Endangered Species Handbook

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Spotted Cats

     In the early 1960s, a disastrous fashion trend in spotted cat furs was launched when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy appeared in a Leopard (Panthera pardis) coat sold to her by Ben Kahn Furriers in New York (The New Yorker 1967). An instant craze for spotted fur coats developed, and in 1968, 9,556 Leopard skins, 1,283 Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) skins, 13,516 Jaguar (Panthera onca) skins, and 133,064 skins of the small Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) were imported into the United States (Stewart 1977).  Profits were at first considerable, as skins were plentiful and reasonably priced to the importers. Soon, however, the spotted cats became rare in the wild, and prices for pelts rose. One employee of a fur manufacturer, who specialized in cutting the pelts of spotted cats into coats, told a reporter from The New Yorker (1967) that as many as eight Somali Leopards were needed to make a coat, and at least 25 of the smaller cats.  In 1966, he paid $250,000 for spotted cat skins which he made into 900 coats.  "They must be killing these animals off very fast," he said. "I handle the skins of animals that were in the jungle three days before.  They are flown here with the blood still on the fur" (The New Yorker 1967).  Tiger skins were also used, though only for extremely expensive coats.  In the early 1960s, the actress Gina Lollabrigida appeared in a Tiger coat that had cost the lives of at least six of these endangered cats.  When questioned about the morality of wearing such a coat, she exclaimed that they were already dead when she bought the coat.
     By 1969, the fur industry had pushed many species of these beautiful and regal animals to the verge of extinction.  The animals declined because they were rare in the wild, had large territories, were trophy hunted, were persecuted by livestock farmers, or pushed from their territories as a result of habitat destruction.  Protests and publicity began to mount to ban sale of their fur.  In 1969, the U.S. Congress enacted the Endangered Species Conservation Act, which included prohibitions on the importation for commercial purposes of many foreign species.  Several subspecies of critically endangered Leopard and Tiger populations were added to the list, but entire species did not receive protection.  Exploitation was scarcely affected because once they are made into coats, subspecies cannot be distinguished from each other.  Even when skins are imported, Customs officials and even Fish and Wildlife Service Inspectors are usually not able to distinguish one subspecies from another.  The trade in spotted cats continued until passage of state laws, beginning with the Mason Act in New York in 1970, which banned the sale of fur from the Leopard, Cheetah, Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Tiger, Jaguar, and two small spotted cats, Margay (Felis wiedii) and Ocelot.  Six other states followed suit.  The U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 finally cut off imports by adding the full species of most large and many small spotted cats.
     World trade in spotted cat pelts remained a major threat to them, as Paris, London, Rome, Tokyo and other cities provided markets for garments made from endangered wild cats.  In 1975 when CITES came into force, several species of large spotted cats received protection on Appendix I, banning legal commercial trade.  CITES listings, and the worldwide publicity concerning the plight of spotted cats, stopped most legal trade, although the majority of countries had not yet ratified the treaty.  Many countries in Europe and elsewhere enacted domestic legislation to cut off their markets.  Education and public opinion condemning the wearing of these coats discouraged this trade in North America and most of Europe. 
     In 1977, the remaining wild cat species of the Felidae family were listed on CITES Appendix II, covering all species not already listed on Appendix I.  Had this designation been properly enforced, requiring all export countries to allow trade only if it does not result in a decline in wild populations, many other wild cat species would not have become endangered.  Unfortunately, the fur trade merely switched from Appendix I species to Appendix II species, the majority of which were small cats.  Exports from Latin America of four species of small cats--Ocelot, Geoffroy's Cat (Felis geoffroy), Tiger Cat or Oncilla (Felis tigrina), and Margay--increased in spite of national bans.  Brazil banned wildlife exports in 1967 and Paraguay in 1975, but the latter country did not enforce its ban.  It continued to export skins of cats killed in Brazil as well as its own country, with the majority going to Europe and Japan in the early 1980s.  More than 123,000 Ocelot skins were exported from Paraguay from 1980 to 1985 (Fitzgerald 1989).  In 1980, Europe imported at least 430,000 small cat skins from Latin America and Asia.  This decreased to 250,000 in 1984 (Fitzgerald 1989).  West Germany was the world's largest importer for more than a decade, importing between 220,000 and 370,000 skins a year until 1984, when imports dropped to 90,000 skins (Fitzgerald 1989). 
