Feline NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences

Most Thursday evenings, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco hosts Classroom Safari. I have long been fascinated by the small wild cats, so it was interesting to see them up close. The delightfully cheeky staff, however, started out the program with a “cat” that wasn’t a cat at all.


This feline-esque creature is actually a genet. It has many cat traits, including its appearance, claws, purring, etc. But it is it’s own subfamily of carnivorous mammal, quite distinct from cats. They bear a resemblance to fishing cats with the sleekness, but their snouts are a bit longer, more like a mongoose. Although genet species are native to Africa, they were introduced into southern Europe as the “common genets”.

Next up was a more familiar small cat, the ocelot, a commonly found wild cat of the Americas.


Ocelots are adorable, but they are wild animals, and our hosts were quick to point out that this ocelot in particular is quite ornery. Their membership in the leopard family is unmistakable. And they are superbly adapted for life in the forests as well as more desert-like scrub of their range.

One of the themes during the presentation was that these wild cats do not make good pets. It is not good for the animals themselves who retain their wild instincts. They also pose a danger for humans and other domesticated animals. One particularly amusing anecdote involved a “club” on Long Island where wealthy women kept ocelots as a fad, only to learn that ocelots eat small dogs. The next cat was another that is often kept as an exotic pet, the serval.


Graceful and athletic, with a sweet face, it’s understandable that people are captivated by these cats. Indeed, the Savannah breed is a cross between a serval and a domestic cat. But their wild instincts are honed for large ranges on the African savannahs and wetlands, including the Sohel region as well as sub-Saharan Africa. Such cats do not adapt well to domestic life.

The next and final cat was one that even as a kitten made our serval friend quite nervous.

Siberian Lynx kitten

This adorable baby is a Siberian Lynx. At first thought it was a caracal with the ear tufts, but once one sees the undercoat and the exceptionally large paws, it is unmistakably a lynx. It also came across a bit of a mini-lion, and as such there is no ambiguity about whether it would make a good pet or not. We’re happy to get a chance to see these cats, and grateful to Classroom Safari for sharing them with us, as well as their work rescuing wild cats.

Many local institutions were on hand as well to talk about their work with cats, wild and domestic. The was the Felidae Conversation Fund, a group that we at CatSynth have long supported. They are involved in small-cat research projects around the world and in our own backyard. The main project they presented at Feline NightLife was the Bay Are Puma Project.


The results show that pumas are doing relatively well in some areas, but not others. In particular, pumas in the East Bay hills seem be quite fat and happy in their wild area amidst the urbanized surroundings. By contrast, Marin County is not sustaining a healthy population, most likely due to habit fragmentation and such. It’s a good reminder that wild cats are not just “exotic”, but animals in our neighborhoods.

On the domestic front, our friends at Cat Town were on hand as well. They are dedicated to helping the most vulnerable shelter cats of the East Bay through their fostering program as well as their cat cafe in Oakland, the first in the Bay Area. We wrote about our first visit to the cafe here. The San Francisco SPCA was also on hand, with several adoptable kittens including this adorable black baby.

Black Kitten

It is clearly a great opportunity to advocate for shelter pets and even maybe initiate some adoptions. It was crowded around the SPCA booth, and I can only imagine it might have been stressful for the kittens. But we also hope some found new homes as a result.

The Cat Man of West Oakland (aka Adam Myatt) is a one-man local institution advocating for domestic cats in our communities. He was worked extensively with Cat Town and co-founded their cat cafe. But he also continues his own work with Hoodcats, documenting the beautiful outdoor cats of Oakland neighborhoods. He had several of his photos, including some cute black cats. We managed to acquire one of those black-cat pictures, along with a classic print, from a vending machine he had a fund-raiser.

Cat Man of West Oakland pictures

We had a lot of fun at Feline Nightlife, with all the cats as well as the cocktails, people watching and general exhibits of NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences. It was a bit different, but we hope to be back for another themed night some time, perhaps something musical?

Weekend Cat Blogging: Wild Cats on Earth Day

Every year on or around Earth Day, we at CatSynth dedicate our Weekend Cat Blogging post to the endangered wild cats of the world.

There are 37 known species of cats, including the domestic cats. As those of us who share our lives with domestic cats know, they share a lot in common with their wild cousins, especially the closest wild species Felis Silvestris, otherwise known as the “wild cat.” Indeed, domestic cats are considered likely descendants of the African and Middle Eastern subspecies of the wild cat.

