Covert Cougars!

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The cougar (Puma concolor)

 

Hello, gorgeous!

I am talking to both you and that cougar 😉

I hope you are enjoying life, while remembering to give yourself as much unconditional love as your furry, finned, scaled, and feathered companion give to you.  In my last post I went waaaaay up into the heart, so today I am going to switch gears and talk about three things I freaking love: Big Cats, Wildlife Ecology, and Sleep!

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The other day I was taking a break from writing our book trilogy  by tweetering around on twitter (another one of my best displacement behaviors).  😉   While I was out there I came across a very cool post from Panthera, so I was inspired to learn more.  I’ve been following their great work ever since a dear friend became their C.O.O., but this particular project really got my attention.  It was not only about who cougars are choosing to cuddle with, but where and why.

If you are not yet aware, Panthera is not only the name of the genus within the Felidae family; Panthera is also the only organization in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their landscapes!  Seriously.  How amazing is that!?  You will be stunned at the incredible conservation work they are doing around the globe, so be sure to check them out!  Below is their mission statement.

Panthera’s mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action.  We have brought together the world’s leading wild cat experts to direct and implement effective conservation strategies for the world’s largest and most endangered cats: tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards.  Our approach to wild cat conservation is rooted in science and based upon decades of first hand field experience. We seek a future in which the world’s 37 wild cat species have the necessary and ongoing protection from human and environmental threats to persist and thrive in the wild. Our vision sees endangered wild cat populations rebounded, critical habitats and core populations connected by genetic and biological corridors, and a global commitment to protect these iconic species through near and distant futures.


 

Fabulous Felidae! 

Ever since I began working around and managing captive groups of exotic cats back in the day, I have been head over heels in love with every species of wild feline.  They never cease to teach me something new and incredible.  And since I happen to adore house cats and appreciate the powerful genetic link, I thought this would be a fun post to share!

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Our beloved Garth at Audubon, may he rest in peace always

 

Now, if you are not familiar with the word Felidae, I can explain.  Think of your family. You may not be close, but you are of the same lineage.  Felidae is a lineage of carnivorans colloquially referred to as “cats.”   Members of this family are called “felids.”  So the term “cat” refers both to felids in general and domestic cats.  Your house cat belongs to the Felidae family, just like Garth, the African lion, pictured above! Pretty cool, huh?

Felids are separated into two distinct subgroups: large cats and small cats.  Some of these small cats, due to a hardening of the hyoid bone, have an inability to roar. But many of them purr (as you might have read about before).  Felidae consists of 2 subfamilies: Pantherinae and Felinae.  We humans don’t have subfamilies, (although I am sure some people view their younger, annoying siblings this way 😉  There are a number of genus within the Felidae family.  Some feline biologists only acknowledge a few genera of felids, but most agree there are 18 genera (genus) and 36 species of Felidae.

Note: A “genus” is a rank in the biological classification/taxonomy. It stands above species, and below families. A genus can include more than one species. When biologists talk about a genus, they mean one or more species of animals or plants that are closely related to each other.  Below is an easy rundown of the classification of the cougar which includes genus and family.

concolor. Puma concolor.
Chapter 18 Classification by E.Stone

 


 

Beyond Cool Cats

But as cool as these wild cats are, it’s important to note that if we want to understand how to provide proper conditions for house cats, we need to look at the species as a whole.  And if we want to support conservation efforts, it helps to understand and appreciate the species as a whole.  This post serves to do just that.  So grab your coffee, tea, water, or wine, and get comfy with your cuddle-bug!  We are going to take a peek at one of the house cat’s kin: The Cougar!

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image via istock

The puma (Puma concolor) is also commonly known as the mountain lion, cougar, panther, or catamount.  This species is the most widely distributed free-ranging land mammal in the Americas. They are currently found from Northern Canada to the Southern Andes.  At the time of European contact, this species occurred through most of North, Central, and South America.  Today, the cougar has the greatest natural distribution of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere except for man.

The cougar is the largest cat in the genus Felis.  The cougar is comparable in size to the leopard.  Length varies from 59 – 108 inches with a tail length of 21 – 36 inches (I am squealing as I am thinking of such a delightful tail!).  Their height ranges from 23 – 28 inches at the shoulder.  Weight can vary greatly: between 75 and 250 pounds.

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a cougar (puma) using his tail to jump successfully between two caverns

Felis Concolor at a Glance:

Habitat: The cougar thrives in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, dry brush country, or any other area with adequate cover and prey.

Distribution: Western North America from British Columbia and south Alberta south through west Wyoming to California and west Texas. Also south Texas, Louisiana, south Alabama, Tennessee, and peninsular Florida.

Common Names: Cougar, Puma, Panther, Mountain Lion, Catamount
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felidae (Puma)
Species: concolor

Sub-species: 

  • Eastern Texas to Florida – P.c.coryi –IUCN: Endangered, CITES:Appendix I
  • Northeastern US and southeastern Canada Cougar – P.c. couguar – IUCN: Endangered, CITES: Appendix I
  • Central American Cougar – P.c. costaricensis – CITES: Appendix I

Misc: The International Species Information Service lists the current estimated number at 334 in zoos worldwide, with 119 located in the U.S.

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Common Ancestry of Cats

One of the major lessons I learned from working with wild cats during the day and then coming home at night to my house cats was life changing for us all: I realized was living alongside tiny tigers, wee wildcats, and house panthers. My feral cat was amazingly similar to the African wildcat.  My playful black cat was not that different from the Black Panther.  My sweet orange tabby was much like a tiny tiger.  My grey cat was incredibly similar to the fearless cougar.

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Genetic evidence indicates that our modern day house cats are descendants from at least five feline founders of a group of Wildcats from nearly 10,000 years ago.

