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Helping Wild Cats Live All ‘Nine’ Lives

There are about 36 different species of wild cats around the world. Although larger wild cats, such as lions, attract most of the attention, more than 80 percent of wild cat species are actually small wild cats, some weighing in at less than 3 pounds.

No matter their size, wild cats play an important role in keeping other species in check, including herbivores that could rapidly deplete plant ecosystems and sick animals that may spread diseases.

Unfortunately, many wild cats are listed as endangered or threatened because of rampant habitat loss, poaching and disease outbreaks. Morris Animal Foundation–funded researchers around the world are working hard to ensure that these valuable predators have the opportunity to live out all of their “nine” lives.

Since 1997, Morris Animal Foundation has supported research to help increase knowledge about the genetics and health of many wild cat species. Early Foundation-funded studies focused on using reproductive biology to maintain genetic diversity in captive wild cat populations. Self-sustaining captive populations are critical to the long-term survival of many wild cat species.

These first projects improved assisted reproductive strategies and included the development of artificial insemination protocols for big cats, such as tigers, cheetahs and clouded leopards, and for small cats, such as Asian Pallas’ and fishing cats, African black-footed cats and Asian/African sand cats. Results from these studies were incorporated into many Species Survival Plan Programs, helping to create genetic safety nets for the declining populations in the wild.

Today, thanks in part to early and current research, we are celebrating increases in birth announcements for captive cheetahs, clouded leopards and fishing cats, offering hope that the survival of many of the seriously threatened and endangered wild cat species is achievable.

Foundation-funded researchers are also helping to improve the health and survival of free-range wild cats. Researchers recently validated a new blood screening test for evaluating tuberculosis (TB) in lions, a disease that is causing illness in many wildlife species, including lions.

Other Foundation-funded research has improved our understanding of canine distemper outbreaks in African lions and Siberian tigers, and has helped to gauge the prevalence and health effects of feline immunodeficiency virus in African lions, mountain lions and bobcats. Results from these studies will be used to develop disease surveillance and control strategies, thereby, improving the ability of wildlife managers, biologists and veterinarians to predict and inhibit disease outbreaks in wild cat communities before they can cause serious population declines.

By making a donation to Morris Animal Foundation, you can help researchers improve the health of wild cat species around the world and ensure these felines, big and small, fully live out all of their nine lives.

By: Jean Vore


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February 17, 2015