight: 300-410 lbs (Males)
210-310 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Malaysia.

Numbers in the Wild: 600-800

Sumatran Tiger

Weight: 210-290 lbs (Males)
150-200 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Sumatra.

Numbers in the Wild: 400-500

Amur Tiger

Weight: 450-800 lbs (Males)
350-500 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Siberia.

Numbers in the Wild: 450-550

South China Tiger

Weight: 275-400 lbs (Males)
210-265 lbs (Females)

Distribution: Presumably extinct from the Wild.

Numbers in the Wild: None (only 59 tigers held in captivity!)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tiger

TigerTyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?...


William Blake's 'The Tyger' is the most anthologized poem in all of English literature. Lord of the Jungle, tiger has captured human imagination through ages unlike any other creature.

Largest amongst all existing cats, tiger compares in size to the biggest feline fossils ever found. Named 'Panthera Tigris', tigers are characterized by their orange coat and black stripes, the pattern of which uniquely identifies each individual tiger. With a whitish belly, tiger's coat is designed to disperse their outline, aiding them in camouflage as they stalk their prey. Tigers generally weigh in a wide range - from two hundred and fifty to eight hundred pounds - depending on the individual subspecies and gender of the animal. Female Sumatran Tigers may weigh around two hundred seventy pounds, whereas adult male Siberian Tigers can be as heavy as eight hundred pounds. In fact the largest ever recorded Siberian Tiger in captivity weighed over one thousand pounds! The average length is between 2.5 to 3.5 meters, again subject to variation amongst subspecies.

The reason behind these size variations is evolutionary adaptation of the tiger to varying environments in different regions of the world. The large Amur tiger prowls over huge territories in Siberia, tackling massive prey animals and having to cope with bitter cold - thus evolving into the biggest tiger species with a thick fur. The Bengal Tiger comes next with its notoriety for great ferocity and occasional man-eating in the mangroves of Sundarban (more on that later!). In fact big male Bengal tigers, particularly those in northern India and Nepal, weigh close to the Siberian Tiger. Following are the Indochinese Tiger, Malayan Tiger, South China Tiger and Sumatran Tiger. The other three subspecies - the Caspian Tiger, Balinese Tiger and Javan Tiger have all gone extinct in the past century.

Apex predators, tigers are solitary hunters designed to take down huge prey animals. They are excellent stalkers and display great cunning in patiently pursuing and ambushing their prey. Despite their great size, they can reach speeds up to 60km/hr and leap up to 10 metres. The primary mode of attack is a sudden charge and leap to unbalance the animal. Next they use their muscular forearms to hold down the hunted whilst they severe their spine (or suffocate by crushing the windpipe in case of big animals like gaur and water buffalo) using their long canines and strong jaws. Even still only a fraction of the hunts are a success for the tiger. Therefore it eats a lot during one sitting once it makes a kill (usually every four or five days). Next it hides the carcass and usually returns to it over the next couple of days to devour the scraps. Usual prey is deer, buffalo, gaur. However a hungry tiger will go for anything from young elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, leopards, bears and even humans. Whereas conflicts between tigers and elephants are rare, tigers have been known to charge and maul Indian bull elephants. A tiger can climb to the back of the elephant in a single leap and viciously attack the tourists atop - as is often chronicled by historians of the British India.

Tigers are territorial animals and mark their domain in the forest by leaving scat and urine trails. Males are very defensive of their region and this frequently leads to conflict between individual tigers, leading to severe injury and even death. A male's territory frequently overlaps those of several females, to which he mates as they come in estrus. Pregnancy lasts for around three and a half months and usually four or five cubs are born. In the wild not all of these survive since the female is often not able to hunt enough to feed all of them as they depend on her for their food until one and a half years of age. Also randomly, other male tigers may kill the cubs to bring the female into heat.

Tiger Cub

Despite all its magnificence the tale of the tiger has been a sorry one over the past century. Their number in the wild has dwindled from over one hundred thousand to nearly seven thousand today, with the Bengal Tiger having the healthiest population among existing tiger species (thanks largely to an initiative by the Indian Government in the 1970's that led to 'Project Tiger', one of the more successful conservation programs worldwide). Still many are killed annually by poachers for use in Chinese traditional medicines that make ridiculous claim about the aphrodisiac and strengthening abilities of tiger parts - with no scientific evidence to back them. Others are threatened by habitat destruction and ever increasing human populations. Of the others, the South China tiger is in immediate threat of extinction owing to ruthless hunting in the 1960's when it was declared as a 'pest' by the then communist government. Despite the passage of a law protecting them in 1977, the few remaining tigers in China lack genetic biodiversity to sustain them as a specie.

