This document was obtained under the 2004 Legacy-Hand Document Sharing Agreement
Name: Nigerian lava cat
Latin Name: Ignafelid nigerius
Distribution: Fossil records show emergence in West Africa, but the species has since spread to a number of active volcanoes across northern Africa. Volcanoes lava cats have been sighted at include but are not limited to Erta Ale, Mallale, Alu, and Nabro. The oldest known fossils were found at the Biu Plateau.
Length: 4-6 m.
Weight: 300-500 kg.
Habitat: Containing every Nigerian lava cat is impractical and of questionable ethics, and due to their habitat, they are not in immediate danger of being exterminated or imprisoned. However, sometimes Nigerian lava cats will become injured or displaced and be unable to return to the wild. These individuals are to be housed in Biodome-IV, which closely mimics (estimated 1% deviation) the environment of the area immediately around and in the lava pool at Erta Ale, Ethiopia.
Husbandry: Thankfully, Nigerian lava cats require little in the way of specialized care; their immune systems are nearly identical to that of a normal cat’s, and their ability to quickly regenerate results not only in wounds healing exceptionally quickly but also in disease being uncommon. However, monthly checkups are still required, as Nigerian lava cats must detach large pieces of their epidermis in order to grow. Complications resulting from this are fairly common, and in the wild Nigerian lava cats are known to die from fracturing of the epidermis. Fracturing of the epidermis can be treated was easily with heat resistant rubber cement. Tranqs will be necessary for operation, as Nigerian lava cats are understandably sensitive about having anyone near them when their epidermis is damaged.
Each Nigerian lava cat should be removed once a month and allowed to normalize their body temperature. Khufu’s (he’s the one with the three nicks in the left ear) heat-shunting organs are defective; either hose him off with cold water or leave him in the ice box for a few hours. To supplement their diet, each lava cat should be given three kilograms of meat every two months.
Standard tranq darts are ineffective on lava cats due to their thick, hard epidermis. Tranquillizer L-46 should be used via aerosol darts for the purpose of subduing any aggressive lava cats.
Morphology: Nigerian lava cats are a feliform elemental species. The interior bodily structure is typical, with the exception of atypically fast cellular regeneration. Nigerian lava cats, however, are covered in an extremely flexible obsidian-like substance capable of withstanding extreme heat (in excess of 3500 Kelvins), and extreme force (in excess of 4000 Newtons). Regularly spaced along a Nigerian lava cat’s body are small organs that absorb heat and large organs responsible for shunting heat from the lava cat’s body. Nigerian lava cats also have sacs for storing oxygen during deep or long dives.
The exact composition of the epidermis is unknown. Analysis indicates that it is virtually identical to obsidian in chemical composition and molecular structure, but obsidian is known for not being durable and fracturing easily, and the epidermis of Nigerian lava cats is extremely durable and doesn’t fracture at all. While magical altering of the obsidian remains a possibility, magical sensors reveal nothing magical about the epidermis or its formation, rendering some sort of natural molecular restructuring the most likely possibility. The manner in which the epidermis is produced is also unknown, though lava cats have been observed consuming small amounts of lava corresponding to the amount of new epidermis being produced, so they aren’t breaking the Law of Conservation of Mass.
Evolutionary History: The species is believe to have diverged from ‘normal’ felines at the start of the Piacenzian period (about 3.6 million years ago, for those unfamiliar with our paleontological divisions), though the exceptionally quick evolution raises the question of whether their evolution was entirely self-directed or whether another organism assisted in modifying them. In any event, time travel and fossil records clearly show that the species started as a cat merely unusually tolerant of heat and developed the unique adaptations to its environment approximately half-way through the time the species has existed.
Records seem to show a subspecies of the lava cat briefly existing in Egypt during the Old Kingdom. This subspecies had a significantly slower metabolism and gained energy by basking in the sun for long periods with only part of their body exposed. In any event, the subspecies appears to have been extinct by the time of the Hysko invasion, as Hysko records at the time make no mention of it while making mention of various other anomalous species present in Ancient Egypt during the time period.
