The continent of Africa has a reputation for its exciting wildlife. Animals such as rhinos, giraffes, zebras, elephants, and big cats, arguably the most majestic of them all, call this continent home. There are three species of big cats in Africa: the African Lion (Panthera leo), African Leopard (Panthera pardus), and the African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus).
Unfortunately, the existence of these feline species is being challenged by a variety of threats – most of which are caused by humans. The African Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah all have an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) status of “vulnerable,” meaning that their populations are rapidly declining, leading to expectations of entering “endangered” status.
Threats to big cat populations
The population declines of the African big cat species can be largely attributed to the fact that their habitats are being threatened. Growing human populations in Africa mean that there are more mouths to feed. As a result, more land is needed for agriculture. African savannas are being converted into small fields and livestock enclosures, therefore encroaching on the big cats that are living in the same environment.
Due to the fact that big cats are a threat to livestock populations, it is not uncommon for farmers to kill these predators. Big cats also pose a threat to human populations due to the fact that the preserved national parks in Africa aren’t large enough to sustain their spatial and appetite needs. As a result, big cats often end up hunting in areas that overlap with human settlement, once again becoming a threat to humans.
Why protect big cats in Africa?
Big cats have very important ecological roles in their environments because they are apex predators that regulate the populations of smaller carnivores, as well as prey populations. Without these big cat species, there would be a domino effect of decreasing populations for all species below them on the food chain. Without big cats there would be no life in Africa.
How can we protect big cats in Africa?
Projects like National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative work to protect the big cat populations in Africa. National Geographic Explorers receive grants from National Geographic in order to carry out research and innovative solutions that allow local communities and big cats to coexist. One example of these solutions is the use of a system that is able to track lion’s movements and alert nearby communities that a lion may be approaching. This system has resulted in a 50% reduction of livestock losses, therefore lessening the probability of a lion being killed in defense.
The conservation work being done by the Big Cat Initiative is made possible by their supporters. Monetary donations go a long way when it comes to funding on-the-ground research and innovative conservation projects that aim to save the big cats in Africa! If you so choose, you can support the Big Cat Initiative here!
Panthera is another organization that is concerned with preserving wild cat populations around the globe. They have a variety of projects, each of which are targeted towards a specific species of cat. For example, Project Leonardo aims to bring lion populations in Africa back to a minimum of 30,000 by the 2030s. Tools and techniques such as wildlife corridors and supporting local communities in their efforts to reduce illegal hunting and trafficking are being employed. Similar conservation efforts are used within their Cheetah Program.
Much like National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative, monetary donations make a huge difference! In addition, Panthera provides information on their website about how you can start your own fundraiser either online or through an in-person event or club!
One last thing you can do to help the big cats in Africa is raising awareness about the issues they are facing! Education is the first step in order to make change! This can be done by sharing information on social media and promoting organizations that are trying to make a difference. Check out the Big Cat Initiative and Panthera websites and social media in order to educate yourself and then spread the word!
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