May 8, 2009—At a Brazilian wild cat conservation center, experts go to extremes to keep rare cats from going tame—from hiding food to smearing chicken blood.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
Experts at the Brazilian Center for Neotropical felids work for the conservation of eight species of neotropical cats found in Brazil.
SOUNDBITE: (Portuguese) Cristina Harumi Adania, Veterinarian, Brazilian Center for Neotropical Felids: "Felines in general are predators They are at the top of the food chain and if they can be found somewhere that means there still exists a full chain below them still in equilibrium. So, the survival of these felines is an indicator that we still can hope to conserve a particular environment."
Some of the more notable residents of the center include the elusive Margay, a mainly tree dwelling cat, that is restricted to forest habitats and does not reproduce well in captivity.
Once one of the most exploited cats in the fur trade, it is now being threatened by deforestation.
The Jaguarundi, once mistakenly identified as a weasel, is one of the strangest looking of the small cats.
Another unique species in the center is the Ocelot.
According to the AP, while the original population was formed by rescued animals, many were born in captivity and a new birth in late March brought the number of Ocelots to 28.
A video monitoring system was set up for the study of Ocelot behavior.
SOUNDBITE: (Portuguese) Cristina Harumi Adania, Veterinarian, Brazilian Center for Neotropical Felids: "We are monitoring for the first time, the progress of some females that recently gave birth. From birth, through breast-feeding, maternal care, and watching the young at play, we are getting various scenes through this system and finding surprising behavior."
The AP reports she discovered that mothers with boxes that allow them child free intervals are less likely to harm the young.
In the meantime, some of the mothers require extra care.
This female three legged ocelot, rescued from an accident, has proven to be a good mother.
Like all animals here she gets the best possible medical attention.
In order to keep these animals as wild as possible veterinarians and biologists at the Center use behavioral techniques known as Environmental Enrichment, according to the AP.
For this Geoffroy's cat, food is hidden in a plastic tube.
The animal goes to great lengths to retrieve it and is forced to exercise its abilities.
SOUNDBITE: (Portuguese) Pollyana Pires: "For the animal it is very important for it to have something to do inside the cage. In the wild, this animal would be hunting to find its own food."
Inside this cardboard box are two large dead rats, considered necessary to complement the food of a large carnivore.
Chicken blood is spread over the box and in other hidden places to exercise its sense of smell.
The jaguar gets stimulated to play for a few minutes, before finding its prize.
Not in today's world but in the possible future, the descendants of these animals may be called upon to replenish the natural population of wild neotropical cats.