 

Everything from how they hunted, where they preferred to sleep, how they groomed, how they interacted with their species, other species, their prey, and even people were eerily similar. My house cats’ bodies, needs, behavior, choices, and personalities were not worlds away from these wild cats; they were living parallel lives in many ways.

It turns out, feline science shows they are more alike that most people realize.  In fact, results of mitochondrial analysis indicates that all Felidae descended from a common ancestor.  And genetic evidence indicates that our modern day house cats are descendants from at least five feline founders of a group of Wildcats from 9,000 – 10,000 years ago! Cats are considered only a semi-domesticated species, because many populations are not isolated from wildcats.

“We don’t think house cats are truly domesticated. We refer to them as “semi-domesticated. They only recently split off from wild cats, and some even still breed with their wild relatives. We believe we have created the first preliminary evidence that depicts domestic cats as not that far removed from wildcat populations.” – Wes Warren, professor of genomics at the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis

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A nose print from Garth, the African Lion, acquired during one of his physical exams. This beloved nose print is framed in our home.  Does this resemble your cat’s nose??

What You Don’t Know

Now before you get all judgey about exotic cats being kept in captivity, there are facts that most folks don’t know about these felines.  Many are captive born.  Many are rescued.  Some are confiscations from the illegal animal trade, (just like this tiger recently confiscated here in California) and they are now living in zoos.  Some are clones!  Some are on loan from other zoos for very specific breeding purposes to preserve their species.

Some were pets, like Chloe pictured below. She was horribly mutilated through a declawing procedure.  She was unable to walk, stand upright, or put any pressure on her paw pads after the horrible procedure of declawing.  Thankfully, she gained a new life at Audubon after my dear friend and talented veterinarian went to great lengths to reattach her tendons.  Now she is thriving.

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Chloe, the Louisiana cougar who resides at Audubon after being declawed to become a “pet”

 

Animal care facilities, such as zoos are not out there capturing wild cats and bringing them into captivity.  Most are assisting, breeding, and caring for these cats.  They are being cared for in the best way possible in captive conditions.  There is more going on behind the scenes at zoos than most people realize.  100% of these efforts (at AZA accredited zoos) are dedication towards education and conservation.

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Garth getting his choppers checked by our brilliant veterinarian Dr. Bob


Then and Now

Back in the day, we were managing big cat species with the most recent data and research available.  Today, nearly twenty years later, we have learned so much more! Thanks to advances in technology we are dispelling myths, finding new facts, and using field data to better understand these covert creatures (including what happens when a Male Puma Visits a Female & Her Kitten at their recent Kill)! 😮

These tremendous advances in conservation efforts, both in and out of zoos, are contributing to the success of these species in the wild.  Much of these advances are due to the technology that’s now available to capture these elusive cats on camera.

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cougars caught on film, sharing shelter

 

When I look back to when I was a kid in the 70’s and remember that my go-to handheld device was the Etch A Sketch , I have to laugh.  Now look at what we have available in 2018!  It’s amazing.  As technology has improved, not only have we enabled our society to stay more connected virtually, but our ability to study mysterious and obscure animal behavior has increased.

So this brings us to our focus today:  Covert Cougars & Puma’s Preferred Beds!

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Pumas (Felis concolor) are also referred to as cougars or wild mountain lions.

Strange Feline Bed Fellows

Would it surprise you to learn that house cats choose to sleep in strange places for similar reasons that big cats in the wild choose to sleep in strange places?  If you think about how closely related house cats are to their wild kin, it makes purrrfect sense!

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Ever wonder why your cat wants to hide in a box, or why she chooses to snooze with a cuddle buddy?  Thanks to folks who are studying wild felines in the field, we know why.  It turns out, there is safety in numbers even with more solitary species, and bed selection sites are not random.  Where wild cats and house cats choose to snooze is based on very particular preferences and the need to stay safe and survive!  And pumas, like our house cats, are more social than previously thought!

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Mr. Beaux watching his world while safe and secure in his cat cave                            (This is the “Hide-and-sneak” designed by a veterinarian at Dezi & Roo)

An Extinct Subspecies

As much as I am excited about this post, I am deeply saddened.  Before we go on, there is some sad news to report.  Effective January, 22, 2018, the eastern puma (Felis concolor couguar) is extinct.  My heart sank when I learned this.  Eight decades after the last confirmed sighting, wildlife biologists have concluded that the eastern puma is no more.

To help you better understand how this came to be, it’s helpful to know this subspecies’ (known) history.  This now extinct cat is a subspecies of puma.  The eastern puma (cougar) was originally listed as an endangered species on June 4, 1973.   Historical literature indicates puma populations were mostly in Eastern North America (except for Florida and perhaps the Smoky Mountains) by the 1870s, and in the Midwest by 1900. Puma records from New Brunswick in 1932 and Maine in 1938 suggest that a population may have persisted in northernmost New England and eastern Canada.  By 1900 they had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping.  The last one on record was killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938.

Although habitat conditions now appear to be suitable for puma presence in various portions of the historical range described for the eastern puma, the many decades of both habitat and prey losses belie the sustained survival and reproduction of this subspecies over that time.

Their disappearance was attributed primarily to persecution stemming from fear of large predators, competition with game species, and occasional depredation of livestock.  Other causes of eastern puma losses during the late 1800s included declining habitat.  The most recent confirmed eastern puma sightings date from the mid-1800s to around 1930. Confirmed reports of pumas in Eastern North America (outside Florida) since then have been shown to be either western puma dispersers, as in Missouri, or released or escaped animals, as in Newfoundland.

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A mountain lion (cougar) in the hills of Los Angeles

The agency opened an extensive review in 2011 into the status of the eastern cougar, a genetic cousin of the mountain lions that still inhabit much of the Western United States and of a small, imperiled population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades.  In 2015, federal wildlife biologists concluded that pumas elsewhere in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery.   States now have juridiction to determine the best way to reintroduce the other subspecies of cougars into society.

