Friday, March 2, 2018

World Wildlife Day 

It is World Wildlife Day. And this year the focus is on big cats. As we all know, Disney's Animal Kingdom has a few. Sumatran Tigers at the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Lions and cheetahs on the Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Maharajah Jungle Trek 
Big cats are some of the most popular zoo animals there are, especially the iconic lions and tigers. At the Animal Kingdom, the recent birth of tiger cubs has sparked a lot of press and social media photographs. And we often hear from the guests about being on the safari, just as the male lion roars. The fact it happens more often at night often makes that a highlight of the evening tour.

Snow Leopard at Central Park Zoo
Despite their popularity from the public at large, big cats are in trouble across the globe. As I am sure you know, when you have a beautiful coat like the snow leopard above or the rare (and my favorite) clouded leopard below, the fur industry and poaching are prime enemies. These skins are used not just for clothing, but rugs and other furnishings as well.

Clouded Leopard at Zoo Atlanta
Other parts, such as bones, teeth and claws, are also sold illegally around the globe. The biggest markets are in Asia, particularly in China, Vietnam and Myanmar. In some cases these are used for jewelry and in other instances, the products are used in traditional medicine. Regardless of the end use, poaching is a big problem for all big cats and the market is mostly generated from that part of the world.

Lion pride at the Cincinnati Zoo
Recently, China has taken some major steps to halt the traffic of ivory in its country. This should go a long way in protecting elephants. However, China has not taken a similar course for the trade in illegal cat parts. Days like today can help put the pressure on that government.

Siberian Tigers at the Bronx Zoo 
There are also conflicts with local landowners. This is true for example with the cheetah in Africa. Groups like the Cheetah Conservation Fund, have been working with local farmers for years. Livestock guarding dogs are trained and provided to the farmers. Wild cheetahs, instead of going after sheep and goats, avoid those herds. Farmers no longer feel the need to kill cheetahs on sight to protect their livelihood. A win for both farmers and cheetahs. Similarly, the Snow Leopard Trust is providing farmers with livestock insurance for the rare instance of a snow leopard kill. They are also providing local farmers with the tools to avoid depredation.

Cheetah in Africa photo by Aruna Mohan
The goal is, of course, to protect these beautiful animals for future generations as well as protecting their natural habitat. And Disney's Animal Kingdom through their Conservation Fund as well as the work they do in captive breeding is doing their part.

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