March 3, 2018 will be World Wildlife Day. Since 2013, the United Nations has set aside this day to celebrate the earth’s extraordinary biodiversity – and to call attention to the threats to that diversity. This year’s World Wildlife Day will focus on big cats.
As the UN has pointed out, big cats are extraordinary animals. They play crucial ecological roles as top predators: helping to keep large ungulates and medium-sized carnivore (i.e. mesocarnivores, such as coyotes and ocelots) in check. Big cats are culturally important as well. Their images pervade modern society, and for centuries jaguars (Panthera onca) have been revered as gods by indigenous peoples in Central and South America. The loss of any species of big cat would impoverish both their ecosystems and humanity.
Unfortunately, the populations of nearly all big cat species are declining. Some of them, like tigers (Panthera tigris), are dangerously close to extinction. Habitat loss, conflicts involving livestock, overhunting, and poaching for lucrative markets – such as the traditional Asian medicine trade (TAM) – are largely to blame. The UN is therefore calling World Wildlife Day 2018 ‘Big Cats: Predators Under Threat.’
The UN has put together a website explaining what this year’s celebration is about, why it focuses on big cats, the challenges to conserving these magnificent animals, and what we can do to help.
A particularly fascinating aspect of the World Wildlife Day website is its Learn page, which contains fact sheets for seven big cat species. This is a great way for readers to become acquainted with basic information about these animals. The Get Involved page, by contrast, contains useful suggestions on how everyday people can help with big cat conservation. Please check it out!
The UN’s World Wildlife Day website contains an abundance of great content, and I strongly recommend you give it a visit. To whet you appetite, here is the official outreach video for World Wildlife Day 2018: