On World Wildlife Day we focus on the important role the planet’s wild animals and plants play in our cultures and the sustainability of our societies. This year, the spotlight falls on the world’s big cats. These magnificent predators, which include species such as cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers, are found from Africa to Asia and the Americas.
These charismatic creatures are universally revered for their grace and power, yet they are increasingly in danger of extinction. Big cats have undergone a massive decline in recent times. Just over a century ago, there were as many as 100,000 wild tigers living in Asia. Today, fewer than 4,000 remain. They have lost 96 per cent of their historic range.
The story is similar for all the big cats. They are collectively under threat from habitat loss, climate change, poaching, illicit trafficking, and human-wildlife conflict. We are the cause of their decline, so we can also be their salvation.
The Sustainable Development Goals include specific targets to end the poaching and illegal trafficking of protected species of wild fauna and flora. Last year, United Nations Member States adopted the third in a series of ground-breaking resolutions to tackle this major cause of wildlife decline, and governments, civil society and the private sector actors around the globe are combining to translate this resolve into action.
Ultimately, the solution to saving big cats and other threatened and endangered species is conservation policy based on sound science and the rule of law. It must also give full consideration to the needs of local people. When local communities and economies benefit from wildlife conservation, strategies are much more likely to succeed.
Big cats are keystone species. Protecting them also protects the vast landscapes they inhabit and the wide variety of life they harbour. It is a gateway to protecting entire ecosystems that are crucial to our planet’s health.
Many brave park rangers and law enforcement officers are fighting wildlife crimes in the field, putting their lives at risk to protect our most threatened species. But wildlife conservation is a shared responsibility. On World Wildlife Day, I call on people around the world to help raise awareness and to take personal action to help ensure the survival of the world’s big cats and all its precious and fragile biological diversity.