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Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Humans Have Already Killed 26 Panamanian Jaguars This Year

Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) report that the number of jaguar killings by humans is on the rise, and warn that the situation will continue to worsen unless steps are taken soon. They presented their findings at the 20th Congress of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology Conservation in Belize.

The jaguar (Panthera onca) can fend for itself in just about every situation out there. They’re comfortable hunting in the trees, on the forest floor, and in the water. Unlike other cats, which kill with a bite to the throat, the jaguar uses its powerful jaws and strong canine teeth to crush its prey’s skull, puncturing the brain or spinal cord. It’s an incredibly effective strategy—but only against unarmed prey. Powerful jaws are not much help when your attacker can shoot from 30 feet away.

Jaguars and humans have never been friendly, but it was once possible for the two species to coexist with relatively little bloodshed. The jaguar’s expansive range included parts of both North and South America. There was room for everyone. Then, in 1914, everything changed, says STRI’s Ricardo Moreno. “The connection was broken 100 years ago by the building of the Panama Canal,” he said in a statement. “Continued development and deforestation of Central Panama is disrupting the flow of animals and their genes, so that now the jaguar is considered an endangered species.”

And what was once a boundless jungle is rapidly changing. Cattle and sheep ranchers are setting up shop in jaguar territory, which puts everyone in a pretty dangerous position. More than half of the forest in the Isthmus of Panama is already gone. The cats are running out of safe spaces to go. And on top of that, humans have moved in on their wild food supply. It’s no wonder they’ve begun preying on people’s cows, sheep, and dogs.

Moreno and his colleagues went out into local communities, asking for information about jaguar killings. They heard from ranchers and tour guides that most of the 26 killings so far this year were acts of retaliation.

In the years between 1989 and 2014, people killed at least 230 jaguars in Panama. “We have reason to think that the actual number may be two or three times higher,” Moreno said. In 2015, 23 jaguars were killed, and we’re up to 26 so far this year.

But it may be possible to reverse the trend. STRI’s Agua Salud Project, which explores the flow and effects of fresh water through the region, has determined that it may be possible to rehabilitate at least part of the jaguars’ range.

Moreno and his colleague Ninon Meyer have also outlined four strategies to help slow, if not mitigate, the damage. Writing in the International Union for Conservation’s “Cat News” newsletter, they called for four interventions on the human side:

  • Education, especially in areas where the number of jaguar killings is high.
  • Extension programs for cattle owners who have experienced jaguar predations.
  • Economic incentives for rural communities near jaguar habitat. In one community, residents overcame losses due to predation by selling plaster casts of jaguar tracks.
  • The creation of multi-institutional alliances to unite governmental and non-governmental institutions to intervene in key areas.

“Education is key because we all deserve to understand what is happening on our planet and in our countries,” Moreno said. “But education takes years and jaguars … don’t have years.”

He entreated policymakers and citizens to support the cause: “Jaguar conservation will take dedication on the part of governments, NGOs and passionate individuals united to conserve our natural heritage, which has no borders.”

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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