December 2012 Newsletter

Panthera’s Supporters Raise $1 MILLION (!) for Wild Cats on #GivingTuesday

Last week, Panthera reached out to our supporters and harnessed the power of social media to promote #GivingTuesday - a new international day of charitable giving on Tuesday, November 27th, that encourages meaningful gift-giving during the holiday season.

We are now thrilled to share that, thanks to the tremendous support of our fans, Panthera received a remarkable $500,000 in donations on #GivingTuesday! To top it off, every dollar donated has been generously matched.

This means that $1,000,000 will now go directly to the field to protect wild cats around the globe.

It's a wonderful time for wild cats thanks to you, and a fantastic start to the holiday giving season for Panthera, with 100% of funds raised going directly to support the critical, on-the-ground conservation work we do around the world.

All of us at Panthera are absolutely humbled and overwhelmed by the generosity of our supporters. We sincerely thank you for making a contribution that has gone twice as far, and for joining with us in our shared mission of saving cats in the wild. While this has been a monumental event for us, and we couldn’t have done this without you, our efforts never cease, nor does our need to continue to raise funds to support the critical work we do in over 50 countries to ensure a future for some of the most iconic species on the planet.

As a token of our appreciation, we invite you to download our 'double' wild cat photo desktop background! Click here to download your #GivingTuesday ‘thank you’ gift.

We would also like to thank the 92nd Street Y and the other major partners who organized and galvanized support for #GivingTuesday.

Watch our #GivingTuesday 'Thank You' Video

Be sure to check out Panthera’s Holiday Gift Packages and Online Store to give a gift this holiday that gives back to wild cats.

Read the Harvard Business Review’s article, ‘Using Social Media for Social Good,’ to hear Panthera’s Vice President, Andrea Heydlauff, explain the impact of #GivingTuesday for Panthera.

Press Release: New Study Reveals Lions Are Rapidly Losing Ground In Africa

Suitable Lion Habitat Reduced by 75% and Wild Lion Population Under Decline

New York, NY – A new study released this week confirms that lions are rapidly and literally losing ground across Africa’s once-thriving savannahs due to burgeoning human population growth and subsequent, massive land-use conversion. Representing the most comprehensive assessment of the state and vitality of African savannah habitat to date, the report maintains that the lion has lost 75% of its original natural habitat in Africa – a reduction that has devastated lion populations across the continent.

Co-authored by Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr. Philipp Henschel, and a team of researchers coordinated by Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, this report, entitled The size of savannah Africa: A lion’s (Panthera leo) view, was published online this week in the journal ‘Biodiversity and Conservation.’

Using Google Earth’s high-resolution satellite imagery, the study examined savannah habitat across Africa, which comprises the majority of the lion’s current range, and also analyzed human population density data to identify areas of suitable habitat currently occupied by lions. Incredibly, the analysis identified only 67 isolated regions across the continent where significant lion populations may persist. Of these areas, just 15 were estimated to maintain a population of at least 500 lions.

“The reality is that from an original area a third larger than the continental United States, only 25% remains,” explained Stuart Pimm, co-author and Doris Duke Chair of Conservation at Duke University.

The study also confirms that in West Africa, where the species is classified as Regionally Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, fewer than 500 lions remain, scattered across eight isolated regions.

A resident adult male lion photographed in Benin's Pendjari National Park during Panthera's survey of West Africa's last lion stronghold -- the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex, 2012.

“Lions have been hit hardest in West Africa, where local governments often lack direct incentives to protect them,” Dr. Henschel commented. “While lions generate billions of tourist dollars across Eastern and Southern Africa, spurring governments to invest in their protection, wildlife-based tourism is only slowly developing in West Africa. Currently lions still have little economic value in the region, and West African governments will require significant foreign assistance in stabilizing remaining populations until sustainable local conservation efforts can be developed.”

Luke Dollar, co-author and Grants Program Director of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI), which provided partial funding for this work, added, “This research is a major step in helping prioritize funding strategies for saving big cats.”

Earlier this year, Panthera became a scientific and strategic collaborator on the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative (BCI) to jointly address the most serious threats facing big cats in the wild and facilitate the direction of financial support to the most efficient and impactful conservation programs. Since then, with the support of the BCI, Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr. Henschel, has conducted a survey of West Africa’s last lion stronghold, the tri-national W-Arly-Pendjari Complex (located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger), whose findings will be soon published. 

