The Detroit Post
Wednesday, 08 December, 2021

Why Are Cats Endangered

Ava Flores
• Monday, 26 October, 2020
• 13 min read

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a worldwide organization founded in 1948. It maintains and publishes the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a detailed list of the conservation status of thousands of biological species on this planet, including wild cats.

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Categories of classification include Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Lower Risk, Data Deficient, Not Applicable and Not Evaluated. A wild cat is considered Critically Endangered when it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future, and there has been a reduction of at least 80% of the population over the past 10 years.

This is determined by several factors, including direct observation, the total number of wild cats considered appropriate for the species, a decline in the number of wild cats living in a particular area. When a wild cat is labeled Endangered, that species or subspecies has less than 2500 mature individuals in existence.

Critically Endangered can also mean an 80% population reduction that is expected to take place in the next 10 years (or next three generations). A population of less than 250 mature individuals with an expected continuing decline of 25% over the next three years (or one generation), and severely fragmented or living in a single location.

A population of less than 50 mature individuals There is a 50% change of extinction within the next 10 years or three generations. A species is listed as Endangered when there is a high risk of extinction with a population reduction of at least 50% over the next 10 years or three generations, the species’ population is severely fragmented and can only be found in no more than 5 locations.

Famous Camera Trap Photo of African Golden Cat The organization which decides whether a wild cat species is endangered is the IUCN Red List.

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If you visit their website you’ll notice than many of the 36-40 wild cat species are not listed as endangered ”. It should read: Why are some wild cat species designated as endangered ?” The answer, in general terms, is the one put forward in the first paragraph above.

As the human population grows relentlessly, and it is growing fastest in Africa where there are some precious wild cat species such as the lion, human activity also expands and inevitably there will be even greater pressure on the survivability of the wild cats. Before qualifying, I worked in many jobs including professional photography.

Around the world, the main threats to big cats are as a result of human activities. Of the populations of 40 wild cat species, roughly 80 percent are now shrinking.

Agricultural expansion is also a major problem including the explosion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia. Often these ranchers will hunt the cats to protect their livestock, which in many places is the only source of income for people.

Snow leopards, lions, cheetahs, and jaguars all face this challenging threat. Lions are affected by disease outbreaks which are exacerbated by droughts that will be increasingly common with global warming.

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Coastal erosion due to rising ocean levels is reducing tiger habitat in India’s Hungarians mangrove forest. As human populations grow, hunting of the main prey of cats increases.

In this gallery, we bring attention to the diverse and beautiful Felix species worldwide, either currently listed as endangered or vulnerable. We hope that by learning about these fantastic relatives of our well-loved domestic cats that readers will be encouraged to act to protect these animals.

The iconic snow leopard lives in the unbelievably cold habitats of alpine and subalpine areas of Central and South Asia, particularly the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. Rarely ever seen in the wild based in part because of its elusive nature and also because so few remain, this animal's numbers continue to decrease despite conservation efforts.

In some areas of its range, such as Vietnam, Laos, and Java, scientists believe the fishing cat is extinct. These cats live along rivers and in mangrove swamps in Asia, primarily in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

Conservation photographer Morgan Ham's project Cat In Water documents the lives of this incredible species and the threats it faces for survival. The endangered Iberian Lynx, the world's most threatened cat species, has a population of somewhere around 400 mature individuals and growing.

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Though it is now illegal to hunt them and their habitat is protected, the lynx still falls victim to cars along roads, feral dogs, and poaching by humans. The world's least-known feline, the endangered flat-headed cat, has fewer than 2,500 mature individuals left in the wild.

Deforestation of its habitat for commercial logging and oil palm plantations constitutes the most significant threat to the species. Only an estimated 3,900 adult tigers remain in the wild despite being the most iconic cat species in the world, next to the African lion.

That number actually represents an increase attributed to ambitious conservation plans, better methods of survey, and The clouded leopard population estimated at less than 10,000 throughout Southeast Asia has been declared extinct in Taiwan.

IUCN has listed the animal as vulnerable since 2008, and the main threats against it are habitat loss from extensive deforestation and commercial poaching for the wildlife trade. Lions, not yet endangered, but listed as vulnerable with only around 23,000 (at best) still living in the wild faces rapidly decreasing numbers.

