Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Eight ways to save Africa’s last wild lions

If cats really do have nine lives, the big wild cats of Africa are probably down to their last one or two.
But help may be on the way, in the form of an ambitious new program to explore, test, and develop successful strategies to restore and safeguard the continent’s lions, cheetahs, and leopards.
The brainchild of Dereck and Beverly Joubert, veteran wildlife filmmakers and photographers, the National GeographicBig Cats Initiative has seeded eight field projects in recent months in an effort to stop and reverse the precipitous decline of Africa’s lions.
Once perhaps half a million in number, fewer than 20,000 lions may be surviving in the wild–and unless something is done urgently to address the situation they may disappear from the wild completely within the current generation.
At stake is much more than magnificent big cats. Our own long-term health and survival could also be at risk if we do not help them.
Click on the image to find out more about the Big Cats Intiative. Photo compilation courtesy of Beverly and Dereck Joubert
For the most part the lions are disappearing because of rising human-predator conflict over competition for the same resources, food and water. Observing and understanding this connectivity during decades of working in the African wilderness, the Jouberts came to realize that the solution for both cats and people lies in creating a symbiotic existence. Protecting big cats means protecting their range and habitat. Caring for their habitat means assuring healthy ecosystems that provide services humans depend on to survive.
This in mind, the Jouberts approached National Geographic to launch the Big Cats Initiative (BCI). Already the BCI has raised funding from donors, appointed a panel of experts, and awarded eight grants to conservationists and researchers trying to find ways to help Africa’s wild lions. Additional rounds to support projects for cheetahs and leopards are in the works, and eventually the BCI will also fund work to save tigers, jaguars and big cats across the world.

joubert_9272_600x450.jpgNational Geographic photo of Dereck and Beverly Joubert by Mark Thiessen
The first eight grants of the BCI support work in Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. The projects range from building barriers around traditional livestock enclosures to studying how increasingly widespread use of agricultural pesticides to poison predators can be stopped through government controls and education.
In some places the first round of funding is being used to establish baselines and databases–big cat restoration and protection cannot be done effectively if little is known about the health and status of their populations in the most critical survival hotspots.
I interviewed Dereck Joubert, co-founder of the Big Cats Initiative, about the BCI. Scroll down the page after the interview to watch a video interview with Terry Garcia, Executive vice President of National Geographic Mission Programs, about the National Geographic perspective of the Big Cats Initiative.
Dereck Joubert interviewed by David Braun
How did you come up with the idea of the Big Cats Initiative? What had you and Beverly witnessed and what led you to believe that such an initiative could work?
We had a chance when we became National geographic Explorers in Residence to look back at our lives, spent doing films and books inspiring people to care about big cats, to see how effective we and others like us had been.
The most dramatic number milestones started coming in. For half of our lives we have been actively promoting big cats, but since we were born 50 years ago lions numbered 450,000 and today there may be as few as 20,000!
We found this out by researching and assembling all known records and plotting them on a graph. This curve also showed us that if we extended that line, we could expect extinctions by 2020.
Forming some kind of emergency plan was clearly urgent. We approached Nat Geo with this idea and started gathering support from the big cat world.

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