Wild cat research at the Institute was initiated by Dr. Michael Tewes in 1981. Today, he continues to lead feline research activities into the 21st century at the Institute. Dr. Lon Grassman, an international research scientist committed to wild cat biology, joined the program in 2004.
A long-term project focusing on the ocelot began in 1981 and represented the first research of this feline anywhere within the Western Hemisphere. The achievements and recognition of this study provided the basis for research expansion into many areas, including cat ecology, behavior, social organization, molecular genetics, diseases, parasites, biogeography, human dimensions, techniques, satellite and remote sensing, population estimation and population modeling. These research projects are continuing today.
The Feline Research Program initially focused on cat research in South Texas. Subsequently, the program has expanded to include several cat species in various regions throughout the world.
Of the 36 species of wild cats existing today, this Program has studied 12 different cat species, including the ocelot, jaguarundi, margay, bobcat and cougar in Texas and Mexico, the clouded leopard, golden cat, marbled cat and leopard cat in Southeast Asia, and the leopard in Africa. These efforts represent the first substantial studies to use radio-telemetry on 5 of these cat species.
Knowledge generated from the Feline Research Program has been far-reaching. It has produced a significant beneficial impact in the study of wild cat biology and conservation with over 90 scientific articles and 200 technical presentations at scientific conferences on a diverse range of subjects involving wild cats. Scientific presentations have distributed information at numerous state, federal and international venues in the Czech Republic, England, Italy, Portugal, Thailand, Taiwan, Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico. This scholarship has benefitted from over $4.6 million in research grants provided by various sources. Long-term private support of the Feline Research Program has been graciously given by Tim and Karen Hixon, Frank and Mary Yturria, Ben F. Vaughan, III and Michael Corbett.
In addition, we co-hosted the International Cat Symposium in 1982 with the National Wildlife Federation. This event brought many renown cat researchers from around the world to Kingsville, Texas, to share their knowledge and stimulate future research ideas. The proceedings were published in the 501-page book titled:Cats of the World: Biology, Conservation, and Management.
Public outreach is an important activity of the Feline Research Program. Because wild cats tend to attract public interest, the Program has served as a vehicle to distribute information and educational opportunities which further galvanizes public support for the conservation of wild cats. To serve this effort, the Feline Research Program has delivered over 200 visual presentations and 35 popular articles to various audiences.
In addition, the Feline Research Program has responded to numerous media requests for information by providing 30 television interviews, including appearances on PBS and a syndicated Jack Hannah program that reached over 66 countries. Four radio interviews also contributed to Program recognition, including one segment with National Public Radio. Several magazines have covered the cat research and conservation program, including Smithsonian, Discovery, Audubon, National Wildlife, Sports Afield, Southern Living,Texas Monthly, Texas Safari, Texas Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Finally, several books with a state and national emphasis mention our cat research.
Another critical dimension of the Feline Research Program is the development of future scientists and biologists who will undertake the emerging environmental challenges confronting our society. The Feline Research Program has developed an international reputation that attracts students from around the world. Inquires from potential graduate students come from Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, England, France, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Mexico and many other countries. Although many graduate students have come from Texas and the U.S., others were born in Ireland, France, Czech Republic, Taiwan, Germany and Mexico.
Researchers participating in the Feline Research Program have developed into several important conservation roles in the U.S., including policy development in the White House and U.S. Senate, furbearer biologists for state wildlife agencies, and as participants with cat research in many arenas. Past students have provided subsequent contributions by playing pivotal roles in the recovery of the Florida panther, becoming professor and department chair of a wildlife department, and service as lead recovery biologists for the federal and state endangered ocelot programs.
Although the large majority of cat research has occurred in the Tamaulipan Biotic Province of southern Texas and northern Mexico, the impact of the Feline Research Program has yielded global contributions. Past students have moved on to study leopards in Africa, jaguar and margay in Mexico, snow leopards in India and China, several rare cats in Thailand and civet cats in Taiwan. Other former students have served with nonprofit conservation organizations from Texas to Cambodia.
The Feline Research Program has made important contributions in the discovery of biological and conservation information about wild cats, and the development of our future biologists. These contributions have benefitted not only the people of Texas, but the resources and citizens of the world.