Liz picked out a story of the birth, in November 2012 of two jaguar cubs in Milwaukee Zoo. This was a particularly good event because the father is a wild jaguar that was captured in Central America and placed in the Belize Zoo before being shipped to Milwaukee. It is a rare event and not one that should be repeated. I’ll explain what I mean.
In general captive wild cats are unhappy in cages. They are often ill probably due to stress and they breed poorly. Seidensticker and Lumpkin who edited Great Cats (ISBN 0-87857-965-6) say that;
“the captive populations of most species of small cats in both North America and Europe are headed towards extinction”. Their book was first published in 1991.
The sand cat is “highly inbred” – Jill D. Melden (Great Cats – Majestic Creatures of the Wild)
This leads to inbreeding in zoos and dangerously narrow gene pools. That causes sterility in wild cat species which further narrows the gene pool until the game is up and captive cats are extinct.
The idea is to inject fresh genes into captive cat populations. The only way to do this is to go outside the zoo network and get a true wild cat of a certain species to father cubs. That single act immediately transforms the gene pool and health. The problem is it is self-defeating to capture a true wild cat, for example a jaguar and put it in a zoo. The idea behind zoos or the only real justification for there existence is to preserve and conserve wild life, in this instance wild cat species in the wild, ideally. Capturing cats and putting them behind bars is not meeting that objective.
The ideal for zoo keepers is to collect sperm from wild cats, freeze it and use it to impregnate captive female cats. That leaves the wild cat in the wild, while introducing fresh genes to captive cats.
So the Milwaukee Zoo cubs are a great success except for the fact the father who was captured from the wild was captured because he was “deemed” a problem jaguar because he was attacking cattle. Whose fault is that, I wonder? Perhaps farmers logged forest where the jaguar lived and then farmed on the open land created. The jaguar had no prey to catch because the jaguar’s prey also lives in the forest. Without a home (forest) or prey the jaguar attacked cattle and was captured and made a zoo cat as a consequence.
You can see that the whole thing is very human orientated. When we see tigers in zoos they are often what is called “generic” tigers meaning hybrids, cats of no species. Also often the wild cats we see in zoos are not the same as the “real” ones in the wild. They are not as robust and/or not purebred. They may have congenital defects. The white tigers are famous for their congenital defects due to inbreeding as all white tigers come from one tiger: Mohan.
I realise I am painting a negative and pessimistic picture but there is something that is inherently a failure about captive wild cats in zoos across the planet. Wild cats don’t like being in cages. They have huge home ranges, very often of 10 to 1000 square kilometers depending on the species. Even small wild cats have large “homes” in the wild forest.
I argue that this need for large ranges is hard wired into their brains. Some zoo keepers would argue that if a wild cat is born into a cage he knows nothing else and so will feel fine. I disagree and the proof is in the pudding. Wild cats don’t do well in zoos and some species do appallingly badly.
Argument for use of photo: this is an educational page. Publishing the photo here will have no detrimental commercial impact on the zoo.