Lions (Panthera leo) feed on diverse prey species, a range that is broadened by their cooperative hunting. Although humans are not typical prey, habitual man-eating by lions is well documented. Fathoming the motivations of the Tsavo and Mfuwe man-eaters (killed in 1898 in Kenya and 1991 in Zambia, respectively) may be elusive, but we can clarify aspects of their behaviour using dental microwear texture analysis. Specifically, we analysed the surface textures of lion teeth to assess whether these notorious man-eating lions scavenged carcasses during their depredations. Compared to wild-caught lions elsewhere in Africa and other large feliforms, including cheetahs and hyenas, dental microwear textures of the man-eaters do not suggest extreme durophagy (e.g. bone processing) shortly before death. Dental injuries to two of the three man-eaters examined may have induced shifts in feeding onto softer foods. Further, prompt carcass reclamation by humans likely limited the man-eaters' access to bones. Man-eating was likely a viable alternative to hunting and/or scavenging ungulates due to dental disease and/or limited prey availability.
The Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST) has been widely used to demonstrate that the bond between both children and dogs to their primary carer typically meets the requirements of a secure attachment (i.e. the carer being perceived as a focus of safety and security in otherwise threatening environments), and has been adapted for cats with a similar claim made. However methodological problems in this latter research make the claim that the cat-owner bond is typically a secure attachment, operationally definable by its behaviour in the SST, questionable. We therefore developed an adapted version of the SST with the necessary methodological controls which include a full counterbalance of the procedure. A cross-over design experiment with 20 cat-owner pairs (10 each undertaking one of the two versions of the SST first) and continuous focal sampling was used to record the duration of a range of behavioural states expressed by the cats that might be useful for assessing secure attachment. Since data were not normally distributed, non-parametric analyses were used on those behaviours shown to be reliable across the two versions of the test (which excluded much cat behaviour). Although cats vocalised more when the owner rather the stranger left the cat with the other individual, there was no other evidence consistent with the interpretation of the bond between a cat and its owner meeting the requirements of a secure attachment. These results are consistent with the view that adult cats are typically quite autonomous, even in their social relationships, and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of security and safety. It is concluded that alternative methods need to be developed to characterise the normal psychological features of the cat-owner bond.
Tigers and their close relatives (Panthera) are some of the world’s most endangered species. Here we report the de novo assembly of an Amur tiger whole-genome sequence as well as the genomic sequences of a white Bengal tiger, African lion, white African lion and snow leopard. Through comparative genetic analyses of these genomes, we find genetic signatures that may reflect molecular adaptations consistent with the big cats' hypercarnivorous diet and muscle strength. We report a snow leopard-specific genetic determinant in EGLN1 (Met39>Lys39), which is likely to be associated with adaptation to high altitude. We also detect a TYR260G>A mutation likely responsible for the white lion coat colour. Tiger and cat genomes show similar repeat composition and an appreciably conserved synteny. Genomic data from the five big cats provide an invaluable resource for resolving easily identifiable phenotypes evident in very close, but distinct, species.
Domestic cats have a unique breeding history and can be used as models for human hereditary and infectious diseases. In the current era of genome-wide association studies, insights regarding linkage disequilibrium (LD) are essential for efficient association studies. The objective of this study is to investigate the extent of LD in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus, particularly within its breeds. A custom illumina GoldenGate Assay consisting of 1536 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) equally divided over ten 1 Mb chromosomal regions was developed, and genotyped across 18 globally recognized cat breeds and two distinct random bred populations. The pair-wise LD descriptive measure (r(2)) was calculated between the SNPs in each region and within each population independently. LD decay was estimated by determining the non-linear least-squares of all pair-wise estimates as a function of distance using established models. The point of 50% decay of r(2) was used to compare the extent of LD between breeds. The longest extent of LD was observed in the Burmese breed, where the distance at which r(2) ≈ 0.25 was ∼380 kb, comparable to several horse and dog breeds. The shortest extent of LD was found in the Siberian breed, with an r(2) ≈ 0.25 at approximately 17 kb, comparable to random bred cats and human populations. A comprehensive haplotype analysis was also conducted. The haplotype structure of each region within each breed mirrored the LD estimates. The LD of cat breeds largely reflects the breeds' population history and breeding strategies. Understanding LD in diverse populations will contribute to an efficient use of the newly developed SNP array for the cat in the design of genome-wide association studies, as well as to the interpretation of results for the fine mapping of disease and phenotypic traits.
Human-carnivore conflicts challenge biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, but the role of diseases of domestic animals in their predation by carnivores is poorly understood. We conducted a human-leopard (Panthera pardus) conflict study throughout all 34 villages around Golestan National Park, Iran in order to find the most important conflict determinants and to use them in predicting the probabilities of conflict and killing of cattle, sheep and goats, and dogs. We found that the more villagers were dissatisfied with veterinary services, the more likely they were to lose livestock and dogs to leopard predation. Dissatisfaction occurred when vaccination crews failed to visit villages at all or, in most cases, arrived too late to prevent diseases from spreading. We suggest that increased morbidity of livestock makes them particularly vulnerable to leopard attacks. Moreover, conflicts and dog killing were higher in villages located closer to the boundaries of the protected area than in distant villages. Therefore, we appeal for improved enforcement and coordination of veterinary services in our study area, and propose several priority research topics such as veterinarian studies, role of wild prey in diseases of domestic animals, and further analysis of potential conflict predictors.
