Constructing Wildlife Corridors May Help to Save Deutschland's Wildcats but Fitting Them with Radio Collars Is Only Going to Lead to Their Demise
"We must connect their (European Wildcats) habitats once again; only then do they stand a chance of surviving."
-- Thomas Moelich of BUND
Wildlife biologists in Deutschland have announced an ambitious plan to construct wildlife corridors in order to connect all of the country's major national parks. The objective of this undertaking is to save, inter alia, the European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris), badgers, ground beetles, bats, tree frogs, pine martens, and butterflies for extinction by substantially enlarging their existing habitats. (See photos above and below of wildcats.)
In particular, the plan calls for the setting aside of a total of 20,000 kilometers of forested and shrub-covered land which will in turn be converted into fifty-meter-wide wildlife corridors. Without these passageways, scientists fear that between sixty and seventy per cent of Deutschland's native species will disappear.
The first such corridor is to be built between Hainich National Park, where many of the wildcats now live, and the Thuringian Forest in the eastern state of Thuringia. (See map below.) So far, the rights to all but 1,200 meters of this twenty kilometer stretch have been obtained; the remaining tracts of land must still be secured from farmers.
In order to facilitate matters, thousands of trees will be planted south of Hainich beginning early next month and construction of the A4 Autobahn is being rerouted north of the Hoersel Mountains, which lie between the two reserves. If needed, animal underpasses also will be constructed beneath existing roadways.
The scheme, however, faces several daunting obstacles. First of all, conservation officials must work out arrangements with farmers and other private landowners before they can build these corridors. Secondly, being a federal republic, conservation matters are largely left to the discretion of Deutschland's sixteen states. More importantly, it is not known with any certainty that the animals will even use these safe passages once they are built.
European Wildcats and other animals are under attack in Deutschland from the usual list of suspects and activities that are making life unsustainable for animals everywhere in the modern world. First and foremost is habitat diminution, fragmentation, and destruction caused by commercial and residential development. Road construction and farming activities also carve up habitats and make it almost impossible for animals to migrate.
Not only do many animals wind up underneath the wheels of predatory motorists, but isolation leads to inbreeding which further diminishes their available gene pool and ultimately leads to their demise. Farmers and gamekeepers more often than not view wild animals as a nuisance and therefore attempt to eradicate them.
"We must connect their (European wildcats) habitats once again; only then do they stand a chance of surviving," Thomas Moelich of Thuringia's Bund fur Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) told Der Spiegel on September 20th. (See "Conservationists Blaze Trail for Wildcats.")
On that point, there is not any difference of opinion with officials in Berlin. The "dissection of the landscape has become one of the most significant and consistently effective causes of the endangerment of biological diversity in Central Europe," scientists from Bundesamt fur Naturschutz (BfN) recently stated in an environmental journal.
Wildlife corridors are neither new nor unique to Deutschland. Similar measures are being tried in India, Costa Rica, and Australia. Conservationists in Canada and the United States have even inaugurated a program called Y2Y whereby they are attempting to connect the Yukon to Yellowstone National Park through the liberal use of overpasses, underpasses, and protective fencing installed alongside railroad tracks. (See New York Times, May 23, 2006, "Home on the Range: A Corridor for Wildlife.")
Felis silvestris silvestris is in especially bad shape with only an estimated three-thousand to five-thousand of the cats remaining in Deutschland. Not only do they require large habitats in order to secure suitable mates, but they need quiet forests with plenty of dead wood and brush for hunting and camouflage.
European Wildcats, which are slightly larger than domestic cats, are usually either gray or brown in color which helps them to blend into their environment. They subsist on a diet of rodents, rabbits, and birds and mate once a year usually in either February or March.
After a gestation period of between sixty-three and sixty-eight days, two to four kittens are born in May. The brood is then stowed in either hollow tree trunks or in holes previously abandoned by badgers. The offspring remain with their mothers for the first four to five months of their lives and are sexually mature at between nine and twelve months of age.
There is considerable disagreement amongst taxonomists on the subject, but Felis silvestris silvestris, or the Central European Wildcat, is thought to be merely one of ten recognized varieties of the European Wildcat. Of these subspecies, Felis silvestris cretensis of Crete and Felis silvestris reyi of Corsica are believed to be extinct.
