Wild Cats in Palestine
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Wild Cats in palestine

http://www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Felidae_Palaestina.html  Despite its small area, Palestine has a relatively rich fauna, due to its location at the crossroads of three continents and because of the large variety of habitats and climates. Carnivores are represented by 17 species: one viverrid; one hyaenid; five canids; five mustelids, and five recent felids. Two additional felids have become extinct. The lion Panthera leo existed until the time of the crusaders, and the cheetah Acinonyx jubatus was last seen in southern Palestine in 1959.
Most of the wildlife in Palestine is legally protected by the Israeli Wild Animals Protection Law, enacted in l954. This law also protected all carnivores, except the jackal, which was only later declared a protected species. The legal protection of carnivores in Palestine is reasonably well enforced. Cases of intentional killing of carnivores, mainly by shooting, are rare and carried out only by the Arabs and Druse, with whom the traditional animosity towards carnivores is still prevalent. There are, however, occasional cases of mortality caused by pesticides, mainly secondary poisoning from feeding on poisoned pest rodents. Mortality of carnivores caused by humans in Palestine is mainly through road accidents, which, however, do not appear to endanger any species, as shown by the hyaena Hyaena hyaena. This species has a small population in Palestine (rough estimate: 150), and is very prone to road accidents, with about 20 animals being killed in this way every year. However, the population seems to be slowly increasing. One advantage of road deaths is that they provide documentation on the distribution of the carnivores concerned. For example, the recent spread of the stone marten Martes foina is well-documented by road deaths.
The five recent species of felids occurring in Palestine are: The Palestine Wildcat (Felis silvestris tristrami), sand cat (F. m. margarita), Palestine jungle cat (F. chaus furax), Arabian caracal (F. caracal schmitzi) and leopard (Panthera pardus), that is now represented in Palestine only by the Arabian Nimr subspecies (P. p. nimr).

The Palestine Wildcat (Felis silvestris tristrami):
This species was until recently quite common and widely distributed in mesic as well as in desert habitats. The preferred habitat is open Mediterranean forest in hilly areas. In this habitat they reach a high density of approximately one specimen per km2. They also occurred formerly in plains, where cover was available, but these areas are now mostly cultivated. In the desert the distribution is sporadic, but they have been found in different desert habitats, even in sandy areas. Specimens from the desert are much lighter in colour than the relatively dark ones from Galilee and Golan.
The species is endangered by habitat destruction and especially by the large number of feral domestic cats, which compete for food, and interbreed with them. Unlike other carnivores, Felis silvestris cannot make use of cultivated habitats because of the competition from domestic cats. Because the feral domestic cats are larger than wild cats, they are probably dominant when competing for food and for oestrous females. Feral cats are able to build up dense populations because their main food source is found in garbage and because they produce two litters per year, whereas wildcats normally breed only once.
Another danger for wildcats is feline distemper. Wildcats have no resistance whatsoever to this infection and captive-bred wildcats always succumb if not vaccinated in time. Feral cats acquire resistance at an early age. Feline distemper may be one of the reasons for the decline of wildcat populations in recent years. Few nature reserves in northern Palestine are large enough to ensure the survival of pure F. s. tristrami. A breeding group of pure wild cats is kept at the Canadian Center for Ecological Zoology at Tel Aviv University.

Sandcat (Felis margarita margarita):
Sandcats have been found in sandy desert habitats in Sinai (the exact localities are withheld in order not to endanger these populations) and in the Araba depression in southern Palestine. The local population is morphologically and biochemically identical with F. m. margarita from North Africa. They are restricted to sandy habitats that unfortunately have been found to be good agricultural soil in Palestine, and are now largely cultivated. There are, however, still quite large sandy areas on the Jordanian side of the Araba depression.
A field study of this species was begun recently by M. Abadi of the Nature Reserves Authority. To date, three males and one female have been trapped, fitted with radio transmitters, and released. The sand cats live in burrows, probably excavated by other animals, such as Rueppel's fox (Vulpes rueppelli). Quite often they have also been found outside their burrows during the day. They occasionally move over large distances; one of the males, after having been trapped, went eight km in one night but returned to his home burrow the next night. Remnants of spiny-tailed lizards Uromastyx aegyptius, that are very common in the area, have been found near their burrows, indicating that they feed, among other things, on this large diurnal lizard.
Two females, found at night by Z. Zook-Rimon, crouched when located by the headlights of the jeep, did not move when approached from behind, and could be picked up by hand. A young male in Sinai behaved in the same way.
A breeding group is kept at the Canadian Center for Ecological Zoology at Tel Aviv University. Young are born from spring to autumn, 2-5 kittens per litter. The captive sand cats dig much more in the sand covering the floor of the cages than do other cats. This well-developed digging behaviour may perhaps indicate that they dig for food or perhaps excavate burrows for themselves.
The species is endangered in Palestine through destruction of its habitat and predation by larger carnivores, such as caracals and wolves, that find improved availability of food near human settlements and reach higher than normal densities, or dogs. These carnivores, however, rarely enter the areas of soft sand inhabited by the sand cats, but may endanger them if the cats venture into areas of harder soil, as they occasionally do.