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A cougar spotted at night via camera “traps”

The puma was documented historically in a variety of eastern habitats from the Everglades in the Southeast to temperate forests in the Northeast.  Aside from presence reports, few historical records exist regarding the natural history of the eastern puma subspecies.   Thankfully, in North America, breeding populations of the Puma species still occupy approximately one-third of their historical range but are now absent from eastern regions outside of Florida.

Below are quotes from the Fish and Wildlife Service explaining their ruling.

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine the eastern puma (=cougar) (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar) to be extinct, based on the best available scientific and commercial information. This information shows no evidence of the existence of either an extant reproducing population or any individuals of the eastern puma subspecies; it also is highly unlikely that an eastern puma population could remain undetected since the last confirmed sighting in 1938. Therefore, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended, we remove this subspecies from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

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Pumas, also known as mountain lions, cougars, or panthers, historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River.

Our decision to remove the eastern puma from the List due to extinction is based on information and analysis showing that the eastern puma likely has been extinct for many decades, long before its listing under the Act. Eastern puma sightings have not been confirmed since the 1930s, and genetic and forensic testing has confirmed that recent validated puma sightings in the East, outside Florida, were animals released or escaped from captivity, or wild pumas dispersing eastward from western North America.


Monitoring Covert Cougars

Like other cryptic, covert carnivores with large territories, puma populations are notoriously difficult to study.   These large Felids are typically solitary, elusive, and nocturnal, making spotting them very challenging.  But it’s a necessity.  Being able to gather reliable data on large Felid populations is crucial for effective conservation and management of this species.  Tagging and following cougars with GPS technology is the standard approach, but these methods are expensive and can compromise the animal’s welfare. So scientists are also using indirect signs for monitoring this covert creature.

Indirect signs are footprints, scat, nests. Often these can be the most effective and least expensive way to detect many animals. Animal footprints are much more frequently encountered in the field than the animals themselves, and have served as the basis for population indices and estimators. Footprint surveys are also non-invasive; the animal need not be seen, captured, or handled.

Non-invasive Methods

Researchers are using at least three non-invasive methods to study puma populations:

  • camera traps (used to identify individual animals by analysis of spots and stripes
  • genetic analysis of hair and scat (puma poop!)
  • footprint surveys

But they have learned that camera traps may underestimate accurate numbers because pumas lack distinguishing marks.  The genetic analysis is accurate, but apparently finding puma poop isn’t that easy.  But, thanks to scat detection dogs, biologists are now  locating more scat! 

Another non-invasive method being used to track these covert cougars is identifying puma prints!  This can be done through tracking three signs a puma has left behind after being in an area:  a Trail, Footprint, or Track

  • Trail = an unbroken series of footprints made by one animal
  • Footprint = a single impression made by a foot
  • Track = commonly used to describe both an individual footprint and a trail

Below is a perfect photo of a puma footprint and a puma footprint showing the placement of 25 landmark points (red circles) and 15 points derived from them and generated by the FIT script (yellow circles).  These provide 40 points to enable the scientists to measure each puma’s footprint precisely.

 


Recent Science Reveals Secrets

A relatively recent study that was part of Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project (TCP), which had already shed invaluable light on other puzzling puma behaviors, enabled conservationists to learn more about this secretive species – everything from their ecological effects to their secret social lives.  The study published on Nov 14, 2017 showed the results of research conducted on cougars in Yellowstone.  Their goal was to determine whether a subordinate carnivore (cougar) chose bedding areas with similar characteristics in an ecosystem that supports a multi-species guild of competing predators.  Basically, they wanted to learn about bed site selection among Pumas!

The video below shows curious cougars (a mother and her kittens) investigating a camera trap in the Teton mountains.  In this region, Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project has discovered a great deal about the behavior and ecology of this misunderstood and charismatic cat.

 


 

I should note:  In the world of Ecology,  a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role within a community.  They exploit the same kinds of resources in comparable ways.  Members of a guild within a given ecosystem could be competing for resources (space, shade, or light), while also cooperating in resisting wind stresses, attracting pollinators, or detecting predators. One example of this kind of guild is the Savannah-dwelling antelope and zebra.

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Antelope and Zebra sharing a primary resource

 

The name “guild” emphasizes the fact that these groups are like associations of craftsmen who employ similar techniques in plying their trade.  They often are composed of groups of closely related species that all arose from a common ancestor, and they exploit resources in similar ways as a result of their shared ancestry.  Several species within a single genus may constitute a guild within a community.

Other examples of guilds in nature are different insect species that collect nectar in similar ways, various bird species that employ corresponding insect-foraging techniques, or diverse plant species that have evolved comparable floral shapes with which they attract the same group of pollinators.

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Mantled Howlers are the most folivorous of the Central American monkeys, meaning they eat large quantities of leaves

Guilds in Nature:

  • Browsers and terrestrial folivores
  • Forest canopy folivores
  • Forest floor scavengers
  • Grazers
  • Forbs ( or “phorb” – an herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid)
  • Graminoids (grasses, rushes and sedges)
  • Plankton
  • Saprophytes (plant, fungus, or microorganism that lives on decaying organic matter)
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Vines
  • Piscivores (carnivorous animal that eats primarily fish)

 

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Most otters, like this Giant Otter (Pteronura basiliensis), are piscivores; hypercarnivores that specialize in eating fish

 

Because members of a guild engage in similar activities, they are often competitors for the resources they share, especially when those resources are scarce.   So, when it comes to safe bedding sites, and sharing resources in a guild, researches wanted to know more about cougars!  Between 2012-2016 the researchers investigated nearly 600 cougar bed sites in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  They carefully examined both the landscape and the microsite.  These TCP researchers used GPS collars to identify the puma bedding sites, then carefully studied each one.

