Can you imagine an Africa without lions? Within the past century wild lion populations have declined from as many as 200,000 down to only 20,000. Their numbers have dropped by 40 percent just in the past 20 years (and 90 percent within the past 75 years). I am 28 years old – within my lifetime, wild lions have almost halved their population numbers, what do you think is going to happen in the next 20 years? They are already extinct in 26 African countries.
The leopard is likely the most persecuted large cat in the world. Slaughtered for their stunning spotted coats and other body parts which are used for ceremonial regalia, killed in conflicts with people and through poorly managed trophy hunting and suffer from the loss of prey due to bushmeat poaching. They are extinct from six countries, and likely six more. Leopards have vanished from 49 percent of their historic range in Africa, and 84 percent of their historic range in Eurasia. They have the largest range of any wild cat and yet, are still in trouble and facing a grave future. There are fewer than 70 wild individuals of the subspecies, the Amur leopard left in the world. 70.
The cheetah may be known as the fastest land mammal, but they are quickly disappearing as well. They have vanished from approximately 91% of their historic range. There are estimated to be less than 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild today. The Asian cheetah is nearly extinct with fewer than 50 individuals left in central Iran.
The tiger. My personal favourite animal. I have been obsessed with them for as long as I can remember (seriously, just ask anyone in my family). They are the largest of the big cats. They are also the closest to extinction. There are only 3,900 tigers remaining in the wild. Of the subspecies of tigers, three (Caspian, Javan, and Bali) are extinct and one more (South-China) is likely to be extinct in the wild. They have disappeared from 96% of their historic range.
And I am sorry to say that I have never had the privilege to see a tiger in the wild, so until that day I can only share a photo of a captive Amur tiger that stole my heart while working as a zookeeper for the Pittsburgh Zoo. Photo taken by Amanda Westerlund.
The jaguar, the puma, the snow leopard… all big cats (and we are using the expanded definition of “big cat” here) are under threat.
I will be completely honest with you, I am nearly in tears just writing this. These numbers are devastating – heartbreaking.
But this is not the end. Not yet.
We can still make a difference. Today, the 3rd of March, is World Wildlife Day and the theme is big cats.
I have dedicated my life to wild cats and their conservation. I am not asking you to drop everything and move to the bush, but I am asking you to help. Educate yourself. Read about these remarkable creatures and the plights that they face. Learn about the illegal fur and parts trades as well as the illegal pet trades. Read stories of conflicts between farmers, locals and cats. Find out about real conservation efforts and distinguishing them from the fake conservation efforts of companies that profit from petting, feeding and “walking with” big cats. Do not support, ‘Like’ or share photos of people petting, bottle feeding or treating wild cats as pets. Do not spend holidays or money supporting organisations that promote tourist physically interacting with big cats. Most of those cats end up in the canned hunting trade or even worse. Watch the documentary Blood Lions. And if you have the means, donate. That is honestly one of the best things you can do to help. On the ground conservation is not cheap. We need support to keep fighting this battle. If you cannot donate money, then donate your time. One great way (no bias here, of course) is you can help in research by becoming a citizen scientist and taking action, even from the comforts of your home. Log on to Camera CATalogue and help us to classify animals from camera trap surveys throughout the world and including the surveys that I run here in South Africa.
So please do something for big cats today – and use Panthera’s Facebook Frame for the day, use the hashtag #istandforbigcats to show the world your support.
Help us reverse these numbers. Help us change fate. I stand with big cats, do you?