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Polydactyl Cats: The Charm of Big Feet

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simplyleftbehind.blogspot.com/

Look at those big feet! This is a polydactyl cat, born with more than the regulation number of toes. Polydactylism can affect any animal with toes, but the genetic anomaly is relatively common in domestic cats, which normally have five toes on the front paws and four toes on their back paws. Photograph by Flickr user Actor212

Photograph by Marc Averette.

Polydactylism (literally "many-fingered") is a genetic mutation that is passed down via a dominant gene. The trait is found most often in western England, Wales, and the eastern parts of the United States and Canada. They are historically sought out as ship's cats, which explains their prevalence on "both sides of the pond." We don't know which side they originated on. However, the mutation can arise spontaneously in any cat population, so all polydactyls are not necessarily related to each other.

Photograph by Flickr user Meredith Leigh Collins.

The condition is usually benign, and cats rarely suffer from having extra toes in and of itself. There is a genetic condition called feline radial hypoplasia in which extra toes are common. Radial hypoplasia causes other birth defects in addition to polydactly, such as underdeveloped or twisted forelegs, which is a genuine disability, and such cats should be neutered to prevent passing on the abnormality. But those cases are in the minority.

Photograph by econimcahome, via The Cat Scan.

Unlike most mutations, extra toes don't hinder a cat, and can be considered an asset. Just the appearance of polydacts causes cat lovers to fall for them.

Photograph by Flickr user Jessica Feis.

Polydacts were popularized by author (and cat lover) Ernest Hemingway, who was given a six-toed cat  by a sea captain named Stanley Dexter in the 1930s. Hemingway loved the cat he named Snowball. About 60 cats still live at the Hemingway Estate in Key West, where they are fed and protected as a historical treasure. About half are polydacts, possibly the decendents of Hemingway's cat.

Image from I Can Has Cheezburger.

Another famous polydactyl was a cat owned by President Theodore Roosevelt named Slippers. See a picture of Slippers. The Roosevelts had a veritable zoo in the White House, and Slippers was not the only cat.

Photograph by Flickr user gillicious.

Some polydactyl cats present "mitten paws," which occurs when the extra toes are attached on the medial side, or "thumb" side of the paw. This can lead to a cat that appears to have opposable thumbs. Some cats have learned to manipulate the extra digits like a human thumb. Cats have been known to use this ability to pull stunts that amaze their owners, such as opening latches and windows. I haven't found any case of a polydactyl cat successfully using a can opener, but there's always a first time. You know they are working on it!

Photograph by Flickr user Liren Chen.

Cats that have multiple toes that aren't "mitten paws" just appear to have big feet, which are called "snowshoe paws" or "pancake feet." They might remind you of the Canada lynx, which normally has extra large paws (even without extra toes) which enables them to travel on top of snow.

Photograph by Cats Protection.

The Guiness World Record for the number of toes on one cat is 28 toes. Jake, a cat owned by Paul and Michelle Contant of Ontario, Canada, was crowned the record holder in 2002. However, a kitten born in 2011 named Fred also has 28 toes and may be a contender. Fred's littermate Ned has 26 toes.

Milo's Mirror

Milo has seven toes on each front paw. He gets around just fine on those big feet!

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Stringer, AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Ranthambhore National Park Is Helping India's Famous Tigers Thrive
Stringer, AFP/Getty Images
Stringer, AFP/Getty Images

Forty-four years ago, India launched its “Protect Tiger” initiative and declared the Bengal tiger the national animal. At the time, the population had dwindled to just 268 cats due to poaching and habitat loss. The species is in much better shape today: India’s tiger population has increased by 1300 percent in the past four decades, and that’s thanks in part to tiger sanctuaries like Ranthambhore National Park.

According to Lonely Planet, Ranthambhore National Park may be the most famous tiger park in India. It’s certainly one of the most successful: The site has provided a secure home for generations of tigers since it was founded on the former hunting grounds of a Maharaja in 1955. While the overall tiger population in India is still threatened by poaching, habitat loss, and human-tiger conflict, Ranthambhore claims 67 tigers inside its borders—the highest-ever number for the park, according to the latest census. And with cubs making up 26 of those cats, the park has a promising future ahead of it.

