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It is International Cat Day!  I should probably feature my beloved pets Sepia & Sumi, but, although I love them with all of my heart and never tire of their astonishing antics and loving personalities, I am not very good at photographing them (in real life, Sumi is the cutest person in the world, but in photos she always just looks like a squiggling black blob with scary needle teeth).

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Scary?

So, until I master cat photography, cat bios of my two little friends will have to wait, and today’s post whisks us off instead to the great inclement steppelands of Mongolia and Central Asia.  Here in the endless desolation is the habitat of nature’s grumpiest-looking cat, the irascible yet magnificent Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul).  Pallas’ cats are almost the same size as housecats, however because they are lower to the ground and have incredibly long two-layer coats, they look like comically puffed-up owlcats.  The cats live in steppes, deserts, mountains, and scrub forest from Afghanistan through the Hindu Kush and Pakistan up into Russia, Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia (China).  They are solitary predators living on whatever birds, invertebrates, lizards, rodents, and other small mammals they can catch in their range. Pallas’ cats give birth to litters of 2-6 kittens and they live up to eleven years in captivity.

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Like all cats, Pallas’ cats are astonishingly adept predators, but the barrenness of their range, climate change, and habitat loss makes life chancy for even the most gifted hunters.  Additionally,  humankind has long overexploited the cats for their astonishingly warm fur.  The outer fur and the dense inner fur form an airtight insulation around the cats which keep the tiny creatures toasty even in the godforsaken peaks of the Hindu Kush or in Gobi desert winters.  Portions of the cats are also used by worthless dumbasses for ineffectual traditional medicine.  As you might gather, the species are not exactly doing great, but their range is so large and SO inhospitable that humans haven’t pushed them to the edge of extinction yet.

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For a long time, the Prospect Park Zoo had a pair of Pallas’ cats named Nicholas and Alexandra.  Nicholas looked pretty sweet–like a big furry gray marshmallow, but Alexandra looked like she ate the devil-cat from “Pet Semetary” for breakfast.  She liked to sit in her rocky enclosure and stare through the thick glass at the tamarin enclosure across the corridor.  If zoogoers got in her sightline, she would put her ears back (and they were tiny ears to begin with), and hurl herself at the glass hissing and clawing.  The effect was sort of like being attacked by Yul Brenner’s demonic disembodied head (if it were fat and covered with fur).   I once saw her clambering on the high granite boulders in her habitat and poor Nicholas jumped up to see what she was doing.  She hurled him off the 10 foot tall rocks (onto some other sharper, lower rocks) with nary a qualm, like a kid tossing his schoolbag on the floor.  Her casual ease with ultra-violence was chilling. For a while there was a video online which featured a solemn cat-loving child asking a Brooklyn zookeeper if Pallas’ cats could be kept as pets and the young zookeeper got a scared look and said “That, um, would be a really bad idea.”

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Apparently Pallas’ cats have trouble reproducing in captivity for some reason, but I have always hoped that Alexandra clawed a hole in causality and had kittens. Also, on International Cat Day I like to hold Sepia in my lap as she purrs happily (in my 98 degree bedroom) and imagine the wild Pallas’ cats leaping magestically through the high mountain peaks of the jagged mountains of Central Asia.  May it ever be so and may cats of all sorts ever flourish.

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Long time readers know that Ferrebeekeeper has a keen (albeit understated) interest in mascots.  They are the heraldic beasts of our corporate times…and, like the present, they represent a peculiar synthesis of what is endearing, banal, zany, and oppressive all wrapped up together.  The royalty of the mascot world are Olympics mascots, although admittedly they come from hardscrabble roots and they don’t reign for long (I am sorry I was only two years old when Schneeman came and went at Innsbruck—but maybe we can get in the wayback machine and visit that goofy goofy snowman one of these days).  A couple of years ago we blogged about Soohorang the overly-simplified white tiger of Korea, and it was a pleasure to see this bland beast spring into action.  What with all of the excitement back in February though, I failed to show you a peak at the future.

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As you have probably guessed, this is a long-winded way of introducing the 2020 Olympics mascots.  The 2020 summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan, the epicenter of the land of mascots.  Japan has learned a thing or two since they brought us Sento-kun, Nara’s disquieting deer-child of magic and ridicule.  For 2020 the designers looked deep into the web and brought us some of the things the internet loves best: cats and nerdy futuristic technology.

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Here are the mascots of 2020.  They are so new they do not yet have names, but I really like them.  The blue tomcat in the suit from that Tom Petty video is the Olympics mascot, and the pink kitty with the retro-future cape and the red eyes is the Paralympics mascot (by the way, congratulations to all of the proud strong athletes of the 2018 Paralympics).

I really like these Tokyo mascots: they are just the right amount of futuristic.  Thank goodness we are not replaying the whole Wenlock and Mandeville fiasco. Just looking at these spacecats makes happy eighties synthesizer noises go off inside my head.  The cats look really friendly and they have clean bold lines (without being too scaled back like poor Soohoorang, who barely exists because of the unholy collaboration of digital designers and management committees).  In fact, these guys look like somebody with some pencils might have sketched them out before reaching for Illustrator.  I also like the white, navy, and magenta color combination.  It seems like they came from a clean contest instead of one that Vladimir Putin tampered with.  Speaking of which, that post was from 2014: how come we didn’t learn anything then?

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But back to the future mascots… With their hover suits and feline arrogance, there is an element of the Great Gazoo in both these cats (for young people, the Gazoo was a patronizing gnome from space or the future or something who was always tormenting Fred and Barney during the final post shark-jump seasons of the Flintstones). Additionally, there is a lot of Pokemon and Neopets in these cats.  Here are the finalists from which the two winners were selected.

