Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category
Catie Leary gives examples of Bridget Beth Collins’s work at Mother Nature. Here’s just one:
More at the link. Here’s another:
Kaleigh Rogers has a long article about cheetahs in the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute program in Virginia:
Cheetahs don’t roar, like other big cats. They purr.
It’s a deep, rumbling vibration that is simultaneously tranquil and terrifying. You can sense their calm, but you can also sense their power. I was transfixed as I listened to Nick, a five-year-old male cheetah, purring happily inches from my face on the other side of a chain-link fence.
It was a cold, grey day in the hills of Virginia, more than 7,000 miles away from the cheetah’s natural habitat in the dry grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. Nick paced the fence line, my view of him obscured by some plastic slats weaved through the links.
“He’s really hard to get pictures of because he’s always right on the fence,” explained Adrienne Crosier, a biologist and the head of the cheetah breeding program at theSmithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal. She told me Nick, hand-reared for a few weeks as a newborn, is particularly fond of people.
“He always wants to come see you,” she said, Nick’s purr thrumming continuously.
Nick has spent his entire life in these hills at SCBI, where 21 endangered species are bred and researched. The cheetah program is considered one of the facility’s biggest success stories. Over the last five years, SCBI has been responsible for bringing 34 healthy cheetah cubs into the world and contributing a wealth of scientific research to our understanding of the species. The goal is to gain knowledge that will help conserve cheetahs in the wild. Because of their nomadic nature and vast territories, studying cheetahs in situ has always been a difficult task, and a large portion of what we now know about the species—their health, fertility, endocrinology, genetics—came from research done on captive cats.
But there are conservationists who question whether this strategy does much to help the wild population. With just an estimated 10,000 cheetahs remaining in the wild and everything from habitat destruction, to conflicts with farmers and the exotic pet trade threatening the species’s survival, is this strategy the most effective way to protect these cats? What good is a friendly cheetah in Virginia to the ones facing extinction in the wild?
SCBI is situated on 3,200 acres of sprawling woodland in Virginia’s Shenandoah mountains. The property was once home to a US Army cavalry remount station; horse graves still top the hillsides. Some of the 301 animals here—from red pandas to white-naped cranes—will eventually find their way to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, or other zoos in the US, but the breeding facility itself is not open to the public. Its prime focus is on research and the conservation of species endangered in the wild. Every animal there is either endangered or, like the Przewalski’s horse, extinct in its natural habitat.
Though SCBI has been active since the 1970s, the cheetah breeding program is a relatively new addition—one of many passion projects for Dave Wildt, a biologist who has been studying cheetahs for more than 30 years and currently serves as SCBI’s head of the species survival programs. Wildt spent the early part of his career studying cheetahs, both captive and wild, across sub-saharan Africa.
“We went out and had all these great experiences running around the Serengeti catching wild cheetahs and collecting sperm and blood samples for genetic studies,” Wildt recalled as we sat in his office at SCBI, the walls dotted with photos of Wildt cradling fuzzy-headed cubs.
During his time in Africa, Wildt and his colleagues made some landmark discoveries about the species, like the fact that cheetahs had historically suffered multiplepopulation bottlenecks, leading to a lack of genetic diversity. It also highlighted how little we knew about cheetahs, which helped explain why so many zoos and research groups had struggled to breed them in captivity. For decades, zoos in North America relied on importing captive-bred cheetahs from countries like South Africa, in part because they couldn’t figure out how to breed them adequately. Wildt recognized the potential benefits of researching captive animals and wanted to open a dedicated cheetah center stateside.
“As long as I could remember, people had said this facility would be great for a cheetah breeding center but we had no money to build it,” Wildt told me.
In 2004, talks about a cheetah program finally started to firm up. An anonymous private donor provided enough seed money to begin construction, and by 2007 the first two cats moved in. Unfortunately, because captive cheetahs were still so difficult to come by, they were both female.
“So much for a breeding program,” Wildt said. . .
Astonishingly formal and intricate: look at all the steps. It’s certainly not a free-for-all but closer to a dance. Backstory here.
Nice little essay by Hannah Louise Poston in the New York Times:
When his depression was at its worst, my partner, Joe, would wake up in the morning engulfed in a fog so palpable that its presence would sometimes startle me awake, as if I had smelled something burning.
During the first few years of our relationship, I often wished he would roll over with a cheery “Good morning!” and a kiss instead of stumbling blankly out of bed, zombielike, toward coffee.
I eventually figured out that lying alone in bed and fantasizing about a nondepressed Joe was a terrible idea. It made me grumpy, and then we would both be having a bad day.
So, in as chipper a manner as possible, I would pull on my bathrobe and rubber boots and go gather the delicate blue eggs of our housemate’s Aracuna chickens.
At my approach, the floor of the coop would animate into a rustling whirlpool of hay and fur as a pack of rats scurried back to their nest behind the compost bin. Rats had overrun us, and wishing they would go away was no more effective than wishing Joe would stop being depressed.
“We need a kitten,” I would announce nearly every morning as I arranged the warm eggs in a basket on the kitchen counter. I lobbied hard, explaining that even if it didn’t grow up to be a ratter, just having a cat around the house would deter infestations.
Joe wasn’t sure about the kitten. He was always skeptical of seemingly rash ideas — slow to accept new things, slow to change.
“Have you thought about why you want a kitten?” he asked me one evening.
“What do you mean, why?” I was insulted. He seemed to be implying that, beyond the rats, I may have unhealthy reasons for wanting a kitten. “Why does anyone want a kitten? It’s a kitten.”
“It just seems like it will take a lot of energy,” he said.
Joe and I were close to our relationship’s three-year mark, the point at which, a study had shown, a swath of long-term couplings end. (“The 7-Year Itch Is Now the 3-Year Glitch,” one article said.)
His depression came in frequent cycles, often lingering for days. During those days, if I brought home a pint of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream (Joe’s favorite), it would go unremarked upon or even uneaten.
No, he did not want to go to a movie or go dancing or have sex. Any offering, even that of my own body, would tumble into the gray sinkhole, rendering me ineffectual and pathetic. I learned that the best way to love Joe during those times was to leave him alone.
“You can’t cure depression,” Joe told me once. “You can only get better at living with it.”
I got better at living with it; I started buying my own favorite flavor of ice cream instead of his. And when I finally drove across Portland to the Oregon Humane Society one day in August, I did it secretly, rebelliously and entirely for my own inarticulate reasons.
It had been a particularly difficult week. My carefully honed strategy for loving a depressed man was to help myself instead of trying to help him. “And today,” I thought as I pulled in to the humane society parking lot, “I am helping myself to a kitten.”
When Joe arrived home that evening, the kitten — just a pinch of striped fluff — popped out from under the bed. I took a long breath, ready to defend my decision.
But then I saw her sly green eyes holding his handsome sad ones, and it seemed as if there were fireworks and unicorns leaping, the aurora borealisdescending between them. When the kitten tried to vogue, swoon and crab-leap sideways all at once, consequently tripping over her paws, I think Joe’s eyeballs may have rolled back into his head to reveal two glittery pink hearts pasted onto his sockets in lieu of pupils.
The next morning when we woke up, the first words out of Joe’s mouth were, “Where’s the kitten?” And the kitten’s first act, when she heard his voice, was to ice-pick her way up the quilt and jump on his face. . .