     The Margay is a smaller version of the Ocelot, and the Tiger Cat is a tiny spotted cat weighing only 3 to 6 pounds, native to tropical forests from Costa Rica south to Argentina (Sleeper 1995).  At least 50 pelts from the Tiger Cat are needed for a fur coat.  After these two species experienced steep declines in their wild populations, they were listed on CITES Appendix I along with the Geoffroy's Cat, a spotted cat the size of a domestic house cat, after it, too, became threatened from the fur trade.  The U.S. Endangered Species Act lists all three species as Endangered. 
     The exploitation of these small cats was carried out, for the most part, in countries totally protecting these species, and is a shocking example of greed, lack of enforcement of laws in their countries of origin, and total disregard for conservation on the part of importing countries.  Many of these cats remain endangered from illegal hunting and habitat destruction.  The Ocelot, for example, has a low reproductive rate and requires dense forest cover and abundant small prey, making it vulnerable to declines resulting from the rampant deforestation occurring in much of its range.  Moreover, in many parts of South America, spotted fur coats are still openly sold or exported to countries that lack strict legislation relating to the sale of endangered species.  Population surveys have not been carried out for the majority of these wild cats, and their numbers are estimated based on available habitat, a less than precise method.  The Ocelot and many other small spotted cats remain in the Endangered category on the U.S. Endangered Species Act and on CITES Appendix I.
     The Asian Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) became exploited when Latin American small cats declined until it, too, became endangered in India, Bangladesh and Thailand.  These populations are now on Appendix I, but cannot be distinguished from other populations when in coat form, making the listing meaningless.  In 1993, CITES committees made a recommendation to all member countries that they suspend imports of Leopard Cat pelts from China until that country implemented recommendations for the conservation of this species.  One after another of the small cats have become threatened and listed on CITES Appendix I or the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  
     Exports of North American Bobcats (Felis rufus) and Lynx (Lynx canadensis or Felis lynx) rose during the 1980s for this voracious market.  This has caused declines in many populations of both species, especially the Lynx, a northern wild cat with low population density.  It is dependent on the cycles of the Arctic Hare, its main prey.  At the height of the wild fur boom of the 1980s, trappers pursued Lynx into Alaskan national parks.  In one case, a trapped Canadian Lynx was brought food for six weeks by other Lynx.  South of Canada, Lynx are extremely rare and are listed by the U.S. Endangered Species Act as Threatened as of March 24, 2000.  Eurasian Lynx (Felix lynx) are also being killed for the fur trade.  In western Europe, this species verges on extinction from centuries of persecution and habitat destruction, but in eastern Europe and Central Asia exploitation continues.  CITES committees recommended in 1993 that member countries suspend imports of Lynx from Azerbaijan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine until these countries implement the recommendations of the Animals Committee relating to the need for population surveys because of the listing of this species of Appendix II.  These recommendations are not, however, legally binding.
