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Friday, February 23, 2024

Wildlife: Protecting big cats in the interests of ecosystems

To mark World Wildlife Day (March 3), United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on people around the world to raise awareness of the big cats' cause and take personal initiatives to help ensure their survival.

The definition of big cats has been broadened to include, in addition to the lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar - the four biggest roaring cats - the panther, snow leopard, puma, clouded leopard... Big cats are found in Africa, Asia and the three Americas, giving a virtually worldwide distribution.

" Big cats are keystone species" ... " By protecting them, we are protecting their vast habitats and the many forms of life they support. By protecting them, we are protecting their vast habitats and the many forms of life they support, and thus entire ecosystems that are vital to the health of our planet." Antonio Guterres, UN SG

Big cats are the most popular and admired animals in the world. Nevertheless, they face many threats, mostly due to human activities. Their populations are shrinking at an alarming rate.

There are several reasons for this decline: a shrinking natural habitat, a decreasing number of prey, conflicts with humans, poaching and illegal trade. The tiger population has fallen by 95% over the last 100 years, and the African lion by 40% in just 20 years.

"The impacts of the loss of big cats go far beyond the species themselves. They form an irreplaceable part of the earth's natural systems, which must be protected" John E. Scanlon, Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

For the UN chief, the salvation of big cats and other endangered species ultimately depends on one thing: the implementation of a conservation policy based on sound science and respect for the rule of law. "We must also take full account of the needs of local populations. When local communities and economies benefit from the implementation of wildlife conservation strategies, these are much more likely to succeed", emphasized the UN Chief.

Big cat trade: the hallmarks of organized crime

The trade in wild species and their products is global and takes many forms: live animals, decoration, fashion, medicines and hunting trophies.

The first UN Report on Wildlife Crime, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2016, indicates that the illegal trade in big cat skins has many of the hallmarks of organized crime.

All big cats are protected by CITES due to the serious threats to their survival posed by unregulated and illegal trade.

For almost 20 years, CITES has been highlighting the role played by organized crime in the trafficking of Asian big cats, which has long been one of the Convention's priorities. Over the past seven years, CITES has stepped up its efforts to combat this transnational wildlife crime organization.