Friday, October 28, 2011

Luring leopards

Leopards are not endangered, but they are elusive. They have the largest distribution of any wild cat, but their numbers have decreased to "near threatened" status and they have lost a lot of their habitat. Biologists have had great luck lately in capturing leopards on motion-sensor remote cameras to assess their populations. They have been drawn out from hiding among the ancient Mayan temples in Guatemala (1st image, more photos here), from the forests of China, and out of the wilds of South Africa.

The most effective lure: Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men (2nd image, Kate Moss in a 1994 ad)! This animal attraction was 1st noticed by zookeepers, who often spritz various scents around enclosures to keep the animals stimulated and curious. In 2003, general curator for the Bronx Zoo Pat Thomas compared the attraction of 24 fragrances - including Estée Lauder’s Beautiful, Revlon’s Charlie, and Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps - and Obsession was the clear winner. The cats are most likely drawn to the perfume's musky scent, attributed to the civetone, a synthetic alternative to the tradition ingredient of civet cat secretions. Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create Obsession, describes the irresistability of the fragrance in more detail: “It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note—it creates tension.” Such tension does not come cheap, and researchers are relying on donations of the expensive cologne to coax the leopards out of hiding. The company that creates Obsession has been approached for sponsorship, but a spokeswoman declined to comment when asked about it.

Readers with pet cats may have seen them hold their mouths open like this when they smell something. That is to facilitate air flow to the Jacobson's organ, an auxiliary olfactory sense organ that many animals are equipped with. And in looking it up, I am surprised and pleased to find that it was discovered by one of my favorite anatomists, Frederik Ruysch!

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