January 2012 Newsletter

An Unexpected Camera Trap Thief in Tajikistan
(Caught on Camera!)

It’s no secret that big cats, just like their distant cousin, the domestic house cat, are characteristically curious, particularly when it comes to Panthera’s camera traps. Wild cats and other wildlife are naturally intrigued (and sometimes even spooked) when they pass through camera traps’ infrared sensors and trigger flashes of light, or spot the glowing, red light emitted by some of Panthera’s camera trap models. Most of the time, these cats react by taking a closer, quizzical look at the camera traps, and sometimes they sniff, paw and even ‘mark’ or spray Panthera’s camera traps to identify their territories.

As shown in the photos and videos below, this is especially true of snow leopards and other wildlife living in the Zorkul region of Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, where Panthera, lead by Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy, is carrying out a camera trap survey with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) to learn more about the conservation status and activities of snow leopards and their prey in this region. In fact, as many as 300 of the remaining 3,500-7,000 wild snow leopards are thought to live in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, which provide a potentially critical link between the southern and northern regions of snow leopard range and may serve as a vital corridor for genetic interchange.

Click to Enlarge

While recently retrieving stored digital images from 11 camera traps set up last July throughout this area, Panthera’s snow leopard biologist, Nosirsho "Nosir" Kimatshoev, however, was shocked to find that one of the study’s camera traps had been stolen. (Typically, camera trap thefts occur in Latin America and Asia where jaguars and tigers live in very close proximity to human populations in warm climates; these thefts rarely occur in the much more sparsely populated range of the snow leopard.)

Luckily, Panthera and FFI’s scientists had set up two camera traps at this location to capture photographs of the spot patterns on each side of passing snow leopards, and identify individual cats by these unique patterns. While reviewing film from the second camera trap, Nosir discovered a photograph revealing that the culprit was a sneaky snow leopard cub! As far as we know, this is the first documented incident of a snow leopard stealing a camera trap (and he or she has now been added to Panthera’s Most Wanted List)!

Although this study has lost one camera trap, the good news is that in just two months the Panthera-FFI survey photographed four or five snow leopards (including two cubs) living in one valley system, potentially indicating a healthy, breeding snow leopard population in the Zorkul region of Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains. Furthermore, Panthera’s scientists were pleased to find several photos of snow leopard prey species, including Marco Polo sheep and ibex. Threat assessment surveys conducted in May of 2010 revealed that a decline in snow leopard prey populations due to illegal poaching and poorly managed trophy hunting was significantly threatening snow leopard populations in the Pamir Mountains.

Be sure to check back with us for updates on this project and the whereabouts of the missing camera trap.

Camera Trap Videos and Photos

Video of snow leopard stealing camera trap.

Media Coverage


  • Learn more about Panthera’s snow leopard conservation work in Tajikistan, including the development of Tajikistan’s National Snow Leopard Action Plan in partnership with Tajikistan’s Academy of Sciences.
  • Sponsor a Camera Trap: A minimum gift of $1,000 provides you with first hand access to the images captured by one of Panthera’s camera traps.
  • See more camera trap videos of curious cats caught on camera.
  • Trekking with Tom: Follow in Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy’s, footsteps as he travels through Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains and India’s Himalayas in search of the elusive “mountain ghost” and embarks on conservation strategies Panthera must employ to protect this rare and endangered species.

Panthera Co-Authored Study Evaluates Significance of African Lions for the Trophy Hunting Industry

While the lion is revered as one of Africa’s most iconic animals, its numbers have plummeted in recent years. Africa’s lions have also been eliminated from over 80% of their historic range and it is estimated that well under 30,000 wild lions remain. Persecution of lions, loss of wild prey due to illegal hunting by humans, and habitat loss and fragmentation are responsible for this downturn.

Recently, several studies have also determined that poorly managed commercial trophy hunting of lions represents yet another threat to the species. Due to their incredible size and beautiful manes, mature males are preferred by hunters. However, the removal of resident ‘pride males’ disrupts social balance, often leading to accelerated rates of infanticide in which trophy-hunted male lions are replaced by new male lions who kill the pride’s cubs in order to speed up estrus in females and spread their unique genes. Where hunting is poorly managed, the combined effect of killing males and infanticide can have serious impacts on lion populations.

These findings have resulted in increasing pressure for the listing of lions on both the US Endangered Species Act and CITES Appendix 1, and for restrictions on the import of lion trophies into the European Union. These restrictions would likely greatly curtail trophy hunting of lions and so reduce negative impacts of hunting on lions. However, such restrictions would also remove financial incentives for lion conservation from hunting. In principle, revenue generated by hunting can protect large areas of wilderness and avoid conversion to other uses such as agriculture and livestock. But with potential negative impacts on lions from hunting, it is imperative to objectively evaluate both the risks and contribution of hunting.