Palestine Jungle cat (Felis chaus furax):
The jungle cat is fairly common in northern and central Palestine near water: rivers, ponds, swamps, etc. Favourable, man-made habitats are water reservoirs and particularly fish ponds, near which they are often found as food (fish, birds and rodents) is plentiful. The typical jungle cat habitats are in lowlands, but at least in one case a family of jungle cats lived near a small pond in the hills of Galilee, 500 m above sea level. Despite their size, they generally capture relatively small prey. No cases have been recorded of their attacking adult nutria Myocastor coypu, but they often prey on young ones. Fish are caught by the mouth through diving into the water, and without much aid from the front feet.
Jungle cats swim willingly and often walk long distances in shallow water, where their tracks may be seen if the water is clear. Jungle cats appear to live in families, at least while the young are being reared. In captivity males are more protective of the young than the females. This behaviour may be connected to the large difference in size between males and females.
The species is not endangered in Palestine. If pisciculture methods were to change from pond culture to intensive fish-farming in small concrete ponds, this would deprive the jungle cats of their most favourable habitat. There would, however, remain sufficient additional habitats to ensure the continued existence of this species.  http://www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Rohrkatze.html

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi):
Caracals are quite common in Palestine south of the Jaffa-Jerusalem line. There are generally few records north of this line. In l964 the Israeli Plant Protection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture organized a large scale poisoning campaign against jackals Canis aureus syriacus, that until then were not legally protected (this campaign resulted in the jackal being added to the list of protected wildlife). After this drastic decimation of the formerly very common jackal, hares (Lepus capensis syriacus) and chukor partridges (Alectoris chukar cypriotes) increased considerably. In the following years more caracals were observed, also in northern Palestine, indicating a possible competition between jackals and caracals. Jackals have the competitive advantage as their main food source is garbage dumps, whereas caracals are dependent on game.Caracals feed mainly on hares, but also on chukar and desert partridges (Ammoperdix heyi), and occasionally also on hedgehogs, rodents, etc. Several cases have been recorded of caracals preying on gazelles. They also take dead chickens and turkeys that have been thrown on garbage dumps by poultry farms, and a caracal was also reported to have been seen driving a hyaena from a carcass at one of the feeding stations that are run by the Nature Reserves Authority for vultures.
A study on caracals has been carried out by Y. Wisebein in the northern Araba depression. In an area of about 100 km2, 13 caracals were trapped and marked, and eight were fitted with radio transmitters. This high density is due to the fact that two agricultural settlements are situated in this area. The year-round availability of succulent green food, of weed seeds and water, has caused a considerable increase in caracal prey, mainly hares and desert partridges. Many of the caracals had home ranges that extended beyond the research area, so that the density is actually less than 13 per 100 km2, but still quite high. Males have larger home ranges than females, with some overlap of home ranges and the same area may be visited by different specimens.
In the area between Jaffa, Jerusalem and Gaza, a dark colour morph occurs. These caracals are grey, darker on the forepart of the body, very different from the normal light reddish-brown colour. Young kittens of this morph are almost black. About 5-10% of the population in this area are of this grey morph.The caracal is not endangered in Palestine.

