Lions and tigers and cheetahs, oh my! Big cats are among the most widely admired animals, recognized for their graceful power and regal beauty across the globe. As apex predators, big cats play a vital role in keeping ecosystems in balance. However, these charismatic predators are facing many threats caused by human activities. In order to bring attention to their precarious situation, this year’s World Wildlife Day will be celebrated under the theme “Big Cats: Predators under Threat.”
The term ‘big cats’ encompasses several species of cat, including lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, and mountain lions. They can be found in Africa, Asia, and across the Americas, and thus, their presence has a global effect. Big cats have long been prominent in folklore and religious iconography, and these days many cultures around the globe use motifs of them in fashion and sporting logos.
Sadly, their survival is threatened by loss of habitat and prey, conflicts with people, and wildlife trafficking. Tiger populations have decreased by 95 percent over the last 100 years, and African lion populations fell by 40 percent in just 20 years. World Wildlife Day 2018 gives us an opportunity to raise awareness and develop support for big cats to ensure that they will be with us for generations to come.
World Wildlife Day was inaugurated in 2013 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which designated March 3 as a day to celebrate and support the world’s wild animals annually. The day has now become one of the most important global events dedicated to wildlife.
The U.S. Department of State is committed to protecting wildlife and big cats. On March 1, 2018, the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs hosted its own World Wildlife Day event. The event brought together officials from embassies representing big cat range states in Asia, Africa, and the Americas as well as representatives from U.S. government agencies, wildlife conservation NGOs, and the private sector to review the status of big cat species.
Three roundtable discussions at the event sought to analyze how global conservation efforts and innovative solutions can better protect wildlife. Each discussion focused on a different region of the world and highlighted the varied challenges facing big cat species.
We at the State Department also marked the occasion of World Wildlife Day by announcing dates for the third annual Zoohackathon, which will take place over two weekends in 2018: September 15-16 and September 22-23. We are teaming up again with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to host these events in zoos all over the world.
The Zoohackathon aims to harness the power of innovation to counter the scourge of international wildlife trafficking which funnels billions of dollars to criminal networks each year. Following the hackathon model, Zoohackathon volunteer participants are hosted by zoos and collaborate in teams to engineer tech solutions for real wildlife conservation problems.
But you don't have to wait for the third annual Zoohackathon to become involved. There are plenty of ways for you to get started on World Wildlife Day 2018 and make a difference in wildlife conservation. Here is a brief list of some actions you can take today:
- Stay informed about big cats and the challenges that they are facing. Check out this fact sheet for starters!
- Visit your local zoo or wildlife shelter to learn or volunteer.
- Consume responsibly by not purchasing products that are sourced from protected wildlife.
- Post on social media and spread the word! Don’t forget to tag your post with these hashtags: #WorldWildlifeDay, #PredatorsUnderThreat, and #WWD2018.
About the Author: Christine Dawson serves as Director of the Office of Conservation and Water in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.