Recently, a team of Panthera’s scientists, including Lion Program Director, Dr. Guy Balme, Policy Coordinator Dr. Peter Lindsey, and PhD candidate and Kaplan grantee, Neil Midlane, evaluated the potential economic impact of these restrictions on the trophy hunting industry, and the potential subsequent impact on lion conservation. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE, and posted on USA Today’s ScienceFair Forum.

The study suggested that blanket restrictions on the trade in lion trophies could potentially make trophy hunting economically unviable across an area of 60,000 km2 in total, about 4 times the size of the Serengeti National Park. That represents only about 11% of the area in which lions are currently hunted. There is a risk that this 60,000 km2 would be lost if lion hunting was banned outright, most of which is in Tanzania (44,000km2), which is significant, although not nearly as much as expected.

If trophy hunting became less viable in such areas, there is a risk that those lands would be turned over to alternative land use options which may be less favorable for lion conservation. An alternative to imposing blanket restrictions on the trade in lion trophies is to regulate lion hunting far more strictly, and ensure that quotas are capped at very conservative levels that are likely to sustain healthy lion populations. If lion quotas were set at a maximum of 0.5 individuals per 1,000 km2, the trophy hunting industry would likely retain sufficient economic returns across the great majority of land in which hunting is currently permitted, but avoid the negative impacts to the larger lion population, resulting in a potential net gain for conservation. These quotas would need to be rigorously monitored and altered based on fluctuations in the size of lion populations. In addition, minimum age limits on trophy-hunted lions would also need to be enforced to avoid disrupting the social balance in lion prides.

While Panthera’s scientists accept that trophy hunting of lions can generate incentives for the retention of wildlife, there is an urgent need for a far more conservative approach that reduces the risks to lions of unsustainable practices. To achieve that scenario, there is a need for urgent action from all stakeholders, and especially from the hunting industry to ensure that off-takes are reduced where necessary. In the absence of such interventions, trophy hunting of lions will do more harm than good.

Read the scientific publication to learn more about this study’s fascinating results.

Lion hunting is a complicated and controversial issue, which Panthera feels requires significant reform based on science. Read an explanation by Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter, on Panthera’s approach to this issue using scientific data to objectively evaluate hunting.

View a gallery of Panthera’s African lion photos.

Learn more about Panthera's Project Leonardo.

Learn more about Panthera's Lion Guardians Program.

Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, Discusses How to Successfully Save Big Cats on TreeHugger Radio

Listen to a TreeHugger Radio interview with Panthera’s CEO and big cat expert, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, to learn about the state of big cats and the increasing threats they face through direct hunting, loss of their prey due to overhunting by humans and the destruction and fragmentation of their natural habitats.

Hear Dr. Rabinowitz explain why the traditional wildlife conservation paradigm, which involves setting up isolated reserves and ‘protected’ parks, cannot save the world’s wild cats. Learn about the alternative and successfully-proven conservation approach that Panthera is taking by securing corridors that protect and connect wild cats and how Panthera is mitigating cat-human conflicts and improving the lives of people who share their homes with these incredible animals.

Listen to the podcast below:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

Learn more about Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative.

Learn more about Panthera’s Tiger Corridor Initiative.

The Elusive Bay Cat Confirmed in Borneo’s Highlands

One of the world’s least-known and most endangered wild cats, the bay cat, has been photographed by Panthera grantees Jedediah Brodie (Universiti Malaysia Sabah/ University of British Columbia) and Anthony Giordano (S.P.E.C.I.E.S/Texas Tech University). Their photograph is the first record of this very elusive cat in the Borneo highlands, at 1460 meters (approximately 4,800 feet). The records add to our very limited knowledge of the species, which was photographed alive for the first time only in 1998 and where most previous records are from dense lowland forest under 800 meters (approximately 2,600 feet).

The bay cat only occurs on the island of Borneo (which comprises three countries, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia). Around the size of a large domestic cat, the bay cat has two distinct color phases, rich, rusty-red and grey with red undertones. Until recently, the species has never been the focus of intensive scientific research. Brodie’s and Giordano’s work is part of Panthera’s commitment to initiate and support research into the world’s least known cat species. Panthera also cooperates with Oxford University’s WildCRU on a project led by Andrew Hearn and David Macdonald which has photographed the bay cat on 28 occasions, perhaps the largest number of records in existence. Hearn and collaborator Joanna Ross were also the first to film the species with a video camera trap in 2007.

Map of Bay Cat Range and Protected Areas

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The new photographs are the first record of the bay cat for the recently established Pulong Tau National Park within Malaysian Borneo’s Kelabit Highlands. The camera traps also revealed a stunning wealth of other wildlife, including the Sunda clouded leopard, marbled cat, banded civet and sun bear, all of which are listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Brodie explained that "We've never known conclusively whether the bay cat occurred at this high an elevation. Our record is an important contribution to existing knowledge of this unique and elusive species, and to this amazing ecosystem." Giordano added that "Although Borneo’s lowland forests are without question a primary regional conservation concern, we are only beginning to learn the wealth of biodiversity that these highland regions harbor. The fact that we now know the bay cat occurs here could change the way we approach future efforts to locate it."

