March 3rd 2018 is the UN’s World Wildlife Day and the theme this year is Big Cats: Predators under Threat.
The ‘Big Cat Family’ is made up of all the members of the Panthera genus, including lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards. These are the only cats which are able to roar. Some lists also include the snow leopard, clouded leopard, Sunda clouded leopard, puma and cheetah.
The diagram below shows where each species is classified on the IUCN’s Red List of threatened species. The majority of big cats are currently classed as vulnerable and lions are endangered, highlighting that more conservation work is necessary to reverse this trend and stabilize the populations as best as possible.
Main Threats to Big Cats
- Poaching- some of the cats are hunted for fun whilst others, particularly tigers and leopards are killed for their fur. Many bones are used in Asian medicines
- Huge numbers of cats are taken from the wild for the illegal pet trade, being transported for miles in tiny, cramped conditions
- Loss of habitats- both through destruction by man and from forest fires. This can isolate animals, meaning they have to pass through heavily populated areas during their search for food making them even more vulnerable as they are more likely to come into contact with people. Fragmented populations means it is harder for animals to find a mate, causing their numbers to plummet even lower
- Loss of prey which is also a result of habitat loss and hunting
There are a number of conservation zones across the world which provides protection for many big cats. These areas include Chobe in Botswana, the Serengeti in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya. The Captive Wildlife Safety Act has made it illegal to transport and sell these magnificent beasts. There is a range of various other conservation initiatives including poaching patrols with fines for offenders. Many zoos have implemented breeding programmes to increase the numbers of big cats.
What more can be done?
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is trying to strengthen some of the US regulations, particularly as it is still legal for big cats to be privately owned. It is also important to protect the areas which are frequently visited by big cats by increasing poaching fines. Another key step is to restore habitats to their previous condition. This can be achieved by promoting the sustainable use of resources which will help to minimise deforestation and programmes to help increase the volume of prey in the area. Educating people who live in the surroundings will help reduce human-animal conflict and means there will be more people to reinforce the conservation initiatives. All of these measures are vital in helping to increase population numbers.
A huge amount of work has been undertaken to help the numbers of Big Cats recover, however a lot more still needs to be done to prevent these creatures become even more threatened in the future.