The closest living relatives of the lava cats are the members of the Panthera genus, with the species bearing the closest DNA match is Panthera leo, with a 98% match. It is possible that lions and lava cats can interbreed, but in any event it’s unknown to happen.
Diet: Nigerian lava cats require no food, though they have a functioning digestive and excretory system (as discovered when a Hawaiian lavaskipper was introduced into Biodome-IV in an attempt to save space). Rather, Nigerian lava absorb ambient heat and converts the temperature differential into electrical energy by means of a biological thermocouple. The electrical energy is then converted into chemical energy. When the body of a Nigerian lava cat reaches a temperature so that generating electricity by temperature difference becomes no longer practical, the cat will move to a cooler location where heat shunting organs will rapidly lower the cat’s body temperature. The cat will then return to the volcano.
As evident from the Lavaskipper Incident, not consuming food is due to environmental factors rather than behavioral ones, and Nigerian lava cats can and will kill things and eat them to supplement their diet if given the chance. They appear to enjoy their meat cooked rare, and several have developed a fondness for steak.
Social Behavior: Nigerian lava cats live in prides of anywhere from fifteen to twenty individuals, with a social structure similar to that of lions. When the young disperse, they will move to another volcano, or an area sufficiently distant. Because of habitat limitations, the majority of young cannot find a new volcano and must coexist with another pride, be absorbed into that pride, or drive the dominant male out. Females typically choose one of the first two options, while males usually choose the last, though they are known to join other prides as nonbreeders.
Each pride is led by a single dominant male, who is also the only one allowed to breed, and the dominant male will kill any kits that are not his direct offspring (Legacy’s pride is given hormone disruptors to prevent this). The dominant male in turn is mated to several dominant female with whom he produces offspring. The other males and females in the group are either outsiders accepted into the pride (usually treated with some degree of hostility anyway) or adult females that have not dispersed. In very rare cases, Nigerian lava cats will be born male but not sexually mature; these individuals stay with the pride they were born into and guard kits.
Courting is markedly different than lion courting. Before courting a female, a male lava cat will make a deep dive into the volcano and pry off rock from deep down. The male will then use nearby volcanic rock to construct a roughly circular bower, and will then place the volcanic rock in the center. Females will investigate each volcanic rock and bower, and are believed to be able to sense how far down the rock was retrieved and base mate selection on that. The mate of the dominant female will then become the dominant male. Exactly how this behavior originated, given the classic leonine social structure, is unknown. In any event, the pride is still male-dominated despite the position of dominant male passing based on who the dominant female selects as a mate.
Intelligence: The intelligence and sapience of Nigerian lava cats remains at question. While the species certainly has displayed a certain level of cunning one usually only finds in confirmed sapients, this could very well be an evolutionary adaptation required due to the species’ environment. Universal translation devices have also failed at communications, casting further doubt on the possibility of full sapience.
Librarian's Notes: As of 2011, Nigerian lava cats have increasingly been sighted outside their normal range, in places as far-flung as volcanic Pacific islands. Entire prides (as well as parts of prides) have disappeared without any obvious reason, and their radio transmitters have been of no help at all, showing them one day in Ethiopia and the next in Indonesia.
Expeditions in magma-subs have turned up nothing, nor has magical inquiry. The leading theory is that there's something else displacing the cats, since they're vanishing in a west-to-east direction. Due to the exceptional toughness of Nigerian lava cats, however, it is unknown what would be capable of driving them out. Legacy has been forced to put additional resources into keeping Nigerian lava cats, native anomalies, and humans from coming into conflict as well as hiding the migration from other organizations and recovering disabled Nigerian lava cats.
Currently the only lava cat prides with no disappearances are located on the East African Rift.