Tigers within the park borders are so abundant that officials at Ranthambhore plan to share their good fortune. Cats from the park will be sent to the neighboring Sariska National Park, which was completely devoid of tigers in 2005 due to a poaching crisis. There are 13 tigers living in the park today, and the transplants from Ranthambhore will hopefully strengthen the population.

Ranthambhore National Park is open to tourists from October 1 to June 30. If you’re unable to book a tour, you can check out the photos below to see the park’s famous residents.

Tiger walking behind car.
Koshy Koshy, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Tiger laying on dirt path.

Tiger in the woods.
Himangini Rathore Hooja, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tiger laying down and yawning.
Aditya Singh, AFP/Getty Images

Tiger looking out from tall grass.
Stephen Jaffe, AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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15 Fun Facts About Puppy Bowl
Animal Planet
Animal Planet

The Super Bowl can keep its 111.9 million viewers and $5 million ad buys. Because the Puppy Bowl, which celebrates its 14th year this Sunday on Animal Planet, has got something much better: puppies! Ninety of them—and all of them adoptable. There are kittens, too (they provide the halftime entertainment), and Meep the tweeting African Gray Parrot (follow him at @MeepTheBird) plus a host of other species.

With the help of Dan Schachner, who’ll be donning the black and white stripes for his seventh go as the "Rufferee," we’ve uncovered 15 things you might not have known about Puppy Bowl.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE YULE LOG.

Yes, that long-running holiday television special that featured nothing more than the image of a log burning in a fireplace with Christmas music playing in the background is what inspired the Puppy Bowl. And its broadcast debut, back in 2005, was a much less elaborate affair, comprised mainly of copious amounts of footage of puppies playing. But it did feature the game’s very first Unsportsmanlike Delay of Game penalty, issued to a pup named Riley for, in the announcer’s words, deciding to “use the field as his own personal bathroom.” (See the video above.)

2. SAFETY IS THE TOP PRIORITY.

Puppies will be puppies. And puppies don’t always play fair. In addition to a veterinarian, who is on the set throughout the program’s production, representatives from the Humane Society and each of the shelters whose dogs are being featured are on hand to ensure the safety of the competitors. This includes giving the puppies a break from the lights, camera and action every 30 minutes. For the 2018 event, 90 puppies from a record 58 shelters and rescue groups from 24 states and Puerto Rico will be represented.

3. GAME DAY OCCURS IN OCTOBER.

JPaw and Lila compete in Puppy Bowl XIV
Animal Planet

Puppy Bowl is not a live broadcast. It’s shot over the course of two days in October. “That element takes people aback,” admits Schachner. But the reason why is totally understandable. “It’s three months of preparation because it’s two full days of shooting,” continues Schachner. “Plus it’s 21 cameras on the field. So that’s a lot of footage to edit and turn into a two-hour show.”

4. PEANUT BUTTER IS THE PRODUCTION TEAM'S BEST FRIEND.

Just how does the production team manage to get all those adorable up-close images? Easy: Peanut butter. Of the dozens of cameras used to capture all the on-field action, one is mounted beneath a glass-bottom water bowl while others are hidden in the dogs’ chew toys, but not before they’re smeared with peanut butter to attract the competing canines.

5. PUPPY BOWL VIII FEATURED A DOUBLE TOUCHDOWN.

“We’re very open-minded as far as our rules go,” says Schachner, who notes that in Puppy Bowl VIII, “we had a simultaneous touchdown and that had never happened before. Two puppies dragged two chew toys into the end zone at the same exact time. I didn’t know what to do, so I talked to our control room. We did an instant replay and determined that it counted. Each puppy was then awarded one touchdown point.”

6. THE CHEERLEADERS ARE ALWAYS CHANGING.

In 2010, the Puppy Bowl added a bit of ra-ra-ra to the production when it included a team of bunny cheerleaders. In 2011, chickens were the animals cheering on the sidelines. In 2012, the chicks were replaced by a Piggy Pep Squad, followed by a team of hedgehogs in 2013, a group of peppy penguins direct from the Columbus Zoo in 2014, five Nigerian dwarf goats in 2015, "five big-haired silkie chickens" in 2016, and a squad of rescue rabbits and guinea pigs in 2017. For 2018, the game will feature what Animal Planet is calling "an adorable blended bunch of baby barnyard cheerleaders," which will include ducklings, piglets, and baby bunnies.