Leopard (Panthera pardus):
Three subspecies of leopard have occurred in this area. The Sinai leopard (P. p. jarvisi) is now extinct and very little material of this subspecies exists in collections. As in the extremely overgrazed, overbrowsed and overhunted Sinai very little wildlife remained, leopards had, in recent times, to prey on the goats of the Bedouin herds and were, therefore, relentlessly persecuted. They were trapped and killed in the traditional stone traps, as well as steel traps, and were shot. Tracks of at least one leopard were seen in 1956, but by 1967 and later, no more tracks were found, and this population must be considered extinct.
A second subspecies, the Anatolian leopard (P. p. tulliana) existed until recently in the Galilee. Specimens of this subspecies are very big and are among the largest leopard subspecies. They must have been plentiful in the past, as in many villages in Galilee, skins of leopards were to be found in the 30s and 40s of this century. There were many sight records and some records of specimens killed. Possible prey were wild boar (Sus scrofa lybica), porcupines (Hystrix indica), hyrax Procaria capensis syriaca and jackals Canis aureus syriacus. Because of heavy hunting pressure this food source was not very ample, apparently, and leopards preyed from time to time on livestock, with the same results as with Sinai leopards. The last specimen, an old male, was cornered in a cave in western Galilee and killed by a shepherd in 1965.
As the population of the leopards in Galilee decreased, wild boar populations began to increase, as did the damage caused by these pigs to agriculture, mainly orchards. Later reports of observations in Galilee have not been substantiated. There are still, from time to time, reports of leopards, probably this subspecies, from different localities in the Golan. A leopard population in the Golan could be in contact with a population on the thinly-settled Mount Hermon, and such a population could be a viable one, if the species were effectively protected in Syria.
The Anatolian leopard (P.p. tulliana) is on the verge of extinction in Turkey, and as it is very rare in the Golan and on Mt. Hermon, if it exists at all, the whole subspecies is highly endangered and the prospects for its continued survival are extremely slim. The isolated, now extinct, population in Galilee did not survive by the time conservation in Palestine became effective.
In the Judean desert, a rocky wilderness along the western shore of the Dead Sea, and in the Naqab (southern desert) a third leopard subspecies, the Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr), exists. The Judean desert is a habitat, that until recently, had been less influenced by human activity than others in Palestine. The Bedouin there hunted every form of wildlife and their herds overgrazed the sparse desert vegetation, but, nevertheless, owing to the difficult terrain, all species survived, albeit in small numbers, and among them the leopards.
When effective conservation began, first in the southern part of the Judean desert from the oasis of Ein Gedi southwards, and after 1967 also in the northern part, vegetation and wildlife recovered. The most dramatic recovery was that of the leopards and one of their prey animals, the ibex (Capra ibex nubiana). The leopards that had been constantly harassed by the Bedouin, survived in very small numbers only.
The first proof that leopards still existed in this area was a female, killed by Bedouin in 1964 in Wadi Seyal. She had two active teats and was, according to the Bedouin who shot her, accompanied by two others. A year later a male was shot north-west of Ein Gedi. From that time on, leopards were seen more often and, as harassment ceased, the leopards became bolder and less afraid of humans. People often met leopards and in order to minimize the possibility of an attack, the Nature Reserves Authority forbade camping in the area and restricted hikers to groups of less than five.
Leopards are especially attracted to the oasis of Ein Gedi - a very productive area with a population of about 120-150 ibex in an area of 3-4 km2, several hundred hyrax and also porcupines, all leopard prey. Sometimes three leopards are in this area at the same time. This oasis is visited by tens of thousands of tourists and there is a kibbutz, a youth hostel and a field study center for the Society of Protection of Nature. Hyrax and ibex have become accustomed to people and are very tame.
Female leopards rearing cubs often visit the settlements at night in order to prey on the numerous domestic cats and on small dogs (large dogs are generally not attacked), notwithstanding the ample amount of natural prey that is available at Ein Gedi. Members of the kibbutz objected to the presence of the leopards on their property, sometimes meeting them on staircases or at close quarters. In order to prevent possible hostile action towards these leopards (one was actually shot at and slightly wounded), the Nature Reserves Authority trapped and thereby, unfortunately, removed two reproductive females from this small population.
Ten years ago G. Ilani of the Nature Reserves Authority began a long-term study of the leopards in the Judean desert. Several specimens were equipped with radio transmitters and their activities, home range, etc. are being studied. A large amount of information has been accumulated. One female, now very old, has been under observation for almost the whole period. This population, which developed from a very few specimens and survived the period of intense persecution, is probably very inbred and copulation between a female and her mature son was observed recently.
The rugged habitat in which these leopards and their main prey, ibex and hyrax, live in the Judean desert, covers an area of 300-400 km2. About 8-10 leopards may live in this area and several more in mountainous areas of the Naqab, so that the whole population can be estimated at perhaps 15 to 20 specimens.
The Arabian leopard is one of the smallest subspecies -- only (P. p. nanopardus) in Somalia is smaller. Females generally have a weight of 23-28 kg. They lose weight when rearing a cub and gain weight when the cub is weaned. A normal-sized, but very obese female had a weight of 32 kg. This female lived near a hotel area and probably fed on domestic cats and perhaps also on food found in the garbage dump. Males have a weight of 32-35 kg, in one case of 40 kg.
The population is endangered, notwithstanding the protection it enjoys, because of its small number, the restricted area of suitable habitat and by possible conflict with humans and development. Hyaenas may prey on cubs that are left by the mother for several days when she has to hunt. http://www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Palestine_Leopard.html

