First we will start with a quiz. Everybody loves quizzes, right? You have one minute to name all the wild cats you can think of. As Ted Allen, host of the Food Network series “Chopped” says, Time starts now! Fakename will wait.
Okay, Time’s up! How did you do? You may be tempted to whine that Fakename did not give you enough time, but a minute is a long time, depending on whether you’re having fun or not. If you’re on the Space Mountain ride at Disney World, a minute passes by blazingly fast. If you’re in the dentist’s chair, a minute is half a lifetime. Time is relative. I think someone else said that once.
If you’re lucky, you got in lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars. Or you might have gotten only to lions and tigers before you said…damn you Fakename! I could have thought of five more if you hadn’t asked me! That would have been me. I’d be saying, I’ve only got one minute, and I would be fretting more about the time than about the subject. See, that thing I said about everybody loving quizzes is not really true.
My sister, who has already taken the quiz verbally, came up with ocelots and civets too. I think she did very well. So I’m going to guess that the average number would be around six. But it could be much higher.
But if you only got as far as lions and tigers, or if you got as far as naming six, don’t feel bad. There are actually thirty-six distinct species of wild cats. Who knew? No matter how many you did name, here’s one I bet you didn’t: the Margay. I learned about them last night watching the NatGeo Wild TV channel.
This remarkable animal is a New World cat, which lives from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. In other words, it’s a rainforest cat. Maybe most incredibly, it usually lives its whole life in the trees. It eats things in trees–birds, monkeys, tree frogs. It’s small, a little less than six to almost nine pounds. (Contrast that with my own personal domestic cat, who weighs fifteem.) It has paws that can rotate 180 degrees. It can climb down trees headfirst (the only other cat that can do this is the clouded leopard). It can hang from a branch by one paw. It can run along the underside of branches upside down. It can jump 12 feet in one pounce. I sure would hate to be a tree frog near a Margay. Of course, I probably wouldn’t want to be a tree frog under any circumstances, but you get my point.
The IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists margays as “Near Threatened”. But I have to tell you–I don’t like them very much. It takes an Act of God for them to declare a species endangered. There have to be like, two of the animals in question left on the planet. You get compromises from the IUCN that are laughable. Because it’s an international organization, you get powerful members like Japan arguing that whales are not really endangered, for example. Plus, it has no enforcement arm. That’s how you get Greenpeace.
Even the UN, which arguably suffers from some of the same ineffectual and impotent “compromise”, at least has enforcement. But this is not a post about the UN.
Margays are endangered. Who would argue that rainforests are endangered? And that’s where Margays live. They are also hunted for their fur, and for the pet trade. Who wouldn’t want a cute little seven-pound wild cat? Well, me for instance. (Except I wasn’t always this smart.)
When I was a kid, growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, we would often go to various locations in the Smoky Mountains, and wherever you go, there are signs that say “Don’t Pick The Flowers!” And there are some fascinating ones: Lady’s Slipper, Trillium, Indian Ghost Pipe. I think of margays like I think of the flowers–don’t pick them.