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The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is native to Northern/Eastern Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia extending north to the Caucasus and southern Siberia. 
The males are heavier than females, and both can erect the hair on their manes to appear up to 38% bigger, often induced by a threat. Although solitary animals, they will form small family groups at the den. Older, immature offspring will assist in caring for and feeding younger siblings. 
Striped hyenas are not too strict about territory, however during social encounters there is a display of dominance. Hyenas will sniff each others noses, and then genitals. Submission is shown with displays of the anal gland, often shown from immature young to adults, or even one adult to another. Fighting is a ritual of wrestling where one hyena attempts to grab the other’s cheek, while attempting to avoid the other’s grasp. 
They mainly depend on scavenging food, mostly the carrion of medium to large mammals, including zebras, wildebeests, impalas and gazelles. Smaller animals like rabbits may also enter the diet- as well as fruits! If the carcass has been stripped of the meat, they may even go so far as to consume the bones! Foraging for these foods occurs at night, often with no pattern of travel except following the wind’s scent of nearby food. Water is drank every night if possible, although they can live for extensive amounts of time without it.
Striped hyenas are a near threatened species that easily coexist with humans. They even have some benefit to the tribes and civilizations they live with- they’ll consume unwanted human refuse. They’re also fairly well tempered- never attempting to attack humans or livestock. They’ll even permit dogs to follow them around without defending themselves or showing aggression! 
Photo by Eyal Bartov.
While not the most urbane bear, he’s certainly still adorable. The sloth bear (Ursus ursinus) wander the forests of South Asia alone, grunting and snorting while searching for insects and fresh fruit. They’re built with claws like anteaters, perfectly curved for slicing through termite mounds. Unlike anteaters, they do it quite… unappealingly. By closing off their nostrils and opening their mouths, they vacuum in any unlucky termites through a gap in their teeth! Another cool thing about their diet? They’re the original Winnie the Pooh!  Well, I mean I don’t know that but.. They do scale trees to knock down honeycombs. Unfortunately, they are often caught for their ability to perform (circuses anybody?) or killed for their aggression and tendency to destroy crops.. And if they’re lucky enough to survive, the land they live in is constantly shrinking. These factors have left them vulnerable according to the IUCN.
My heart has been won by these cute fellas; The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) are extremely playful members of the weasel family called Mustelidae. Often, they’re seen playing games with their social groups that typically consist of adult females and their pups, or perhaps individual males.
Being active mostly at night, they’ll only settle in a location with a sufficient amount of vegetation or physical structures. Oh, and there has to be water. Whether it’s streams, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands or marine coasts; the requirement is plenty of water.. Oh, and food. Fish, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, birds, frogs, rodents, turtles, seriously just anything that’s easy obtained and tastes good.
Even after being basically eliminated from a majority of their ranges, they’re a species of least concern according to the IUCN Redlist. Now, this doesn’t mean habitat degradation and polluted waters doesn’t effect them because it sure does, but they’ve recovered remarkably thanks to reintroduction projects and conservation initiatives like  the River Otter Alliance.
The Iriomote cat (Prionailurus iriomotensis) is a feline relatively similar in size to the typical domestic house cat, except it has cute short legs and a thick, bushy tail. Oh, and unlike the domestic house cat, they’re also one of the worlds most critically endangered and rarest species.. Or subspecies, since it’s argued whether they’re a subspecies of the leopard cat.. They potentially separated genetically around 200,000 years ago.
Endemic to the Iriomotejima Island in Japan, they prefer to live in more coastal areas opposed to mountainous areas. Their meals consist of a variety of wildlife like rats, bats.. Yes I know, I’m a poet.. birds, reptiles, and insects. Fish and crabs are also finding their way into the Iriomote cat’s stomach, since they’re impeccable swimmers and top notch predators. 
Breeding is common during February-March but can occur throughout the year. With a gestation period of up to 70 days, an extreme variation from 1 to 8 kittens has been recorded per liter. Their youngin’ mature in as little as 8 months, and spend the remaining 10 years of their life on their own. 
