Monday January 26, 2004

Wild Cat Adventure II

Yesterday (Sunday) we attended our second "Wild Cat Adventure"; we attended for the first time on April 13, 2003.


Wild Cat Adventure is a public outreach program in the San Francisco Bay area, covering Sacramento to San Jose. The program run by Leopards, Etc. which is wholly owned and operated by Rob and Barbara Dicely, former school teachers.

Leopards, Etc. is licensed by the State of California, the US Dept. of the Interior, and various other governmental organizations to keep, train, and show wild cats. They do 150 programs a year, mostly at school assemblies. Several years ago, at the urging of parents and teachers, they expanded their programs to include several public outreach programs in the North and South, two programs in each location, both Spring and Fall.

Wild Cat Adventure is a one-hour program (with time afterwards for additional questions.) The Dicelys bring 5 of their cats, showing each individually, to great admiration from the audience, as they talk about the cats.

There are 36 species of wild cat, ranging in size from the Siberian Tiger (up to 800 pounds) to the 2 lb.. Rusty-spotted Cat. Although the Dicelys have 24 cats on their property, they don't have nearly that many species represented!

Meeting the Cats

Today, the Dicelys had brought Oksana, a female Siberian Lynx; Lakota, a female Cougar; Nakuru, a male Serval; Kamau, a male Cheetah (photo above); and Ashakiran, a female Snow Leopard. All of the cats are pictured, with mini biographies at the Leopards, Etc. web site.

Oksana was lovely - big, hefty, rectangular, most happy to be there, most unwilling to leave after her turn ended. Oksana was also quite willing to let Rob Dicely pick up her front feet and display her huge paws and furry tummy to the audience. Lynxes are one of the purring cats. Apparently the cat family is divided into those that roar (lions, tigers, jaguars and panthers) and those that purr (all of the rest).

Lakota is a handsome, 11-year old, 90 lb cougar, quite sure of herself in an audience hall. She was another cat who didn't want to give up the lime light. Lakota likes to pose, striking poster-perfect profiles as often as possible.

Someone asked about cougar attacks; Barbara mentioned a man recently killed while bicycling through a wilderness area in Southern California. Over the past 100 years, he was the 17th human to be killed by a cougar in North America (Canada, USA, Mexico). Obviously deaths from cougar attacks are very rare. Barbara also pointed out that we humans have a choice. Should the animals live in the Wilderness areas, or should we make the Wilderness Areas totally safe for humans. (Given the trick word "Wilderness" juxtaposed with the myth that anything can be made "totally safe" for humans, I'd call that question a no-brainer.)

Third up was Nakuru, a bouncing blur of feline energy. Servals are a relatively small cat; they eat mostly mice and birds. To survive, outwit predators, locate and catch prey, they need to be quick-witted and, well, simply quick. Nakuru was never still for a moment, leaping onto tables, off of tables, and into the air. Rob demonstrated the ability of servals to leap up to 12 feet in the air to catch a bird (in this case a piece of chicken on a pool cue) and to stretch their long forepaws down a mouse hole to grab a mouse (another piece of chicken at the far end of an 18" lucite tube. Nakuru's photo doesn't show the enormous "false eye" white spots on the backs of his satellite dish ears!.

The fourth cat was Kamau, a very handsome, very regal adolescent male cheetah. Kamau has just reached cheetah puberty and, we were told, is having hormone rushes at home. Here at the program, however, he managed to maintain a professional, stoic facade (occasionally showing his teeth) although he tended to lick Robs hand almost incessantly (Rob described this as a way of associating himself with the familiar in unfamiliar surroundings). Rob mentioned that the larger the cat, the rougher the tongue! Kamau takes pride of place very seriously and insists that is crate be just behind the driver in the Dicelys van; he also insists on being petted constantly during the trips to and from the program.

Barbara works with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, a registered non-profit institution working to create and manage long-term conservation strategies for the cheetah throughout their range. One way the CCF works is by educating farmers not to shoot cheetahs on sight. Instead, they have been successful at introducing guard dogs (Anatollian Shepherds) which guard the herd and scare away any cheetahs.

The last cat in the program was Ashakiran, a young female snow leopard. AT 2 and a half years old, Asha (60 lb) has not yet reached her full growth. She'll be an adult at 4 years (and closer to 75 lbs). Sow leopards can do a 50-foot broad jump; unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in the auditorium to demonstrate. The Dicely's told us that the snow leopard is the most endangered of the big cats. Consider "adopting" a snow leopard through the Snow Leopard Conservancy. (Additional conservatory organizations are listed at the Leopards, Etc.

Exercising a Cheetah

Rob told us last time how they exercise the cheetahs (usually twice a week) but I didn't include that in my report. It's such a fun story, I thought I should include it this time.

Rob says

Imagine two football fields end to end. At one end is Barb, with Kamau. To get the cheetah interested, we've brought along his favorite prey to hunt down and kill — a red tennis ball! The tennis ball is attached to a string and we hide it under a piece of plywood before we get Kamau out. The other end of the string is attached to an automobile motor. I have a starter for that motor.

Now, remember that cheetahs run very fast. After 2 seconds, he's up to 45 mph; after another 2 seconds he's up to 70 mph. So I have to have careful control of that starter motor!

One more thing. We have a traffic cone. At the far end of the field, next to me, the string runs through the traffic cone. So, Barb removes the leash and I press the starter. The ball leaps out from under the plywood. Kamau begins to chase it. T that moment, he's 100% free.

Now, it may seem funny, a cheetah chasing a red tennis ball, but Kamau doesn't know it's a tennis ball. To him, it's prey. He needs to chase it, catch it, and eat it, to survive.

He's chasing the ball. He's coming right at me. At the last second, the ball dives into the traffic cone.

Now, this is where timing is very important. At the instant the ball disappears, I hold down a frying pan full of chicken. Kamau is satisfied. He chased his prey, he caught his prey, and he ate it. And I'm satisfied, because now I've got the leash back on him.


Wild Cat Adventure II ( in category Nature/Cats ) - posted at Mon, 26 Jan, 12:10 Pacific | «e»