Big cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs could be facing extinction within the next two decades, leading conservation groups to call for increased efforts to save them, USA Today’s Dan Vergano reported in a Friday articles.
“The populations of lions, leopards, cheetahs and especially tigers have been decimated in the past half-century,” Vergano said, adding that leading scientists report that tigers “have become so rare that lions have become their soup-bone substitutes, sought for Asian medicines and ‘tiger bone’ wine.”
“Do we want to live in a world without lions in the wild?” Luke Dollar, a biologist with Duke University and a member of the National Geographic-sponsored Big Cats Initiative (BCI), told USA Today. “That is the choice we are facing.”
According to estimated statistics from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over the past 50 years lions living in the African wild have decreased from 450,000 to 25,000.
During that same period, leopards have decreased from 750,000 to 50,000, cheetahs from 45,000 to 12,000, and tigers from 50,000 to 3,000 (of which only 1,200 are breeding-age females).
“Lions play a role in keeping migrations going, and keep populations in check,” naturalist Dereck Joubert, the co-founder of the Big Cats Initiative (BCI), told Vergano. “Big predators play a role in keeping prey species vital and alert.”
“The habitat doesn’t recover,” added his wife, BCI co-founder and photographer Beverly Joubert. “We’re left with just hyenas or their equivalent.”
Vergano reports that the Jouberts have spent a quarter of a century making nature documentaries, including “Eternal Enemies: Lions and Hyenas” for PBS. Concerns over the fate of creatures such as the lion and the cheetah led them to contact National Geographic and convince them to re-double their conversation efforts for these and other big cats.
“Over the course of 18 months, the initiative awarded 19 grants to conservation efforts across Africa,” USA Today reported, and their efforts will continue this Monday, as they are encouraging Halloweeners to collect donations while going door-to-door, trick-or-treating. They are also accepting donations via text-message and online through the National Geographic website.
“We are seeing the effects of 7 billion people on the planet,” Dereck Joubert told USA Today. “At present rates, we will lose the big cats in 10 to 15 years.”
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