Small Felid Workshop

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Sixth Small Felid Workshop  in Costa Rica

     The Small Felid Workshop was co hosted by Pat Quillen and the Simon Bolivar Zoo in San Jose, Costa Rica.  There were 15 presenters and 45 attendees at this Central American conference.  The choice of location was to promote participation by Central and South Americans who may not be able to attend in the states.  Following are summaries of the talks given, as compiled by notes taken by Jamie Veronica:

     Meridith Brown, Field Biologist for the Cincinnati Zoo,  gave an update of her Pallas Cat field study in Mongolia.  In captivity in the past four years, thee were 12 litters born, resulting in 41 offspring, but 80% to 100% of the kittens are dying.  The only ones who have not died are those born at Oakhill to Toxoplasmosis negative parents.  Her field study is to test fecals of cats in the wild and ascertain their exposure to Toxo.

     Except for the cats at Oakhill which were imported separately by John Aynes, 100% of the Pallas Cats in captivity have Toxoplasmosis.  In the wild those numbers are only 12.5 %.

     Chronic stress does not seem to be the cause.  She made an interesting discovery in that fecal cortisoid levels of captive cats (who were all wild caught) are only 1/3 of the levels found in the wild populations.  High Fecal Cortisoid levels are supposed to indicate a high level of stress.  It seems that even wild caught cats are less stressed in captivity than in the wild.  Someone suggested that the high level in a wild caught cat would be caused by the capture, but the levels are determined by the feces and not the bloodstream and thus would reflect the cat’s disposition from the days before the capture.

     Meridith believes that perhaps the Mongolian cats are not subjected as frequently to Toxo in the wild and thus have no immunity to it upon their arrival to zoos.

     Dr. Jim Sanderson, PhD, Field Biologist for Center for Applied Biodiversity Science Conservation International, a under the umbrella of the IUCN spoke on the need for conservation efforts for the Pampas Cat and about Biodiversity Hotspots.  He listed the top 4 cats likely to go extinct in the near future are the Andean Mountain Cat, the Marbled Cat, the Pampas Cat and the Flat Headed Cat.

     The hotspots are distinguished by the level of threat to the Biodiversity.  The map is far too complex to go into great detail here, but it is posted in our Educational Center.  The 8 hottest hotspots are, in order, Madagascar, Philippines, Sundaland, Atlantic Forest of Brazil, Caribbean, Indo-Burma, Western Ghats & Sri Lanka and the Eastern Arc Mountains & Coastal Forests.

     The big cats have their support groups such as the International Snow Leopard Trust, whom we are working with, the Lion Working Group, Jaguar Conservation Group, Focused Long Term Tiger Research, and the Cheetah Conservation Fund.  The small cats are the ones in the most danger due to a lack of popularity and support. Leopard Cat pelts can be found in Asian markets for 10.00 and the Golden Cat pelt is ground up and used to improve eyesight (myth).  These acts against the Endangered Species Act are carried out with no concern about reprisal.  The Andean Mountain Cat has only been spotted once, by Jim Sanderson, and never again since.  These Top 4 have all been recommended for phase out by the Felid TAG and we may well never see them again, if we don’t act now.

     Dr. Mauro Lucherini, a Field Biologist from Argentina spoke about his research on the Andean Mountain Cat, the Guigna and the Geoffroy Cats.  He said he was supported  by Pat Quillen.  Only 5 Andean Mountain Cat skulls have ever been found.  They were found in ancient cave dwellings.  He could find no living cats.  The Andean Mountain Cats were used in religious rituals of the original people there.  He found only one dead Guigna or Kodkod and none alive to study.  He collared 4 Geoffroy Cats.  One disappeared without a trace immediately and the others were studied for a month.  He found that they sleep all day and even much of the night.  They live primarily on large birds.  All of these cats are thought to be very habitat specific and even a slight change to their habitat can be disastrous.