The leopard’s (Panthera pardus) broad geographic range, remarkable adaptability, and secretive nature have contributed to a misconception that this species might not be severely threatened across its range. We find that not only are several subspecies and regional populations critically endangered but also the overall range loss is greater than the average for terrestrial large carnivores. To assess the leopard’s status, we compile 6,000 records at 2,500 locations from over 1,300 sources on its historic (post 1750) and current distribution. We map the species across Africa and Asia, delineating areas where the species is confirmed present, is possibly present, is possibly extinct or is almost certainly extinct. The leopard now occupies 25-37% of its historic range, but this obscures important differences between subspecies. Of the nine recognized subspecies, three (P. p. pardus, fusca, and saxicolor) account for 97% of the leopard’s extant range while another three (P. p. orientalis, nimr, and japonensis) have each lost as much as 98% of their historic range. Isolation, small patch sizes, and few remaining patches further threaten the six subspecies that each have less than 100,000 km(2) of extant range. Approximately 17% of extant leopard range is protected, although some endangered subspecies have far less. We found that while leopard research was increasing, research effort was primarily on the subspecies with the most remaining range whereas subspecies that are most in need of urgent attention were neglected.
The ancestor of all modern domestic cats is the wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, with archaeological evidence indicating it was domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago in South-West Asia. A recent study, however, claims that cat domestication also occurred in China some 5,000 years ago and involved the same wildcat ancestor (F. silvestris). The application of geometric morphometric analyses to ancient small felid bones from China dating between 5,500 to 4,900 BP, instead reveal these and other remains to be that of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). These data clearly indicate that the origins of a human-cat ‘domestic’ relationship in Neolithic China began independently from South-West Asia and involved a different wild felid species altogether. The leopard cat’s ‘domestic’ status, however, appears to have been short-lived-its apparent subsequent replacement shown by the fact that today all domestic cats in China are genetically related to F. silvestris.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published 8 months ago
Establishing and maintaining protected areas (PAs) are key tools for biodiversity conservation. However, this approach is insufficient for many species, particularly those that are wide-ranging and sparse. The cheetah Acinonyx jubatus exemplifies such a species and faces extreme challenges to its survival. Here, we show that the global population is estimated at ∼7,100 individuals and confined to 9% of its historical distributional range. However, the majority of current range (77%) occurs outside of PAs, where the species faces multiple threats. Scenario modeling shows that, where growth rates are suppressed outside PAs, extinction rates increase rapidly as the proportion of population protected declines. Sensitivity analysis shows that growth rates within PAs have to be high if they are to compensate for declines outside. Susceptibility of cheetah to rapid decline is evidenced by recent rapid contraction in range, supporting an uplisting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List threat assessment to endangered. Our results are applicable to other protection-reliant species, which may be subject to systematic underestimation of threat when there is insufficient information outside PAs. Ultimately, conserving many of these species necessitates a paradigm shift in conservation toward a holistic approach that incentivizes protection and promotes sustainable human-wildlife coexistence across large multiple-use landscapes.
Cats are obligate carnivores and under most circumstances eat only animal products. Owing to the pseudogenization of one of two subunits of the sweet receptor gene, they are indifferent to sweeteners, presumably having no need to detect plant-based sugars in their diet. Following this reasoning and a recent report of a positive correlation between the proportion of dietary plants and the number of Tas2r (bitter receptor) genes in vertebrate species, we tested the hypothesis that if bitter perception exists primarily to protect animals from poisonous plant compounds, the genome of the domestic cat (Felis catus) should have lost functional bitter receptors and they should also have reduced bitter receptor function. To test functionality of cat bitter receptors, we expressed cat Tas2R receptors in cell-based assays. We found that they have at least 7 functional receptors with distinct receptive ranges, showing many similarities, along with some differences, with human bitter receptors. To provide a comparative perspective, we compared the cat repertoire of intact receptors with those of a restricted number of members of the order Carnivora, with a range of dietary habits as reported in the literature. The numbers of functional bitter receptors in the terrestrial Carnivora we examined, including omnivorous and herbivorous species, were roughly comparable to that of cats thereby providing no strong support for the hypothesis that a strict meat diet influences bitter receptor number or function. Maintenance of bitter receptor function in terrestrial obligate carnivores may be due to the presence of bitter compounds in vertebrate and invertebrate prey, to the necessary role these receptors play in non-oral perception, or to other unknown factors. We also found that the two aquatic Carnivora species examined had fewer intact bitter receptors. Further comparative studies of factors driving numbers and functions of bitter taste receptors will aid in understanding the forces shaping their repertoire.
Genomic studies of endangered species provide insights into their evolution and demographic history, reveal patterns of genomic erosion that might limit their viability, and offer tools for their effective conservation. The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the most endangered felid and a unique example of a species on the brink of extinction.