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Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) satellite tracking collar, in the Tien Shan Mountains

Microsite

If we are going to learn why and what they are studying exactly, we need to cover the terms.  A “microsite” is a term used in ecology to describe a pocket within an environment with unique features or conditions.  Ecologists and scientists classifying different microsites based on temperature, humidity, sunlight, nutrient availability, soil characteristics, substrate, vegetation cover, etc.  A microsite is basically a sub environment within an environment.

It’s important to also note that many microsites exist in an environment.  This leads to organisms (plants, insects, animals) basing their selection of habit on the features of the microsite itself.  Being able to choose the best microsite will positively influence the species’ survival, growth and reproduction.  Basically, a good choice of a microsite has a direct relationship to the future generation of that particular species.


Their research discovered that among prey species, bed site selection provides:

  • thermoregulatory benefits
  • mitigates predation risk
  • may directly influence survival

They discovered that pumas gravitate to hidden bed sites where it would be hard for a competitor to see them.  Warmth is also an important factor in bed-site selection, especially during winter.  Their studies also shed light on the fact that these felines face more danger in their natural habitats than most of us realize.

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1. Landscape Choices

Research concerning the landscape, discovered that in the winter, cougars selected bed sites that were in alignment with the hypotheses of both thermoregulatory AND predator avoidance.

In the winter, cougar “beds” / communal sleeping areas were located:

  • on steeper slopes, but at lower elevations
  • closer to the forest edge
  • on southern, eastern, and western-facing slopes

Research concerning the landscape in the summer, showed that bedding areas were a bit different.  They found that cougars chose predator avoidance over thermoregulation.

Summer Bedding was found to be:

  • closer to forest edges
  • away from sagebrush and meadow habitat classes
  • on steeper slopes.

2. Microsite Choices

At the microsite scale, cougar bed characteristic in BOTH the winter and summer supported BOTH of their hypotheses of predator avoidance and thermoregulatory.

Cougars chose bed sites that included:

  • high canopy cover
  • high vegetative concealment
  • in a rugged habitat class (characterized by cliff bands and talus fields)

Note:  Talus is steep, loose piles of rock, formed by the constant process of erosion, and ubiquitous to the mountains.  Talus deposits typically have a concave upwards form.  To mountain climbers, Talus areas are not technical challenging areas to hike, but climbing Talus can be exhausting—and dangerous as well, due to the possibility of landslides consider this an area.  Cliff bands consist of steep, narrow passages.

 


Puuurfectly Suited for the Terrain

Looking at the two terrains pictured above, most people wonder how and why a mountain lion would choose to navigate those kinds of steep terrains, but these wild cats are designed for this habitat.  Pumas have incredible paws!  Their feet have a unique bone structure that enables them to grip rocks, logs, and slippery substrates.  They are even better at this kind of “hiking” than bears or wolves!

 ….So a precarious bed site can offer an escape advantage if a competitor tries to sneak up mid-nap. You’ll probably never see a puma sleep in an open field, as they typically bed down where trees or other landscape features provide a quick escape. –-TCP member Anna Kusler

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This puma has claimed a precarious place that can protect her from less agile enemies (Photo: wplynn/Flickr)

 


Bed Buds

Researchers found that a subordinate predator (pumas) selected bed sites that allowed for both thermoregulatory and anti-predator functions.  Brilliant, eh??  These choices are very similar to what we see occurring in many prey species!  Remember: Cats of all shapes, sizes, and species can be both predator and prey.

It’s also important to recognize that across their range, pumas overlap with six apex predators, including the gray wolf, grizzly bear, American black bear, jaguar, coyote,  and maned wolf.  How’s that for competition for resources and the possibility of become prey?!

“Even though most of us probably think of pumas as top predators with little to fear, that’s not always the case.  In North America, much larger grizzly and black bears steal their hard-earned kills. Wolves, as pack animals, steal their kills AND kill them and their kittens.” -TCP A.Kusler

The biologists now believe that studying bed site characteristics of subordinate predators could provide a new way to measure the use of refugia (an area where a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions).  This would ultimately provide new insights into the habitat requirements and energetics of subordinate carnivores.  Their research highlights some nuances of habitat loss that are easy to overlook.  When trying to protect large predators like pumas, many people — including researchers — focus on the availability of prey.  But this is only part of the puma picture.

“Because the best hunting habitats are not necessarily the safest places to sleep, a puma must find a home range that can provide both types of environment.”

Below is one of the videos they shared with the public, and used in their studies that shed light on where and why pumas chose to bed with other pumas:

 


We often found puma beds tucked underneath the low-lying boughs of a tree, or against the rugged face of an inaccessible cliff.  They seem to prefer steep, rugged terrain, like cliff bands and boulder fields. – A. Kusler


Catnap Connoisseurs

Cats can snooze like no other.  A pussycat can pass out while purring, and some even doze off when bird watching out a window!  Cats never seem to venture far from a nap. The house cat’s pendulum swings between sleeping and stalking so well, we’ve named a version of napping after them!  A cat could be fully aroused one moment, engaging in passionate play or serious stalking, then fall effortlessly back into a catnap.  These cat nappers know what they are doing.  Feline veterinarians agree that if a cat is awake most of 24 hour period of the day, there could be something wrong.  Like their wild ancestors, house cats are programmed for proper sleep; it’s in their DNA.  This instinctual need lets the cat that know that when he/she is not chasing, hunting, eating, or grooming, h/she should be sleeping — or at least searching for a place to sleep.

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Much like the cougars, Mr. Beaux and Knox share shelter and safe snoozing places at our home.  Here we are in our enclosed garden together while I write this post!