      Dr. Mark Edwards, Nutritionist for the Zoological Society of San Diego spoke on the value of a whole prey diet.  He contends that feeding a proper diet is more than just the chemical makeup of the food, but includes the feeding behaviour, processes of eating, digestion and metabolism.

     The gastrointestinal anatomy is relatively specialized in carnivores.  The stomach is simple globular, and the small intestine is the longest portion of the tract and the site of the nutrient absorption.  The large intestine absorbs most of the water.  Strict carnivores require certain nutrients that are higher in nitrogen (protein) and sulpher amino acids (DEAA taurine), and arachidonic acid, and preformed Vitamin A (carrots).  Cats cannot break up Vitamin A into the 2 required forms of A.  They also require preformed niacin.  The only place these can be found is in whole prey.

     Common foods for captive carnivores are made up of mostly skeletal meats and meat by products.  By products are what they sound like.  They are what is discarded after all the usable meat has been cut away.  Skeletal meat is deficient in Calcium, A, D and E.  They are severely lacking in Thiamine and folicin.  We have seen thiamine deficiencies in several of our cats.  In the wild you would never see a cat eat only the muscle meat of an animal.  They ingest the organs, stomach contents, bone, hair and meat.

     The AAZV American Association of Zoo Vets, in Alan et al 1999 requires that the prepared diets they use be USDA inspected, human grade and no 3D or 4D meats.  The D’s are:  Disabled, diseased, down and dead upon discovery.  Pet foods contain 3D and 4D meats because they are cooked.  San Diego also inspects their food processors for acceptable production standards including acceptable conditions, safety standards, inspection records, hazard procedures, adequate procession equipment, proper packaging and handling and adequate refrigerators and freezers.   They only have found 3 brands that meet all of these standards:  Dallas Crown in Texas,  Natural Balance in CA,  and Milliken in Canada. Even though these brands are safe, they are not complete and San Diego Zoo supplements them with vitamins, minerals and taurine and only uses them for 50% of their overall diet.

     Horsemeat vs Beef-  Horse meat became popular in zoo diets because it was more economical than beef.  Europe’s hoof and mouth disease and the U.S.’s animal cruelty laws have made horsemeat more costly and thus the shift to beef.  Whether it be horse or beef it must be supplemented with fiber and trace mineral mix.  Also include blends of fatty acids, especially 18:3 n-3 linolenic acid.  Other options are to add 50%  dry diet (good luck) and/ or whole bodied prey including fish, avian, mammalian,, and invertebrates.

     Storage is critical and freezers should be kept at 0 degrees to 20 below 0.  Food should be thawed under refrigeration and only sealed bags should be defrosted in water as the water soluble vitamins are flushed from the foods if they are exposed to water.

     David Fagan, Dentist and consultant for the Colyer Institute, CA talked about the importance of good dental health in captive animals.  He gave us a 7 page hand out on this topic and you can request a copy from our files, under Dental.  In essence the mouth is the portal to the rest of the body and good health is determined by the health of the teeth and gums.  Too often a broken or rotting tooth is ignored until the animal’s health begins to suffer.  He reminded us that a broken tooth (to the nerve) is an open wound, just like any other open wound, except this one is constantly exposed to the bacteria in the mouth and thus more dangerous.

     Dr. Stacie Wadsworth, DVM of Carrollwood Cats gave a Power Point presentation on all of the diseases and problems that we have faced over the past ten years.  She shared our mistakes and what we have learned with an 85 slide pictorial of broken bones, cancers, skin lesions, teeth problems and ingested foreign objects.  She communicated well to the mixed audience of Veterinarians to Keepers and was quite humorous at times.  It was the most comprehensive presentation of exotic cat medical issues that I have ever seen and we are sure she will be invited to many more such conferences.

     The feed back was very good from the participants.  I was a little concerned about airing every ignorant thing we ever did, but everyone said that it was much needed information that most others would have hidden from embarrassment.   If it causes even one cat to be saved a similar fate it was worth the risk.

