With all the huplah surrounding conservation at the moment, especially with the plight of the rhino coming under the mass social hysteria microscope there is little wonder why other conservation threats are barely even heard of. I am not against the mass rallying for the cause of the rhino. However, when serious conservation issues turn into a social fad rather than an important facet of wildlife preservation I become a bit perturbed. The only good thing that comes out of the sharing and tagging that goes on on our social media platforms is the creation of awareness. What would be great is if this high level of awareness led to more interactive and constructive habits that actually fed into the groundwork of conservation and not just made one look socially savvy.
A few months ago I was sitting in front of the telly and happened across a nature program on one of the stations (If I remember correctly it was 50/50 which airs on SABC 2- correct me if I’m wrong) where a couple was being interviewed about their work with lions in Africa. I now know that these conservationists were none other than Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who head the Big Cats Initiative, a National Geographic wildlife endeavour. I was shocked to hear Dereck say in his interview that he gave the lions about 15 years before they were wiped out entirely in their natural habitats– that is a scary prospect. Think about that- no lions in the wild, at all!
I sat there asking myself how I could be so oblivious to this plight, I had literally never heard anything about the pressures of encroaching human devastation and the disastrous effects this has on big cat populations. Of course there is the issue of limiting the spaces in which lions can roam, curbing their natural territorial necessities as well as the danger that arises between clashes of big cat and human interaction, with cattle deprivation being one of the major upsets in rural Africa which often leads (sometimes incorrectly) to the persecution of big cats and their inevitable deaths. This culling of the lion population puts further pressures on a burgeoning catastrophe that would be the loss of these beautiful creatures altogether. Simply safeguarding them in sanctuaries and zoos is also not a good enough solution – in the space of mere generations genetic survival markers can be lost, curtailing their ever being reintroduced sufficiently back to the wild.
The sad truth is that it is not just lions that are facing the threat of eradication. Tigers, cheetahs and leopards of various types and from around the world are all under serious threat. The Cause an Uproar website states that since the 1940s lion populations have dropped from around 400,000 to a mere 20,000 – a staggering proportional statistic. According to a 2011 report by USAToday, in the past 50 years, leopards are down to about 50,000 from around 750,000; cheetahs number around 12,000 from around 45,000 and tigers number a dismal 3,000 in the wild, with only about 1,200 breeding females, down from around 50,000 a short 50 years ago. These statistics are terrible and show just how serious the situation is.
Another staggering stat was one I saw on a shopping bag in Woolworths (who are working in conjunction with the WWF to ensure South African cheetahs are being protected), which said that “There are more spots on one Cheetah than there are Cheetahs in South Africa”. The bag goes on to explain the initiative and how the less than 900 cheetahs in our country face the threat of extinction. Woolworths donates R10-00 from the sale of each bag to cheetah conservation. ‘Big Business’ needs to be alerted to these plights and step in as some have done for the ‘Save the rhino’ campaign and as Woolworths have done here – without it being a media-hyped endeavour but rather because it is the right thing to do.
Do yourself a favour and log onto the Cause an Uproar page linked above or join their Facebook page to keep abreast of happenings in the lives of big cats and to see what you can do to help.
By Karl J. Bergemann