March Conservation Series: Large Cats!

Every month at Earth Unfiltered we’ll be tackling a different conservation issue that we’re facing today.  To kick off our monthly conservation series, we’re starting with big cat conservation. As top predators, large cats play an important role in managing prey population sizes and ecosystems through top-down effects. This week we wanted to highlight the five large cat species that are in the world today. In the upcoming weeks we will be focussing on the threats that these species face and what you can do to help preserve these incredible species.

can you buy prednisone over the counter in canada Lion, Panthera leo


Lions are found in most sub-Saharan African countries in only 22% of their historical range. Historically, lions ranged as far as Northern Africa and Southwest Asia, where it disappeared in the last 150 years. They also ranged as far west as  Europe, but have been estimated to have become extinct in that area 2000 years ago.

Lion populations have been estimated to have declined by 30% in the past two decades, sitting at about 20,000 individuals left in the wild.  This may seem like a large number, but considering wild lion populations were estimated to equal 450,000 in 1940, today’s population sizes are only about 4% of what they were 70 years ago.  More shocking still, when lions were still in Europe, their population sizes were reaching one million individuals. The main threat to the lion, presently, is indiscriminate killing, primarily in response to cattle predation. Lions are listed as vulnerable under the IUCN Red list. Fortunately, lions are a beloved animal and therefore present in a number of protected areas in Africa. Lions also act as a major tourist attraction, drawing people from around the world to Africa.

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The jaguar is the largest cat of the Americas. It’s found predominantly in the Amazon basin, but once could be found as far North as the Southwestern US and as far South as Rio Negro in Argentina. Current estimates show that the jaguar currently occupies only 46% of its historical range, and is extinct in Chile, El Salvador, and Uruguay. With only about 15,000 individuals left in the wild, this species has been steadily declining since at least 1985.

Jaguars are unique as large cats because they are strongly associated with the presence of water. However, one of the biggest threats to jaguars is deforestation and habitat fragmentation. The jaguar is listed as near-threatened under the IUCN Red list.

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Leopards share a similar range to lions, which brings about competition over resources and prey. However pockets of individuals can still be found in Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, Southwest Asia, India, China, Russia and the islands Java and Sri Lanka. Since the leopard is such a widespread species, its populations are numerous in some areas, but extinct in others. They currently occupy only 60% of their historical range in Africa and only 50% of their historical range in Asia. Conservation efforts have helped raise wild population numbers to about 100,000 individuals, but the population has been declining since 2002, when they were listed as least concern by the IUCN Red List. Their listing then dropped to near threatened in 2008, with talks of it dropping after further census studies. These cats are extremely adaptable and have one of the most varied diets with over 90 prey species, from arthropods to antelope.

This adaptable nature has not been able to combat the threats that face this species, however most leopard subspecies population sizes are declining. Like many other big cats, the leopard faces habitat conversion and persecution from farmers.

Tiger, Panthera tigris


Tigers, the largest of the big cats, historically lived all across Asia, from Turkey to Eastern Russia. Due to immense pressure from habitat destruction, tigers now occupy only 7% of their historical range. Over the last 20 years, tigers populations have seen a drop of 50%, from 5,000 to 7,000 individuals in the wild in the 1990s, to only about 3,000 individuals today. Currently, tigers are found mostly in forests of tropical Asia and Eastern Russia. Unlike the leopard, tigers rely on large prey species like deer and wild pigs to maintain their diet.

Tigers face a threat in the illegal trade of body parts including skin, meat, and bones. Currently they are listed as endangered under the IUCN Redlist, a listing they have had since 1986, before the Red List was formally made. With so much habitat conversion occurring in Asia, the tigers also faces an ever decreasing habitat and increased human-tiger interactions.

Snow Leopard, Panthera Uncia


The snow leopard is only found high up in the mountains of Central Asia. Despite living at these high elevations, where few humans live, their current population range has decreased by 15% from their historical range. This species of large cat is incredibly adapted to the high altitude environment. Their prey mainly consist of blue sheep and ibex, but also include birds and small rodents. Prey-human interactions and prey depletion are two of the main threats to the snow leopard.  While there are currently believed to be between 4,000 and 6,500 individuals left in the wild, they have experienced a population decline of about 20% over the past 16 years, and only 50% of the population is believed to capable of successfully increasing the overall population size.

The snow leopard is currently listed as endangered under the IUCN Red List, a listing it has had since 1986, similar to tigers. Along with persecution from humans, snow leopard also have to adapt to a rapidly changing habitat.

Next week we go more in depth into the factors affecting big cat populations.