Asiatic or Iranian Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus):
There are no reliable records of cheetah from the Palestine area in this century, apart from one relatively recent observation. Harrison (1968) states that there have been no reliable records of the cheetah for the whole of the Arabian peninsula since 1950. There is, however, a record from Jordan of a female and her cub that were killed in 1962.
The only record from the area of Palestine for this century is for 9 December 1959. A truck was driving on the Beer Sheva-Eilat road early in the morning at 80 km/hr. About 80 km north of Eilat the drivers saw an animal running on the road in front of the car, easily keeping its distance. When the road made a turn the animal ran straight, leaving the road, and stopped, looking at the passing truck. The drivers, who knew nothing about cheetahs, described the animal as yellow and spotted all over like a leopard, but with a thin body, very long legs, a small cat-like head and a long tail. When shown pictures of a leopard and a cheetah, they insisted they had seen a cheetah. Thirteen days later at 19.00 h, the same animal was possibly seen again for a few seconds, running in front of a moving jeep before disappearing into the night. http://www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Asiatischer_Gepard.html

Persian or Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo):
According to the Bible, in which it appears under several different names, the lion must have have been quite common at that time. The species appears often on mosaics from the Roman and Byzantine periods, but it is not mentioned after the time of the Crusaders. In Galilee there is a hill called Tel el Assad (Lion Hill in Arabic), and there is a village nearby called Dier el Assad (Home of the Lion), that may refer to a quite late occurrence of this species.                                                                       http://www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Asiatischer_Loewe.html

