After a 20-year career as a top Los Alamos National Laboratory mathematician, Dr. Jim Sanderson left his job to study biology and ecology. He traveled to Chile to study an endangered small cat called the guigna, and soon he was tracking elusive small cat species around the world. He has become one of the world's foremost experts on small wild felines and founded Small Cat Conservation Alliance in 1996.
Jim has used radio-telemetry and camera photo-trapping to study small cats in Central and South America, Asia and Africa. He is well-known for his work with the Andean mountain cat, one of Earth’s rarest creatures. Jim tracked the Andean cat for months before finally meeting face-to-face with the beautiful subject of his study. The February 2000 issue of National Geographic published the landmark photo that resulted from this encounter - one of only five documented sightings of this cat.
In 2007, the body heat of an even rarer species, the Chinese mountain cat, triggered a camera trap that Jim had set on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in China's Sichuan Province at an altitude of 12,300 feet. This was the first time a Chinese mountain cat has been photographed in the wild. Not only do these images have the potential to reveal important information about the cat’s habits, but they will also help to popularize the cat as a species that needs protection. News of Jim’s achievement was published in Science magazine.
There are 36 recognized species of cats in the world. Most people are familiar with the big cats - lion, tiger, cheetah, leopard, etc., and medium-sized cats like bobcat and lynx, but few people could name the 22 smaller cats. Like their bigger cousins, small cats are threatened by the loss of valuable habitat and prey, indiscriminant killing, and conflict with humans, livestock and domestic animals.
Small cats are found in every corner of the globe. They live in high-altitude mountain ranges, jungles and forests. Some live in close proximity to human populations and are believed to be surviving in very low numbers. Compared to other carnivores, very little is known about the small cats. Few researchers are investigating their ecology and behavior. With sparse information on the small cats, it is difficult to obtain funding for conservation projects, provide protection for them, and establish conservation protocols.
Small cat species of the world include:
South America: Andean mountain cat, Geoffroy's cat, Guigna, Jaguarundi, Margay, Ocelot, Oncilla and Pampas cat
Africa: African golden cat, African wildcat, Black-footed cat and Sand cat
Asia: Asiatic golden cat, Asiatic wildcat, Bornean bay cat, Chinese mountain cat, Fishing cat, Flat-headed cat, Jungle cat, Leopard cat, Manul, Marbled cat and Rusty-spotted cat
Europe: European wildcat
SCCA fosters collaboration among local scientists and volunteers working to protect small cats in remote regions throughout the world. They collect valuable data that can be compiled into a larger database of information on small cats. With this information, SCCA is able to seek endangered species classification and work with local residents to protect the feline treasures in their midst.
SCCA use a three-step process to gather information and work for the protection of wild endangered small cats:
Step1: Use remote camera traps to photograph anything that passes by in the area - cats, other mammals, birds, even humans. These pictures give a rare glimpse into the natural behaviors and activities of the small cats and others that share their territory.
Step 2: Radio collar and track the cats with radio telemetry to study range requirements and behaviors, including contact/conflict with human populations.
Step 3: Work intensively with local people and scientists on education and conservation planning to ensure the survival of the population and inspire further study and work with these rare cats.
SCCA's goal is to coordinate the implementation of this three-faceted strategy at sites around the globe to reveal the current distribution of the world's small cats. SCCA's Founder, Dr. Jim Sanderson, is currently working to establish four high priority long-term research sites in Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra, Chile, and China. He also supports the efforts of colleagues in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, India, Sarawak, Suriname and Vietnam. Sustained camera photo-trapping efforts will enable SCCA to monitor the populations of small cats and to detect changes in their population trends. Dr. Sanderson's resourceful methods - carrying out arduous research with very limited resources - are the hallmark of a true entrepreneurial conservationist.