7. LACK OF ENERGY IS CAUSE FOR DISQUALIFICATION.

Ana competes in Puppy Bowl XIV
Animal Planet

“We’ve had penalties when puppies are too rambunctious, but also when they’re too lazy,” says Schachner of the behaviors that can disqualify a pup from competition. “That’s called ‘illegal napping’ or ‘excessive napping.’”

8. “PANCAKING” IS ALSO NOT ALLOWED.

When asked about the oddest penalty he has ever had to heap on a competitor, Schachner recalls “one puppy that was literally flattening other puppies. Puppies will shove and bite and sniff and tackle. But there was one puppy that was literally jumping up and landing on the backs of the other puppies. So we made up a foul then called ‘pancaking.’ We sent her back 15 yards.”

9. PUPPY BOWL LANDED AN OLYMPIC SPINOFF.

In 2008, a Puppy Bowl spinoff—Puppy Games—aired opposite the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics. While the setup was the same as Puppy Bowl, the competitions were all new and included swimming, boxing, soccer, and gymnastics events.

10. THERE’S A LOT MORE POOP THAT YOU DON’T SEE.

Cleaning up after the game’s not-always-housebroken competitors is part of the ref’s job. But Schachner says that the biggest misconception about his role is that “I’m picking up poop and pee all the time. [People] forget that there’s an amazing grounds crew here on staff. They’re like little elves who come in and magically erase all the pet poop that’s left on the field so that when the game is actually playing and those cameras are rolling, you’re not going to see too many fouls. You’ll see a couple, but you’re not going to see too much of puppies doing what comes naturally to them!”

11. YES THE PUPPIES ARE ADOPTABLE—BUT GOOD LUCK ADOPTING ONE.

Barry and Olympia compete in Puppy Bowl XIV
Animal Planet

Yes, all of Puppy Bowl’s competitors are shelter dogs. (So are the cats.) But because of the show’s October production versus February airing, “by the time the Puppy Bowl actually airs, most of these puppies have already found their forever homes,” says Schachner. “We encourage everyone to go on to AnimalPlanet.com during the airing and if you see a puppy that you fall in love with, check him out. They may be adoptable. And if not that shelter will have other puppies who are equally adorable, maybe even from the same litter.”

12. IT’S NO LONGER THE ONLY ANIMAL "BOWL."

The Puppy Bowl’s popularity has not gone unnoticed by other networks. Hallmark Channel will cater to the cat crowd with the fifth edition of its Kitten Bowl.

13. A RECORD NUMBER OF VIEWERS TUNED IN FOR THE 2014 EVENT.

Peanut and Hinesville compete in Puppy Bowl XIV
Animal Planet

Puppy Bowl X scored huge ratings; a total of 13.5 million tuned in throughout the 12-hour canine extravaganza, making Puppy Bowl the most watched cable program during 2014's Super Bowl Sunday and the second most watched show in all of television that night (second only to some football game playing on Fox). Though the total number of viewers dipped in 2016, Puppy Bowl bounced back in 2017, which ended up being its second most-watched Puppy Bowl ever.

14. SEVERAL SPECIAL NEEDS PUPS WILL BE COMPETING. 

In a Puppy Bowl first, three of last year's competitors were pups with disabilities. Even more special needs pups will be participating in this year's Big Game: There's Ryder, a visually impaired Husky; Chance, a deaf Dalmatian; Moonshine, a sight-impaired and deaf Border Collie; and Luna, a Pomeranian mix with a cleft palate. 

15. THIS YEAR'S PUPPY BOWL WILL FEATURE A RESCUE SLOTH.

After seven years as the Puppy Bowl's referee, Schachner is a pro. But that hasn't stopped him from enlisting some help this year when it comes to calling penalties and celebrating touchdowns. Assisting him on the field for 2018 will be a special guest: Shirley the rescue sloth.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2014.

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