Palestine's Desert Leopards fight extinction
Haritun the leopard prowls among the sun-baked hills and cliffs of Palestine's Judean Desert, living a solitary existence though still in his prime.
Named after a Byzantine monk, Haritun is believed to be the last leopard in the Judean Desert. It is unlikely he ever had the chance to mate as the last female leopard - Haritun's mother Shlomtsion - died in 1993.The Judean wilderness lies just west of the Dead Sea. To the south, in the Naqab desert, a handful of leopards survive.
Yet like Palestine's lions, who were hunted to extinction during the Crusades, and cheetahs - the last one was sighted in the late 1950s - experts say the leopard's days are numbered.
"If the human population keeps growing, in one or two generations there won't be any left," said Benny Shalmon, regional biologist for Israel's Nature and Parks Authority. Since the Occupation of Palestine in 1948, The human population has ballooned from 650,000 to over six million. "This is a problem all over the world - the bigger the animal, the more conflicts there are with humans over territory. There are too many people," said Shalmon, who is based in Eilat, at the southern tip of the Naqab Desert.
The Holy Land leopards are of the same species as their African cousins - Panthera Pardus - though weight and colour variations separate the two into different sub-species. Leopards once lived throughout the Middle East, from Turkey to Iran and Saudi Arabia. They are mentioned six times in the Bible, including this plea from the prophet Jeremiah to the men of Judah to change their ways: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?". According to Shalmon, this spotted creature has been wiped out of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon with the only sizeable Middle East population remaining in Saudi Arabia, in a nature reserve along the Jordanian border.Shalmon said there were anywhere from several dozen to a few hundred leopards left in Saudi Arabia. He said he had little information on the situation in Iran.
Reintroducing leopards from other areas into Palestine's desert is not a viable option.
"There is no good example in the world of transferring leopards. Just the opposite, there have been only bad experiences," said Shalmon. "A leopard needs to know his territory well. If he goes to an unfamiliar area, the chances he will know where animals come to drink or where they can be found are very small." Nor is it possible to bring Haritun a female companion in the hope she could learn from him to find food as leopards come together only for a few days to mate. Moreover, the Nature and Parks Authority lacks the resources to mount such a task and in a country burdened with security problems, environmental issues are on the back burner.
The Middle Eastern leopard is yellowish-grey with black spots forming a rosette pattern. The males weigh about 40 kg (88 lb), compared with 70 for an African male, and can live in the wild for about 15 years. A leopard will stake out over 100 square km (40 square miles), with the territory of a male overlapping with those of up to three females. Because they require large territories they were never numerous in modern Palestine - there were 10 at most in the Judean Desert and even fewer in the Naqab.
Yotam Timna, a zoologist who studied the Judean Desert leopards from 1984 to 1990, said he never found any contact between the two populations, "though in theory there might be". The population in the Judean Desert was always the larger of the two because of greater availability of food and water. But there were also more conflicts with nearby agricultural cooperatives such as the kibbutz by the Ein Gedi oasis. The leopards, especially females seeking to feed their hungry cubs, would snatch small cats from the kibbutz or scavenge among rubbish bins outside the hotels on the Dead Sea shores. "We tried to work with Kibbutz Ein Gedi, we even paid for an electric fence to be built around the entire kibbutz but the kibbutz couldn't manage the fence," Shalmon said. "But while the fence worked the leopards did not enter." The female leopard Bavta, a repeated trespasser on Ein Gedi grounds, was shot by a member of the kibbutz in 1979. She was caught by the nature authority and brought to the Hai Bar wildlife reserve near Eilat to live out her life. If she had cubs at the time they could not be found.
Enigma, another female, was also captured after several forays into Ein Gedi. Removing these two females helped quicken the demise of the leopard population. "Without a doubt it was a mistake to remove females in excellent shape who could still bear offspring," said Timna, who has just written a book called "Leopards of the Judean Desert". Timna said that during the years of his research many cubs were born but only two or three reached maturity. The reasons for this are not known. Other leopards met with sad fates. The elderly Humbaba was shot by soldiers when because of her deafness she failed to heed warning shots. A male leopard was run over by a bus as he crossed the road by the Dead Sea. Shalmon tried to persuade Ein Gedi to set up a feeding ground for the leopards and charge tourists to watch. "But the people of Ein Gedi didn't want to listen to any suggestion that they could live with the leopards," he said, despite the fact that the predators did not harm the members of the kibbutz directly. In the Naqab mountains, meanwhile, the leopards live in a part of a nature reserve that until recently received relatively few tourists. But this is starting to change. "More and more Israelis with their jeeps are driving in open spaces never visited before and getting under the skin of the leopards," said Shalmon. Though they are not likely to encounter leopards, visitors can scare away rabbits and ibex, making it harder for them to find food. Timna said the authorities do not do enough. Funding is needed for further research and some areas should be completely closed to protect the animals, he said.
"The chances for them to survive are very small," said Timna. "The situation is very sad. It appears to be close to an end." (Cohen 2000).

The Biology and Ecology of the Caracal in the northern Araba Valley of Palestine
Biology and Ecology of the Caracal in the Araba Valley
IUCN - Cat Specialist Group
Wild Cats of the World

Oldest Leopard in Palestine dies:

What do you do with a dead leopard?
This is the question that confronted The Nature Protection and National Parks Authority in Occupied Palestine, in October 1998, following The death of Babta, a 25-year-old leopard who had been using the Yotvata Hai Bar nature reserve as a sort of retirement home.
The answer is rather than being stuffed, Babta has posthumously donated her body to science. Babta was the oldest known leopard in Palestine and was considered to have reached a very old age for a leopard in captivity. She was caught in the late 1970s at the Ein Gedi nature reserve after nearby kibbutz members complained she was eating their pet cats and dogs and was a threat to human lives. Her capture marked the first concrete proof that leopards live in the Judean Desert. The exact number of leopards there now is not known, but NPNPA chief veterinarian Ronnie King said it is "probably less than a handful." After an autopsy, Babta's skin, bones and other parts were preserved separately. Scientists also kept some of her tissues for genetic fingerprinting, King said, "so that we can match up the leopards here with other leopards elsewhere. For example, we will be able to see in the future whether the leopards in Israel are related to those of Saudi Arabia." (Jewish Bulletin).


Gazelle - The Palestinian Biological Bulletin