Because of habitat loss and conflict with humans, most lions only inhabit eastern and Southern Africa, with their numbers in severe decline. Conservation groups are working to preserve habitat so that lions have enough room to hunt and roam, but also to provide people with tools and knowledge for how to coexist with these big cats and reduce the number of deaths due to snaring.

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The marbled cat, native to South and Southeast Asia, has been listed as vulnerable to extinction since 2002, and fewer than 10,000 mature individuals persist in the world. It is about the size of a house cat and lives in the branches of trees, where it hunts birds, squirrels, and reptiles.

Many people compare the marbled cat to the clouded leopard because of similar markings, canine teeth, and habitats. Many marbled cats fall victim to snaring by humans that value the bones, meat, and fur.

The last cat on our list is the world's fastest land animal, but it still can't outrun the impacts of humans on its environment. (File Photo)Reports at various stages during the pandemic have shown that domestic cats, as well as lions and tigers, can be infected with the novel coronavirus.

“We have not looked at the genome of big felines,” CRG Director Luis Serrano, senior author of the study, said by email, “but I assumed that since cats can be infected, there is a big chance that lions and tigers will as well, since they will be very close in sequence.” That one found cats and Siberian tigers at medium risk, behind humans, some other primate species, and dolphins.

Many big cats are unfortunately endangered because of our (human) influence on their habitats and natural way of life. Prey loss Big cat populations are dwindling because they have less food to eat (prey) and thus less of them survive since there is increased competition for food.

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Habitat loss and environment change Because of human driven deforestation, building and agricultural expansion big cats are losing much of their natural habitat. Global warming also affects the natural habitat of big cats and makes them much more vulnerable to their environment.

Domestic cats are on the IUCN's list of the top 100 Worlds Worst Invasive Alien Species for their ability to decimate prey populations. Those razor-sharp claws strike the hardest on islands, where animal populations are relatively confined.

A 2011 review found that, on islands, cats are the primary cause for at least 14% of bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions and the principal threat to almost 8% of critically endangered animals (2). The new data drive home the point that, even on large continents, cats can do serious damage.

Easily more damage than collisions with buildings or wind turbines do to birds. “Despite these harmful effects, policies for management of free-ranging cat populations and regulation of pet ownership behaviors are dictated by animal welfare issues rather than ecological impacts,” wrote the authors of the new paper.

Most places with any cat-control policy run trap-neuter-release programs, in which stray cats are baited by food before being, well, trapped, surgically neutered and released. Cat fertility is so high--a single female can have 3 litters of 4-6 kittens each year--that a just a small percentage of the population needs to be reproductive to make up for the natural death rate.

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Additionally, trap-neuter-release isn't even cost-effective compared to euthanasia, even if all the cat feeding, capturing and neutering is performed by volunteers (4). So the obvious answer then is that, if we value biodiversity and wildlife and can manage to overcome our predilection for cute cat faces over cute bird faces, cat populations should be controlled through humane killing, just like many other invasive species.

But then in their concluding paragraphs, after providing evidence that current methods aren't working, the action steps proposed by the authors are: (1) all pets should be neutered and (2) owners should be been better educated, so they don't abandon their cats. And, really, there isn't a way to empirically determine whether ecosystems and biodiversity are more valuable than happy cats following their instincts.

he rights of individual animals set against the health of the overall ecosystem... a battle that rages in philosophy departments across the country. But just as personally, animal-welfare ethicists think the opposite.” ...“You’re trading a feral cat, an exotic animal that doesn’t belong naturally on the landscape, against piping plovers, which evolved as natural fits in that environment,” reasons Holmes Boston III, a Colorado State University professor who is considered one of the deans of American environmental philosophy.

I spent a summer protecting the endangered birds' nests on the coast of Maine --and, ultimately, the chicks were probably eaten by cats because stubborn neighbors wouldn't keep them inside. The government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not more) on conservation programs to protect endangered species threatened by all kinds of human impacts, including the feline companions we've kept by our sides for 9,500 years.

“There is a huge environmental price that we are paying every single day that we turn our backs on our native wildlife in favor of protecting non-native predatory cats at all cost while ignoring the inconvenient truth about the mortality they inflict,” Michael Hutchins, CEO of The Wildlife Society, said in a statement released with the gray catbird study. The Wildlife Society was one of few groups I found willing to advocate for feral cat euthanasia, after seeking out adoption.

