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Conservationists Found a Hidden Population of 200 Lions in Ethiopia 

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Environmentalists who worry about Africa’s dwindling lion population can breathe a sigh of relief. An expedition led by the University of Oxford’s Conservation Research Unit recently discovered a hidden group of the big cats in a remote region of northwest Ethiopia, according to New Scientist.

With the help of traps set up to capture the animals on camera, conservationists were able to confirm anecdotal reports of the lions. The pride lives in the savannahs of Alatash National Park—which lies near Ethiopia’s border with Sudan. And their existence is a significant discovery for researchers. According to those involved, the find suggests that the vulnerable species might be more plentiful than they had previously thought.

“During my professional career I have had to revise the lion distribution map many times,” says Hans Bauer, who led the expedition. “I have deleted one population after the other. This is the first and probably the last time that I’m putting a new one up there.”

Alatash is closer to Sudan’s much-larger Dinder National Park and Bauer believes that the two areas might contain a collective number of 100 to 200 lions. This is a promising notion, considering that approximately 20,000 wild lions are left in Africa and populations continue to decline.

“The situation is fairly positive,” Bauer said. “I think the fact that the Ethiopian government recently made [Alatash] a national park is a giant leap forward. Now we have to support them in improving park management, but I think they’re taking it very seriously.”

[h/t New Scientist]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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