     Open sale of even the most endangered spotted cats continues in some countries.  At various times in the 1990s, highly endangered spotted cat garments have been openly sold in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Greece and West Germany, as well as in some of the countries of origin, such as Argentina, Kenya, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, India, South Africa and Indonesia.  Tiger skins are still being sold illegally for as much as $20,000 each.  At a time when each Tiger's life is of utmost importance in conserving the species, illegal hunting is killing off the remaining Tigers at a far greater rate than they can sustain.  In the first months of 1994, two Tiger skins were confiscated in India; one of the skins was from a Tiger that had been recently killed with poison near Kanha National Park (TRAFFIC 1994).  In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Tiger skins and heads are sold in souvenir shops, with no apparent control of this trade by authorities.  Leopard skins are also being smuggled by an international criminal network from India to the Persian Gulf (TRAFFIC 1994).  Logging companies in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, capture and kill wildlife on a large scale, offering Leopard and Marbled Cat (Felis marmorata) skins for sale (Hill 1994).  The world's fastest land animals, Cheetah, number only between 9,000 and 12,000 in Subsaharan Africa, yet many are still killed and their pelts smuggled to parts of Europe and Asia.  Farmers and ranchers in Namibia and other countries of southern Africa kill Cheetah as predator control, and then sell their pelts.
     In Katmandu, Nepal, surveys in the late 1980s and 1990s by conservation organizations uncovered a major illegal trade in protected animals.  In a 1988 survey, researcher L.J. Barnes posed as an American tourist and found 50 shops selling furs.  In these stores, he counted 60 Leopard Cat coats, 19 Leopard coats, four Clouded and four Snow Leopard coats on open display (Heinen and Leisure 1993).  In 1988 to 1989, a full-length Snow Leopard coat was openly offered for sale in a store along with two Clouded Leopard coats; in February 1992 and early 1993, Clouded Leopard coats were still being offered (Menon 1994).  Coats made of the pelts from small cats, such as the Fishing Cat, Jungle Cat and Desert Cat, were commonly offered for sale in 1991.  The number of stores selling furs in Katmandu increased by 44 percent between 1988 and 1991, and the sale of endangered spotted cat coats had not declined.  A few years later, a third survey of fur stores found that sales of these items actually increased: 29 Leopard coats made from an estimated 203 Leopards, and two Appendix I Snow Leopard coats made from at least 14 of these endangered animals were seen (Menon 1994).  The 1993 survey found 76 shops selling 1,225 fur items from a variety of endangered species.  An official from the CITES Secretariat traveled to Nepal in 1993 to meet with senior officials from the wildlife department to inform them of the surveys and their findings; the Nepalese officials agreed to take action to investigate irregularities (Menon 1994).  A follow-up visit to Katmandu later in 1993 found no change; 35 shops were visited, and all continued to sell protected species openly (Menon 1994).  A 1993 Nepalese law prohibits the killing, sale or trade in Snow or Clouded Leopards, with fines of $1,200 to $2,250 for offenses and a prison term of one to 10 years for killing or wounding; for illegal trade, fines of $1,500 to $3,000 and a prison term of five to 10 years, according to TRAFFIC International.  Both the Clouded and Snow Leopards are listed on Appendix I of CITES, to which Nepal is a Party. 
     In neighboring India, the sale of certain furs was banned in 1979, but fur traders in Delhi received permission to continue to display their fur items for sale until stocks were depleted.  This led to an indefinite reprieve in 1987 by the Delhi government, according to TRAFFIC India.  The latter organization petitioned the government in 1993 to stop this trade, and the ban was reinstated, but delays in implementation resulted in the continued sale of many banned furs.  A second petition to the Delhi High Court by TRAFFIC India and WWF India resulted in a court order calling for traders to stop sale by January 1994, pending a final decision.  This applies only to Delhi, however, and endangered cat furs continue to be sold elsewhere in India.  In 1996 alone, the skins of 14 Tigers and 64 Leopards were seized in various parts of the country, some as they were being exported, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
     The break-up of the Soviet Union has resulted in a wildlife slaughter by fur hunters in Central Asia.  The poverty of rural people in Kazakhstan and other republics resulted in an appreciated value of furs; the skin of a Snow Leopard is worth 60 times the minimum yearly wage, or $500 to $2,000 (Koshkarev 1994).  The scale of poaching is enormous; 12 Snow Leopard skins and 34 Turkestan Lynx (Lynx lynx isabellinus) were offered for sale in 1994 in a single village, and another 10 were trapped in the winter of 1993 to 1994 by a shepherd in the Bzhety-Oguzskiy region (Koshkarev 1994).  In much of Central Asia and the Tibetan Plateau, Lynx and Snow Leopards are killed because they are considered a threat to sheep and also for their pelts (Schaller 1998).  Hundreds of Snow Leopard skins from Tibet have entered the international fur trade, and so many of this species have been killed in Bhutan and India that the species is nearly extinct there (Schaller 1998).  Even in the immense Chang Tang Reserve of Tibet, an area with extensive habitat for Snow Leopards, they are rare even though their major prey, Blue Sheep, were present (Schaller 1998).
