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Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Red Panda That Was Rejected by Her Mother but Later Adopted by a Cat Dies Unexpectedly at an Amsterdam Zoo


"As far as we know, this was the first time that a cat has adopted a baby panda."
-- Artis Royal Zoo spokesperson


Some things are just too good to last.

On June 30th, an adult red panda named Gladys gave birth to a pair of cubs at the Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam. Tragically, she rejected both of them shortly after birth.

"She left them there, lying in the cold," zoo spokesman Bart Kret told Die Welt on July 11th. (See "House Cat Adopts Baby Panda.")

At first the cubs were placed in an incubator but later they were given to a zookeeper's cat that had given birth to four kittens on June 27th. Magnanimously, the cat accepted them as her own.

Sadly, one of the cubs died on July 3rd and the zoo has not provided any explanation for its death other than to state that it was too weak to live. The remaining cub appeared to be progressing well until her lifeless body was discovered on July 17th. (See photo above of her with her surrogate mother.)

A necropsy revealed that her trachea was full of milk and that she had choked to death. No further explanation has been advanced as to how this could have occurred or how common such deaths are with newborns. A video of the cat nursing the panda is available on the zoo's website at www.artis.nl.

It is conceivable that there could have been something in the cat's milk that did not agree with the panda's digestive system. A more likely explanation is that in competing with the kittens she drank too fast and suffocated.

Whatever the reason, it is a sad ending to a heartwarming and unique story. "As far as we know, this was the first time that a cat has adopted a baby panda," a spokesperson for the zoo told Agence France Presse on July 21st. (See "Cat-Adopted Panda Dies.")

Officials at the zoo had planned for the panda to remain with the cat for about three months. After that, she was to have been put on a diet of bamboo and fruit.

Although there is not a great deal known about it, cross-species nurturing is not uncommon. Earlier this year, a cat living outside of Amman, Jordan adopted five baby chickens after their mother had been killed by a dog. (See Cat Defender post of May 22, 2008 entitled "Strange Bedfellows: Colorado Cat Named Gizmo and a Turtle Named Shelly Become the Best of Friends.")

It also is fairly common for dogs to care for kittens and for cats to nurse puppies. (See Cat Defender posts of October 15, 2005 and July 17, 2006 entitled, respectively, "Elsa, a Rottweiler Feared in the 'Hood, Shows Her Soft Spot by Adopting an Abandoned Kitten" and "Dachshund Named Emma Adopts Quintet of Feral Kittens That Her Mistress Cruelly Stole from Their Mother.")

On its website, Artis states that it expects Gladys and her mate, Werner, to produce another litter of red pandas in the near future. That is not necessarily good news in that Gladys once again could shun her cubs.

The tragic deaths of these two pandas has once again rekindled the simmering debate over both the viability and desirability of captive breeding programs. (See Cat Defender post of June 23, 2008 entitled "Amur Leopards Continue to Slide Towards Extinction as Conservationists Toy with a Controversial Captive Breeding and Rewilding Initiative.")

Nonetheless, hundreds if not indeed thousands of red pandas are kept at zoos around the world. Specifically, Padmaja Naida Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling, India and Valley Zoo in Edmonton operate successful red panda breeding programs.

Native to the Himalayan regions of China, India, Bhutan, Laos, Nepal, and Myanmar, red pandas are listed as endangered by the IUCN with there being perhaps no more than twenty-five-hundred of them remaining in the wild. Although habitat loss and fragmentation caused by deforestation, farming, and ranching is the main reason for their decline, trafficking in their pelts by the Chinese, predation by snow leopards and martens, and their specialized diet of primarily bamboo also are contributing factors.

They additionally have a low-birth rate coupled with a high-mortality rate which is a deadly combination for any species. Isolation caused by habitat fragmentation is leading to inbreeding which is diminishing their available gene pool and further weakening the species.

Contrary to both name and appearance, red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) are not bears. They instead are classified as belonging to their own taxonomical family, Ailuridae, which is part of the superfamily Musteloidea that includes raccoons, skunks, and weasels.

It therefore is not surprising that they are often mistaken for raccoons as has been the case with Shifu, the kung fu master, featured in Dreamworks' recently released animated film, Kung Fu Panda.

Solitary, crepuscular, and immaculate, they hunt at night and sleep during the day. In the wild they have a life expectancy of only eight to ten years; behind bars, they live longer but it is a mean existence. (See photo above of a red panda at Aachener Tierpark.)

As for the zookeeper's cat, both she and her kittens are said to be doing well. The presence of an unaltered female cat at a zoo is a reason for concern, however. (See Cat Defender post of June 30, 2008 entitled "Berlin Zoo Reunites Old Friends Muschi and Mauschen after a Brief Enforced Separation.")

Most likely, Artis Royal Zoo is breeding cats for their milk and plasma. After all, it is common practice for even veterinarians to keep office cats as blood donors. Far more sinister motivations are, however, a distinct possibility.

