World Wildlife Day was when the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 3 March, the day of the signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as UN World Wildlife Day (WWD) to celebrate the world’s wild animals and plants. World Wildlife Day has become the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife.
Since its proclamation in 2013, WWD has had various themes. The 2018 theme is “Big cats: predators under threat”. For a video on this year’s theme click here.
The term big cat refers to any of the four largest living members of the Panthera genus. Among the five total species within the Panthera genus, four of them – tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards – are the only cats able to roar. The term big cat is used loosely though, to include snow leopards, cheetahs and pumas.
These big cats have captured the imagination of people around the world. Immortalised in storytelling, film and photography, they have become one of the world’s most identified group of predators.
Their populations are declining at an alarming rate though (tigers by 95% over the last 100 years and lions by 40% over the last 20 years). Some of the threats include:
- Loss of habitat
- Many big cats require vast habitat ranges. For example, African lions can wander a territory of 259 km2 (100 square miles). With their habitats shrinking due to human development and population growth, these big cats are coming into contact with humans a lot more. Which brings us to our next threat.
- Human-animal conflict
- With their habitat ranges reduced, encounters between humans and big cats are a lot more frequent. To protect settlements, community members and livestock, humans will sometimes kill big cats if they feel threatened.
- Loss of prey
- As human settlements and populations grow, it’s not only the predators that are being driven out, but their prey too. In some cases, prey isn’t being driven out, but hunted excessively. With no local prey, big cats can’t sustain themselves, leading to declines in their population.
- Illegal trade
- Illegal trade of big cats for their pelts, body parts and as pets is another major cause for their rapid decline.
- Snaring has become widespread throughout Africa and is a big cause for the decline in leopard, lion and cheetah numbers. Predators in particular are susceptible to snares, due to the attraction of carcasses.
How You Can Get Involved
WWD can be observed in many different ways and there are plenty of ways you can build awareness around it and get involved.
- Get to know big cats and learn more about them – Learning is a big part of what drives conservation. Taking it a step further and sharing what you’ve learnt with others is a big part of creating change.
- Create a competition – Competitions are a great way to increase involvement. Whether it’s through a photo, art or speech competition.
- Launch your own campaign – You could create a campaign that addresses a certain issue or protects a particular species.
- Find a cause that resonates with you – There are a lot of causes and projects out there, but only a few of them will resonate with us personally. Find one that you can get behind and support it.
- Donate – There are a lot of NGOs and conservation projects that need funding or materials to carry out their mission.
- Volunteer – Money is a big factor that drives conservation, but if you don’t have the means to contribute financially, you can volunteer your time. In some cases this is equally, if not more valuable than monetary donations.
- Consume responsibly – Services and products we choose to buy, support and use has a big impact on the environment and wildlife. You can have an impact on these profitable enterprises by consuming responsibly.
What Does WWD Mean for Big Cats?
Although setting aside a day in celebration of these iconic predators is not going to have a lasting impact on their population numbers, the awareness raised for these big cats on 3 March is an important step towards safeguarding them. Through awareness comes greater understanding and it’s that understanding which can drive change.
As humans, we are very blessed (and cursed in some cases) with an ability to imagine the future, whether it’s fictional or based on available facts. The complete loss of the world’s big cats is an abysmal future to picture, and the implications are far reaching environmentally, economically and socially.