     Many people in Central Asia have turned to hunting furbearers at an unprecedented level, killing an estimated half of the Snow Leopard population in one region in a single winter (Koshkarev 1994).  The major prey of the Snow Leopards in the area, Grey Marmots (Marmot baibacina), are also being eliminated by fur hunters, with 600 to 800 caught in a season (Koshkarev 1994).  The Snow Leopard pelts are being sold through the black market to foreign tourists and Russian cities (Koshkarev 1994).  These elusive and shy cats are among the most beautiful in the world, and their skins are one of the most coveted of all furs.  They have been hunted, trapped and pursued throughout their high-altitude range in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan and the former U.S.S.R. from the Altai Mountains to the Hindu Kush to the Himalayas (Sleeper 1995).  Snow Leopards are rare throughout their distribution, ranging up to 18,400 feet, dependent on prey such as Blue Sheep, Ibex, Musk Deer, Tahr, Wild Boar and Marmot, which are themselves rare in this mountainous terrain, and are subject to heavy trophy and meat hunting.  Fewer than 10,000 Snow Leopards may remain in the wild (Schaller 1998). 
     Vietnam and Laos also sell coats and skins of large spotted cats, and China has provided a new market for many of these products.  In 1997, a survey in Yunnan Province on the border with Vietnam found skins of Asiatic Golden Cat (Catopuma temminckii), Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata), Leopard Cat and Fishing Cat (Felix viverrina) being sold in cities in the region (Li and Wang 1999).  Officials in the region consider this trade, which includes many endangered species, to be of minor importance in spite of regulations and laws prohibiting it (Li and Wang 1999).  Also in Yunnan Province, Customs officials uncovered a scheme to smuggle large numbers of animals by mail.  Tracing information relating to packages of animal skins, officials arrived at a house where 11 Tiger skins and many Leopard skins were kept (TRAFFIC Bulletin 1999).  Another raid in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China, netted a large number of animal skins and parts in a truck; among the items were Tiger and Leopard skins.  In a seven-month period between 1998 and 1999, 11 Tiger skins were seized, many near Kanha Tiger Reserve, along with Tiger skeletons and bones for the Traditional Medicine trade (TRAFFIC Bulletin 1999).
     A survey of markets in Cambodia in 1994 revealed the pelts of Tigers and Leopards openly displayed in villages on the border with Thailand; Thai buyers cross the border to purchase these pelts (Martin and Phipps 1996).  The investigators were told that live Tigers, usually young animals, are sold for $200 to $250 to traders in Phnom Penh, who then ship them alive to Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City, where they can be sold for as much as $5,000 (Martin and Phipps 1996).  Leopard skins were seen in both 1994 and 1995 in Phnom Penh and Ban Long, offered for $50 each (Martin and Phipps 1996). Cambodia is a member of CITES, and prohibits hunting and export of wildlife, but does not have strong legislation regulating sale of animals (Martin and Phipps 1996).
