Did you tune in to BBC One last night to see the first episode of Big Cats? If not, you missed out! This new TV documentary highlights how awesome wild cats are but did you know that many are in trouble? Nearly half of all wild cat species are threatened with extinction. Here’s how WWF’s helping to reverse this trend.
I don’t know about you but I absolutely relish watching BBC nature documentaries. From Blue Planet to The Private Life of Plants, I grew up on these TV shows and they played a part in me choosing to become a conservationist. Yesterday’s first episode of Big Cats proved to be another fantastic cinematographic hit, with beautiful scenes of the many diverse and beautiful Felidae species such as the rusty-spotted cat and margay.
Yet wild cat species, big and small, are under threat. Squeezed into smaller habitats, killed in retaliation for perceived damage to livestock and people, and poached for the illegal wildlife trade, many of these feline populations are dwindling.
At WWF we are passionate about wild cat conservation. Here’s some of the ways we’re helping secure their populations and precious habitats for future generations to come.
African lions may be one of the most charismatic and well-known animals on the planet, but their populations are in crisis. A century ago, there could have been as many as 200,000 lions roaming across Africa. Today, possibly as few as 20,000 now remain. Lions have disappeared from 90% of their historical range and face growing pressure from habitat loss and degradation, loss of their prey, and increasing conflict with people as land and prey become scarce.
Jenny Cousins, Programme Manager for East Africa, explains how we’re helping to reduce the threats to lion populations:
“In Kenya, we are working with partners to develop a national lion strategy and set up monitoring work to find out how many lions are in the country. By the Maasai Mara National Reserve, we are working with local communities to safeguard important wildlife habitat surrounding the park via community-led conservancies. With the Mara Lion Project, we are working to reduce predation of people’s livestock by lions and support coexistence with these big cats.”
One of the most pressing threats to tigers today is the illegal wildlife trade. Tigers are desired for their skin, claws, teeth, meat and bones to be used in traditional Asian medicines and for trinkets. We’re equipping rangers with better tools to help reduce poaching, such as training them in SMART, which is a monitoring system to improve ranger patrols. We’re also securing tiger habitats of today and tomorrow by mapping their presence and where they could move to in the future. And we’re ensuring that tigers can move from one protected area to another through the use of natural corridors.
Concerted conservation efforts by tiger range country governments, conservation organizations, and local communities are proving successful, and for the first time in a century, there could be good news for tigers. Nine of the thirteen tiger landscapes now have stable or increasing tiger populations. And, two countries are now competing to be the first nation to double their tiger population: Bhutan and Nepal.
John Barker, Head of the China and India Unit, says:
“By conserving some of the world’s richest ecosystems we are saving so much more. Not just in terms of the biodiversity but also the benefits and services that these important habitats provide to people and nature.“
Most wildlife populations are threatened because of human activity. That’s why it is absolutely essential to engage people in any conservation intervention. In jaguar habitats, we’re working with locals to improve their livelihoods and secure land tenure so that they can protect the Amazon. This creates a win-win for people and biodiversity.
There could be as few as 4,000-6,500 snow leopards living in the wild today and up to a half of the global population is found in China. But less than 14% of snow leopard habitat has been researched or is covered by conservation work. And more than a quarter of land in seven of the 12 countries where snow leopards are found is used as pasture for livestock. This brings snow leopards into conflict with local farmers.
We have collaboratively set up insurance schemes to help offset the costs that farmers experience from livestock being killed by snow leopards. This is helping to improve tolerance to these mountain cats so farmers are less likely to retaliate.
How you can help
One way to help ensure there will be big cats for future generations to come is to make sure they have a place to call home. You can help here by choosing responsible wildlife tourism safaris that provide sustainable funding for big cat habitat. Also why not head over to our Adoptions page to help us continue our big cat conservation work?