Panthera also recently assessed the status of lion populations in all critical conservation areas of West Africa, and is currently involved in the development of a lion conservation strategy for the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex.

Read Panthera’s recent report, Illegal Hunting and the Bush-Meat Trade in Savanna Africa: Drivers, Impacts and Solutions to Address the Problem.

Read Panthera’s co-authored reports on the state of lions in West and Central Africa, Lion status updates from five range countries in West and Central Africa and 2011 Survey of Lion (Panthera leo) in Yankari Game Reserve and Kainji Lake National Park, Nigeria.

Download this press release.

Read the report in Biodiversity and Conservation.

Read about this report in The Guardian, "Big cat crisis: Africa's lions being crowded out by people."

Read about this report in The Washington Post, "Study: African lion population shrinks to 32,000."

Lion Photo Gallery

‘Tis the Season for Snow Leopard Cubs – A Video from the Field

Known as the ‘Roof of the World,’ the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan are situated at the intersection of several of Asia’s greatest mountain ranges, and fittingly may represent some of the richest habitat for ‘Asia’s Mountain Ghost’ – the elusive snow leopard.

Today, as many as 300 of the remaining 3,500-7,000 wild snow leopards are thought to live in the Tajik Pamirs – an area which provides a potentially critical link between the southern and northern regions of the snow leopard’s range, and may serve as a vital genetic corridor for the species.

Given the potential of this region as one of the world’s last snow leopard strongholds, Panthera recently carried out two extensive camera trap surveys in the Pamir Mountains, including one in Tajikistan’s Jartygumbez Istyk River region in collaboration with University of Delaware graduate student Shannon Kachel and the Tajik Academy of Sciences.

While reviewing photos from the survey’s 40 camera traps, our field staff recently uncovered incredible new images of a snow leopard mother and her two cubs, which we have made into a video. In true holiday form, the playful cubs are shown licking and pawing icicles, and attempting to climb a rock. Along with this entertaining footage, also included are stunning images of the snow leopard mother and one of her cubs inspecting the camera trap, their quizzical faces pressed up against the camera lens.

In addition to this special glimpse into the hidden lives of snow leopards, this footage also potentially indicates that a healthy, breeding snow leopard population exists in the Jartygumbez Istyk River region of Tajikistan, within a well-managed trophy hunting concession. These data are particularly positive for the region’s snow leopard population when paired with evidence gathered in the summer of 2011 of snow leopard cubs (stealing a camera trap) in the Zorkul region of Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains (a collaborative project with Fauna and Flora International), approximately 100 km south of the Jartygumbez Istyk River region.

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Currently, our scientists are reviewing all of the camera trap photos from the surveys to assess the size of the region’s snow leopard population and the significance of the Pamirs as a part of the snow leopard’s corridor. In addition, Panthera’s field staff and partners have collected snow leopard scat samples for diet analysis, are conducting surveys to evaluate the abundance of snow leopard prey species and are also assessing the management and impact of local trophy hunting concessions and nature reserves, which target snow leopard prey species.

Panthera’s scientists have identified poaching and unsustainable hunting of snow leopard prey, including ibex and Marco polo sheep, as a major threat to Tajikistan’s snow leopards. To address this issue, our field staff are working with local villagers and a trophy “prey” hunting expert to analyze the infrastructure and training needed to establish a community-based hunting program of prey species. Scheduled to begin in 2013, this program aims to better regulate the current unsustainable hunting of ibex and Marco polo sheep to conserve Tajikistan’s snow leopards, while bringing direct economic benefits to local villagers through tourism operations. Ultimately, if successful, Panthera hopes to use this community-based prey hunting program model to implement similar operations in other Central Asian countries.

Check back with us for updates on the development of this initiative in the New Year.

Learn more about Panthera’s work in Tajikistan, including helping to establish the Tajik Snow Leopard Action Plan, training Tajik biologists and other valuable conservation work.

