African Wildcat Project

African Wildcat Project

From Sahar Khundmiri

Alley Cat Rescue is fundraising for the preservation of the African Wildcat (AWC) in South Africa. We have a detailed action plan to help the AWC avoid hybridization, which ultimately leads to disease and habitat loss.

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AWC Project near Kruger National Park, South Africa (3 Year Plan):

The African Wildcat Conservation Action Plan:

  • Identifies, coordinates and manages priorities for action
  • builds consensus around the need for protection and conservation
  • helps to clarify responsibilities and funding priorities
  • coordinates with other groups with similar priorities working in South Africa

Alley Cat Rescue’s plan to help the African wildcat (AWC) in South Africa remain pure and free from hybridization has been ongoing for several years. Previously we worked on the border of Pilanesberg Game Reserve to sterilize the stray and feral cats living on the Sun City Property which shares a fence with the Pilanesberg reserve.

Our new plan centers on the area surrounding the Kruger National Park (KNP)

ACR chose the Kruger National Park (KNP) because this area is in need of resources to prevent hybridization. A study analyzing the genes of AWCs found the purest individuals live in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Parkthe Kalahari Desert region of Botswana and South Africa, bordering Namibia to the westwhere the area is protected. Dr Llewellyn Foxcroft in conducting genetic studies of AWC’s in KNP found low levels of hybridization, where ACR will focus its conservation efforts.

Kgalagadi is very remote with few towns and therefore few available resources. Many towns  and resources are available outside KNP including SPCAs and individuals already working to sterilize the stray and feral cats in the area. They need help in this endeavor. Dr Foxcroft suggested the need for corridors of protection between towns surrounding KNP and the Park itself.

South Africa faces social challenges, such as high poverty, with limited resources that go into animal welfare, and lack of education and awareness on animal welfare and pet ownership. ACR can help the groups in the area with this through education and PR. Previous attempts to control feral cat populations around nature reserves in South Africa was to shoot the cats; however, this method is only a temporary fix, not a long-term solution which is what trap-neuter-return (TNR)  aims to do. Trying to eradicate populations of animals is futile because every single animal must be eliminated to ensure breeding does not continue and even then, the vacuum effect will begin the cycle over again. The vacuum effect occurs when a group of cats is removed from an area which creates a void that is then quickly filled by a new group of cats from surrounding areas.

Biologist Roger Tabor explains: “Although a total ‘wipe-out’ often appeals to authorities due to its apparent simplicity, it normally fails, as it does not allow for biological reality, and worse, is often counter productive. If a colony is neutered and returned to its area it will continue to hold the location and keep other cats out by its presence. The group’s population will gradually decline over a few years.” (Tabor, R.1997) A controlled, stable colony prevents this vacuum effect. Short-term responses to domestic cat colonies can have negligible effects and are counterproductive, causing heightened problems. That’s why a long-term management plan must be implemented to ensure AWCs are properly protected.

1.      Statement of Need.

About African Wildcats (AWCs):

The AWC Felis lybica is the ancestor of todays domestic cat.  AWCs are found throughout Africa, except the western rainforests and the true desert areas around the Sahara. They also extend into the Middle East, occupying the coastal areas of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Wildcat, including subspecies of AWCs, is listed as Least Concernby the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) though the organization does note that Wildcat populations are declining. In addition, Wildcats are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As an Appendix II species, the Wildcat is not immediately threatened with extinction, but does need limits on trade in order to ensure their survival.

One reason AWCs are listed as Least Concernis because their exact population numbers are unknown. There is a need for additional research to track the number of AWCs currently living in Africa.

A threat, other than habitat destruction, to future populations of AWCs is hybridization. Studies have found that Wildcats and domestic cats interbreed and create fertile offspring that are hybrids of the two separate species. Although the AWC and domestic cat have similarities, they are two genetically distinguishable species. The offspring does not inherit all of the genetic traits of the AWC. The AWC has evolved to have advantageous traits that help them survive in wild areas.

Another issue with hybridization is the increased potential for the spread of diseases. Feral cats can transmit illnesses such as feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, calicivirus, and coronavirus to AWCs. It is important to prevent the spread of diseases, especially for a species whose numbers are already declining.

Habitat loss is another problem for AWCs. Continued land development pushes the AWCs into increasingly smaller tracts of land where they come into contact with humans and their unneutered domestic cats. There has been a rise in conflict with humans, particularly farmers, who shoot the cats believing they kill livestock. One study on the genetic analysis of AWCs found that individuals were more genetically pure the farther away they lived from humans.

2.      Program Design & Methodology

ACR’s AWC Project’ plan to help preserve the African Wildcat’s lineage includes:

— ACR will create and disseminate educational materials and use them to raise awareness around the importance of spaying and neutering pet cats, in person and online.

— ACR will hold a conference with local SPCAs around Kruger National Park to educate stakeholders and form partnerships.

— ACR will work directly on the sterilization of local stray/feral domestic cats around Kruger National Park to prevent interbreeding.

--ACR will help other groups including SPCA’s in the area who already spay and neuter stray cats by providing them with resources to neuter even more cats.

ACR’s South African Program Director spent 10 days in the area bordering the Kruger National Park in December and met with the following groups who want to help ACR carry out this valuable work:

Nelspruit SPCA – They have a large feral cat problem in the area and are working in small steps to trap and sterilize the cats. Nelspruit is 67 miles from the Paul Kruger Gate

Hazyview – The Manager of Kruger Park Lodge previously worked as a manager at Sun City and he was part of the successful project ACR ran at Sun City/Pilanesberg. He has identified many colonies of cats in Hazyview that need trapping and sterilization. Hazyview is 10 miles from the nearest Kruger Park Gate.

Casteel area – The Casteel Animal Clinic is run by a State veterinarian ---they serve a semi-rural area of Bushbuck Ridge, and Acornhoek. They have Animal Health Technicians who go out to give rabies vaccinations and who can help report where colonies of cats are.

Hoedspruit – There is a group in the area who has spayed and neutered 500 feral cats and they maintain several well-kept colonies of cats. Hoedspruit is 42 miles from the Orpen Gate and the group there that rescues cats and does TNR for feral cats have Hybrids in their care. Klaserie is 27 miles from Orpen Gate and is the place ACR staff stayed at while investigating the AWC issue in 2007. At night we saw African Wildcats on the property where we stayed.

Phalaborwa – the local SPCA is very supportive of TNR and needs urgent help to continue their work. There are large colonies of cats that live in the area. Phalaborwa borders the Kruger Park and ACR has already sponsored a group trapping cats in the area.

Sabie area – There is a domestic cat sanctuary in the area totally supportive but they need traps and funds.

1.      ACR has created web and printed materials that is a resource for local organizations and the public. All printed materials will be disseminated through local organizations with a local and online contact made available for inquiries. ACR’s web page will record progress of the project and continue to inform the public about the African Wildcat. ACR’s goals is to use these materials to inform the population about the project and invite them to participate. In addition, ACR’s goal is also to improve the level of knowledge and care that goes into properly managing and treating animals, be those domestic, feral or wild.

2.      ACR will organize a conference with local SPCAs located in the vicinity of the Kruger National Park where there is some hybridization between wildcats and stray/feral cats. There are 6 SPCAs in the Limpopo area and 7 in the Mpumalanga area, all surrounding the Kruger National Park. Building relationships with these organizations will ensure the long-term success of our campaign.

3.      ACR, using humane traps, will trap stray and feral cats in the areas surrounding KNP. After recovering from the spay/neuter surgery, the stray/feral cats will be released to their original locations.

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