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It seems like the Japanese really love cats, and I am right there on the same page with them.  White cats wearing spacesuits are particular favorites since we had a family of white cats when I was growing up (although I don’t remember if they wore spacesuits or not).  My grandparents had a white cat named Pharaoh who was one of the real characters of my youth.  Pharaoh’s sister Lily was one of my favorite cats too and she would sleep on my feet sometimes and purr in my arms when I was 9, although she died far too young, killed by a cruel and indifferent motorist (as will happen to all of us unless they hurry up with robot cars). Oh…I made myself sad. Fortunately these mascot cats will not be let outside before 2020 (plus they are deathless cartoons) and I am excited to learn their crazy names and backstory.  Most of all I am excited to see them in Olympics action: 2020 can NOT come soon enough (if you know what I mean).  We can put all sorts of disreputable stuffed head branding dummies in the past.

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We are coming up on the Yule season and that means ornamental conifers!  As I was putting up my traditional tree of many animals, it occurred to me to see if there were any spooky Gothic-themed Christmas trees.  And, oh indeed…there are so many Gothic themed trees and ornaments out there!

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Although at first these dark trees might sit wrongly with traditionally minded revelers, a moment of thought will reveal that Gothic trees are quite appropriate!  Not only is the Christmas tree an ornament for the darkest & hardest time of year (Winter Solstice) it is also an ancient relic of pre-Christian Europe when pagan folk venerated trees.   Furthermore the idea of Christmas trees, like the ancient Goths themselves, originated in Germany and Scandinavia.  For years, pundits have been worrying what happens when marketers put up their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier. Maybe this is what happens: a reversion to druidic darkness.

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Here are some Gothic trees—some are “goth” in the modern punk rock sense, while others are pagan, macabre, ironically twisted, or just winsomely slender.  In case this is making you anxious, it’s all in seasonal fun!  Also I threw in some beautiful Gothic-revival Christmas trees to evoke feelings of Victorian opulence!   Enjoy the gallery and the holiday season (but don’t worry, we’ll have more appropriate seasonal fare next week).

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Eek!  I mean...cool crystal thing!

What a cool crystal thing!

Gothic Revival Christmas!

Gothic Revival Christmas!

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I guess, it's sort of spooky...

I guess, it’s sort of spooky…

This one might be slightly photoshopped--although cats do love Christmas trees!

This one might be slightly photoshopped–although cats do love Christmas trees!

What?

What?

Dammit, there isn't even a tree in this! Is anyone paying attention?

Dammit, there isn’t even a tree in this! Is anyone paying attention?

Traditional Victorian Gothic Revival

Traditional Victorian Gothic Revival

Skinny Christmas Tree

wchristmastree-5tumblr_mxwuwe2NJR1svgz44o3_500And Here’s a really good one for the dramatic conclusion.  It has a touch of the cosmic–and it’s also a shout-out to tree worshipers everywhere).

 

 

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Sand Cat Kitten (Felis margarita) born at Zoo Brno

Sand Cat Kitten (Felis margarita) born at Zoo Brno

We all know that cats have mastered internet popularity. Whether through adorable antics on Youtube, elaborate pun-filled digital images, or just general grumpy demeanor, the felids have demonstrated an unparalleled ability to thrive in today’s new media environment. Therefore, to please the cat-loving legions of netizens, I am dedicating today’s post to sand cats (Felis margarita), which are small cats which live in the deep deserts of North Africa, the Middle East, and southwest/central Asia. Also a trio of sand cat kittens was just born in Zoo Brno in the Czech Republic, so expect this post to get super cute!

 

A sand cat hunkering down in the deserts of Saudi Arabia

A sand cat hunkering down in the deserts of Saudi Arabia

With short legs, a stout body, and a long tail, sand cats are among the tiniest of cats. Full-grown adults weigh only 1.35 to 3.2 kg (3.0 to 7.1 lb). Sand cats live in discontiguous ranges—so they are separated into several subspecies which are evolving in different ways. The tough little cats thrive in the deepest hottest deserts—the Sahara, the Rub’ al Khali, the Lut—where they live without water by surviving on the moisture in their prey. Like all cats, they are formidable predators, but their hearing is superior even to other felids: sand cats have huge highly-refined ears which are capable of hearing tiny burrowing animals moving deep beneath the sand. They survive on rodents such as jerboas, gerbils, and spiny mice, but they also hunt small birds and reptiles (and they are known as a particularly adept killer of snakes). Sand cats have heavy fur on the pads of their paws so they can run across burning desert sands. They co-opt the abandoned burrows of other desert creatures as their own to hide from the scorching daytime heat.

 

A sand cat with a snake

A sand cat with a snake

Sand cat populations are diminishing in the wild as human development encroaches on the edge of their habitat–but the true depths of their hellish deserts are places where humans are unlikely to build condominiums, so sand cats are merely listed as near-threatened. Until recently sand cats did not do well in zoos, and they are a somewhat unfamiliar animal. Because they are used to profoundly arid climate, they would die of respiratory infections when brought into humid locations. Today zookeepers know to keep their sand cats in dry arid enclosures—which mean the creatures are beginning to do much better in captivity. In 2012, the first captive sand cat kittens were born in a zoo in Israel, and this year three kittens were born in the Czech Republic. Look at how adorable they are (well, assuming you are not some timid burrowing desert creature).

Sand cat kittens at Zoo Brno (credit: Zoo Brno)

Sand cat kittens at Zoo Brno (credit: Zoo Brno)

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