     Dr. Danilo Leandro Loria, Veterinarian at Simon Bolivar National Zoo and Santa Ana Rehabilitation Center gave a talk on things their zoo is doing to improve conditions for their animals and showed how far they have come under Yolanda Matamoros’ leadership.  I remember when this zoo was nothing more than a torture chamber for animals.  The public was allowed to taunt them and the pits were full of trash.  Many of the cages were elevated, rusted wire crates with no where for the animal to rest its feet.    The city zoo is still small and the enclosures are small, but they are clean and the public is getting a message of respect for all living things.  There are 4 million people and 1 million exotic pets in Costa Rica.  1 in 4 people there has an exotic animal as a pet that was taken from the wild. When these animals become unhandleable they are dumped at the zoo.  For the past 4 years the zoo has been forced to take in almost 200 more animals per year.  The zoo is only on 2 hectares of land in the middle of the biggest city in Costa Rica.

      A sloth was being stoned by local children, rescued and taken to the zoo.  Danilo headed up a release team and allowed all of us to watch the sloth being released to freedom.  After the release it was noted that another sloth was already living nearby so the choice of release sites was obviously conducive to their survival.

     Dr. Jacqueline Gallegos, is the Veterinarian for Mexico’s Miguel Alvarez Del Toro Zoo.  Her talk was about in situ conservation and the need for funding in these Central and South American countries.  Most of these zoos are more like sanctuaries than what we as Americans think of zoos.  When animals are confiscated or injured they are taken to the only place legal to care for them, which are under funded zoos.  From 1980 to 2001 there were 38 Margay, 23 Jaguarundi and 10 Ocelots brought to her zoo alone.  Given the lack of cage space, food, medical supplies and general husbandry knowledge these facilities face, this sort of influx is devastating.

     Pat Quillen sponsored her participation in this Workshop.  We contacted our supplier of wire panels for cage materials and he says he will consider delivery into Mexico.  The biggest problem these projects face however is a lack of money.

     Dr. Andrew Kitchener,  is the Curator of Mammals and Birds at the National Museum of Scotland.  He is best known for his visits to freezers around the world.  In addition to other things, he is interested in preserving the animals for all future generations even if the only way to do that is via Taxidermy.  He has the most life like mounts of Fishing Cats, Clouded Leopards and others that we have ever seen.   Each one is crafted from scratch and mounted in a manner that educates the viewer about what these animals were really like.

     He also gave a very compelling talk on the history of the Scottish Wildcat. What is so interesting is that the cats’ periods of decline were directly related to the amount of legal hunting that was going on in Scotland’s history.  Because they were considered by hunters to be competition for the animals that they wanted to kill, the cats were killed off almost to the point of extinction.  It was only during periods of war when the people were all too busy killing each other to be hunting that the cats repopulated nearly all of their original range.  Once the war ceased the hunters have killed them back to small little pockets of survival.  Proof once again that the claim hunters make of keeping nature in balance is a lie they tell themselves to justify the killing and maiming of innocent animals.

     He made a strong case for establishing a comprehensive data collection sheet for animals that die or are found as road kill.  Height, weight, length, paw size, where found, by who, all contact info, date and time, photographs and records of any samples taken are all beneficial to any study that may be undertaken some day.

     Chuck Traisi, Director of Fund For Animals Wildlife Center is in the rescue and rehab business but he doesn’t glorify his efforts.  In fact he said that rescue and rehabbers in the U.S. are doing nothing for the species as a whole.  He admitted that 95% to 100% of predator infants who are returned to the wild die almost immediately regardless of how well we do our job.  No human can mimic the wild cat mother.

     His talk was called, “Take this pole and shove it.”  He gave critical instructions on how to safely tranquilize an animal using a pole syringe.  He never uses a needle longer that 5/8 nor bigger than 20 gauge, for cats even as big a lion.  He gave out a nice handout on this subject that we will file under Tranquilization.  You can request copies in the office.

