Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act set to expire this year

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Report Details Declining Population of Wild Cats
Posted: August 6, 2010, 3 a.m. EDT

Lions are now extinct from 26 countries that they formerly occupied, a study determined.

The Fading Call of the Wild, a recent report released by the world’s leading wildlife conservation organizations, details the increasing threats and plunging populations of big cats and rare canids living in the wild. Habitat and prey loss from land over-development, and direct killing by poachers and others who see them as a threat, mean wild cats such as lions, cheetahs and snow leopards face an uncertain future.

Eighty percent of all wild cat species are experiencing population declines. The report looks beyond the raw numbers and delves into the plight of 15 wild cat and dog species that are considered ecologically vital, detailing their current numbers in the wild, changes to the population in the last 10 years and conservation solutions for improving their status. The 15 species were chosen because they are considered umbrella species that, if conserved appropriately, protect their corresponding landscapes and other species dependent on those ecosystems.

The report found that a century ago, as many as 200,000 lions lived in Africa. Today, there are fewer than 30,000. Lions are now extinct from 26 countries that they formerly occupied. The single greatest threat to lions is killing by people who own livestock. Herders and ranchers shoot, trap and poison lions across their range.

The report also notes that fewer than 7,000 snow leopards exist in the wild today. Snow leopard poaching is rampant; their bones and hides frequently are confiscated in illegal shipments of wildlife parts bound for markets in China and throughout Asia.

The report calls for increasing conservation resources and swift policy changes, specifically passage of the Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act that would provide conservation assistance to the 15 species highlighted in the Fading Call of the Wild report.

“Great cats and rare canids are currently suffering from a variety of threats and the positive impact from their protection will no doubt benefit them and many other species,” Jeff Flocken, DC office director, IFAW, said in a release. “The Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act offers viable and valuable methods to ensure a safe future for these majestic animals.”

First introduced in July 2004, and set to expire this year unless the Senate takes action, the measure would provide wild cats and canids the same type of conservation assistance presently supporting tigers, great apes, elephants, sea turtles and other iconic species through the Multinational Species Conservation Funds, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The funds were designed to conserve species deemed by Americans to be of special global value, but simultaneously endangered with extinction.

Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are leading the charge to usher the bill through their chamber this Congress. The House passed the measure in April 2009 with a two-thirds majority and bi-partisan support led by Reps. Jay Inslee (WA-01), Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and the International Conservation Caucus. The Act is supported by more than 80 scientific, animal welfare, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos and aquariums.

The report was authored by Panthera, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, in cooperation with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Canids and Cats Specialists Groups.

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