Hope for Colombia’s Cubs: A New Litter of Jaguars

Earlier this year, the first ever photos of jaguars in a Colombian oil palm plantation taken with Panthera’s camera traps were released, including images of a female jaguar with cubs. Placed in the inter-Andean Magdalena River Valley, these camera traps were set to gather new data about the impact of Colombia's ever-increasing oil palm plantations on jaguars. And thanks to this insightful research, Panthera’s scientists were able to confirm that, at least in some cases, jaguars are willing to move through oil palm, which is a good thing for preventing genetic isolation of the species.

Since this discovery, Panthera’s jaguar scientists have continued to monitor this particular plantation and the surrounding region using 23 camera traps, hoping to capture more images to assess the movements and health of this family, and particularly that of the young and vulnerable cubs.

Recently, our scientists were thrilled to uncover two new photos of a jaguar mother and cub in a patch of unprotected forest just 3 km from the plantation. At first glance, this mother and cub resembled the family photographed earlier this year. However, on closer inspection, our scientists determined that these latest images feature a different jaguar family all together! Excitingly, this is the first time that two separate litters of wild jaguars have been photographed by Panthera.

In the image above, the jaguar cub, estimated to be approximately two months old, is shown walking in front of Panthera’s camera trap as its mother rests nearby. As you can see from its wet coat, this little cub had just emerged from a bath in a nearby stream. As the rosette patterns on jaguars’ coats are not symmetrical on either side of their bodies, our scientists are not yet able to confirm whether just one cub is captured in these images.

These camera trap photos are already informing Panthera’s jaguar scientists about the life story of the secretive jaguar, including the number of cubs born in the wild, their chances of surviving to adulthood and contributing to a healthy population, the age at which cubs reach independence and disperse, their ranges upon reaching adulthood, and other critical ecological data. Images of the two litters taken this year indicate that female jaguars in the region are giving birth to at least two cubs at the beginning of the year during the dry season.

A jaguar mother and cubs in a Colombian oil palm plantation. This photo won the Runner-Up Prize in the New Discoveries category of the 2012 BBC Wildlife Camera Trap Photos of the Year Awards.

Furthermore, these data are being used to glean information about the impact of habitat changes, like the development of oil palm plantations, on jaguars’ ability to travel and reproduce, and the survival of their prey species. The images taken earlier this year come from a small oil palm plantation adjacent to a protected area with some indigenous habitat present - perhaps the best case scenario for fostering jaguars in such monocultures. Using these data, Panthera’s jaguar scientists are working top-down with government officials and oil palm plantation owners to strategically shape the development of land that dually benefits Colombia’s economic growth and accounts for the needs of jaguars across their range.

Due to the elusive nature of the jaguar, this research is critical to understanding the state of the species, its threats, and how to best shape Panthera’s conservation programs, including the Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI) - a unique program that seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations from Argentina to Mexico within human-dominated landscapes, such as oil palm plantations, to preserve the species' genetic diversity. Cupped between Panama to the north and a handful of South American countries, Colombia holds the key to the jaguar's passage from Central America to South America.

With the Jaguar Corridor in place, cubs like those photographed can travel safely, leaving the care of their mothers to lay claim to new territory, and produce their own cubs, ensuring a future for the species across its range.

On top of this good news, we are happy to share that the photograph above of the jaguar mother and cubs taken in an oil palm plantation earlier this year recently won the Runner-Up Prize in the New Discoveries category of the 2012 BBC Wildlife Camera Trap Photos of the Year Awards! A stunning, close-up image of this jaguar mother inspecting Panthera’s camera trap, right, was also just featured in the December edition of National Geographic magazine. Click here to read the article.

Read Panthera’s Press Release – First Photos Ever of Jaguars in Colombian Oil Palm Plantation Taken with Panthera’s Camera Traps

Colombian oil palm plantation photos

Map of Colombia

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An Unlikely Mother: The First Reported Case of a Wild Leopard Cub Adoption

Unlikely adoption among animals, both wild and domestic, make for lighthearted and exceedingly popular news stories. Admittedly or not, most of us have gushed over viral videos and photos showing both inter and intraspecies adoptions, such as domestic dogs who have adopted orphaned piglets, or lionesses who have assumed responsibility for the young of another pride member.

Interestingly, while this phenomenon is common among mammals and frequently highlighted in the press, adoption among big cats in the wild occurs less often than one might expect. When reported, wild cat adoption is typically found in species that maintain extended, related social groups such as lionesses from the same pride or non-territorial, related cheetahs whose home ranges overlap. In addition, the occurrence of such adoption is typically uncovered remotely, by scientists tracking wild cats using GPS (Global Positioning System) collars or through genetic fingerprinting techniques.