 

The family of Felidae is made up of solitary predators.  Lions are the exception; they cooperatively hunt.  But new research has shown that female cougars may benefit from tolerating males during feeding, through the maintenance of social niches that support breeding opportunities.  – Who says females don’t have ulterior motives when it comes to survival of their species? 😉   And when it comes to sleeping, not only could all cats in the Felida family compete in sleeping as an Olympic trial, but where they snooze, and with whom they choose to catnap, is quite particular for these felines.

Cat guardians have seen the amusing and strange ways cats sleep. We have noticed how often they sleep, and where they sleep.  But why they are choosing these places, spaces, and bedfellows is linked to their ancestors.  So is the fact that house cats are crepuscular:  They are biologically programmed to be most active/ awake in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.

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Knox Zydeco and Mr. Beaux catching some zzzzs & rays on their catio

Pumas may not have the option of  passing out on an enclosed patio, but they do have comparable choices about where they sleep in their native, wild habitats.  Pumas, like our house cats, need to find safe sleeping spots. These places must be located where it’s unlikely other predators / potential threats can harm them or disturb them.

“So, like your housecat loves to sleep in the sunny warmth of a windowsill, pumas like to maximize their exposure to the sun’s rays That meant many bed sites were on south-facing slopes, where the warmth from the sun is strongest.” –  Anna Kusler

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Warmth, secrecy and escape routes are key factors for felines when they need rest. (Photo: Tony Campbell/Shutterstock)

 


Considering Cats and Cougars

As we wrap this cougar chat up, I’d like for you to consider something about your cat at home.  The next time you spot your house cat snoozing in a sack, inside an empty box, on a shelf, or any other safe cozy place, consider how this behavior is inextricably linked to their wild ancestors.  Your feline family member has the same innate desire and need to remain silent and hidden, just like the puma napping under the boughs of a tree or the crags of a cliff, perched high above the world.  Once we know this, and recognize the importance of this, we can properly provide our house cats with the safe spaces, and cozy places they need … just like their wild feline ancestors.

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“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”― Anaïs Nin

 


References & Recommended Reading:

Why Cats Like Boxes AND Need Them!

Estimating Abundances of Interacting Species Using Morphological Traits, Foraging Guilds, and Habitat

Felidae Species List by Genus

Adaptive social strategies in a solitary carnivore

About Panthera

“Microsite Selection and the Informed Planter”. http://www.for.gov.bc.ca. Retrieved 2016-12-14.

Bed site selection by a subordinate predator: an example with the cougar (Puma concolor) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Are pumas subordinate carnivores, and does it matter?

Characterization of puma–livestock conflicts in rangelands of central Argentina

The challenge of monitoring elusive large carnivores: An accurate and cost-effective tool to identify and sex pumas (Puma concolor) from footprints

The work of carnivore biologist Jonatan Borling

International Urban Wildlife Conference, June 4 – 7, 2017 | San Diego, California

A single migrant enhances the genetic diversity of an inbred puma population

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Cross-Species Transmission: Implications for Emergence of New Lentiviral Infections

 Removing the Eastern Puma (=Cougar) From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife- Now Extinct

What Animals Do When They Think No One is Watching

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

coyote pups playing

 

In our family we make a point to be playful and silly as much as we can. We laugh a lot. And we make time to play.  I am also a huge advocate of using play when teaching kids and especially adults.  Play is a powerful tool!

Play can lift a person’s mood. Play relaxes everyone in the room, and eases tension any time things get tense.  Play is a great way to remember to not be so serious.  Play is also great exercise.  We all need a lot of playtime in our lives.

People aren’t the only ones who play. Nature plays, too!

Every once in a while, we are fortunate to get a glimpse into the hidden lives of animals in our homes, and in the wild.  When this happens we are surprised how much animal species are like us.  They love. They protect. And they play.

Every time I think I know enough about a species, I am given another opportunity to learn something new from a new animal teacher, and see life from another’s perspective.

Today my teacher was a wild coyote (Canis latrans).

Check out this new perspective on the importance of play:


Have you ever seen an animal in nature playing like this?

Do you play?

Please share!  I would love to hear your favorite play stories!


Recommended Reading:

Coyote facts

PROJECT COYOTE RESOURCES

Coyote Power Animal

Coyote plays with dog toy

coyote-pups2

We do not quit playing because we grow old; we grow old because we quit playing.― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

 

 

 

The Deadly Dangers of Lilies

easter lilies cats toxic plants
My collection of lilies on my front porch in New Orleans. I grew them all from seeds.

Easter is almost here!  Right now flowers seem to be everywhere I look.  I want to bring them all home, but I have to resist. Few of my readers know that I am a huge plant lover.  It gives me so much pleasure to grow all kinds of things from seeds. Lilies and orchids are my favorite. Just looking at them makes my heart swell!  But these days, I keep the lilies outside. They are not allowed inside the house – ever. Why?  Because we have cats and a dog


Did you know?

There is another plant far more dangerous to pets than poinsettias.

Meet the beautiful and deadly lily.

easter lily grown from seed_toxic to cats_poisonous plants
I grew this Lily from a seed! Isn’t she beautiful?

Facts about Lilies:

  • Lilies are one of the most dangerous flowers to have around cats.
  • They can send a cat into acute kidney failure (which can be fatal).
  • There are several types of lilies that are toxic to pets.
  • It takes only a nibble on one leaf or stem, or the ingestion of a small amount of lily pollen (easy to do when a cat grooms itself) to send a cat into acute kidney failure and you rushing to the emergency vet.
  • Lily of the valley (Convalaria majalis) affects the heart, causing irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure, and can progress to seizures or coma (in cats and dogs).

There are benign and dangerous lilies. So it’s important to know the difference.  