There are some glimmers of hope though and NGOs and independent organizations all across the globe are taking many aggressive steps to tackle the issue of poaching as well as trying to establish new reserves in order to sustain tiger population in the wild (which at present is less than their numbers in captivity). One of the aims of this blog is also to highlight the conservation issues surrounding cats!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Interesting Cat Facts

Cat Facts Black PantherHere are some interesting cat facts!

Did you know?

All cats are born blind. The ability to see comes during the first couple of weeks after birth!

Cats have rudimentary non-functional collar bones that allow them to squeeze themselves through tight spaces and help them in their balance and stride!

Cats often have a third eyelid that is not normally visible to us. If you are seeing it more often - the cat may be ill!

Feline vision is similar to that of humans in daylight. However, cats can see six times better than us in dim light - owing to larger pupils and the ability to gather light at the back of the eye due to a reflective retinal surface!

Field of vision in cats is slightly compromised for a more binocular vision. This grants cats greater depth perception and also allows them to judge their prey's position more precisely for making an attack in high speed pursuits!

Cats' sense of smell is fourteen times stronger than ours - this means they can smell the odour in the litter box much earlier than us!

Cats have an acute hearing ability as well. They are able to hear sounds of a quite high pitch. Thirty two individual muscles in their ears allow them to pinpoint the exact location of a source of sound!

The individual positioning of whiskers is unique to all cats. Whiskers are like finger prints. They allow cats to feel their way in extreme dark and since their span, when fully erect, is nearly equal to a cat's body width - it allows the felid to judge whether a space or passage is too narrow for it.

Whiskers are also usually indicative of a cat's temperament. Erect, forward pointing whiskers indicate that the cat is excited and animated. Whereas laid back whiskers are often seen in resting, defensive animals.

Cats have sharp pointed teeth that are built for killing prey by crushing of windpipe or severing of spine. A cat's teeth are its greatest assets in the wild. In proportion to body size, the elusive Clouded Leopard has the longest canines in the family felidae, whereas the Jaguar has the strongest jaws - it can bite through the shell of a turtle!

Cats have more spines than us since they also have spines in their tail. Next time you see a kid pulling a cat's tail - stop him - since it hurts. Their vertebrae are also more loosely connected to each other than ours, allowing them great flexibility!

Flexibility of the spine is highlighted in the Cheetah - the fastest land mammal. With big adrenals, flexible spine and a rudder-like tail, Cheetahs can outpace everything on the African savanna!

Tiger is the largest feline on earth. An adult Siberian tiger may weigh up to eight hundred pounds and is one of the top predators on earth.

Tigers are excellent swimmers and are in fact the only big cats who seem to enjoy stepping in water (the Jaguar in Americas frequently goes into water to hunt baby alligators and anacondas)!

Lion is the only cat that lives in groups, called prides. Family life gives lions edge over other felids as they cooperate in hunting and rearing of their young!


Leopards are highly secretive and are perhaps the best tree climbers and individual hunters amongst big cats. Black leopards are called black panthers!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Big Cats

Big CatsBefore moving on to individual big cats, lets first establish what big cats are - i mean how are they differentiated from small cats...there is actually some argument on this issue in certain circles!

Generally speaking big cats are 1) Wild and 2) Considerably bigger than the small domestic or wild cats (a Siberian tiger for instance may be up to 100 times heavier than our 8 pound domestic feline).

Another commonly employed classifying method is the ability to roar. Big cats have an elongated larynx and elastic hyoid bone that enables them to roar (and prevents them from purring). Small cats are the opposite. Their hyoid bone is ossified, thus they are unable to roar, and may only purr.

Other interesting difference is the shape of pupils. All big cats have round pupils and small cats, apart from lynx, have slit-like pupils (exaggerated in bright light). Also big cats usually consume their meals lying down, apart from snow leopard, whereas house cats - as we all know- eat in a sitting position!