     He is currently holding an 11 week old lion for a smuggling case that he will be wanting to place.  He says the secret to his financial success in a business that relies entirely on donations is that 24/7 you can talk to a real person if you call his phone and people want to know that they are supporting someone who is always available to them.

     Cristina Adania is the Director for the Brazilian Center for Neotropical Felids.  Big Cat Rescue sponsored her trip to this conference as she is a key person in the future for many of the South American species of wild cat.  I have asked for copies of her notes and will make those available to anyone who is interested.  In 1992 she began the Ocelot management plan.  IBAMA Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Renewable Resources proposed she work with the Tigrina, Margay, Jaguarundi, Geoffroy Cat, Ocelot and Pampas Cat.  In 12/95 IBAMA published a permanent committee to manage the small cats.  One of the first priorities was to permanently mark all cats so as to cut down on the smuggling and illegal possession.

     In Brazil, there are 86 zoos holding 865 cats of 8 native species.

168 Ocelots

131 Tigrina

63 Margay

99 Jaguarundi

12 Geoffroy Cats

8 Pampas Cats  (7 are at Sao Paulo Zoo and 1 is at another facility)

172 Pumas

212 Jaguars

     Most of these cats are in the Sao Paulo region.  As expected, there are many more males than females in captivity.  86% of the cages are inadequate according the standards set by BCNF.  70 % of the cages do not meet even 20% of the recommendations for cleanliness, shade, hiding, space, etc.

     70% of the Jaguarundi exhibit dietary deficiencies.  There are problems with nails growing into the pads because there is nothing in the cages for the cats to trim their nails on.  They see a lot of fractured teeth because there is only concrete and metal in the enclosures.  Obesity is common due to the lack of space.  Brazil has established their guidelines in an effort to bring their zoos up to a higher standard of care.

      A hand reared ocelot thrived while kept in the company of the people who raised him.  When he was transferred to a different zoo where he didn’t know anyone, he sucked on his tail to the point that it had to be amputated.  This is a strong reason to not be shuffling cats all over the place for breeding, but rather to establish stable colonies.

     Pat Mansard, Director of Ridgeway Trust  for Endangered Cats in Sussex, UK gave a presentation on her cage designs.  The cages are square, 24 feet x 28 feet, with 2 x 2 metal cloth nailed to timbers, but what we liked is the extent of the vegetation inside.  One slide that she showed, she admitted that she had to take a machete to the path to clean the cage.  That’s the way an enclosure ought to look.  There should be so much stuff for a cat to do that he could get lost for three days.  She made great use of all of her arboreal space with logs suspended from the ceiling.  Many of these were purposely set a few feet from each other to encourage jumping from log to log.

     Her ocelot and margay dens are 1 meter above ground and are a box with a door cut out to one side.  She keeps two dens for each mother as they will insist on moving their kittens at some point.  Each den box is monitored via a CCTV.  In 8 years she has produced 11 litters of Margay and similar numbers of Ocelots.

     John Aynes, Director of Oakhill Conservation Center in Kansas did a pictorial talk on cage design.  I won’t go into a lot of detail because it was our website for cage construction that he was sharing with everyone and his cages have been built from Vern’s designs.  One of the nicest compliments we received at this conference was from someone who saw the presentation and heard all the nice things John had to say about our facility.  They said, “Animal people are always talking bad about each other.  For a competing facility to say so much good about you, then you must be great!”

     The speakers were all very interesting.  The hosting country is beautiful beyond comparison.  We learn a lot on these trips, but the connections we make with others of like mind around the world is the most important aspect.  John may have made one of the truest statements at this Workshop when he said, “It’s all about relationships.”

     The most exciting, new project that we started working on at this Workshop is a program to save the Pampas Cat, Tigrina, Margay, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, Geoffroy Cat, Puma and Jaguar in the wild.  The program is called S.A.F.E. In The Wild.


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