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The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States, Nature Communications, 4 1396. (2) Medina F.M., Board E., Vidal E., Jersey B.R., Valet E.S., Josh Dollar C., Eat B.S., Core M., Howrah S.V.

Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return, Conservation Biology, 23 (4) 887-894. Costs and Benefits of Trap-Neuter-Release and Euthanasia for Removal of Urban Cats in Oahu, Hawaii, Conservation Biology, 27 (1) 64-73.

Impacts of Free-ranging Domestic Cats (Felix cats) on birds in the United States: A review of recent research with conservation and management recommendations, Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics, 205-219. But the scientists' analysis, conducted over a course of several years, claims there are really only two tiger subspecies: one found on continental Asia and another from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.

“It's really hard to distinguish between tigers,” said Andreas Wilting, the study's lead author from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. The study, described by its authors as “the most comprehensive analysis to date,” looked at the mitochondrial DNA, skulls, skin markings, habitat and prey of all nine tiger subspecies.

Nearly $50 million is spent worldwide to preserve the big cat each year, according to the Science Advances study, and there has been some progress made. It also supports a theory that there was a massive population decline after a super-eruption took place in Sumatra about 73,000 years ago, leaving only a single ancestor for all modern tigers from the South China area.

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This is not the first time tiger taxonomy has been challenged, but earlier proposals have had trouble gaining ground due to a lack of evidence. At the heart of the debate is a concept called “taxonomic inflation,” or the massive influx of newly recognized species and subspecies.

Rampant inbreeding left the big cat inundated with genetic defects, such as heart problems and reproductive issues. Florida's researchers, frantic to save the long-held state symbol, decided to take controversial action by introducing eight female Texas cougars in 1995.

The result has been considered a success, as the cougars, a close genetic relative to the panther, were able to refresh the gene pool and stave off extinction. “It really depends on what you define a subspecies to be,” said Dave Novato, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who worked on the panther restoration project.

Novato said the Florida panther case could be held up as an example for people trying to protect big cats around the world, including the most stressed tiger populations. Many people, including political and religious officials of the day, blamed cats for the plague.

Medical officials finally figured it out: The plague was transmitted to humans from Oriental rat fleas that live on black rats. The players of the day finally embraced the cats, who killed the rats, and deaths as a result of the plague, of course, quickly declined.

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Why do people hate cats … but love dogs? Cro-Magnon's men and women blossomed when relatives of today’s wolves began the domestication process into dogs.

Another answer to Why do people hate cats ?” is that domestic kitties as we know them haven’t been around for too long. Today’s domestic cat has experienced about 5,000 to 8,000 years of living with humans, a relative blip in evolutionary history, and far less than going back circa 40,000 years when dogs lived side-by-side with Cro-Magnon humans.

If you’re over 60 years old, you remember when most cats in the United States lived both indoors and outdoors, a very different lifestyle than the vast majority of today’s cats. This is when their body’s immune system reacts to the proteins in the cat’s dander, saliva or urine.

And most humans don’t feel ambivalent about cats ; they either love them so much that they can barely only have one, or they scorn them. And sometimes even a TV commercial for mustard causes an aversive response.

For example, people with extreme allergies learn to dislike them so much that even TV commercials with cats may make them uncomfortable. Their disgust is unreasonable to cat lovers but is cemented into the amygdala in their brains.

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An unfortunately popular answer to Why do people hate cats ?” is misinformation. And to Taylor Swift’s point, “cat haters” just going to hate and fan the flames.

For example, one study noted children with schizophrenia are more likely to have cats. The real truth is that a specific series of events must occur in order for any person to contract too from a kitty.

Cats can only pass the disease seven to 14 days their entire lives (when there’s an acute infection and the organism is in what is called the cyst stage). Now, if that does happen to someone who is pregnant, it’s very true that an infected unborn baby can suffer severe harm during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Maybe we’re “born that way,” as another philosopher and music artist Lady Gaga suggests. Share funny videos, positive stories and interesting facts with non-cat people.

Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior consultant who’s authored several books, including the e-book Good Cat, and has contributed to many, including The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management, edited by Dr. Susan Little. Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Caster magazine.

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