05/05/2016 in RZSS
As I write this, there are 38 documented wild cat species listed by the IUCN, spread across every continent on earth barring Australia and Antarctica. Of these 38 species, 22 (58%) are considered small cats.
It is fair to say that most people are aware of the big iconic cat species like the tiger, lion or snow leopard – and in many ways this is understandable given their impressive markings, power and size – but there is an unfortunate consequence of this. It means that very little of the lime-light is given to the smaller cat species, which in many cases are just as amazing and just as threatened as their larger cousins.
An obvious question many of you may be thinking is: “why does it matter that big cats get more of the limelight?” In simple terms:
Limelight = exposure = attention = support = funding = conservation.
There is one statistic which demonstrates this well, and before you read it bear in mind that most of the cat family is made up of small cat species.
99% of global cat conservation funding goes to big cat species!
This of course is a worrying statistic and one that needs to change if we are to safeguard any of the small cat species; however, we may have just taken a big step forward for one species in particular. Those of you that have been following these blogs will know that over the last two to three years RZSS have been raising the profile of Pallas’s cats and supporting in-situ field projects across range countries, with the help of other European and North American zoological institutions.
In addition to this work, we signed a three year joint agreement in 2015 with the Snow Leopard Trust and Nordens Ark Zoo in Sweden for dedicated Pallas’s cat conservation and research. As a result of this support, increased awareness and partnerships, Nordens Ark (along with RZSS the Snow Leopard Trust) were invited to apply for a conservation grant through the Segre Foundation in recognition of the recent efforts toward Pallas’s cat conservation. Between the end of 2015 and the start of 2016 we all worked together over email and Skype to compile a long and detailed application and put together what we called the Pallas’s Cat International Conservation Alliance (or PICA for short).
As with any funding application, we had to state what it was we were asking for in financial terms. This was easier said than done. If this was a big cat species, we would always be thinking big but this was a small cat species that few people know of and so questions ran through our heads. If we ask for too much will we get it? If we ask for too little would we be able to have much impact? After some debate we decided to go big and ask for 120,000 Euros (around £100,000) over three years and hoped that the funders would be as dedicated to this cause as we were.
At the start of the year, about a month after the submission of the first draft, we were asked to review the first document and submit a final application. We then had the nervous wait of another four to six weeks where doubts start to creep in. Would they reject the application and direct the funds towards other, more iconic species? Would they be put off by the IUCN status of Near Threatened? Would all of our hard work be a waste of time?
All these questions were answered in early March when an email arrived from my colleague at Nordens Ark. The email started with ‘YAY!’ and continued to say we were successful. That one word however said so much. Have our efforts in raising the profile of the species worked? Yes. Has our approach in creating partnerships for greater impact in conservation been the right one? Yes. Do the Segre Foundation truly care about the non-iconic species that few people know of? Yes. And is this a momentous occasion for Pallas’s cat conservation across the globe? A resounding YES!
This is an exciting time for Pallas’s cats and one that wouldn’t have been possible without the support from other zoological institutions and of course the Segre Foundation. It is a long road ahead but one we are truly happy to be travelling down with Nordens Ark and the Snow leopard trust with the hope that other small cat species start their own journeys soon.
Stay tuned for project updates and other exciting cat conservation news!
Cat Conservation Project Officer
A busy year ahead for RZSS conservation programmes
Whilst our colleagues and partners within Scottish Wildcat Action have been working across Scotland conducting feral cat neutering programmes, wildcat population monitoring surveys, educational outreach and field research, we at RZSS have been continuing to develop the Scottish wildcat conservation breeding for release project.
Through a new research initiative “PICA” (Pallas’s Cat International Conservation Alliance) which launched earlier this year, we’re hoping to better understand this feline. The project is still in its early stages, but it has already produced some outstanding, rare footage of Pallas’s cats, including video of wild cubs
As part of Scottish Wildcat Action, RZSS has been tasked with coordinating a conservation breeding programme for future releases. To do this effectively we not only have to manage the existing captive population, undertake cutting edge genetic work and liaise with landowners across Scotland; we also need to look to other similar projects across the globe to ensure we are constantly learning and developing new techniques that will aid future success.