Extinction is ForeverEdit
Some big cats throughout history have become extinct because they were replaced with newer species better suited to the environment. The Sabretooth (Smilodon fatalis) is one example of a large Ice-Age predator that died out because the large prey it needed retreated with the glaciers. Pumas and jaguars now roam where the mighty Sabertooth once ruled. Natural extinction is part of the grand drama of life on Earth. However, many more cat species are in danger of dying out due to unnatural extinction, the killing of an entire species by man for reasons having nothing to do with fitness for survival. These species are not replaced with newer ones, their death merely leaves a hole in the fabric of life on Earth.
Many big cats have been killed because they either compete with humans for the same prey animals or because they occasionally attack human-raised livestock. Some big cats that become too weak to hunt their own natural prey find domestic livestock much simpler to acquire. Other big cats develop a taste for livestock out of sheer opportunity. There are times when control of individual predators, through moving or killing, appear to be justified. However there is a much more dangerous approach to predator control where an entire population or even an entire species is classified as a "pest" and open to extermination.
Extermination is an attempt to kill every last individual of a population or species. There were times when pumas were targeted for extermination in large areas of the American west. Bobcats and jaguars have also been targets of extermination. These days most governments in the world agree that extermination is not a good way to control cats, but sometimes local peoples ignore laws designed to protect species from extermination.
The majority of people in western countries no longer give big game hunters the same respect they once held in the writings of Ernest Hemmingway. The cheetah, which was once abundant in India, was hunted to complete extinction there. The Mughal emperor Akbar killed nearly 1000 cheetahs during his lifetime when the number of cheetahs was already declining. The Asian lion met with the same fate.
Most outdoorsmen no longer seek trophies for their mantles and entrance halls. However, a number of people still consider locating, outwitting, and defeating large predators to be the ultimate test of courage and a satisfying form of enjoying the out of doors. This practice is losing popularity, though. In all fairness, it should be said that sport hunters support laws and practices that benefit wildlife.
In the United States, wildlife populations have increased within the past century. This is largely due to funds generated via an excise tax on hunting equipment known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. In addition, sportsman contribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year to wildlife conservation through sporting organizations that benefit all wildlife.
People who defy existing laws to kill predators for money, animal parts, or personal reasons are called poachers. As outlaws, many poachers are dangerous people who are willing to protect their livelihood through violent means. Famous conservation leaders George Adamson and Diane Fossey were killed by poachers who saw them as a threat. Stopping poaching is very difficult because most big cat habitat is remote land that is difficult to patrol and exists in some of the world's poorest countries without many law enforcement resources. The most effective way to curb poaching is to reduce the demand for the products they provide.
A number of people believe, without any scientific evidence, that folk medicines made from parts of big cats can treat or even cure certain illnesses and conditions. Belief in sympathetic magic, that like-causes-like, leads people to seek the attributes they most admire about big cats by using parts of their bodies. People seeking courage, strength, or a greater capacity for physical intimacy attempt to acquire those things through eating, drinking, applying or wearing parts of the animals that are supposed to possess those traits. For nearly everything supposedly treatable with feline folk medicines, there are effective, safe and proven remedies available in modern medicine.
The Fur TradeEdit
The soft, warm, boldly patterned pelts (skins with fur) of big cats were long considered the ultimate expression of fashion and extravagance. Even today, most fashion items made with real fur come from carnivores such as bobcats and mink. Those legal for sale are produced from animals raised on fur farms rather than taken from the wild. The vast majority of natural leopard, ocelot, lynx and jaguar furs are banned on the international market by laws protecting endangered species.
Habitat loss is the silent killer. An animal's habitat is an area where it can live, and for most large predators that means cover, adequate prey, freedom of movement, and water. Due to their predatory lifestyle, most big cats require large areas of land without many manmade barriers where they can hunt and raise young unmolested.
Uncontrolled development of wild areas, including such wasteful practices as slash-and-burn agriculture, reduce the number of places where big cats can survive and thrive. To some degree protected areas known as Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries help preserve endangered species habitat.
However in many poor countries there is not adequate law enforcement to prevent poaching or illegal development of land inside park boundaries. In addition, animals need more land than the human race can afford to protect in parks.
More enlightened use of habitat by man can increase the number of big cats and preserve their genetic diversity. For instance, a timber plantation can provide both high quality wood and habitat for predators and their prey. Using sustainable management techniques, land can provide a never-ending source of quality wood products while continuing to preserve wildlife.
It Is Up To YouEdit
As someone interested in big cats, you can make your love of big cats known through the way you vote, your lifestyle, and your charitable giving. Governments can only do so much to help stop extinction. For big cats to be saved, they must be saved by all of us working together. Learn what you can do about the challenges facing your favorite animals, and get involved. Always remember: "We appreciate what we understand and save what we appreciate."