Big Cat Rescue’s InSitu 2021 Conservation Work
Around the outskirts of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR), which holds one of the highest populations of Tigers known in India, it is common for villagers to build open farm wells to obtain water. These are ground level deep holes. They become a death trap for tigers and leopards chasing prey at night who fall into them and die. Currently around 2500 of them exist in BTR. The simple solution is to build a fence around the wells, but the villagers do not have the $330 required to build these. In the past Big Cat Rescue has been able to donate funds to fence in 56 wells. Thanks to donors to International Tiger Day 2021 we are able to fund 87 more wells!
WILDLIFE ALLIANCE: COMBATING ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE
Southeast Asia is at the epicenter of the global extinction crisis. Wildlife Alliance delivers a unique and successful model of hands-on direct protection to 1.3 million hectares of the Cardamom Mountains rainforest, one of the last unfragmented rainforests in Southeast Asia. The Cardamom Mountains face severe threats from wildlife poaching, illegal logging, land grabbing, and slash and burn farming. The effect is devastating on the rich local biodiversity and tropical rainforest. The cost of keeping the Cardamom Mountains rainforest standing is constant vigilance and WIldlife Alliance is at the forefront of the fight.
The illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to wildlife globally. Estimated to be worth more than US $20 billion annually, this trade has escalated from a conservation issue to a worldwide criminal enterprise that is devastating wildlife populations. Cambodia is a source, transit country, and destination for many of the world’s most trafficked and valuable species.
In 2001 Wildlife Alliance partnered with the Cambodian government to implement a complete approach to combating the illegal wildlife trade through their award-winning wildlife police unit – the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team. The team investigates trade networks, apprehends wildlife traffickers, and rescues and releases animals that have fallen victim to the trade. By combining governmental authority with Wildlife Alliance oversight the team represents a unique model for tackling the illegal wildlife trade in Asia and is the only law enforcement unit in the region to be specifically dedicated to cracking down full-time on wildlife trafficking. Wild animals in Cambodia are classified as state property, and to trade in them is illegal. Wildlife includes all wild birds, mammals and reptiles of Cambodia.
Because of the success of the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team wildlife traders are changing their tactics which possess new challenges for the unit. Increasingly wildlife is traded online particularly through Facebook which is omnipresent across Cambodia. The team was able to identify at least two major Facebook groups in Cambodia specializing in the trade of wild animals as pets, each with more than 20,000 members. One tactic that proved successful was to pose as a buyer for Wildlife Products. A major Wildlife Rapid Rescue team operation ensued in 2018 which seized wildlife products including elephant ivory and bones, leopard and clouded leopard skins and claws, and bear claws and gall bladders. Two wildlife traders were subsequently prosecuted. Read more about their work here: https://www.wildlifealliance.org/wildlife-police/
PRIMERO CONSERVATION – PROJECT WILDCAT
Primero Conservation is an established 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works with ranches, landowners, and other organizations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Sonora to improve wildlife habitat and provide alternative solutions to wildlife conservation and natural resource management. In 2015 they initiated Project WILDCAT focusing on protecting and increasing threat mitigation for native wildcats, including Jaguars, Cougars and Ocelots. Jaguars are perhaps the most powerful cultural icon for wildlife and wildlands in Latin America. They are also an umbrella species in that the maintenance of jaguar populations requires the conservation of large areas of habitat, which protect an immense diversity of other species. Jaguars face severe problems, primarily related to direct illegal killing throughout its range and habitat loss and fragmentation.