  • Benign lilies: the Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies; these contain insoluble oxalate crystals that cause tissue irritation in the mouth, tongue, pharynx, and esophagus.
  • Dangerous and potentially fatal lilies:  The “true lilies” (the Lilium or Hemerocallis species): the tiger, day, Asiatic hybrid, Easter, Japanese Show, rubrum, stargazer, red, Western, and wood lilies
  • Other types of dangerous lilies include lily of the valley. This type does not cause kidney failure, but can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias and death when ingested by dogs or cats.

Lilies toxic to cats

Watch this 1 minute video to learn about Lily Toxicity:

The outlook for cats with acute kidney failure resulting from eating lilies can be good, so long as early and aggressive treatment is pursued. But if too much time passes before ingestion is recognized and appropriate treatment is started, the outlook becomes much worse and death from the disease or from euthanasia is more likely. The sad truth is that without treatment, acute kidney failure is going to be fatal.

Common signs to watch for:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting (pieces of plant in the vomit)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased urination, followed by lack of urination after 1 to 2 days
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding
  • Diarrhea
  • Halitosis
  • Inappropriate urination or thirst
  • Seizures
  • Death

dangers of easter lilies and cats


Safety Tips:

  • If you live with cats, never have lilies in the home. It’s not worth the risk!
  • If you want to send a bouquet to friends or family members with cats, specifically request “no lilies please!”
  • If you love lilies, keep them outside on the porch where cats cannot reach them.
  • Keep your cat indoors.  Lots of folks have lilies growing in their garden, and many grow wild along the roadside. If your cat is outdoors, you have no way to prevent your cat from eating or rubbing up against those wild lilies.
  • Click here for an extensive list of poisonous plants & flowers (and some non-toxic alternatives)

Cats jump, dead leaves fall, vases spill, and pollen travels on breezes – any of these scenarios can kill your cat.

Easter is just around the corner! Please be sure your home does not have these very dangerous flowers. And please share this with your friends, colleagues, and family!

easter lilies and cats
My beautiful but deadly lily plant

Sources and more resources:

Pet Poison Help Hotline

Lesser Known Pet Toxicities: Lily Toxicity in Cats

Save The Paw!

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?” ― Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation

declaw my cat_why not to declaw your cat

Have you had an experience that changed the way you once viewed something? Have you ever known in your gut that something you were watching unfold or helping with seemed ”so right” to everyone else, but it felt so wrong to you?  I’ve had this experience more than once, and I would like to talk to you about it today.

This is not a feel-good story, but it’s one that needs to be shared.

From the age of 14 to 17, I worked and volunteered at local veterinary clinics in Orlando Florida, where my family lived at the time.   I worked closely with pets that people brought in for boarding, minor procedures, and major surgeries.  Even though I was young, the staff let me work alongside of them for many of the procedures.  This was in the 90s, so veterinary staff were much more lax about safety procedures than now.  Some of the procedures were fascinating.  Some were bloody and heart wrenching.

As a teenager, and later as an adult, I had an all inclusive pass and a front row seat to participate in tail and ear dockings and amputations.  Tail and ear docking was considered “minor” surgery, but what I witnessed as a post-op staff was not “minor.”  The harmless-sounding term “declawing” was used to hide what amounted to an amputation procedure.   You might raise an eyebrow reading that because these procedures are something we hear about often, so they seem rather innocuous.  I am here to tell you from first hand experience: declawing is not a minor, harmless procedure.  Onychectomies (declawing of cats) is quite controversial, and quite complicated.

declawing cats procedure

Experience Changes Perception

During my teenage veterinary life chapter and my post college veterinary school chapter I witnessed and participated in many things involving or resulting from decalwing.  It always felt wrong to me, despite the docs who quickly dismissed my questions and concerns.  None of what I saw was positive.  I saw cats in pain, cats sick from the procedure, cats later euthanized due to major complications post-surgery, and I saw cat owners devastated because of the uninformed decision they made for their cats.  I have even known cougars who had been declawed out of safety for humans, but ended up living a life dominated by physical pain and discomfort.  Fast forward to today.  Now I help people who made the decision to declaw their cats (either out of convenience or because of a veterinarian’s recommendation to solve undesirable scratching behavior), but now they have more issues because of declawing their cats.  I share this with you today because tomorrow is Declaw Awareness Day.  This is your chance to spread the word and become involved.   

Educations spreads Awareness. Awareness breeds compassion


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DECLAWING

 Declawing is NOT a “Kitty Manicure” 

People often are often misled to believe that declawing is a harmless procedure.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Declawing is the surgical amputation of all or part of a cat’s third phalanges (toe bones) and the attached claws.  If this surgery was done on a human, it would be like cutting off each finger or toe at the last knuckle.

declawed cat claws

Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. ~ AVMA American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

cat declaw like human amputation

Feline Fact:  Cats claws are NOT like our fingernails.

Cat-Declawing

How Declawing Is Performed 

The standard method of declawing is amputating with a scalpel or guillotine clipper.  The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue, and the feet are bandaged.  I had the job of doing the “kitty super glue” when I assisted veterinarian staff as a teenager.  Laser surgery is another way this procedure is done.  I helped during the post-op procedures for this technique at the Louisiana State University Veterinary Teaching School.  A beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporizing it.  This procedure still amputates the last toe bone of the cat and carries the same long-term risks as the other method.

declaw_what happens when cats are declawed_the truth about declawing_amputation

 Feline Fact:  At least 22 countries have banned declawing.


A Cat’s Anatomy Matters

Did you know that cats are digitigrade, which means that they walk on their toes?  As a cat walks or runs, he/she will usually retract their claws into sheaths, leaving behind just the smooth, small toes and footpad.  Humans and bears are plantigrade mammals.  We walk on the soles of our feet, with the toes only touching the ground briefly toward the end of each step.

Declawing Complications

Once a cat is declawed, it changes the way a cat can move.  There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage, and bone spurs.  A cat’s leg muscles and back muscles can weaken over time. This can lead to back and joint pain.

