Habitat loss, human conflict, poaching and illegal trade are the major threats faced by big cats in the wild.
Habitat loss and human conflict
Habitat loss is an issue that all big cats are facing. The human population has increased and we have been consuming the earth’s resources at a very fast pace. Humans have destroyed and fragmented big cat habitats through deforestation for agricultural expansion and from developmental activities such as building cities and roads. Humans change the environment very quickly and animals cannot adjust or adapt.
Large cats need a lot of space to roam. As their habitat shrinks, so does their source of prey. Big cats find themselves living closer to humans and so they often prey on livestock which causes human conflict. Farmers often kill big cats because they perceive them as threats to their livelihood.
Smaller habitat areas also often leads to inbreeding, which leads to health problems.
Poaching is a serious threat to big cats. They are hunted for their body parts which are often used in traditional medicine and for their gorgeous pelts, which are sold illegally on black markets. Wildlife crime is a huge business that is run by criminal networks spanning the globe; big cat body parts and coats are trafficked much like illegal drugs and firearms. Protecting the animals in their natural habitats can be costly and a lot of countries lack the resources to do so. Poaching has and is causing population declines at an alarming rate. While it’s difficult to put a value on illegal wildlife trade, it is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. The President of the Humane Society said that the exotic animal trade is second to only the drug trade in raw dollars.
Not only are cats killed, but within the past decade over 1,000 forest rangers have been killed at the hands of poachers according to the IFAW. Wildlife trafficking has become a serious criminal and security threat with more and more militant groups and terror groups becoming involved in the illegal business.
Why should we care about protecting big cats?
When we protect big cats, we also protect many species that live in the same habitat. Big cats are at the top of the food chain and play a large role in keeping prey sources’ populations in check. When big cat populations start to decline, it leads to overpopulation of prey sources. The boom in prey sources strip vegetation and then those animals die of starvation and disease. So by protecting the top predators, we ensure the survival of many other species and the ecosystems. These ecosystems provide people with water, food and resources.
Many species of big cats survive in areas that contain some of the world’s poorest communities. Conservation projects offer local people jobs and raises income levels. Tourism tends to increase where big cats roam, which helps support the local economy. Panthera is doing great work in the field by working with local communities to give them the tools necessary to help protect big cats in their natural habitats. We need to support conservation efforts because progress IS being made, but it can only be made when people decide to help. As humans, we should feel a moral duty to find a way to share our planet with big cats because we are hugely responsible for their population declines.
Click on each cat to learn more about specific threats to this cat.