Monday 9 June 2014

Philadelphia Zoo's Black-footed Kittens - what they don't tell you

What zoos don't tell you about small wild cats in captivity -- Philadelphia Zoo are rightly proud of the new additions to their zoo;  three black-footed kittens. They are gorgeous to look at.  This is a small wild cat species which looks very much like a tabby domestic cat except the markings are stronger.

The kittens are proving a big success at the zoo..  This species of wild cat is very rare in captivity. We are told that there are about 19 in captivity in North America and about 40 in captivity worldwide.
Black-footed cat - photo by Anne-Marie Kalus published here with her permission
See more photos - this is not one of the cats discussed in this article.

Small wild species do not do well in captivity.  I believe that this point needs to be made.  The zoo presents their animals as a first class attraction but the visitor knows little about what goes on behind-the-scenes.  It is very hard to maintain a wide and healthy gene pool in respect of these rare small wild cat species because they a reluctant to mate in captivity and as a consequence you begin to get unhealthy cats due to inbreeding. Why are they reluctant to mate? Stress possibly.

The cats are less robust due to inbreeding.  Their immune systems are less effective.  In addition, the black-footed cat is quite a physically delicate cat when taking out of its environment.

They require a lot of specialised care in captivity and the sad fact is that zookeepers do not, as yet, have a handle on how to care for these cats to a high standard.  They haven't figured it out yet.  On that basis should black-footed cat be in captivity in zoos?

We are told, that most black-footed cats die of kidney failure which may be due to the diet that is fed to them in captivity.  Although, zookeepers are not sure what is causing this high level of kidney failure.  That does not bode well for this species in captivity.

They also develop respiratory diseases when they are subjected to a high humidity environment because they're used to very dry arid environment coming, as they do, from Africa.

In addition, the black-footed cat does not cope well in cold weather and therefore they need to be kept in heated buildings at temperatures at or above 40°C.

Further, they are very susceptible to toxoplasmosis.  You can see the difficulties, the extreme difficulties in ensuring that this rare and vulnerable small wild cat species thrives in captivity.

We don't know how many black-footed cats die young in captivity but I suspect it is a very high percentage and perhaps all of them.  You could say it is not working out at all and as mentioned above you could also argue whether black-footed cats should be in captivity at all.

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