Strangely enough, almost nothing has been written on this subject and that needs to change. Above all, an inquiry needs to be undertaken in order to ascertain not only the conditions under which these so-called office cats are kept, but how they are exploited and abused.

At the Linton Zoo in Cambridgeshire, for example, a former stray named Arnie has been assigned the perilous task of looking after a six-week-old lioness named Zara. (See photo above.)

Rejected by her mother, Safina, the cub was taken home by the zoo's director, Kim Simmons, who has been bottle-feeding her. (See photo below.)

"We only hand-feed the cubs if it is absolutely necessary, but this was Safina's first baby and she couldn't feed her due to her age and inexperience," Simmons told the Daily Mail on July 7th. (See "Zara the Lion Cub and Arnie the House Cat Make a Purrfect Couple.") "She lives in the house and is bottle-fed by us daily. She's got an absolutely wonderful personality and is very laid back and affectionate."

The ginger tom and the lioness immediately took a liking to each other and often can be seen playing together and snuggling. Arnie also has been known to help wash and groom Zara.

Zara, however, is growing up fast and this has placed Arnie's life in jeopardy. "Arnie the cat loves having cubs in the house and the two are great friends, but we'll have to guard him as Zara gets bigger and stronger," Simmons confessed to the Daily Mail in the article cited supra.

Given that admission, it is vitally important that an investigation be launched into how many cats have been either killed or injured by lions kept at Simmons' residence. It is bad enough that zoos abuse wild animals but they should not be allowed to include domestic cats in their machinations.

If he is able to stay out of harm's way for a little bit longer, Arnie may emerge from this experiment unscathed in that Zara soon will be relocated to the Ugandan Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) in Entebbe. Opened in 1952 by the English colonialists, the facility rescues and rehabilitates animals in addition to operating a captive breeding program.

Although the UWEC claims on its website that it does not capture or purchase animals in order to exhibit them to the public, that is a meaningless declaration in that it does not have to engage in such activities because governmental agencies, animal welfare groups, and concerned citizens do its dirty work for it.

More to the point, the Linton Zoo, which houses four other lions in addition to Zara, has been keeping lions since it opened in 1972 and it must be getting them from somewhere since they are not known to roam the English countryside. The same can be said for the Amur Tigers, zebras, panthers, snow leopards, and exotic reptiles, tortoises, and birds imprisoned at the facility.

"Unfortunately many people don't realize or care what extinction really means -- but we do," Simmons chastises the public on the zoo's website. "Captive breeding programs for as many species as possible, including those not directly under threat at the present time, will ensure a safeguard against extinction."

Individuals who imprison animals in zoos and run captive breeding programs must be delusional if they believe such sophistry. Zoos may be able to technically keep species alive, but animals behind bars are poor replicas of their cousins in the wild.

Besides, as the examples of red pandas at Artis and the lions at Linton have demonstrated, some animals raised in captivity have difficulties not only reproducing but even with nurturing their offspring. Rewilding efforts are even more problematic.

Since there is not any mention of a rewilding program at UWEC, Zara is destined to spend the remainder of her life in a zoo. This dismal prospect does not faze Simmons the least little bit, however.

"As long as she's going to a good home with a good quality of life, I have to be happy," Simmons told the Daily Mail. "I'll find it a struggle to part with her but I know she will never forget me."

In uttering those maudlin sentiments, Simmons unwittingly has revealed all that is wrong with zoos and captive breeding programs. "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons," Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker once wrote. "They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men."

It is inconceivable that if the animals ever were given the choice that they would choose to be willing pawns in the life and death chess matches that zoo directors and wildlife biologists insist upon putting them through. Caught up in a web of intrigue that begins with their forcible removal from their natural habitats and subsequent exile at zoos in faraway lands, they are then imprisoned for life as glorified studs and brood mares.

Life does not get any better for their offspring who are either sold to other zoos around the globe or reintroduced to habitats that they are ill-equipped to survive in let alone flourish and propagate.

The obscene amounts of money and expertise that are devoted to electronically monitoring the animals, stocking zoos, and operating captive breeding programs would be far better spent protecting wildlife in their natural habitats. Of course, such a scheme would deprive conservationists of the ego titillation that they derive from playing God and that will never do.

Moreover, the dominant position that zoos and captive breeding programs occupy in wildlife conservation represents a tacit admission that saving natural habitats is a lost cause. If that is indeed the case, man is surely doomed to follow the animals down the road to extinction.

Given the rapidly deteriorating state of the natural world, it would be foolhardy to completely discount the role that zoos and captive breeding programs have to play in conservation but theirs clearly is a secondary one when compared to the much more important task of saving those animals that remain in the wild. What is needed is a shift in priorities but that apparently is not about to happen.

For instance, officials at Linton Zoo already are eagerly awaiting the arrival in October of a second litter of cubs from Safina and her mate, Zuri.

Photos: Deutsche Presse-Agentur (red panda and domestic cat), Brunswyk of Wikipedia (red panda), Sky News (Zara and Arnie), and Mason's News Service (Simmons and Zara).