The Importance of Big Cats

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) is excited to celebrate World Wildlife Day on March 3! The theme of the 2018 World Wildlife Day is “Big cats: predators under threat." SCB members who research and work on issues related to big cats explain the threats against the different species and offer conservation solutions.

To celebrate World Wildlife Day, SCB encourages its followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to share a picture of a species they work with and explain why the species needs to be conserved. Please tag @Society4ConBio on social media. SCB will retweet and 'like' all posts that tag the Society! 

African Lion: Leela Hazzah and Stephanie Dolrenry

African lion. Photo Pixabay.

SCB members Leela Hazzah and Stephanie Dolrenry are co-directors of Lion Guardians, a conservation organization dedicated to finding and enacting long-term solutions for people and lions to coexist across Kenya and Tanzania.

Fact: Most people don’t realize that lions are generally scared of people. When lions that live with people, see or hear people, they run or hide immediately. Even though lions are the ‘top of the food chain’, they are still below the one species that routinely persecute and threaten them, humankind.

Threats: Lions' greatest threat is people. People kill lions in response to livestock predation, cultural practices to attain bravery and status, and to trade body parts. With an explosive human population, people need more space and thus occupy lion habitat leaving little room for lions and their prey.

Solving the problem: Lion Guardians currently trains and supports a team of more than 80 East Africans who are actively protecting lions covering approximately 5,500 sq. kms (1.3 million acres). Lion Guardians’ conservation model is adaptable to various cultures and wildlife species. Founded on local value systems, community participation and science, it is based on a decade of research and rigorous measures of success. The approach involves recruiting young, non-literate Maasai and other pastoralist warriors to learn the skills needed to effectively mitigate conflicts between people and wildlife, monitor lion populations, and help their own communities live with lions. By actively engaging in the Lion Guardians' solutions-based conservation model, people who were once lion killers are transformed into lion protectors.

How you can help: The public can help in many ways, from providing support to organizations that are in the field working toward models of coexistence between people and lions. This support can be financial and/or in-kind (expertise to offer organizations). The reality of the situation is that to save the remaining 20,000 lions in Africa, we will need huge sums of funds and innovative approaches to have a meaningful impact and ensure we continue to have wild lions in our world.

Follow the Lion Guardians on Twitter and Facebook.

Jaguar: Silvio Marchini

Jaguar on a tree during the flood season. Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, Amazonia. Photo by Wezddy del Toro.

SCB member Silvio Marchini works to better understand and improve the relationship between people and wildlife in Latin America, with a focus on jaguars. "A key feature of my pursuit is the articulation of a model that integrates human and ecological dimensions in wildlife management, conservation planning, and policy-making. I work to develop fundamental understandings of human behavior associated with controversial wildlife and to apply concepts and empirical findings to real-world problems of conflict management. With support from the Chester Zoo and Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU-University of Oxford), and hosted by the Laboratory of Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation (LEMaC-University of Sao Paulo), I am currently exploring ways to upscale the analysis and management of human-jaguar conflict so as to support and advise strategies to turn conflict into coexistence from project-level to national scales. Once developed in Brazil and Bolivia, this framework can later be further trialled and refined in other parts of the world, taking advantage of the networks of the IUCN SSC Task Force on Human-Wildlife Conflict and Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG), of which I am a member," Marchini said.

Fact: The jaguar is the largest terrestrial predator in the Neotropics and one of the most charismatic species of conservation concern in Central and South America.

Threats: Jaguars are not always welcome in rural areas and their presence can be intolerable to many people. The resulting persecution by humans is a major threat to this species.

Solving the problem: To better understand and manage our problems with iconic animals like the jaguar, we must first acknowledge that human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is a complex phenomenon composed of three parts:

  • wildlife damage (e.g. wildlife injure or kill game or domestic animals)
  • persecution of the problem wildlife (for preventive, retaliatory, and usually other reasons too)
  • clashes of opinion between social groups about how to deal with the damage and persecution issues

The first part is ultimately an ecological fact (i.e. competition, predation), and because most professionals dedicated to HWC come from the ecological sciences, that is the part that has received the most attention. The human behavior of killing wildlife and the social conflicts over wildlife management, however, require an approach that goes beyond ecology. The three parts of HWC are closely related and may happen at the same time, but clumping them together under a strictly ecological understanding of HWC may constrain the way problems are defined and limit the array of potential solutions available: methods used to resolve wildlife damage problems differ from the solutions to wildlife killing and social conflicts.

Learn more about human-wildlife confilct and Silvio's work here:

Snow Leopard: Koustubh Sharma

Snow leopard. Photo credit: Anne-Marie Kalus.

SCB member and SCB Asia Section board member Koustubh Sharma works with the Snow Leopard Trust as a Senior Regional Ecologist. He helps with field research, study design, data analysis, and conservation and training programs across several countries. Since 2014, Koustubh has worked as the International Coordinator of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Protection Program (GSLEP). 

Since 2014, "I have taken additional charge as the International Coordinator of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Protection Program (GSLEP) with its secretariat based in Bishkek, where we coordinate this unique alliance that brings together governments of the 12 snow leopard range countries, International Financial Institutions and Conservationists. With a Masters in Physics and a PhD in Wildlife Zoology, I find myself at home in using technological advancements and statistical developments for wildlife research and conservation." 

Fact: In search of a territory, snow leopards can travel long distances, sometimes through habitats such as steppe/desert that might sound most unsuitable to them. Even when they have established their territories, snow leopards are known to range in big areas, often crossing international borders without visas or passports, thus making them the true ambassadors of the mountain ecosystems.

Threats: Snow leopards face a range of threats from illegal wildlife trade to retribution killing and fragmentation of habitat. One of the primary challenges with snow leopard conservation is that it lives in remote parts of the world, and since we do not even know how many snow leopards are there, many populations might be declining or going extinct without getting noticed.

Solving the problem: Because snow leopards cannot vote against policies that are harmful to them or their habitats, it is for us who can, to strengthen the constituency of the snow leopard so conservation. We are living in a rapidly changing world where climate change is threatening not just our natural heritage but also our economies. It is imperative to mainstream conservation issues by reinforcing the understanding that these are important for our economies, our livelihoods and our quality of life.

Follow the Snow Leopard Trust on Twitter and Facebook.

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) is an international professional organization dedicated to promoting the scientific study of the phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss, and restoration of biological diversity. The Society's membership comprises a wide range of people interested in the conservation and study of biological diversity: resource managers, educators, government and private conservation workers, and students make up the more than 4,000 members world-wide. Become a member.