..If there’s any youngins in the first place, since less than 100 of these felines roam Japan today. Hybrids with feral cats, small range, and increasing human population has all lead up to this incredibly low population. With no captive cats, Japan has had to make them a fully protected species, otherwise we’d find them extinct quite soon. Funds like the Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund are attempting to spread awareness and conserve this species in order to ensure their survival.
The asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) is a subspecies of cheetah roaming mainly in Iran. Having once been thousands of them from Arabian peninsula to India, they are now extinct in a majority of those locations. In fact, cheetah is a direct derivation from the Sanskrit word Chitraka, or “spotted one.”
They hunt like their other cousins, using their speed as a key skill to make a kill. They also eat similar hoofed animals, such as wild goats and gazelles. Some consider them migratory cats due to their tendency to move around in search for food.. But males often have a strong hold to their territory. Females, on the other hand, don’t mind roaming in search of proper meals. Little is known about their breeding habits, but it’s been documented that peak breeding may be in winter months.. Although it’s also been noted they can reproduce year round.
With little genetic variability, there is a high mortality rate in cubs. Loss of prey + habitat combined with poaching and the constant threat of inbreeding has led to the demise of this subspecies population.. With only 50-60 individuals thought to be living today, the IUCN has declared this species critically endangered. There are quite a few conservation projects going on in an attempt to save them. These are supported and funded by a variety of wonderful groups such as the Felidae Conservation Fund and Panthera.
Easily one of the most, if not the most, endangered canids in the world lives in Africa. Not the Africa with lush jungles, vast deserts and bountiful grasslands.. But Ethiopia, where the highlands contain Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis). As of January 2012, there are less than 500 individuals remaining. Their biggest threats range anywhere from human encroachment to diseases carried by domesticated dogs.
Like the grey wolf, they’ve retained quite a few characteristics with their ancestors. They have a pack mentality, and only the alpha males & females breed within the pack.. Although the alpha female often does breed with males out side of the pack. Putting all sneaking around aside, pack members all pitch in to help raise pups. 
Days start off greeting members of the pack. They reform bonds and other various social interactions in order to maintain that close pack relationship. Then, they continue with protecting their large territory. If they do encounter others of their kind, the patrol does not all of a sudden turn out into a full blown war.. Instead, they’ll resolve the situation with a series of yelps, barks and howls. 
Hunting is the next big part in daily life. They don’t hunt in packs because, quite frankly, there isn’t big enough prey to make it worth while. They’re lone hunters, patrolling for rodents that would make a delicious meal. Mole rats, for instance, seem to be on the top of their menu. Once a rat is discovered, the wolf will edge forward on it’s stomach to remain unnoticed. When the prey looks away, they bunny hop to close in space.. Or rush in short bursts. Then they lunge, and more often the prey makes a speedy escape so they have to either frantically chase their food in circles, or dig ‘em out of a hole. Returning to the den that contains their precious pups, pack members will routinely return throughout the day to regurgitate some of their food for the young. A ‘nanny’ often watches the days events with the pups. 
The beginning of a polar bear’s (Ursus maritimus) life is certainly a unique one that requires tons of preparation. It starts from the uterus, where delayed implantation is common in order to birth their young at the best times. Mothers know well enough that you must prepare prior to giving birth, which is why females often gain up to 200 kg (441 lb) for a successful pregnancy. As if it wasn’t hard enough, females have to find maternity dens and beat the rush of other mothers before there’s none left. If not, her cubs may face winter’s extreme temperatures and harsh weather, which is definitely not a good way to survive. Digging in snowdrifts on southern-facing slopes is done often, but earthen dens are also common even though they frequently get buried in snow. The dens can range from one to seven chambers, always containing a ventilation hole for fresh air. The snow’s insulation combined with the bear’s body heat allows the den to stay warmer than the outside. Unless there’s frequent food, females give birth around once every three years. Where food is always near, cubs are bared (no pun intended) every two years. Litters of three to four are rare, so mothers typically expect only one or two. This takes a workload off, since cubs are born appearing both hairless and helpless, lacking the ability to open their eyes for quite some time. Especially during this period in their life, a mother will risk life and limb to keep her offspring out of harm’s way. A cub may continue nursing from up to 18 or 30 months of age, depending on the dependency on the mother. Mothers will feed them a varied diet of seal carcasses and whatever else they can get their paws on, and combine it with the nutrient-rich milk they get from suckling. Of course, the meat comes in after the 3 months it takes for a young polar bear to develop it’s white(ish) fur and fearsome teeth, and acclimate to the colder environment! Mommas gonna have her work set out for her by this time, because her offspring will take over a year to become successful hunters.. All through watching mommy at work.
