Visual display of the Aldo Leopold papers : 9/25/10-4 : Species and Subjects

By WALTER FRY, in charge Nature Guide Service, Sequoia National Park. 
The California ring-tailed cat (Bassariscus astutus raptor) is one of 
the most remarkable animals of the Sequoia National Park. Owing 
to nocturnal habits it is seldom seen by park visitors, but when once 
seen it is remembered because of its grace, varied coloring and almost 
human facial expression of kindliness. This cat belongs to the raccoon 
family; the body length is about 15 inches, and a round slim tail of 
nearly the same length is heavily furred to the tip. The body is slender;

legs short; height about nine inches; weight about two and one-half 
pounds; ears broad, one and one-half inches, scantily haired; eyes 
large, mild and -expressive. The fur is strikingly marked with black, 
white, brown and gray. 
The ring-tailed cat ranges from Costa Rica on the south northward 
through Mexico and Texas, thence on to Colorado, southern Utah, 
Nevada, and Oregon on the north. Throughout its range it seeks the 
warmer climates, as it is not well adapted for cold weather. In places 
it is fairly abundant, while elsewhere it is very rare and in many 
places wanting. In California this mammal is not plentiful anywhere, 
but inhabits the Upper Sonoran Zone, usually below 5500 feet, along the 
western slopes of the Sierras. In other localities the zonal range differs

greatly from that in California; in Oregon it is at sea level, while in 
Mexico it is from sea level up to 10,000 feet. 
The California ring-tailed cat is strictly nocturnal in habit and 
wanders far and near in quest of food, eating almost anything that 
comes its way. The principal food here is rats, mice, gophers, birds, 
frogs, lizards, berries, fruit and many insects. Although the animals 
can run somewhat rapidly and climb trees quickly, they seldom catch 
their pray except by stalking. These animals hunt alone. I have' 
never heard them give voice except when pursued closely or captured. 
When approached they will give a short quick bark similar to the 
California gray fox, and when captured they utter a shrill cry of fear 
and rage. 
The breeding season for this locality is April to June. The young 
are three and four in number and probably only a single litter is pro- 
duced each year. The animals den in rock crevices, under logs and 
in hollow trees. In these dens, on beds of dry grasses and leaves, the 
vung are born with eyes closed. Their bodies are covered with downy 
fur, lighter in color than that of the adults, and the tail bands are 
scarcely visible. When six weeks old the' young come out of the den 
and at two months they go on nightly hunts with their mother. The 
mother weans them at the end of the third month and leaves them to 
shift for themselves. 
I have had many interesting personal experiences with these animals 
and find them intelligent, bold and inquisitive. They are not combative 
and they respond quickly to kind treatment, making fine pets. 
On May 25, 1906, while I was camped at Rocky Gulch, Sequoia 
National Park, I saw two beautiful specimens of these cats, an adult 
male and a female. Both were so good-natured and gentle that it was 
only necessary to feed them a few times to induce them to come into 
the cabin with me. They became so tame that they would eat from 

my hands, climb into my lap, and sleep in a bed that I prepared for 
them in the cabin. A few days after my arrival the female had three 
kittens, about the size of newly born house cats. For two or three days 
the mother would not permit the father to come near them, but later 
the family occupied the one bed. The kittens grew rapidly, and 
when three weeks old the parents began to carry food to them; at the 
age of about eight weeks they accompanied their parents on nightly 
hunts, returning to the cabin in daytime. Later I was relieved by a 
detachment of soldiers, who also made pets of the ring-tail family so 
that they became as tame as any house cats. 
Scarcely any other wild animal has as many names as the ring-tailed 
cat. In the United States it is known as "ring-tailed cat," "miners'

eat," "coon cat," and "band-tailed cat."      In
Mexico it bears the 
name of "eacomixtle," except in Lower California, where it is the

"babisuri." Despite this nomenclature the animal is not related
the feline family, but is akin to the raccoons. All the common names 
in the United States are gradually giving way to that of "ring-tailed

cat." While this common name is not well chosen, as the term "eat"

properly belongs to the feline family, it is now too firmly established 
to be dislodged. 
Will the ring-tailed cat continue to thrive and hold its own under 
existing laws? Positively, it will not. The animals have no protec- 
tion except in the national parks; but as the park areas comprise but 
a small portion of their range the protection from this source is but 
meager. Outside the parks these pretty animals are being depleted 
from year to year by the ever-increasing number of fur trappers. The 
animals in the neighborhood of the Sequoia National Park are not 
half as numerous as they were ten years ago. They are not endan- 
gered on account of their fur, as it is not high on the market; but as 
the trappers make their sets for other animals of higher fur value, the 
ring-tailed cats are constantly getting into their traps and are killed 
and taken along. While the animals are not in danger of immediate 
extinction in California, I do consider that it will soon become neces- 
sary for the state to furnish adequate protection or we shall lose this 
beautiful California mammal. 
It is not safe to upset the balance of nature and destroy the many 
species of mammals, birds and harmless snakes which prey on rats, 
mice, gophers, ground squirrels and other vermin. The ring-tailed 
cats, the badgers, the skunks, the raccoons, and even the coyotes are 
men's best friends; while as to the hawks and snakes, they destroy 
hundreds of vermin for each domestic bird taken. Let nature alone 
and the're will be little need to spend millions to poison and to trap 
vermin. As it is now, the poison and traps put out only too often 
destroy as many friends as enemies. 
The campaign against vermin is too often foolishly and thought- 
lessly conducted; and when there is a financial reward for men to trap 
and poison, the facts of natural science are neglected. Man is but 
slowly emerging from the savage state when the lust to kill was among 
the strongest of his instincts. It is easy to appeal to this instinct by

labeling animals as "vermin" to be destroyed without proper consid-

eration of the many biological factors involved.