Clawed-vs-Declawed-Toes _cats Declawing

Removing claws changes the way a cat’s foot meets the ground and can cause pain similar to that which humans experience when wearing a very uncomfortable pair of shoes

Medical Complications of Declawing:

  • pain in the paw
  • infection
  • tissue necrosis (tissue death)
  • lameness
  • nerve damage
  • bone chips that prevent healing
  • postoperative hemorrhage
  • regrowth of the claws inside the paw pads.

Behavioral and Physical Complications of Declawing:

  • Many cats are less likely to use the litter box due to pain after being declawed.
  • Most cats are more likely to bite because they no longer have their claws for defense.
  • There are long lasting physical problems for your cat.

 Feline Fact: Declawing changes the way the cat’s paws function, and this creates stress on the joints of the paw, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and spine.


Why Cats NEED Their Claws

1. Offense and Defense – Your cat’s claws are a vital part of his/her arsenal for offense and defense. Did you know:

  • Cats use their claws to capture prey (toys or real prey)
  • Cats use their claws to settle disputes among themselves, other animals, and with people who are hurting, threatening, or annoying them.
  • Cats who need to climb to safe place use their claws to grip onto the surface and pull themselves up to safety.

2. Health and Habits – Your cat’s claws are a vital part of his/her daily rituals.  Cats instinctually pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance (trees, logs, rugs, scratching posts, etc.) They do this to mark territory, exercise and stretch muscles, relieve stress, and to remove worn sheaths from the nails.

declaw_why cats need their claws

Scratching Serves Many Purposes.

Despite what you may believe, cats don’t’ scratch your furniture or other personal items to “get back at you”.  Cats have a biological (physical and emotional) need to do this behavior!  Scratching is a very normal and healthy behavior.   There is another popular misconception that cats scratch to sharpen their nails.  This is not true.   Cats scratch for a variety of very important reasons:

 Why Cats Scratch:kitten-with-scratchpost

  • To communicate; scratching on surfaces deposits pheromones that send messages to other cats.
  • To condition the claws by removing aged cuticles
  • To serve as a visual territorial marker
  • To defend themselves
  • To stretches the muscles of the limbs, thorax, and back
  • To express joy, excitement, frustration, stress, and as a displacement behavior

Experts Weigh-In on Declawing

Read what the respected feline veterinarians and animal welfare organizations have to say about this declawing:

The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their guardians. The only circumstance in which the procedure could be condoned would be if the health and safety of the guardian would be put at risk, as in the case of individuals with compromised immune systems or illnesses that cause them to be unusually susceptible to serious infections.

 The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing except for the rare cases when it is necessary for medical purposes, such as the removal of cancerous nail bed tumors.


Feline expert Dr. Margie Scherk shares her experience and thoughts on the issue:


Some people feel it’s unnatural to remove a cat’s claws, and it’s done for the owner’s benefit and not for the cat’s benefit. There are many other arguments you can make for this — the pain they go through, the complications after declawing. But I think it really boils down to cats are born with claws and they should keep them. ~ Drew Weigner, Atlanta veterinarian and president of the Academy of Feline Medicine

The American Association of Feline Practitioners statement on declawing (PDF) 

The AVMA’s Policy on Cat Declawing and what’s actually Involved (video)



Is declawing bad for cats AND YOU?  You bet.  Jackson Galaxy sets the record straight:



Alternatives to Declawing

Sometimes, people feel like there is no other option but to remove a cat’s claws.  Thankfully, many progressive and humane veterinarians are now teaching their clients about other humane and respectful methods for managing destructive clawing and to prevent injury from cat scratches.  Here are just a few alternatives to declawing:


Facts Aren’t Enough

I was going to simply share the facts about declawing along with the humane alternatives and just keep it at that, but as I write this I am moved to share more.  I have three cats laying around me right now.  All of them have their claws intact.  Have we had issues with scratching in the home before?  Sure. It’s what cats need to do.  But I didn’t chop off their toes because of unwanted scratching.  I taught my cats where and what to scratch on.  I took the time to learn my cats’ individual preferences and thresholds so they would never feel the need to scratch me, our house guests, each other, or the dog.  I teach my clients, family, and friends how to do this as well.  It’s humane. It’s fun. And it works.

The Bigger Picture

Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know that I steer on the positive side of things.  I do my best to not judge, and I focus on compassionate education.  But I have to ask: Who do we think we are to do this to cats?  Why do we think it’s perfectly acceptable to amputate an animal’s body part because it makes our lives easier?  How did we get to this point with the animals we invited into our lives?  Will we continue to do this procedure without exploring other options?  How did the disconnect happen between caring for our cats and fully honoring them for who they are?  When did we choose to overlook their emotional and physical needs?  Who are we to decide that this procedure is justifiable? We would never consider doing this to a child if there was a behavioral issue; we would look into every other option available. Are cats considered less than deserving of the same treatment?

I understand these are tough questions, but they need to be asked, and we need to take an honest look at all of this.

Before you make the decision to amputate your cat’s toes, try humane alternatives.  There are too many available to ignore.  Choose wisely.  My cats are family.  Are yours?

Declaw awareness_why not to declaw cats
Me and Knox

 When we understand that all animals are our relatives, perhaps then we will treat them as our brothers and sisters. ~ A.D. Williams


Recommended Reading

Read This Before Declawing Your Cat

Think Twice Before You Declaw

Declawing: Another Veterinarian’s Perspective

Physical Consequences of Declawing

Declawing Cats Required to Rent?

Paw Project Movie on Netflix

Relief for Declawed Cats

Chronic Pain of Declawing

The Paw Project

Welfare Implications of Declawing of Domestic Cats

don't declaw_save the paw_Conscious Companion_Declaw awareness day

Oh My Word! Baby Birds!

