Ethiopian Lava Cat Profile
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Common Name: Ethiopian lava cat

Latin Name: Ignafelis abyssinica

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Description: Ethiopian lava cats are large, stocky felines weighing up to 500 kilograms (though most are in the range of 300-450) and measuring four to six meters long, not including the horizontally flattened tail. The species has an unusually long neck and shortened limbs, as well as a rounded skull.

They are covered in an articulated insulating coat of a matte black substance capable of withstanding the enormous heat and pressure of the Earth's mantle.1 Lava cats are not immune to heat, however; their internal anatomy and physiology is fairly typical for cats. Instead, lava cats deal with what heat does get through their epidermis with an array of small Aberash organs distributed throughout their fascia. These organs conduct heat to several fluid filled sacs in the lower abdomen; larger organs radiate the heat when the cats are on land.

Body orifices are protected by interlocking plates that close when Ethiopian lava cats are submerged in lava. Similar structures protect the eyes. Lava cats do not have whiskers.

Distribution: The Ethiopian lava cat's modern range is restricted to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia. Historically, the species was present in Chad and Yemen, but their range in those countries was always more restricted, and as pressure from poaching increased, the local populations have been extirpated and the volcanoes have not been recolonized. Populations are decreasing everywhere but the Danakil Desert, where the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front's military activities have inadvertently protected the species.

Evolutionary History: Despite having a modern distribution centered around the Great Rift Valley and the Near East, the fossil record and genetic work indicates that Ethiopian lava cats diverged from the rest of Felidae 10.01 to 9.45 million years ago in what is now the Biu Plateau. The earliest known identifiable bones and pelt, dating back to 7.34 mya, were found there buried beneath an ancient pyroclastic flow. From their preserved pelt, they were quite similar to the cats alive today. DNA analysis indicates that their closest living relatives are the members of the caracal lineage.

The evolutionary pressures that gave rise to the lava cats are unknown, but it's believed that they didn't naturally evolve over time. There is no explanation for how elemental traits could arise by natural mutation, nor how the process of evolving the traits that allow them to survive immersion in magma wouldn't involve passing through a fitness valley.

Ethology: Groups of lava cats only form on a temporary basis, during the breeding season. Males build bowers of volcanic rocks and minerals in order to attract mates, who tend to favor bowers that are not only ornately decorated, but have rocks retrieved from the farthest distances or from the deepest crystal mushes. Cultural preferences play a role as well; the prides in the Danakil have a preference for rubies while the remaining population in the Arabian Peninsular favors basalt.

Exceptionally for felines, Ethiopian lava cats do not have defined territories. Most move over vast distances, moving between hunting grounds, volcanoes, and sand basins. Sand and heat are inexhaustible resources, and establishing a territory to control access to these resources is a waste of energy. While hunting grounds are limited, most lava cats eat only once every few months, and don't stay long enough to maintain territorial control.

Lava cat communication is entirely scent-based and the species is effectively mute. Through unknown mechanisms, the species can make their coat release pheromones that rapidly diffuse through both the air and magma, and can be detected by the coat2 or through normal feline methods of scenting.

Life Cycle: Kits are born in litters of three to five, their coats already present. At two months, they are capable of navigating through magma on their own, but rely on their mother to guide them to new volcanic sites if migration is necessary. When separated from their mothers, they are unable to learn how to navigate the Earth's mantle successfully. Sexual maturity is at two years, though kits are independent at the age of eight months.

Older lava cats' Aberash organs fail earlier than the rest of their body, and heat stroke is usually the cause of death; average lifespan is about 23 years. In captivity, with safer sources of heat and good medical care, lava cats can live into their late fifties. For felines this is an exceptionally long lifespan, and it is believed that cellular repair mechanisms used to reduce the effects of heat exposure are responsible. Several private companies are pursuing this field of research in the hopes of finding anti-aging drugs that can be marketed above the Veil.