Leopards are still being killed for their fur in African rainforests as well.  In 1999 and 2000, Michael Fay, a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, walked 1,500 miles across Congo and Gabon to draw attention to the urgent need to protect this wilderness from loggers and bushmeat hunters.  The National Geographic Society filmed the walk (“Extreme Africa” and “Ndoki Adventure,” shown in March 2001 on National Geographic Explorer), documenting the discovery of a large poaching camp with hundreds of dead animals, including the skin of an extremely large Leopard.  Fay and the others set fire to the skin and burned the campsite down.  The last rainforests of Central and West Africa are being stripped of their wildlife by bushmeat and animal skin hunters at a completely unsustainable level.
Clouded Leopards were not heavily exploited until the 1980s, but Appendix I listing has not prevented continued exploitation of these endangered Asian cats.  Coats from these beautiful cats can sell for as much as $80,000.  The tale of one Clouded Leopard's death was recounted in the newsletter of the World Endangered Species Protection Association of Taiwan:

 . . . in the jungles of South Pahang in Malaysia ..some aborigines came to my camp and told me they had caught a tiger.  A few hours later I saw her.  She lay in a bamboo cage with a shattered front paw; a mess of rotting tissue and splintered bone.  I was filled with misgivings and should have put her out of her misery at once, but I loved her on sight and couldn't bring myself to do it.  She was not a tiger, but that most handsome of felines, a clouded leopard.  Her captors . . . gathered around, indifferent to her suffering.  She was caught in a 'Jerat' or steel trap which tightens when the animal struggles.  No trace of suffering showed as she faced me with eyes blazing with menace . . . Despite her terrible wounds and the cramped conditions of her cage, she looked magnificent . . . I got it back to my camp and amputated its wounded paw . . . [later].  I found her tearing at the bandages on the stump of her paw with her teeth . . . Two days later it was eating out of my hand, although growling menacingly as it did so.  It seemed to be well on the road to complete recovery then, suddenly its wound became infected and it died.  Few events have saddened me more.

                               Charles Shuttleworth, from Adventures of
                               a Sapient Primate reprinted in WESPA NEWS
                               November 1994, Taipei, Taiwan
     It is rare that one hears of the suffering wild animals endure in order to be turned into frivolous clothing.  The pelt of the Clouded Leopard is a mosaic of large black, yellow and white rosettes, somewhat like the markings of a Giraffe, yet its beauty may spell its extinction.
     Wild cats, especially large species like Tigers and Leopards, like many other endangered species, require a great deal of territory and are thinly distributed over their range.  They live at least 10 years in the wild and have very few young each year, far fewer than domestic cats.  Kittens stay with their mothers for up to two years, learning how to hunt and survive.  Hunters killing a wild mother cat with kittens, even when they are 6 to 8 months old, kill two generations.  All cat mothers are fiercely devoted to their kittens, willing to confront all types of dangers, including hunters and trappers, to protect them.  These characteristics are shared with other families of animals that can quickly become endangered by killing and are slow to recover their numbers. 
     The trade in large and small spotted cats continues to decimate their wild populations because buyers for their pelts can be found throughout the world, whether sold openly, as in some countries, or as hidden merchandise.  Official indifference, either from failure to enforce strict laws against hunting or sale, non-membership in CITES, or the failure to enact strict domestic legislation, can contribute to this trade.  The present lack of enforcement powers or even sanctions by CITES has dire consequences for endangered species in view of the enormous market for their products.  The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists some, but not all, subspecies of the Tiger as Critically Endangered, and the species as a whole as Endangered.  The actual status of this magnificent animal throughout its range appears to be Critically Endangered as a result of the fur trade; the Traditional Medicine trade, which uses its body parts for various purposes; along with persecution and habitat loss.  At the present rate of loss of one Tiger per day out of a population totaling only about 5,000 animals, many conservationists and scientists have predicted its extinction in the wild within a decade or less.  The IUCN also fails to list the full species of Leopard or Ocelot in any category, while including some of their subspecies.  In the view of many, legislation and International Treaties have solved the problem of killing of these animals, but surveys of markets and seizures of poached animals indicate otherwise.

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