Illustration of bay cat in grey form and red form.
© Priscilla Barrett

Despite the elevation and remoteness of Borneo’s Kelabit Highlands, the biodiversity of this region remains threatened by both legal and illegal logging for palm oil plantations and other developments, and Pulong Tau National Park is a region that is really only protected ‘on paper’. As Brodie explained, "This is a 'paper park' for sure, currently with no budget, no infrastructure, and no staff, including no park rangers. Given that we have recorded such a rich mammal fauna, we urgently need to see that it receives the additional scientific attention and protection it deserves."

Read a Mongabay article on this discovery – Borneo’s most elusive feline photographed at unexpected elevation.

Watch a camera trap video of the Bornean bay cat.

For more information on Panthera’s grant programs supporting projects on little known cats like the bat cay, see Panthera's Small Cat Action Fund.

Bornean Bay Cat Photo Gallery

Press Release: Panthera and National Geographic to Collaborate on Saving the World’s Big Cats

Washington, D.C. – Panthera, the world's leading organization devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world's 37 wild cat species, and the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative (BCI) have formed an important collaboration to further the global fight to save big cats in the wild.

Officials from Panthera and the National Geographic Society signed a Memorandum of Understanding designating Panthera as a scientific and strategic collaborator on the BCI. The collaboration will facilitate the development and implementation of global conservation strategies for the most imperiled cats around the world, including tigers, lions, leopards and cheetahs. To help guide strategy, an advisory group composed of representatives from each organization has been established.

The advisory group members are Panthera CEO Alan Rabinowitz, BCI Grants Committee Chair Thomas Lovejoy and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dereck Joubert, who, with Beverly Joubert and National Geographic, founded BCI. As part of this effort, the BCI also will utilize the expertise of Panthera's premier cat biologists, who will provide scientific and strategic advice on conservation projects supported by the BCI.

"Panthera's relationship with the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative presents a great opportunity for us to collaborate on new projects that conserve the world's big cats and their ecosystems and ensure their survival for years to come," said Rabinowitz. "National Geographic serves as a unique and unmatched mechanism for media outreach, broadcasting conservation stories about wild cats around the globe."

"Panthera represents the most comprehensive effort of its kind in wild cat conservation," said Terry Garcia, National Geographic's executive vice president for Mission Programs. "The big cats of the world need our help, and a scientific collaboration between the Big Cats Initiative and Panthera is a significant step forward in our efforts to save endangered cat species around the world."

Panthera’s 2011 Year in Review Report

Panthera has produced a ‘2011 Year in Review’ Report to keep our loyal supporters up to date on the exciting wild cat conservation achievements our team has made over the last twelve months.

Read the report and learn how Panthera and Save the Tiger Fund (STF), two of the most influential and successful tiger conservation groups, joined forces this past year to increase critical resources available for strategic tiger conservation. Find out about Panthera’s work with our partner, Living with Lions, to expand the Lion Guardians program to three new sites in Tanzania and Zimbabwe in 2011, thanks to support from the Liz and Art Ortenberg Foundation.

Panthera made incredible grounds last year unraveling mysteries about the world’s most elusive cat, the snow leopard, largely due to our long-term monitoring program with the Snow Leopard Trust in Mongolia; and read about advances made in defining and securing the Jaguar Corridor on order to ensure safe passage for jaguars from Argentina to Mexico.

Click here to read the 2011 Year in Review.

Panthera Launches New Online Store

Show your support for big cats by sporting gear from Panthera’s new online store! Panthera’s clothing and accessories are great gifts for yourself, and are sure to be welcome presents for family and friends.

Visit Panthera’s online store and purchase any of our quality, branded merchandise, including:

  • Hats
  • Short sleeve t-shirts
  • Long sleeve t-shirts
  • Polo shirts
  • Field shirts
  • Vineyard Vines ties, including tiger, lion, jaguar and snow leopard-themed ties made exclusively for Panthera
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Tote bags

In Case You Missed It

Listen to Panthera's CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, on the Diane Rehm Show discussing the state of tigers.

Scientific Publications

  • A Critique of Density Estimation From Camera-Trap Data
    Authors: Rebecca Foster and Bart Harmsen.
    View this Publication.

  • A Survey of the Large Mammal Fauna of the Kwamalasamutu Region, Suriname
    A Rapid Biological Assessment of the Kwamalasamutu Region, Southwestern Suriname
    Authors: Krisna Gajapersad, Angelique Mackintosh, Angelica Benitez and Esteban Payán.
    View this Publication.

  • The Significance of African Lions for the Financial Viability of Trophy Hunting and the Maintenance of Wild Land
    Authors: Peter Lindsey, Guy Balme, Vernon Booth and Neil Midlane.
    View this Publication.

See more Scientific Publications

Panthera's Career Opportunities

Upcoming Events

  • Keynote Address by Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, at 2012 Woodland Park Zoo Thrive Fundraiser - March 22.
    View Event.