Ecology: Lava cats receive the majority of their energy through the use of the Aberash organ, which in addition to working as a heat sink acts as a biological thermocouple. Nevertheless, they do eat meat, which they need in order to grow. They'll eat anything they can catch, and their coat provides them with impressive camouflage when hunting on volcanic rock.

Despite the mantle being solid, and magma being extremely viscous, lava cats are clearly capable of migrating to new areas of volcanic activity through the mantle. They can swim through magma as if it's water, and there's good evidence that they can travel through igneous rock the same way, though not for as long a distance. We don't know how they do this, or how they detect sites of volcanic activity at such great distances.

Growth of the black outer coat requires the ingestion of large amounts of silica. Lava cats will frequent sand basins or alkaline hot springs to consume enough silica for proper growth.

In-Suita Conservation Efforts: The chief threat to Ethiopian lava cats is the exotic animal trade. Unfortunately, law enforcement departments that deal with wildlife trade are almost always above the Veil, and the people poaching them have more guns than we do. They're also willing to use them on our friends and family when they can't retaliate against us directly—and they usually can't, since most of them don't know how to use Ways.

Some Legacy chapters have used warding spells and memetic glyphs to keep anyone with hostile intent away from the cats. This is dangerous to do in areas where Veil maintaining organizations like the Bookburners, Jailors, and the Organization for the Reclamation of Islamic Artifacts operate; it's not illegal but they tend to harass us—though Saudi Arabia and Iran's recent cold war means Saudi Arabia is a lot safer than it used to be.

Legacy's Danakil Sanctuary includes a shield volcano, Buur Qiiqa, but it is dormant and can't be reached by lava cats migrating through the mantle. We've considered trying to restart the volcano, but the Old Gods of the area have made their disapproval of that quite clear. However, we are currently trying to connect several dead worlds with active volcanos to the Danakil Sanctuary and Earth's mantle, and if this works we can begin introducing the species to them.

Linkages between lava cat populations exist, but substantial numbers of cats only move seldomly between distant sites. Since scientists affiliated with the Cryptid Specialist Group started observations in 1972, only twice have lava cats moved in large enough numbers to start a breeding population in an uninhabited volcano. Genetic analyses have revealed that even slight reductions in connectivity between subpopulations could trigger a spiral of inbreeding depression, and recent immigrants to new populations are heavily guarded until successful reproduction is confirmed.

Ex-Suita Conservation Efforts: As Ethiopian lava cats are extremely territorial and rely on culturally transmitted knowledge to survive that's impractical for us to pass on, cubs from the exotic pet trade usually cannot be returned to the wild. These rescued cubs have been the foundation of a breeding population centered at the Danakil sanctuary.

Without wild adults, lava cats can't survive outside captivity, but there's been some success fostering newborn kittens with females who have lost kits. Along with assisted migration, this may allow us to augment the lava cat's population and assist them in recolonizing areas they were extirpated from.

Update (April 13, 2011): Over the past several weeks, reports have filtered in of lava cats sighted outside their normal range, across the Ring of Fire. Some of these reports aren't very credible, but many have been verified by the Cryptid Specialist Group of the IUCN, and they've coincided with the abrupt disappearance of several lava cat populations from well-monitored areas. There have been no reports of migration to the Alpide Belt's volcanos. Many of the cats sighted in the Pacific are in poor condition, suffering from diseases or severe injuries.

The disappearances are centered in the northeast of the species' range, mostly in Saudi Arabia, but recently several populations on the African coast of the Red Sea have vanished. No one has been able to determine why they are leaving, and how they are navigating so quickly to the Pacific. The Old Gods have flatly refused to discuss the subject with us, and elementals in the Earth's mantle are as puzzled as we are.

We have no real organization on the Pacific Islands, but some members of the Hand in the area have been handling the situation and we are currently working with them to set up an outpost in Polynesia to determine the migration's cause and rehabilitate injured lava cats.

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