Alarming state of wildlife: The 2018 World Wildlife poster released by WWF provides alarmingly dismal fact regarding big wild cat populations around the globe.
The global lion population has receded to around 20,000 in the wild. The Asiatic lions are being restricted only to India; while African lions have now been reported to be extinct in 26 nations across the African continent. Habitat loss and poaching are two predominant factors involved behind the sad demise of lion populations across the globe.
The wild tiger populations are now restricted to only about 3900 in the wild with 96% habitat loss across their historic range of distribution. Only 7100 wild cheetahs are being estimated to be currently surviving making the species vulnerable in the African continent; while Asiatic cheetahs are believed to be decimated to around 100 or less in the wild and barely surviving in eastern Iran with critically endangered status.
Extensive hunting pressures on the Asiatic lions and Asiatic cheetahs have been the most important detrimental factor pushing them towards extinction. Although Asiatic lions are showing some good signs of revival; but, the Asiatic cheetahs carry very little hope under the current circumstances. The population has been decimated below the threshold level and hence revival is therefore an arduous task for now.
The South Asian or Indian leopard shows the best demographic profile among all the Asiatic leopard sub species outside the continent of Africa. The Asiatic and African leopards as well as the African cheetahs have been significantly impacted by both rapid losses of their habitats and due to increasing human-animal conflicts
Conservation: Dark side
The situation of snow leopards across Russia, Mongolia, Central Asia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan are also not quite promising! True and accurate snow leopard population dynamics is not quite available; however, current estimate is fluctuating ~4,500-10,000 in the wild across the Eurasian continental region.
Pumas have lost over 50% of their natural habitats in the Americas; while the majestic jaguar of Central and South America is reported to be struggling for survival. The beautiful and vulnerable clouded leopards and the Sunda clouded leopard from the Asian continent are also struggling due to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation.
The rapid changes in their immediate ecosystems have been impacting their breeding and hunting grounds pushing them to higher altitudes from their traditional clouded and rainy ecosystems to colder and drier areas.
Most of the wild cat populations are suffering due to multiple anthropogenic and natural factors like habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, unmonitored forest fires, unmonitored or under monitored poaching and recreational hunting, trafficking of wildlife body parts (like skulls, bones, nails, skin, fur, pelts, teeth, organs) to illegal wildlife markets operating in China and parts of SE Asia, destruction of forests, illegal human encroachments into forested areas, unplanned infrastructural developments in virgin forested areas and lack of well managed conservation programs.
Conservation: Bright side
However, in spite of the darkness there are some great good news and bright spots too that we should be sharing that are happening around the globe. The recent news regarding the accidental sighting and capturing of ‘black jackals’ from Assam, in North East India is significant considering the conservation value of such rare specimens.
Furthermore, Nepal have both started long standing capture breeding programs for multiplying the number of critically endangered gharials to protect them from extinction. Myanmar has initiated a comprehensive conservation program for the endangered Asiatic elephants and brow-antlered deer from poaching and river dolphins from extensive habitat loss, fishing and hunting in its waterways.
China and Nepal are working towards developing a joint breeding and introduction to the wild program for conserving the vulnerable greater one-horned Indian rhinoceros; while India and Bangladesh have joined efforts together in conserving the mangrove ecosystems of the world’s largest mangrove forest of Sunderbans.
Both Sri Lanka and Maldives have closed sections of their coastal areas to tourism and any forms of commercial exploitation to protect the coastal and estuarine ecosystems and established marine sanctuaries to preserve marine biodiversity particularly coral reefs and coral islands.
Although both Pakistan and Afghanistan are impacted severely by anarchy, insurgency and political destabilisation; yet in remote and inaccessible mountainous areas there have been reports in the increase in the number of elusive snow leopards, the top predator at higher altitudes over the past two decades.
New hopes and realization
Recently countries like Thailand, Viet Nam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have expedited their efforts in conserving different sub species of elephants, bats, rhinoceros, clouded leopards, apes (gibbons and orangutan) and monkeys, birds, reptiles and amphibians in addition to establishing several key marine sanctuaries.
The EU, Australia, the US and Canada have expanded their areas of existing forests, sanctuaries and national parks; and even established new ones in vulnerable habitats to protect a wide diversity of local species of flora and fauna. New conservation initiatives in protecting rain forests in Central and South America ad parts of Africa are welcome news!
All these bright news spots of conservation do suggest that all is not lost in a while and that there is still a lot of hope left for protecting this beautiful green planet. All we need is the strong will to make the changes around us and work together on a common platform to give conservation a whole new dynamics.
Together we can certainly make the changes we need to make global conservation a reality and a fact that no one can exterminate the majestic global biodiversity as long as we are aware and conscious enough to resist those negative changes to our ecosystems and environments.