August 2011 Newsletter

Panthera Releases First Known Footage of African Golden Cat

A team led by Panthera Kaplan scholar and graduate student, Laila Bahaa-el-din, in Gabon has captured the first known footage of one of the least known and most elusive wild cats on earth – the African golden cat. This exclusive footage was taken with cameras set as part of a research project to understand how African golden cats are affected by different levels of human activity, such as logging and hunting, which are prevalent across forested Africa. The African golden cat is found only in the forests of Central and West Africa, and grows to the size of a bobcat, weighing between 5-16 kilograms. Very few western scientists have observed the living animal in the wild and to Panthera’s knowledge, there are no African golden cats currently in captivity anywhere in the world. Almost all records of the African golden cat consist of photographs taken by remote camera traps, or of dead animals (usually killed by local hunters).

Watch the videos and read the CNN article, "Scientists capture rare video of elusive African cat"

In fact, in 2002 a camera trap set by Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Philipp Henschel, took the first wild photo of a living African golden cat, featured below. Dr. Henschel is also credited with taking the first handheld photos of an African golden cat in 2003 (also below). The rare camera trap images show the two distinct color phases of the species - one being a rich red-brown and the other being a light grey, with variable spotting. This newly obtained footage shows what Panthera believes to be a young adult male of the grey phase with a very rich spotting pattern.

Panthera currently is funding two Kaplan Scholars to carry out African golden cat studies to unravel the mysteries of the species at two extremes of its range. In addition to Laila’s project in Gabon where leopards are still widespread, Kaplan Scholar and graduate student David Mills is working on the species in Uganda’s Kibale Forest where the golden cat is the region’s top predator since the local extinction of the leopard. The scientific data obtained through Laila’s and David’s projects will be invaluable to Panthera’s efforts to implement effective conservation initiatives on behalf of this rare species.

Donate and help Panthera save wild cats around the globe.

Read the Mongabay article, ‘Africa's least known cat caught on video.’

New Study Sheds Light on Threats Facing Leopards in the Congo Basin Rainforest

A new study led by Panthera Lion Program Survey Coordinator and leopard expert, Dr. Philipp Henschel, in cooperation with the Universities of Oxford, Stirling and Göttingen, has identified a new threat to Africa’s dwindling leopard populations: direct competition with human bushmeat hunters for the same food. Henschel’s study of leopards in the Congo Basin rainforest, published in the September issue of the Journal of Zoology, suggests that bushmeat hunting by people may drive declines in leopard numbers by removing their food base - in ecological jargon, exploitative competition for prey. The study established for the first time that leopards and bushmeat hunters are targeting exactly the same prey species, medium-sized herbivores such as forest antelopes and bush pigs (like red river hogs). At sites where prey was scarce due to uncontrolled bushmeat exploitation, leopard densities were less than a quarter of their density in well protected sites, even though all other factors were equal. In the most hunted site, Henschel’s team could find no evidence of leopards at all.

View photos of leopards, bushmeat hunters, and their prey.

“Human populations throughout the Congo Basin rely primarily on bushmeat for their protein requirements so the implications of our findings are immense.” said Philipp Henschel, who works as Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator as well as being the organization’s expert on forest leopards. “While leopards can hang on in forests with moderate levels of hunting, they are forced to switch their diets to smaller, less preferred prey species and they cannot reach their normal densities. We don’t fully understand the implications of this, but I can imagine this scenario making things very difficult for a female leopard to reproduce- she might be able to keep herself alive but finding a mate and providing for cubs could be hugely challenging.”

The study is compelling for clearly demonstrating that leopards do not have to be directly targeted by hunters to affect their numbers. In fact, in the worst site documented by Henschel, leopards had local totemic value and were protected from hunting; but, overhunting of their prey was what likely led to their local extinction at that site.

“Philipp’s study is a sobering example of the ‘Empty Forest’ phenomenon. You can have intact, old growth forest that looks basically pristine but is so heavily hunted that there are few large mammals- and no top carnivores at all. It clearly demonstrates the necessity of strictly protected forests where absolutely no bushmeat exploitation occurs,” said Panthera President Luke Hunter, who co-authored the new paper. “Even well-managed logging concessions- those that prohibit their employees from hunting, and actually enforce those rules- can help leopards and their prey. The Congo Basin is one of the most important strongholds for leopards remaining in Africa; it is essential that we find ways to address the massive trade in bushmeat if we want to keep it that way.”