Cattle ranching has been important in northeastern Sonora for 300 years, first in New Spain, and after 1821, Mexico. Unlike large areas in central Mexico, where all of the medium and large mammals disappeared as human populations increased, the fauna of northeastern Sonora is relatively intact. Primero Conservation are working with local landowners to develop new management practices that will benefit cattle raising, decrease retaliatory killings due to livestock loss and protect the wildlife at the same time. Read more about their work here: https://www.primeroconservation.org/
AFRICAN GOLDEN CAT CONSERVATION
The African Golden Cat Conservation Alliance and Working group aims to reduce human-related deaths of African golden cats, specifically due to snare poaching. The root cause of poaching is poverty, lack of employment and lack of income for local communities. In an effort to mitigate snares and poaching, AGCCA & WG focuses on improving socio-economic status of local people by providing alternative sources of income and meat through livestock farming. AGCCA & WG provide a mature reproductive animal, that is the “seed” animal, along with necessary training, to a local family, which pledges to stop poaching. When that animal has offspring, at least one female offspring is given to the nearest household (regardless if it partakes in poaching or not) in exchange for voluntary community policing against poaching and other threats to AGC (and wildlife in general). That way, the benefits gradually cascade across the community. By winning over and supporting locals, AGCCA & WG is able to raise awareness of the small cat species, instill interest in its protection and create long term conservation strategies. Read more about their work here: https://www.savingafricangoldencat.com/
ZAMBIAN CARNIVORE PROJECT
The Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) is a non-profit Zambian-registered trust working in close collaboration with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and dedicated to conserving large carnivores, and the ecosystems they reside in, through a three pronged approach of Conservation Science, Conservation Action, and Conservation Capacity. Not surprisingly, the diversity of biological, environmental and human variables across ZCP study sites results in a variety of threats and limiting factors to carnivores and their habitats. While accurate and current research is needed to effectively inform conservation efforts, eminent threats identified by research require immediate attention.
ZCP is working to decrease threat to local wildlife including big cats such as lions, leopards and cheetah, by targeting poaching & snares, decreasing human-wildlife conflict, improving habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors, mitigating disease from feral dogs and instilling a Wildlife Crime unit to combat the emerging wildlife trade in big cats. Sustainability of conservation efforts rely heavily on the capacity of Zambian organizations and individuals to successfully research and manage carnivores and their habitats, as well as on local community support for carnivores and wildlife. Read more about their work here: https://www.zambiacarnivores.org/
Established in 1989, WildEarth Guardians is a non-profit 501c3 organization that protects and restores wildlife and wild places in the United States, while working towards coexistence between humans and wildlife. Their wildlife program uses legal means to obtain formal listing under the Endangered Species Act for species nearing extinction, seeks to protect native carnivores like mountain lions, Canada lynx and bobcats, and restore native carnivores to their natural habitat. They also work to decrease direct threats to wildlife including trapping, poisoning and snaring.Canada lynx were federally protected as a “threatened” species in 14 states in 2000. New Mexico was originally not included on the list, but as a result of efforts by Guardians and partners, lynx are now protected wherever they are found. Conservation of Mountain Lions has also long been a priority for WildEarth Guardians, with their focus on eliminating or greatly reducing hunting quotas set by state wildlife agencies and the game commissions that oversee them, they also included new policies to educate hunters about the need to protect lactating females to ensure young kittens aren’t abandoned. Read more about their work here: https://wildearthguardians.org/
SMALL CAT CONSERVATION IN MORELOS, MEXICO
The Ocelot Working Group and Animal Karma, started their work here in 2020, to better understand the threats to small cats in the study area of Morelos. Morelos has registered all 4 of the small cat species that reside in Mexico, but this is one of the first conservation projects to be initiated for their benefit. The team started educational campaigns through local newspapers & social media, provided community workshops to local people and their children and outreach programs about the small cats that live in Morelos, to increase awareness and local support. In addition one of their main focuses is to mitigate the presence of feral/community dogs, who share habitats with the small wild cats and have been detected at 100% of study sites, through camera traps. These dogs can carry diseases such as distemper, that if contracted by the cats can be fatal, so the team is working to vaccinate at least 75% of the population annually and sterilize to reduce breeding. The services are offered to local pets at no cost to encourage participation. Part of their team is made up of local students who receive training and on the ground training to become future conservationists.
