01 Mar 2018 Story Ecosystems

Predators under threat

People and big cats share an unusual relationship. We have long associated these “kings of the jungle” with courage and power. We name luxury cars and sports brands after them. And they are synonymous with high fashion.

But we haven’t been paying enough attention to their protection. If we don’t start now, then all we may have left is the name of a brand, or a photo in a children’s book.

Big cats are predators under threat. Their ranges are shrinking and their numbers are rapidly declining. 

The mighty lion has vanished from 90 per cent of its natural habitat, and is found only in parts of Africa and one forest in India.

As recently as a century ago, there were as many as 100,000 wild tigers in Asia. Today, there remain about 3,900 of these magnificent big cats in the wild.

New York City has a human population of 8.5 million people in 781 square kilometres, but an equivalent area of tropical forest would hold just 25 to 75 jaguars. An individual snow leopard can patrol a territory the size of Beijing.

The need for the conservation of large, intact and connected wilderness to maintain big cat populations underscores the importance of these apex predators to maintaining healthy and productive ecosystems.

When you protect big cats, you protect the habitats that regulate climate, provide clean air, rainfall, and the rich range of species – including human beings – that depend on them.

More and more, this need is challenged by land degradation, habitat loss and wildlife trafficking, all of which threaten the survival of big cats around the world.

As farms, cities and townships encroach on the habitat of big cats, they are pushed out of the wild, and increasingly, into direct conflict with people. In India, leopards are known to live among people, regularly feeding on stray dogs, but they also are known to attack people that they mistake for prey.

But there are success stories that encourage us to redouble our efforts.

In India’s mountainous snow leopard terrain, a sustainable cashmere programme is helping sheep herders implement sound grazing and wildlife protection plans. It’s helping them earn better livelihoods through a “sustainable cashmere” certification scheme, and protect the beautiful snow leopard.

UN Environment partner Discovery Communications and World Wildlife Fund have launched Project Cat, which is protecting nearly 2 million acres in India and Bhutan with the aim of doubling the global tiger population by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.   

Get involved

This World Wildlife Day on 3 March 2018 is the perfect opportunity for everyone to get involved, learn more and act to help secure a future for the iconic big cat through the UN’s #WildforLife campaign.

On 3 March, #WildforLife will launch the Big Cat Celebrity Challenge. You can help secure a future for your big cat kindred species by joining UN celebrity champions as they lead a charge for jaguars, lions, snow leopards and tigers – a joint effort to raise awareness and protect these endangered big cats.

For the team who gathers the most votes, UN Environment and partner organizations – CCG - Investors in Wildlife, Discovery Communications, and Panthera – will make a donation to a project that helps to protect the winning team’s flagship species. 

From maintaining land corridors to installing tracking cameras, your effort will help to ensure these precious cats have our attention—and our protection. 

So join our team leaders, on 3 March by choosing a team and making a pledge.  The winner will be announced on 22 April, International Mother Earth Day.

In this challenge, the only winner will be wildlife. The more we work together, the more we can accomplish. Let's ensure that big cats remain in our imagination, and on our planet, for years to come.

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