Recently, however, Panthera’s Lion Program Director, Dr. Guy Balme, and President, Dr. Luke Hunter, along with Natasha de Woronin-Britz from the Erindi Leopard Project, co-authored a paper in the South African Journal of Wildlife Research on the first reported case of offspring adoption in a wild leopard, entitled A case of offspring adoption in leopards, Panthera pardus.

As explained in the report, in May of 2007, Natasha and several other safari guides from Londolozi Private Game Reserve in northeastern South Africa were fortunate to witness a 15-year-old leopard (known as the 3-4 female after the distinguishable row of spots above her whiskers, but for the sake of this story we will call “Umame”) adopt the 7-month-old male cub of her 9-year-old daughter, the ‘Dudley Riverbank female’. On this day, Umame, with her 4-month-old male cub, and the Dudley Riverbank female, with her two 7-month-old male cubs, were seen feeding intermittently on an impala kill. Upon leaving the kill, one of Dudley Riverbank’s cubs voluntarily, and for no apparent reason, joined Umame and her younger cub! Although the Dudley Riverbank female was heard calling for her youngster after it disappeared, she did not attempt to reclaim her cub, and neither mother appeared overly concerned at the time.

Over the next several years, observations by the Londolozi guides confirmed that after its adoption, the cub was cared for solely by its new mother for just under two years, when it reached independence. Encouragingly, of the three male cubs born to Umame and her daughter, two successfully survived to adulthood and dispersed naturally. Since then, both males have established territories in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, in which the Londolozi Reserve is located, and have sired their own litters. After 17 years, during which she gave birth to 11 litters comprising 19 cubs (four of which survived to independence), Umame died naturally of old age in 2009. Her daughter, the Dudley Riverbank female, has since raised another male cub to independence and is busy rearing a new 9-month-old female cub, ensuring the future of Umame’s blood line.

Adopted leopard cub (left) with Umame’s younger, biological cub – Londolozi Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Interestingly, while one might think such selfless behavior would fall under the category of ‘animal altruism,’ many scientists maintain that such alloparental care, or the provision of care to another’s offspring, is motivated by kin selection. First addressed by Charles Darwin in ‘The Origin of Species,’ the concept of kin selection refers to an individual’s self-sacrificing behavior that allows for the evolution of characteristics, or genes, that implicitly serve the interests of that individual, including the survival of its close relatives, even with the potential of harm to the individual.

Several factors suggest that this case of offspring adoption was also motivated by kin selection. To begin with, Umame had previously given birth to 11 litters, and therefore was not likely to benefit from additional parental experience gained in raising her daughter’s cub. In addition, upon reaching independence, the adopted cub dispersed from Umame’s range without providing any apparent reciprocal benefits, such as social or nutritional support, to Umame or her biological cub. It’s also unlikely that Umame mistook the adopted cub as her own, particularly due to the difference in size between the biological and adopted cubs. Umame also willfully fostered her daughter’s cub despite the potential drawbacks in doing so, which included reducing her fertility and triggering competition between her adopted and biological offspring.

Furthermore, prior to the adoption, the Dudley Riverbank female had given birth to three litters comprising six cubs, none of which survived to independence. As a result, it’s likely that the Dudley Riverbank female’s unsuccessful history in raising litters and the decreased energetic demands associated with abandoning one of her cubs contributed to the adoption.

Overall, this case has provided wild cat scientists with significant insights into the factors impacting leopards’ reproductive capabilities, and suggests that adoption among solitary carnivores may be more common than previously thought. In order to gain an even better understanding of the reproductive capabilities of leopards, Panthera has been working with safari guides from Londolozi and other lodges in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve to aggregate leopard life history data that has been collected over the years. Collaboratively, they have now successfully reconstructed the life histories of more than 400 individual leopards from at least 15 matrilines and over 200 litters – an impressive dataset that stretches over 30 years.