CENTENNIAL CARNIVORE CONNECTIVITY PROJECT
Working Dogs for Conservation is the world’s leading conservation detection dog organization. They are pioneers in using dogs’ extraordinary sense of smell to further conservation and aid in the fight against wildlife traffic. Dogs trained through WD4C can detect weeds before they break the surface, animals that live below ground, and aquatic organisms invisible to the human eye. Their co-founders were the first to train dogs to detect wide-ranging carnivores, to uncover illegal snares in Africa and to find invasive plants, insects and fish. WD4C trained dogs to locate the scats of grizzly bear, black bear, mountain lion, and wolf in the Centennial Mountain Range. to non-invasively collected five years of data. The data is used to determine habitat selection and movement patterns of the species to better understand and manage conservation plans. Read more about their work here: https://wd4c.org/our-work-ecological-monitoring/centennial-carnivore-connectivity-project
INTERNATIONAL TIGER DAY 2021
For International Tiger Day, July 29th 2021, Big Cat Rescue worked to raise crucial funds to continue support of the Corbett Foundation, a non-government organization solely committed to the conservation of wildlife, working in some of the most important habitats in India. This year our goal was to raise $10,000 but our final amount was a staggering $28,380!
The funds went directly towards building secure fences around open farm wells, dug by villagers, around the outskirts of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR), which holds one of the highest populations of Tigers known in India. Open farm wells are death traps for wild animals and currently around 2500 of them exist in BTR.
Several cases have been reported of animals, including Tigers and Leopards, drowning by accidentally falling into the wells and being unable to escape. In the past Big Cat Rescue has been able to donate funds to fence in 56 wells in the past, and this year we were able to send the funds to complete 70 more! The wells cost approximately $330 each. Read more about their work here: https://www.corbettfoundation.org/what-we-do.php
VIRTUAL WILDCAT WALKABOUT 2021
On November 6th 2021, Big Cat Rescue had our annual Wildcat Walkabout event, however like last year, it was entirely virtual. As with previous years, money raised by ticket prices was donated to two worthwhile benefiting Wild Cat Initiatives…this year we focused on Small Cat species, in particular the Geoffrey Cat and Pampas Cat. The event raised $10,000 meaning $5000 was donated to each project. Below are descriptions of each initiative and the work they do to conserve these lesser known small cat species.
GEOFFREY CAT WORKING GROUP
The Geoffrey Cat Working Group (GCWG) was created in December 2020, to bring together a network of individuals working to mitigate threats to the species, across its entire distribution range in South America, from Bolivia to Chile and Argentina. The network consists of conservation practitioners, researchers and small cat enthusiasts committed to engage conservation actions to preserve this small and little-known felid.
In the past the Geoffroy’s cat was the world’s second most frequently traded for fur, but nowadays, international trade is prohibited. Regardless of that, other serious factors threaten the survival of the species, such as poaching, habitat alteration and destruction, road-kills, individuals killed by dogs, fire, poisoning and disease. The Geoffrey Cat at present has a conservation status listed on the IUCN red list as near threatened but their numbers continue to decline.
The current span of the GCWG is 27 projects across 6 countries, and the hope is to increase that number. With funds raised from the Wildcat Walkabout the GCWG is looking to improve on awareness programs for the Geoffrey Cat in local communities, survey and monitor populations across their habitat range, initiate threat reduction actions, create and implement conservation policies with local governments and reduce direct conflicts with the species. They also aim to work on social media outreach, teaching more people about the Geoffrey Cat, its biology, threats and conservation needs to increase interest in their work, improve future financial aid and develop a community of support to enable long term support of the species.
PAMPAS CAT WORKING GROUP
The Pampas Cat Working Group (PCWG) is a network of conservationists and researchers that study and protect the pampas cat across its distribution in South America. Their main goal is to implement threat mitigation activities that will ensure the survival of this small wild cat in the current biodiversity crisis. The Pampas Cat at present has a conservation status listed on the IUCN red list as near threatened in some of its habitat, but in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Ecuador it is Vulnerable. The PCWG is working to increase awareness of the species, its needs and increase involvement from local communities. They are implementing direct on the ground conservation efforts such as road signs to reduce roadkills, building artificial water holes so in the dry season the pampas cats have somewhere to get this important resource, and developing sterilization and vaccination campaigns on domestic and feral dogs. A large portion of their work is done by volunteers and they have veterinarians who donate their time, but the funds from the Wildcat Walkabout will go towards funding materials to promote awareness, road signs in high road traffic conflict areas, camera traps and veterinary equipment required for both the cats they study, and the dogs they aim to sterilize/vaccinate to combat conflict and disease.