Photo credit: Greenpeace UK
Many have seen the video of the jaguar (Panthera onca) ingesting ayahuasca, a type of hallucinogenic. It’s a very skeptical video, and at least one scene is undeniably set up, but jaguars have been known to ingest caapi leaves. The only thing is, they ingest these leaves just as often as any other plants. Various other fauna have been found doing this odd behavior, like servals and more commonly dogs. Being such large animals, the little bit that they consume does not have any hallucinogenic side effects to it, also known as being high. Since they’re pure carnivores, it’s clear that the rare times these big cats will eat plant matter is not out of hunger, but rather if they feel ill. Felines suffering from stomach irritations, such as gastritis, will eat vegetation to induce vomiting  and clear their digestive systems. Native tribes view the ingesting of ayahuasca a spiritual remedy that they have inherited from the jaguars. They believe the jaguars eat the hallucinogenic as a way of enhancing their predatory senses, which is why they will undergo meditation involving the plant’s leaves. It is in hopes they will become one with the big cat, learning to be a great hunter and survivor.
Photo credit: jwkeith
Another pair from the Felidae family that is commonly mixed up are the Lynx (The Canadian known as Lynx canadesis) and the Bobcat (Lynx rufus). Both of them are medium-sized cats with long, tufted ears and short, tufted tails. Putting aside geographic ranges, there are physical differences between the 3 subspecies of lynx and the bobcat. Bobcats resemble domestic cats on steroids versus the lynx, an animal with tufted out facial fur and long tufts of hair protruding out of the ears. These extra long ear tufts allow the lynx to hear even the quietest movements of their prey. Larger paws,legs and fur also allow the lynx to travel through snow, something the bobcat doesn’t have to worry about. Bobcats have longer tails, which is why they get their cute name, whereas the lynx has more of a stub than a bob. Also, the bobcat’s has stripes banded along their ‘bob.’ The lynx’s lacks banding and is just completely black at the tip. Behavior isn’t technically a physical difference, but it’s a difference all the same. Both species are generally the same size, but bobcats have a fierce attitude that the lynx lacks. So for all of you doubting a taxonomist’s abilities to decipher different species, now you know they’re not all that crazy after all.
Jaguars (Panthera onca) and leopards (Panthera padrus) are often confused for each other. It’s easy to see why, since their coats and bodies are nearly identical to each other. Key differences will allow you to differentiate one from the other. As with most animals with similar appearances, the biggest difference is location. Jaguars can be found are in South & Central America, Mexico, and very few parts of the United States. Leopards inhabit areas from China to India, all the way to the Middle East and Africa. Another key difference is appearance; jaguars are larger than leopards. Rosette spots on the fur are more tightly packed on the leopard’s coat, along with each rosette being smaller in size. On the jaguar, they’re widely distributed and have small spots in the center of each marking. Jaguars also have slightly more elongated faces, along with less tawny, fluffy fur on the bottom of their stomachs. Their fur is more sleek, staying smooth along most of the body. If the big cat is moving too fast to identify, chances are it’s in hot pursuit of prey. The biggest difference in hunting is that leopards have the stereotypical big cat hunting technique. Huge canines sink into the jugular of an animal, suffocating it to death. Jaguars have developed their own brutal killing method, sinking their canines into the skull of an animal so that the skull is crushed to pieces. After making a kill, leopards tend to drag their prey up trees whereas jaguars just bring them to a secluded spot.