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. – His Holiness The Dalai Lama

baby bird _house sparrow Newborn We recently moved into a new home. As with most moves, there are circumstances that you cannot control, and we have had our share this move.  Our landlord has been building on an addition to the house since before we moved in, and the construction still continues.  During all of the banging and vibrations, we discovered an active bird’s nest in the exterior wall.  We had been monitoring the nest for weeks, but this weekend we heard the wee cries of new hatchlings!

As exciting as this was, we knew that we had to make a decision quickly because the construction crew was scheduled to come the next day to seal up the exterior wall with insulation and drywall. The nest was going to be sealed in there with live baby birds! We put our heads together, identified the bird species, did some bird fact checking, and came up with the best solution for this species … We relocated the nest.


NOTE: Nesting songbirds are protected by federal law, which prohibits moving their nests!

In the United States it’s illegal to remove or destroy any active nest from any native bird species.  An active nest is defined as “a nest with eggs or brooding adults in it”.  If the nest has been abandoned or no eggs have yet been laid, it can be removed or destroyed as needed.

House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and  European starlings, are not native birds. This is how we knew that it was legal to relocate the nest.

The images below show how we did it. I am sharing this to help others if they encounter a similar situation with native or nonnative bird species.

If you click on/scroll over the images above, you can see how and what we were doing.  Please note that this entire process happened very quickly, to reduce the amount of stress on the parents and the offspring.  After we moved the baby birds to the new nest area, we c l e a r e d ourselves out of the area, to allow the parents to feel safe enough to explore the area and listen for their offspring.

As we had hoped, Mother Nature and the maternal and paternal instincts saved the day! Just hours later, the cries of the hatchlings were heard and the parents found their offspring!  The mother and father are now guarding their recently relocated nest.

My husband holds the hatchling birds as I prepare a new, safer nest for them
My husband holds the very vulnerable hatchlings as I prepare a new, safer nest for them. Mom and dad watched us the entire time.

The next day we bought a bird feeder and offer them seed they prefer.

We found a very sturdy double seed bird feeder at Lowe's for $5!  I set it up in a tree that I often see the parents hanging out in. I also added some biodegradable nesting material; they have been using it already! yay!

We found a very sturdy double seed bird feeder at Lowe’s for $5! I set it up in a tree that I often see the parents hanging out in. I also added some biodegradable nesting material; they have been using it already! yay!

If you have found this article while searching for help on ‘how to move a bird’s nest’, or ‘how to help a baby bird’ it’s very important that you correctly identify the species of bird (by watching the adult birds at the nest), before you even consider interfering with the nest!  You must determine whether or not the nest removal would be legal according to local wildlife laws.  Native birds are protected species, so tampering with a nest could lead to hefty fines or other penalties.

Although often considered a nuisance species and an agricultural pest, the House Sparrow has proven well-suited for studies of general biological problems such as evolutionary mechanisms, temperature metabolism, and pest control.
Although often considered a nuisance species and an agricultural pest, the House Sparrow has proven well-suited for biological problems such as pest control.

Nests You Shouldn’t Remove

Somenestsshould not be removed regardless of the circumstances, unless wildlifeauthoritiesare consulted, or there are no other options to keep the nesting birds safe. These nests include:
  • Endangered birds that are unlikely to build a new nest if disturbed
  • Raptors or other large birds that will reuse the same nest for many years
  • Natural cavities that would be destroyed in order to remove the nest
  • Any nest in early summer that may be reused for additional broods
  • Learn more about rules regarding Relocating Nesting Birds

 

Bird Nest Facts:

  • Birds usually lay one egg a day.
  • They don’t begin incubating their eggs until all the eggs have been laid.
  • Clutch sizes vary from 2 to 8 eggs for most common backyard birds.
  • Once the last egg has been laid, incubation takes about two weeks.
  • The eggs will usually hatch about the same time.
  • After hatching, it will take another two weeks before the nestlings are ready to leave the nest.
  • To be on the safe side, and to allow for variety in species, allow six weeks before the nest is ready to be moved.
  • Learn more about incubation and fledging time for common bird species in North America.
  • Common questions about Baby Birds

 


What About Touching The Babies?!?

You’re probably familiar with the “rule” that many of us were taught as children: never touch baby birds, or the mother bird will reject her own offspring.  Unfortunately, it’s still generally believed that the mere scent of a human on a hatchling or fledgling bird will spook the mother bird into abandoning her offspring.  Good thing this misperception is FALSE!  This lore may have been invented for keeping children away from birds, in order to ensure the bird’s safety. Also, the parents of the baby bird may be nearby, and could become protective and aggressive when they see children near their nest; parents could have been protecting their human offspring with this tall tale. In fact, birds have a limited sense of smell and even if the mama bird could smell your scent, this would not interfere with taking care of her offspring.   However, if you disturb the eggs in a nest, the mother and father birds could understand that they are facing a danger, and may abandon the nest completely. So please give nesting birds the space they need!

Please help the birds and ignore those crazy myths!

Mother birds will not reject their babies because they smell human scent on them, nor will they refuse to set on eggs that have been handled by a person. Most birds have a limited sense of smell and cannot detect human scent. (If you handle bird eggs while the mother is away from the nest, mama bird will usually notice upon her return that the eggs were disturbed during her absence, and some species of bird will take this as an indication that a dangerous intruder is present and may temporarily or even permanently abandon their nests as a result. Such behavior is relatively rare, however, and in these situations the mother birds are reacting to visual warnings, not olfactory ones.)

 

Learn the Truth Behind More BIRD MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS!


So what should you do if you find a baby bird out of the nest? These graphics should help you!

baby bird out of nest help


found a baby bird

Learn more about What To Do If You Find A Baby Bird


If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. – St. Francis of Assisi

 


Sources:

http://www.worldbirdsanctuary.org/index.php http://www.allaboutbirds.org/ http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna