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Protecting Big Cats
The 3rd of March is UN World Wildlife Day, and this year conservationists from all across the globe are coming together to give big cats a voice and tell the story of their struggle for survival. Although they are often considered a symbol of strength, power, and courage, over the past century big cats have been facing an alarming threat to their survival in the wild. Unfortunately, most of the threats to their survival are caused by the actions of humans.
Why are predators important?
Big cats serve a fundamental role within their ecosystems. As predators, and indeed apex predators. They are keystone species. This means that their actions and behaviours impact the entire ecosystem. By hunting for their prey, big cats regulate the number of animals beneath them in the food chain. This is important as an overabundance of herbivores in the habitat can ultimately lead to the elimination of certain plant types. Because of their influence on prey population dynamics, the loss of predators in a habitat impacts the entire ecosystem, knocking off the balance and harmony. A healthy ecosystem is not only important for wildlife but for humans as we too are dependent upon ecosystem services for our survival
Why are big cats under threat?
Big cats can be found in Africa, Asia, and North, Central, and South America however in all of these areas big cats are facing similar problems. The main threats to big cat survival are:
*Human & Wildlife Conflict- hunting the cats to protect livestock and also hunting of big cats natural prey species.
*Poaching – Although it is illegal, there is a large market for the trade of wild animals and big cat products. There is a market for nearly every body part of a tiger and the purpose can range from fashion, tourist souvenirs, ornaments, food products and traditional medicinal remedies.
*Forest Fires/Logging- The habitats of big cats are being cleared making way for human developments and agriculture. Forests are often cleared using methods such as forest fires which destroy the natural habitat. Roads through forests also contribute to habitat fragmentation.
*Inbreeding – as population numbers decrease so too does the variation in genetic diversity. The breeding of closely related individuals can lead to a range of health problems.
Due to human activity, these charismatic predator populations are in decline, and in some cases are becoming extinct forever. Tiger populations plummeted by 95% over the past 100 years.
Tayto Park: Doing our bit….
Our resident big cats are ambassadors to their species and also important members of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). They have helped us to share the story and plight of their species, and have opened the eyes and hearts of many of our visitors about life in the wild.
Gara and Kahn are our Amur Tigers ambassadors- In the 1940s there were fewer than 50 individual Amur tigers remaining in the wild. Thanks to improved education and conservation efforts the Russian government recognises just how important these predators are. Hunting tigers is now banned within Russia. The wild population has risen to around 500. However, conservationists are still working towards achieving a sustainable future for the Amur tigers.
Igor and Sergi are our Amur Leopard ambassadors- With less than 80 Amur leopards in the wild the Russian government has authorised reintroduction in their historical range in Far East Russia.
The wild population of this critically endangered big cat is far too small for wild-caught translocations for reintroduction. Accredited zoos are playing a direct role in the preservation of this critically endangered species! Without accredited zoos and their associated breeding programmes including the Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and Species Survival Plan (SSP), we would not have the genetic ‘lifeboat’ necessary for reintroduction.
Bell and Kado are our Mountain Lions ambassadors. Mountain lions are also known as the Puma, Cougar (and many other names!) This is a big cat found in a huge range across continental North and South America. These cats can survive well living in a wide variety of habitat type, and they can eat a varied diet. Despite this resilience, the Eastern cougar was officially declared extinct in northeast America in January 2018.
While Mountain Lions are not considered as endangered as the Amur tiger or Amur leopard, it is still a very important time to take action as their population is in decline.
Santana is our Ocelot ambassador– Ocelots live across an expansive range in South and Central America. While their overall numbers are quite healthy, they too are facing significant localised declines, particularly in Central America.
By having these resident ambassador species, they are a fantastic inspiration for education and also to take action to help big cat species in the wild.
To date, Tayto Park has contributed more than €40,000 to Wildcats Conservation Alliance formally known as the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance helping to secure a future for Amur tiger and Amur leopards in the wild. We have also supported the project “Buy an acre challenge” in collaboration with BIAZA and The World Land Trust. The aim of this project has been to buy land to create a wildlife reserve and biodiversity haven in Mexico. The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve covers an area of more than 946,000 acres. Ocelots and Mountain Lions are amongst the 2758 listed plant/animal species inhabiting this reserve which will have long-term benefits from having their habitat protected. Tayto Park helped purchase 100 acres of land in Sierra Gorda.
What is being done globally to help big cats?
No matter which species of big cat is in need of help the first and most important step is education. The relationship and perception between humans and wildlife are crucial for cooperation and a willingness to help preserve wildlife.
Wildcats Conservation Alliance is just one of the conservation organisation tackling the survival of big cats.
They are protecting Amur tigers and Amur leopards by:
• Anti -Poaching activities
• Wildlife Healthcare
• Education within local communities
• Population Monitoring
• Eliminating human conflict and illegal trade
Is there anything I can do?
While there are no big cats in Ireland, there are actions we can all make to help save these predators from extinction!
• Be an ethical consumer- reducing the demand for illegal wildlife products will help to eliminate illegal poaching. By not purchasing souvenirs/ health items, food or fashion containing illegal animal body parts you can help to reduce demand and funding for these illegal operations.
• By visiting accredited zoos, you are helping to support local/international conservation.
• Donate to worthwhile conservation projects such as Wildcats Conservation Alliance- who are committed to putting 100% of donations into conservation work
• Spread the word and continue to learn! Knowledge is power; the more you know the further you go. Help to generate the attention big cats deserve by sharing what you have learned with families and friends. Some useful Links for further reading:
wildlifeday.org https://conservewildcats.org/projects/ www.cites.org