Tigers (Panthera tigris) have a unique fur pattern that catches eyes in zoos. In the wild, it’d be pretty impossible to catch someones eye. Zoologists have studied their peculiar coats for quite some time, and have come up with various theories and myths. The bottom line is their stripes have probably developed to hide in their natural environment. The camouflage is so effective that the stripes are eminent all the way down to the skin. Besides protection from human beings, tigers don’t need much ‘saving’ but instead require hiding to see their prey without it seeing them. Many factors play in the effective hiding under masses of undergrowth within jungles, including the alternating stripes and colors help them to blend in flawlessly. Since animals can’t see colors- er well, not vivid ones like us anyway (even if we can’t detect them in high grass, as seen in this video),  alternating blacks, whites and gray make stripes on a tiger’s body look like bars of shadows. A tiger’s shape and size will appear distorted to most prey. Each subspecies has their own unique pattern and color variations for fur, and although this has caused a majority of the success for this species, it has also caused the downfall in population. Tigers are often poached for their fur, killed and skinned ruthlessly in an attempt to make easy money. Their deadly combination of camouflage and strength, whether it be their canines that sink into flesh with ease, or the claws that are able to tear apart victims in a flash, have not been enough to save them. Being one of the best hunters in the animal kingdom, we may speak of them as we talk about dinosaurs soon. They require an immense amount of saving, and we need to do so before it’s too late. 
Photo credit: Brett
Being predators, it’s commonly thought leopards (Panthera pardus) stay on the ground religiously. This couldn’t be further from the truth, seeing as they’re some of the best tree climbers in the big cat family. Trees provide not only a sanctuary for playing, eating, resting and even searching, but also act as a guard from enemies like lions, hyenas and wild dogs. Learning as young as 3 months old, a cub will climb trees to avoid attacks from various enemies, including those listed above. Soon, they learn it’s also a haven for taking freshly made kills. Dragging prey by the neck, they’ll use their powerful jaws and claws to relocate it into a tree. Hung over branches, the carcass can no longer be stolen by scavengers or other predators. Sometimes, leopards may even hunt from the tree, stalking their prey and waiting. Once it passes into the perfect location, the leopard will pounce onto it. This tactic is often used for monkeys and baboons. Any kills in the tree will be eaten over a few days. 
Photo credit: safari-partners
Most ferrets are thought to be loving household pets, not vivacious hunters.. Yet the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is one of the best predators lurking the Great Plains. Prairie dogs are the most unlucky rodents, constantly being chased after for prey. These ferrets have developed a taste for them, adapting to become quick-footed and agile chasers. Being nocturnal and fossorial gives them the upper hand, because they can jump from vacant burrow to burrow. If they find one that isn’t vacant, they’ll enter and administer a bite to the neck which suffocates the rodent. They can eat one prairie dog every three days, storing their food to minimize exposure to their own predators. Small solitary hunters often have this problem, and require hiding from animals like coyotes and owls. 
Photo credit: Pronghorn Productions
A common question I hear is “why do cats have slits for pupils rather than circles?” And there’s an obvious, yet complicated answer for that. Their eyes are specialized to assist them in being the predator that they are. Being mainly nocturnal, they require eyes made to see in dim light; requiring only 1/6 of the light needed for human vision. The muscles of the iris surrounding the pupil of a cat’s eye are constructed to be narrow slits in bright light and open fully in very dim light, to allow a maximum of illumination. The tapetum lucidum is a layer of tissue located in the back of the eye which acts like a mirror, reflecting light back to the retina. This can increase the light that reaches the retina, which is why their eyes glow when hit by a beam of light, especially noticed in pictures or at night. Big cats appear to have more circular eyes when dilated, because they are nocturnal and see better in little to no light. And let me disprove the rumor that cats are colorblind, although they can’t see directly beneath their nose, they most certainly can see some colors. They’re limited though, not seeing as many colors as we do. Felines do have trouble seeing objects up close, but are keen for visualizing things in the distance. If you catch your domestic cat staring at you and slowly blinking, chances are that’s your cat showing affection..Or plotting your death, you never know.
Photo credit: e_monk
This beautiful canine is called the golden jackal (Canis aureus) and is indigenous to parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. They’re not a fairly picky animal, eating anything from fruits to insects and even small ungulates. They are however, rather social and live in packs of two to five, but have been known to have the occasional ‘loner’ so to speak. These packs are normally a mating pair, and sometimes their offspring. These packs can dominate other, smaller canid species.
Photo credits: Kowari
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