Melissa Dewberry enjoys doing crossword puzzles, walking her cat and pondering ways to patch up the hole in the ozone layer.
Big Cat Extinction?
Wild lions, tigers, and other big cats are facing extinction within two decades, say conservation scientists, unless drastic measures are taken to save the formidable felines.
“Do we want to live in a world without lions in the wild? That is the choice we are facing,” said Duke University biologist Luke Dollar of the National Geographic-sponsored Big Cats Initiative (BCI), which seeks emergency conservation steps worldwide.
Poachers, poisoning, and livestock infringing on their habitats have annihilated the populations of lions, leopards, cheetahs and especially tigers in the past half-century. Tigers have become so rare that “lions have become their bone-soup substitutes, sought for Asian medicines and ‘tiger bone’ wine.”
The top predators of Asia’s jungles and Africa’s savannahs are also critical to keeping the prey populations in check.
“Lions play a role in keeping migrations going, and keep population in check,” said naturalist Dereck Joubert, co-founder of the Big Cats Initiative. “Big predators play a role in keeping prey species alive and alert.”
In every instance where the top predators have been removed from wild settings the results have been catastrophic.
At Yellowstone National Park, elk devoured stream-protecting cottonwoods without wolves, and sea urchins devoured the kelp forests off Alaska’s coast following a drop in the sea otter population in the late 1990s.
“The habitat doesn’t recover,” say photographer Beverly Joubert, Dereck’s wife and BCI co-founder. “We’re left with just hyenas or their equivalent.”
Humans are to blame for much of the big cats’ plight, as famers in Central and South America have developed 39% of the original range of the Jaguar.
“We are seeing the effects of 7 billion people on the planet,” Dereck Joubert said. “At present rates, we will lose the big cats in 10 to 15 years.”
Read more at USA Today.