The other identified subspecies are Felis silvestris jordani of the Balearic Islands, Felis silvestris euxima of Rumania, Felis silvestris molisana of Italy, Felis silvestris morea of southern Greece, Felis silvestris tartesia of southern Spain, Felis silvestris caucasia of Turkey and the Caucasuses, and Felis silvestris grampia of Scotland.
Regardless of their classification, European Wildcats are believed to have diverged from their cousins in the Middle East, Africa, China, and elsewhere about twenty-thousand years ago. Furthermore, they are distinct from Middle Eastern Wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica) from which all domestic cats are descended. Some interbreeding between domestic cats and wildcats, particularly in Scotland, has occurred, however.
Other than reconnecting their habitats, wildlife officials are experimenting with captive breeding programs in order to save Europe's wildcats. (See Cat Defender post of June 25, 2007 entitled "Scottish Wildcat Born in Captivity May Hold the Key to Saving Critically Endangered Species from Extinction.")
This method of preservation is fraught with insupportable difficulties, however. First of all, imprisoning wild animals in cages transforms them into de facto penal colony inmates and ultimately destroys them as well as the species. No one except a scientist would ever be so dishonest as to maintain that being a lifer at Sing Sing was comparable to being a free citizen.
Perhaps more importantly, research recently conducted by Michael Blouin of Oregon State University on steelhead trout raised in hatcheries casts doubt on the viability of releasing captive-bred species back into the wild. (See BBC, October 5, 2007, "Captive Breeding 'Weakens' Beasts.")
Blouin's study revealed that trout raised in hatcheries are not only less fit to survive but also less capable of reproducing once released back into the wild. If this is true for fish, it is likely applicable to other species as well.
In spite of its known tendency to lead to genetic defects, cloning also is being tried in an effort to save African Wildcats and possibly other clades as well. (See Cat Defender post of September 6, 2005 entitled "Clones of Endangered African Wildcats Give Birth to Eight Naturally-Bred Healthy Kittens in New Orleans.")
Above all, this research emphasizes the urgent need to protect wildlife habitats from the ravages of developers and climate change. This is not, however, the agenda that wildlife officials and the scientific community are pursuing.
Even in Hainich, Moelich and BUND wasted two and one-half years trapping, tranquilizing, radio-collaring, and snooping on nine European Wildcats. DNA samples were no doubt also taken and the cats were more likely than not measured, weighed, and photographed as well.
Quite naturally, BUND is far too dishonest to disclose how many of the cats that it inadvertently killed during this process. (See Cat Defender post of April 17, 2006 entitled "Hal the Central Park Coyote Is Suffocated to Death by Wildlife Biologists Attempting to Tag Him.")
Contrary to the blatant falsehoods expounded by wildlife officials and members of the scientific community, RFID tagging of animals does not contribute one iota of knowledge that is beneficial to their conservation. Nor does it in any way protect them from motorists, hunters, developers, climate change, or a scarcity of food.
Everybody on this planet knows that habitat preservation is the only means of saving the animals. Besides providing its practitioners with fat welfare checks and the opportunity to play God, tagging does absolutely nothing to advance this goal.
Au contraire, it turns animals into research subjects, robs them of their freedom, privacy, and secrets, and even results in the deaths of many of them. Even those that are not killed initially often later succumb to the stress of repeated trappings, taggings, confinement, and deliberate eliminations mandated by whatever pogroms du jour that the scientists happen to have going.
To maintain that nature can be saved by subjugating it is every bit as dishonest as to insist that freedom can be preserved through totalitarianism. (See Cat Defender posts of September 21, 2007 and May 4, 2006 entitled, respectively, "FDA Is Suppressing Research That Shows Implanted Microchips Cause Cancer in Mice, Rats, and Dogs" and "Scientific Community's Use of High-Tech Surveillance Is Aimed at Subjugating, Not Saving, the Animals.")
Photos: Deutschepresseagentur (European wildcat), Martin Steiger of Wikipedia (European Wildcat in Wildpark Peter und Paul, St. Gallen, Switzerland), and Der Spiegel (map).