Brooklyn Zoo's New Pallas’s Cat Breeding Program Aims to Revitalize the Near-Threatened Species

The Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, New York recently welcomed two important new residents, Metro reports. The pair of Pallas's cats—Batu, a male from Poland's Krakow Zoo, and Sarnai, a female from Finland's Helsinki Zoo—are part of the zoo's just-launched Pallas's cat breeding program, a new effort to conserve the near-threatened species.

First recorded by German naturalist Peter Pallas in 1776, the Pallas's cat (also known as manul) is a wildcat known for its unique appearance. Roughly 15,000 adult Pallas's cats live in the wild in Central Asia and Eurasia today, but that number is shrinking. They've lost much of their native habitat in recent decades to mining and farming, and their favorite prey, pikas and marmots, have been hit hard by vermicide campaigns. Hunters also pose a threat, both because they kill the cat for its thick fur and because the cats can become accidentally caught in traps meant for wolves and foxes.

Pallas's cats aren't yet endangered, but their quickly declining numbers have earned them near-threatened status from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). By breeding cats that are already in captivity, the Prospect Park Zoo hopes to give the precarious population a boost.

Pallas's cats exhibits are rare in the U.S., with just 42 specimens being kept in captivity across 18 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. At the Prospect Park Zoo, visitors will be able to see the cats in a new exhibit that replicates their native habitat, with rocky terrain and nooks for hiding. The species has a brief mating season, and keepers will be looking out for cues from the female that signal she's ready to breed. For most of the year, the solitary animals will keep to themselves and will rarely be seen together in the exhibit.

If the program is successful, the zoo will hopefully become home to some Pallas's cat kittens in the near future. When and if they arrive, the kittens will stay at the Prospect Park Zoo as long they're nursing, after which they'll be placed at a different zoo.

[h/t Metro]

100 Dachshunds Competed in Cincinnati’s Annual ‘Running of the Wieners’

NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images
NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images

Every year, to kick off Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, 100 dachshunds compete in heats to decide who the fastest dachshund in the Midwest is. This year marks the 43rd annual Oktoberfest—one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany (more than 500,000 people attend the three-day event).

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 19, 100 wiener dogs (and their owners and handlers) gathered in downtown Cincinnati for the 2019 "Running of the Wieners." The dogs, dressed in hot dog costumes, ran 10 heats, which lasted 75 feet or five seconds each. The winner of each heat advanced to the final round, where the top three finishers were decided.

Maple, a long-haired, one-year-old dachshund, ran his way into first place—and into our hearts.

Maple’s owner, Jake Sander, told WCPO that Maple is one of five dachshunds in the family, and that he learned to run fast by chasing his brother around. Leo and Bucky, two other doxies, placed second and third, respectively.

Besides the Running of the Wieners, Zinzinnati also hosts the World’s Largest Chicken Dance. However, the wiener dogs are more fun to watch.

Photographer Captures Polka-Dotted Zebra Foal in Kenya

Frank Liu
Frank Liu

Zebras are known for their eye-catching patterns, but this polka-dotted foal recently photographed in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve really stands out from the herd. As National Geographic reports, the zebra baby likely has pseudomelanism, a rare pigment condition that's been observed in the wild just a handful of times.

Nature photographer Frank Liu saw the zebra foal while looking for rhinos in the savannah wilderness preserve. After initially confusing the specimen for a different type of animal, he realized upon closer inspection that it was actually a plains zebra born with spots instead of stripes. The newborn foal was named Tira after the Maasai guide Antony Tira who first pointed him out.

Zebra foal with spots walking with mother.
Frank Liu

Zebra foal with spots.
Frank Liu

A typical zebra pattern is the result of pigment cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for the black base coat, and melanin, which gives the animal its white stripes. (So if you've ever wondered if zebras are white with black stripes or black with white stripes, the answer is the latter). In Tira and other zebras with pseudomelanism, the melanocytes are fully expressed, but a genetic mutation causes the melanin to appear as dots rather than unbroken stripes.

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Though rare, this isn't the only time a zebra with pseudomelanism has been documented in nature. Pseudomelanistic zebras have also been spotted in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, but Liu believes this could be the first time one was found in the Masai Mara preserve.

Zebra stripes aren't just for decoration. The distinct pattern may act as camouflage, bug repellant, and a built-in temperature regulation system. Without these evolutionary benefits, Tira has a lower chance of making it to adulthood: Pseudomelanistic zebra adults are rarely observed for this reason. But as Liu's photographs show, the foal has the protection and acceptance of his herd on his side.

[h/t National Geographic]