Read the full press release.

Read the Mongabay article, ‘Leopards Losing Out to Bushmeat Hunters in Competition for Prey.’

Cattle Ranchers: Costa Rica’s Conservationists

By Panthera's MesoAmerica Jaguar Coordinator, Roberto Salom-Pérez

Contrary to what some people may think about the relationship between ranchers and jaguars in Central and South America, some of Panthera’s most trusted partners in conservation are cattle ranchers. This is particularly the case in Costa Rica where Panthera is working to protect the jaguar by partnering with local ranchers to mitigate human-jaguar conflicts. Our team’s recent work with Marito Umaña, a local dairy farmer, to resolve a calf predation case is a prime example of the collaborative conservation work Panthera is carrying out with local communities in Costa Rica.

As a traditional dairy farmer, Marito (meaning small Mario) gets up very early each morning to milk his cows, and does this again in the afternoon before he travels the 4-5 km home on foot and by motorcycle. Recently, Marito shared with me that on a typical afternoon, as he was walking to his pasture to milk his cows, he noticed that the birds which normally sing so loud were uncharacteristically quiet. Marito explained that at that moment, he remembered that he had left his three young Jersey calves tied up in the pasture to be sure they wouldn’t wander away and get lost.

He then adjusted the milk tank on his shoulder and began to walk a bit faster; his dog, always attentive, did the same, but soon stopped and began to bark. As he walked through the pasture, Marito sadly came upon his three calves, then deceased, (photos left and below).

Unfortunately, it is often assumed by local communities that jaguars are responsible for attacks on ranchers’ livestock, like this one. However, after Marito contacted Panthera to investigate the scene the next morning, our team concluded that the three calves had been attacked by a cougar, or puma, rather than a jaguar.

Although we couldn´t locate the typical bite marks on the calves, we did find that they were covered with grass, which is a predation characteristic only demonstrated by cougars. Our team then set up camera traps in the area in hopes of capturing images of the responsible cougar if it returned. These images would help Panthera monitor the cougar’s movements if other attacks were to occur on nearby farms.

See this Jaguar Predation Technical Manual for more details.

Later, we spoke with Marito to learn more about how he manages his farm and cattle, and details about any cases of predation that occurred in the past. Based on what Marito told me, we knew there were several simple methods that he could use to better protect his cattle. We shared 10 examples of these methods with Marito, taken from this Guide, ‘General Recommendations for Coexistence between Wild Cats and Cattle.’

Also provided in Spanish.

As I’ve heard from many farmers in the area, Marito explained that he did not want to kill the cougar responsible for the attacks, but that because his farm is his livelihood, he cannot afford to sustain any further losses. Since Marito lives far from his farm and cannot move his most vulnerable cattle to a safer area near his home, we agreed that the best solution would be to build a predator-proof enclosure for his cattle, for which Marito would provide the wood and Panthera would supply the zinc roof plates.

Our cat-cattle coexistence team, led by Daniel Corrales, was involved in a similar project last year to help build an enclosure on a farm in San Carlos where a jaguar had been attacking livestock. Since the building of the enclosure, this farm has had no further attacks and our team even found jaguar pugmarks, or foot prints, near the enclosure, confirming that the cat was still alive and unable to breach the corral!

Read the newsletter story about this enclosure, ‘Panthera’s Guide to Building a Livestock Corral.’

Several days later, we retrieved images from the camera traps and confirmed the identity of the attacker – a cougar, featured in the photo to the left. The other images we obtained gave us a fascinating look at the other species, including coyotes and vultures, that typically scavenge on victims of predation after the attacker has left.

Our team has since showed these images to Marito and advised him to bury or burn any future predation victims in order to help discourage coyotes and other scavengers from attacking his livestock, and to prevent the spread of disease to other cattle.

See additional camera trap photos here.

