I have a confession.
I love cats.
(insert apology to ornithology advisor here…)
I originally came to Humboldt State with every intention of leaving as a large carnivore biologist, straight to Africa to save the lions. I think this has been my intention since I was about 5 and saw The Lion King for the first time. This truth surprises some who know me now as a bird nerd, but it is the truth nonetheless. I incessantly read about African lions; fascinated by their social biology and saddened by their plight. Fair warning guys: I get heated up about this stuff. The conservation of all creatures on this earth is incredibly important to me. My drive every day comes from the sad reminder that species are quickly going extinct, and that I have a personal goal, calling, and responsibility to try to change some of that. Many would say it is a hopeless feat, to try and save endangered species and prevent the extinction of more unique creatures. But I say otherwise.
I’m not quite a hopeless romantic, but I am an incredible optimist, and I think that keeps me going.
We must be hopeful if we wish to change the world. One cannot sit idly by, hopeless and downtrodden by the bad stuff. Where is your motivation to change, if all you do is dwell on the worst? How active can you be, sad in your corner? Changes do not happen overnight, and they certainly do not happen if we don’t believe they can. That being said, it is helpful to focus on the successes and good things people are doing with loving spirits. These cases are not only encouraging, but may give us insight to what makes a successful conservation strategy in future dilemmas.
I mentioned cats earlier. Big cats in particular. Almost all big cat species are endangered, with most facing the constant challenges of poaching and habitat destruction. Tigers and African lions in particular have been hit hard by poachers because of the traditional medicinal uses of their body parts. However, one of the biggest causes of lion mortality is retaliatory killings by livestock farmers in rural Africa. The livelihood of these farmers – and their entire communities – relies on the livestock, and the loss of even just one animal can result in devastation. As a result, lions are often hunted and killed if livestock is taken. This on top of poaching has brought lions to the brink: 90% of their population in Africa has disappeared in just 75 years. We are in a critical period where our decisions now may affect whether or not lions exist in wild Africa in the future.
But not all of the news is bad! Good things are happening that may just save lions and other big cats from forever disappearing from the wild. Good things like the Big Cat Initiative, set up by National Geographic and the tireless and ever-passionate work of Derek and Beverly Joubert – big cat experts and conservation gurus. The Big Cat Initiative seeks to combine a multitude of strategies in order to conserve the big cats in our world while simultaneously aiding the people coexisting in the same areas as these large carnivores. Resources and education are provided to the local people while integration of conservation efforts take place. In Africa in particular, the building of bomas has been wildly successful. Bomas are safe enclosures for livestock that keep lions out, which ends up reducing the number of retaliatory killings. It costs just about $500 to build one, and not only saves lions, but the livelihood of the livestock farmers.
Conservation cannot – and should not – be solely focused on animals. We cannot exclude people from the equation. In many cases, endangered species are threatened by destruction or hunting by people in impoverished situations that have no other means of getting by. If we force strict preservation laws, we are forcing these people to choose between saving a plot of trees or feeding their families. Which would you choose? If we want to save animal species, we must also find ways to offer alternative, sustainable, and profitable practices to people around the world. Everything from buying fair-trade chocolate to donating money to build a boma can help. It is possible to make changes, if only we believe it possible to do so.
Please please PLEASE check out the Big Cat Initiative and all the beautiful things they have done around the world! Support them by donating or spreading the word – Cause an Uproar! We can make a difference.