Many of the earlier classifications used to include only four species: Tiger, Lion, Jaguar and Leopard into big cats. However, today big cats are expanded to include also Cougar, Snow Leopard, Clouded Leopard and Cheetah. Despite significant differences in size in all the big and small cats, all felines are remarkably similar in their basic body make-up and sensory perceptions.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sterilization of Cats

Sterilization of CatWhile we are still at small cats, I thought I might as well discuss the issue of neutering here. Now we all love our cats and many of us would prefer them in their natural body form i.e. not subject them to any surgery or general anesthesia. But there is one procedure for which I really do recommend prompt and timely surgical intervention...sterilization of cats.

We all know by now the outcome of allowing uncontrolled breeding of cats (ferals...remember!). But apart from that sterilization of cats has several important benefits. And unless you are a serious breeder, I do suggest you consider the following:

Male cat - When your tom cat reaches puberty at nearly six months of age, he will start yearning for female companionship, and it's not his fault - it's only natural. He will meow at night, spray foul smelling urine all over the house aside from his litter box, and totally ignore all your attempts to control him, in short there will be a total change in his personality and it will continue...until you let him out! Once outside your tommy boy will be no match for the feral who have grown on their own and are much better hunters and fighters than your pet who never learned to fend for himself under your loving care. So when he's gonna eye female felines and try and establish his territory, he'll end up inevitably in a fight with another feral male - and return to you with a scratched face and scarred ego! You'll worry about him but there's not much you can do - he will go outside again - and this time may not return (as your domesticated pet he didn't even learn how to cross a street or avoid humans!) And you'll be left with heart break, uncomprehending...when all of this could be avoided by a simple procedure...neutering. The surgery is one of the simplest in all of veterinary medicine. Carried out under general anesthesia your pet will be discharged the same day and will have no adverse personality changes!

Female Cat - Here you have a lovely queen who adores you, rolls on your feet and shows affection for the whole family - until she reaches puberty (again at approximately six months). Now your sleep every night is disturbed by her constant yowling! She desperately wants to get out and meet a tom - and she can't help it...she's in heat. You try to soothe her but to no avail. Finally you let her out. She returns after a few days, relatively unharmed. However, she continues to venture outside periodically, much to your concern, where she is exposed to unhygienic conditions and diseases. A few months later she bears a litter of four kittens. Now you have a problem - what to do these with these new babies. This will continue every few months and your house will become crowded with cats, you will be left wondering if it's a good idea to keep pets? Again all of this could be avoided by a similar surgery...spaying (ovariohysterectomy). Your cat will no longer come in heat and will lead a happy, healthy life!

Even if the above does not motivate you enough, remember this, sterilization also reduces the risk of cancer in cats (testicular in males, ovarian in females!).

What's the right age for neutering? I'd say before puberty...around four months! No use letting the cat have one litter since they may only learn a behavioral trait that you don't want!

Feral Cats

Feral CatSo what's the deal with feral cats? why is there so much fuss about them and why are they considered to be such a huge burden upon environment and resources worldwide?

A feral creature is referred to as a wild, untamed, savage animal that has gone from a state of domestication to a wild presence. Feral cats are typically kittens of domestic cats that were left, disowned, discarded by their owners. Un-habituated to humans, they live in colonies in urban areas...in alleys, malls, garbage disposal areas etc. If they manage to stave off starvation and death from other predators like coyotes, foxes, dogs, they thrive and breed at a prodigious rate - producing over half a million offsprings in their lifespan. A burden on resources, millions are spent annually to control them.

There are two approaches commonly advocated to deal with this problem. One is merciless euthanasia of every captured feral. The other, which is more sensible and what I also advocate, is TNR i.e. Trap, Neuter and Return - this involves capturing the stray cats, neutering them and returning them to the area. This approach, apart from being more humane, is also more successful and cost-effective than repeated attempts at extermination since the area of killed cats is soon taken over by other ferals. During TNR, cats are also frequently immunized and one of their ears nicked to identify them as being inoculated and neutered.

Whilst feral cats have had devastating ecological influences on biodiversity of certain species like the extinction of huitas from the Caribbean and the Guadalupe Storm-petrel from Pacific Mexico, they are also believed to be of use in controlling over growth of populations of certain animal species. An example is their removal from Macquarie Island where the number of rats and rabbits grew exponentially and had harmful influences on local ecology including the native seabirds.