As we work to build Marito’s new livestock enclosure, the Panthera Costa Rica team is testing additional strategies that may prevent further attacks from big cats on livestock, and we hope to soon have successful solutions to share. Regardless, Panthera absolutely needs the help of local conservation-minded cattle ranchers to dually protect their livelihoods and the jaguar with which they share their homes. Marito’s efforts to inform and devise a solution to the problem with Panthera, rather than seeking immediate retaliation (potentially on a jaguar), shows that human-jaguar conflicts in Costa Rica can be mitigated. This case also demonstrates the positive and reliable reputation that Panthera has earned through years of community-based work as the go-to wild cat conservation organization in Costa Rica. The Panthera Costa Rica team would like to give a special thanks to Marito and all the conservationist-cattle ranchers that are working to ensure that ranching and jaguar conservation coexists.

Learn more about Panthera’s work in Costa Rica and other jaguar range states through the Jaguar Corridor Initiative.

Visit the Panthera Costa Rica website in Spanish.

Read the Technical Manual - "People and Jaguars: A Guide for Coexistence"

Panthera Film ‘My Pantanal’ Selected as Finalist for Best Children’s Program at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival

Panthera’s film ‘My Pantanal’ has just been selected as one of three finalists in the Best Children’s Program category at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Told through the eyes of a little boy living in the Brazilian Pantanal, Panthera’s film shows what it is like to live and work in a landscape teeming with wildlife, including the jaguar, and shows how cowboys and Panthera's scientists are working together through the Pantanal Jaguar Project to show that ranching and jaguar conservation can coexist in this landscape.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival is renowned as the world’s most prestigious international wildlife film competition, and this year a record 510 films from over 30 countries were submitted for 22 award categories. The 2011 award winners will be selected by a panel of judges before the conference, to be held in Grand Teton Park from October 3rd-7th, and will be announced at a Gala celebration on Thursday, October 6th.

My Pantanal is the first film project fully produced by Panthera, and is part of our conservation media efforts. Panthera aims to create cost effective, relevant, and inspired media that is rooted in conservation for local and wider audiences. My Pantanal is currently being produced in Portuguese so it can target its primary audience, people living in the Pantanal with jaguars.

Panthera is also delighted to share that during the conference, Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz will receive the 2011 Jackson Hole Lifetime Achievement in Conservation and Science Award. Learn more about Dr. Rabinowitz’s decades-long career as one of the founding fathers of the wild cat conservation field here.

Learn more about the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

Learn more about My Pantanal.

Panthera’s Latest Press

Panthera’s global wild cat conservation initiatives have recently been featured in a variety of top-tier international news outlets. In case you missed it:

Save the Tiger Fund-Panthera Fall 2011 Grant Round Open

Panthera has just opened the Fall 2011 intake round for the Save the Tiger Fund-Panthera grant program and is encouraging all appropriate candidates to apply now through September 30th. Last month, Panthera and Save the Tiger Fund announced their partnership in the fight to save wild tigers, and through this union have committed to leverage resources & co-fund tiger conservation projects that adhere to a comprehensive tiger conservation protocol (Rabinowitz, 2009) that reflects the Tigers Forever philosophy. This philosophy maintains a razor-sharp focus on securing the most significant, breeding wild tiger populations by effectively mitigating the key threats they face and proving conservation success through scientific measurement and monitoring.

Today, poaching for the illegal wildlife market is the predominant threat facing tigers, along with a lack of wild prey due to overhunting by humans and habitat loss as a result of human encroachment on tiger habitat. Scientists estimate that as a result of these threats, fewer than 3,200 wild tigers at best exist throughout their range in Asia. Through our partnership, Save the Tiger Fund and Panthera will support leading tiger conservationists utilize best practices and proven strategies to help secure a future for wild tigers.

Interested applicants should visit the STF-Panthera Grant Program page for application forms and further information about grant requirements.

Learn more about Tigers Forever.

Learn more about the Save the Tiger Fund-Panthera partnership.


Scientific Publications

See more Scientific Publications

Upcoming Events

  • Saving the Jaguars Lecture by Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz - September 15.
    View Event.
  • Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival - October 3-7. View Event.

  • Newseum Exhibition: Steve Winter's POYi Award-Winning Photos - Through October 31.
    View Event.

  • The Moth Town Hall Storytelling Celebration with Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz - November 2. View Event.

  • Steve Winter National Geographic Lecture: On the Trail of the Tiger - November 30.
    View Event.