Thanks to these efforts, our understanding of leopard ecology has considerably improved. In addition, these demographic data have helped Panthera's field staff gauge the effects of trophy hunting on leopard populations and convince several African governments, including South Africa, to enforce stricter, more sustainable leopard hunting regulation. Records from SSGR have also helped Panthera’s scientists determine the effects of the faux leopard skin trade on leopard populations in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, which is being used to engage leaders of the Shembe church and Zulu royal family to ensure that cultural practices using leopard skins are sustainable in the long term.

Panthera is extremely grateful to all the guides at the Londolozi Private Game Reserve who provided information on this adoption and the events that followed; notably, James Kydd, Maxine Gaines, Brent Leo-Smith, and Kate and Tom Irmie. The research on leopard ecology in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is a collaborative partnership between Panthera, the different ecotourism lodges in the reserve, and the Sabi Sand Wildtuin management team.

Learn more about Panthera’s work in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve:

Learn more about Panthera’s Munyawana Leopard Project.

Watch a National Geographic television series starring Umame, entitled “Leopard Queen.”

Photo Gallery

‘Man and Beast’ Film Featuring the Life of Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, Chosen as Vimeo Staff Pick

‘Man and Beast,’ a beautifully shot short film by Canon that portrays the life and early conservation career of Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, was recently selected as a Vimeo ‘Staff Pick’ – an honor bestowed upon exceptional videos representing Vimeo’s ‘best of’. Since ‘Man and Beast’ made the Staff Pick several weeks ago, it has already been viewed over 54,000 times on Vimeo!

Produced with a new and technologically advanced Canon Cinema EOS camera, this short film tells the story of Dr. Rabinowitz’s childhood, how he faced and overcame a debilitating stutter and how he promised that when he found his voice, he’d use it to speak for animals.

Watch ‘Man and Beast’ below.

Watch ‘Man and Beast’ on Vimeo.

Click here to watch ‘Behind the Scenes’ clips from the making of ‘Man and Beast,’ including comments from Producer Dante Ariola.

Listen to the Moth’s ‘Man and Beast’ podcast to hear Dr. Rabinowitz tell the story of his childhood that inspired this Canon film.

Carnivores of the World Field Guide Published in German and French

Two new editions of the latest, acclaimed book by Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter - Carnivores of the World: A Field Guide – have recently been published in German and French. Originally released in English in October of 2011, Carnivores of the World is the first comprehensive field guide to all 245 terrestrial species of true carnivores, from the majestic polar bear and predatory wild cats to the tiny least weasel – an animal small enough to squeeze through a wedding ring.

Written for all audiences, this user-friendly book provides the most current, scientific overview of each carnivore species, including detailed accounts of species’ key identification features, their distribution and habitat, feeding ecology, behavior, social patterns, reproduction and demography, lifespan, mortality, threats and conservation status. Illustrated by well-known wildlife artist, Priscilla Barrett, the book also features 86 color plates depicting every species, and numerous subspecies.

Carnivores of the World is a fitting read for anyone interested in carnivores and wildlife, including students, professional biologists, or wildlife tourists. As the holiday season begins, consider purchasing your copy of Carnivores of the World in English, German or French.

As with the English edition of Carnivores of the World, all species maps from the latest German and French editions are hosted on Panthera’s website. Click here to access the species maps.

Carnivores of the World was chosen as a 2011 Best Reference Science Book by Library Journal. Click here to read the review.

Watch an interview with Dr. Hunter on the content and creation of Carnivores of the World.

Watch a 10 minute interview with Dr. Hunter on Carnivores of the World.

Panthera’s Vice President, Andrea Heydlauff, Interviewed by Sanctuary Cub Magazine

Panthera’s Vice President, Andrea Heydlauff, recently sat down for an interview with Sanctuary Cub – a children’s nature magazine dedicated to fostering love and appreciation for the wild and emphasizing the importance of conservation among kids.

Read Andrea’s interview to learn how she became passionate about protecting wildlife, her career in wildlife conservation, including the incredible wild places she has visited over the years, Andrea’s inspiring advice for young women interested in conservation, and her thoughts on the critical role that children play in the future of the world’s wildlife.

Sanctuary Cub Magazine was born of Sanctuary Asia Magazine, India’s leading wildlife, conservation and environment magazine.

Get your subscription to Sanctuary Cub Magazine and Sanctuary Asia Magazine now.

Photo of the Month

Click to Enlarge

A snow leopard scent-marking in the snow, China’s Qinghai province.
Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.

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