Debate is going to continue on feral cats and how to best deal with them, meanwhile the take home message for pet owners is to neuter their cats - not only to avoid having to deal with a litter of kittens every few months - but also for the health of the cats

Whereas general consensus is that feral cats can't be socialized beyond few weeks of age, I differ in view. Given compassionate care and food alongside a suitable environment, even ferals I believe will learn to love and trust you (as I have learned from personal experience). This is a picture of a feral female that attached closely to me and frequently used to come in my room through an open window, stayed and allowed herself to be petted!

Wild Cat

Wild cat
Ok so let's move on to the 'Wild cat', Felis Silvestris, with its several sub-species, the ancestor of our domestic cat. Despite its small size and timid nature (avoids contact with humans and their settlements), wild cat is a wonderful hunter. A solitary predator, it is very adaptable to differing environments and relies chiefly on birds and small mammals for prey. Found in Africa, Europe, Asia and The Americas, examples of wild cats include African and Asiatic Desert and Golden Cats, Bay Cat, Black-footed Cat, Bob Cat, Caracal, European Wild Cat, Fishing Cat, Flat-headed Cat, Jungle Cat, Sand Cat, Tiger Cat, Serval, Rusty-spotted Cat, Pampas Cat, Ocelot, Marbled Cat, Mountain Cat, Manul, Margay, Kodkod, Jaguarundi, Iriomote Cat, Geoffrey's Cat and Chinese Desert Cat.
For me the wild cat is most adorable and respectable among all cats, since without domestication and protection by humans, the wild cat has been able to survive and create a niche for itself in ecosystems around the globe despite its small size, alongside bigger and more dangerous predators.
Since they are so hard to get hold of, I've been unable to acquire a picture of wild cat yet, so for the moment this pic of a European Wild Cat from Wikipedia will have to do.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Domestic Cat Origin

Domestic CatNamed 'Felis Catus', the cat was first domesticated probably by ancient Egyptians, to rid their grains from rodents and mice, and is thus believed to be a descendant of the African wild cat 'Felis Silvestris'. A symbiotic relationship thereafter developed, with humans benefiting from riddance from pests and the cat enjoying fish and meat scraps offered to them by people. With time, cats garnered great respect and admiration from people, so much so that they were elevated to godly status and mummified and buried alongside people. Despite strict embargoes their export, cats found their way aboard ships and vessels and spread to virtually all habitable parts of the world.

Today cats are bred, groomed and kept as pets in nearly every country on earth. With a population in millions, good looks and keen senses, cats are here to stay ~ rest assured ~ cats are going nowhere!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ok so here we go!

Ok so here we go about cats. So who was the first cat...when did it all begin, in evolutionary terms? The first cats appeared on earth about 30 million years ago...in a period known as Oligocene, an era known for its lack of new evolutionary mammalian species during the time Greek ὀλίγος (oligos, few) and καινός (kainos, new). The start of the period is marked by a major extinction event, possibly caused by an asteroid impact in Siberia!
The cat then evolved into its 41 known species today, roughly 10.8 million years ago. Today the whole cat family is known as Felidae. The domestic cat is known as Felis Catus whereas the wild cat is called Felis Sylvestris. The closest known relatives of the feline include mongooses, civets and surprisingly hyenas (enemy no 1 of the top cat...lion). As the cats evolved, they migrated across land bridges millions of years ago, moving to all the continents of the world. After geological changes in earth's crust, cats continued to reside in their respective areas, exemplified by existence of lions and leopards along with other cats in Asia and Africa (and previously in Europe and America).
Ok enough about evolution and nerdy stuff! In the next post I'm gonna look at cats today, and what's going on with them!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Support Of Cats

Few people today know about all the thirty six species of wild cats remaining. Even fewer are aware of the threats the magnificent yet vulnerable felines are facing currently, with extinction of some of them being imminent. Before we can take action at community level and convince our governments to preserve our forests and their denizens, we need information. Spread the knowledge and message from Of Cats by proudly displaying these banners on your website or blog.

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Introduction

Hi,

This blog is about cats. All about cats. And just about cats. From their grace and magnificence to their plight in certain parts of the wild. From their pictures and conservation status to their lives amongst us as pets and predators. Ok.....so I am an ailurophile!