Beyond the similarities, however, there is quite a bit of diversity among the species of small wild cats in terms of size, appearance and behavior. We have following the work of the International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada over the past year, which has given us the opportunity to learn more about many of these cats and the efforts to protect them. Among ISEC Canada’s sponsored projects is the study of the Black-Footed Cat, which is found in southern Africa and is among the smallest of wild cat species.

[Image courtesy of ISEC Canada.]

The Black-Footed Cat is considered vulnerable, with an estimated population of about 10,000. They have been among the lesser studied cats, so this current project will help us understand them and the threats they face better.

ISEC Canada is also sponsoring a project in Argentina. Here they study the Geoffroy’s Cat.

[Photo by Mr. Guilt, courtesy of ISEC Canada]

Although considered to be relatively widespread in open areas of South America, little is known about them. This project has helped researches learn about the Geoffroy’s Cat, and also the rarer Pampas Cat.

[Photo © GECM-UNS, courtesy of ISEC Canada]

This and several other great photos of felids of the Argentine Espinal can be found here.

Over the past year, I have also become acquainted with another species, the Pallas’ Cat.

Pallas’ cats are native to the high-altitude grasslands of Central Asia including Mongolia, western China, and parts of Russia and Afghanistan. Though this particular cat resides in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brookyln. You can read about my encounter with the Pallas’ cat in this article.

Pallas’ cats are about the same size as domestic cats, but have quite a different appearance suited to their habitat. Another very distinctive looking cat is the Caracal, with its black ear tufts.

[Photography via Wikimedia Commons.]

Caracals have a large range over much of Africa and the Middle East, though they are not often seen. They are not considered endangered, though their populations are smaller in North Africa than in the south.

Another organization that works to preserve wild cats and educate the public about them is the Felidae Conservation Fund. They are based here in northern California, and one of their main projects is studying our local puma population. They are also involved in other projects, such as studying the Andean Cat and the Fishing Cat.

[Photo by Ben Williams, courtesy of ISEC Canada.]

The fishing cat is quite photogenic, as can be seen in the above photo by a member and supporter of ISEC Canada. (Click here to see more images.) Fishing cats are found in Southeast Asia, and are uniquely adapted to catching fish. They even have webbed front paws. Visit Fishing Cat Project (supported by the Felidae Fund) to find out more about their conservation.

We conclude with another cat species that we have not featured in previous posts, the Rusty Spotted Cat.

[By UrLunkwill (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons]

The rusty spotted cat is among the smallest of cat species. They live in southern India and Sri Lanka and appear to be at home in a wide range of habitats, from humid forests to open grasslands, and even in abandoned houses in densely populated parts of India. You can read more about them here.

There is always more to say about the magnificent cats of the world than we can fit in one article. Please visit our previous wild-cat articles for more. And please also visit ISEC Canada, the Felidae Conservation Fund, and the many other organizations working to conserve endangered wildlife.

Animal welfare and wild cats for “Mo’ Cats Day”

Back in 2009, some individual or group declared that 09/09/09 would be “No Cats Day”, a day on which there would be “no cats on the internet.” It is true that there is a preponderance of cat-related material on the internet, some of it fun and endearing, some quite informative, and some downright insipid. But the idea of banning cats from the internet for one day is preposterous, and quite mean. So in defiance, many cat-related blogs declared “Mo’ Cats Day” on 09/09/09, and on every September 9 since then.

We have not participated in the past, but this year we are doing so with a brief post highlighting the work of organizations that promote the welfare of domestic and wild cats. The Humane Society of the United States is one such organization – one of their recent monthly magazines achieved coffee-table-quality and is shown in the above photo at CatSynth HQ.

Locally, we have the San Francisco SPCA, which has adoption and animal-welfare advocacy programs among their many functions. They are behind those holiday windows at Macy’s Union Square that feature adoptable cats.

Both the SPCA and our local Animal Services operate no-kill shelters, and indeed we became the first “no-kill city” in the United States.

Luna was adopted back in 2005 from the local shelter in Santa Cruz, and in gratitude we continue to support Friends of Santa Cruz County Animals.

We are also thinking about wild cats on this day and the organizations that work towards their welfare and conservation. The International Society For Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada is dedicate to the conservation of small wild cats, who often don’t get the attention of their famous big-cat counterparts. The have lots of information and are involved in several programs around the world.

Closer to home the Felidae Conservation Fund “aims to advance the conservation of wild cats and their habitats planetwide through a combination of groundbreaking research, compelling education and cutting-edge technology.” They are involved in several research studies, some of them quite local to northern California, as well as conservation efforts.

Please visit our previous wild cats posts for more information and links to other organizations.