KAREN WILDLIFE CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
The Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative is a collaboration of international and local partners to preserve Burma’s last Eden, Karen State. KWCI supports the immediate protection of wildlife populations and the establishment of the Salween Peace Park to foster peace, cooperation, cultural preservation and large-scale environmental conservation in the region. Karen State, Burma is a recognised biodiversity hotspot and one of the few remaining regions in the world with a full component of top predators and an extensive prey base to support it. Rare wildlife species of both local and global significance still exist in the virgin forests of Northern Kawthoolei/Karen State including tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, pangolins, primates, Malayan Sun Bears and Asiatic Black Bears.
An insatiable demand for wildlife and pressure from illegal logging continues to increase as black markets in Asia expand. Geographically, Karen State sits within a major international wildlife trade hub. The extraction, trade and consumption of wildlife for the expanding black markets in East Asia presents the most immediate and extreme threat to wildlife species in this area. A large number of mammal species are threatened by hunting and trade, as either direct targets or incidental by-catch. Big cats, particularly tigers, are targeted for their coats, bones, teeth and claws which are used in traditional medicine and as trophies. Demand in China and Vietnam remains particularly high for these species.
To mitigate this immediate and substantial threat, KWCI in partnership with the Karen Forestry Department trained and deployed the first Wildlife Protection Units (WPU) in 2012, teams of highly skilled Rangers patrolling the forest in priority protected areas. Trained by the African Field Ranger Training College, these elite teams of skilled and dedicated rangers represent their local communities in their battle to protect their natural resources and biodiversity from the rapidly increasing external threats.These teams conduct continual monitoring and surveillance operations to ensure local and National Conservation Laws are effectively enforced. Further expansion and ongoing support of the WPU is essential to ensure maximum coverage of rangers within these high-value forests. The teams require ongoing training and the supply of equipment and tools to enable them to operate under difficult conditions. Read more about their work here: https://www.kwci.org/
WILDLIFE AND NATURE PROTECTION SOCIETY (WNPS)
The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) was established over 100 years ago and is the third oldest non-governmental organization of its kind in the world, and first in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is among the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots and is home to 4 distinct species of wild cats; the fishing cat, Jungle Cat, Rusty-Spotted Cat and the larger more recognized Leopard. In 2018 WNPS started an initiative to focus more on conserving these Wild Cats.
The largest of the four species, the Leopard, is now the only large mammalian predator in Sri Lanka, playing a vital role in maintaining ecosystem structure and function. Their current population is estimated between 750 – 1000 adult individuals, however the numbers of these elusive animals has decreased substantially over the last century, due in large to poaching, habitat loss and human-animal conflict. Snares are one of the most direct threats and a common cause of death for Sri Lankan Leopards, with 47 trapped in the last decade. A snare, at its most basic, is a noose of steel wire that is concealed along trails frequented by wild animals. 90% of leopards that get caught in snares die. Snares are technically banned in Sri Lanka, but an exception is allowed for trapping “pest species” such as wild boars, however the indiscriminate nature of the devices means all wildlife are potential targets. Although Leopards may not be the intended targets on all occasions, when they are caught their parts, including skin and bones, are highly desirable for wildlife trade. After the death of a black Leopard last year caused public outrage, WNPS headed a campaign to raise public awareness and educate locals on the direct threat.
With increased loss of habitat for wildcats outside protected areas, the likelihood of human-wild cat incidents is also expected to increase. The society is focusing on a number of future programs including public education in identified high conflict areas, a compensation program for livestock losses to mitigate retaliatory killings and a long term conservation action plan, with the input and collaboration of Wildcat research specialists across Sri Lanka. They also aim to facilitate interaction among wildcat researchers to provide a common platform for their work, develop a master list of conservation projects across the country, to avoid duplication, overlapping or a waste of resources and to identify threats and issues that can be used at a national level for decision making most beneficial to conserving the wild cat species. Read more about their work here: https://www.wnpssl.org
MAASAI WILDERNESS CONSERVATION TRUST
Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) was established in 2000 by the Maasai of Kuku Group Ranch as a grassroots conservation trust. The trust focuses on the Maasai landscape and the communities of Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, which are set within the Amboseli-Tsavo region of southern Kenya. The trust operates as a non-profit entity and aims to conserve the wildlife and cultural heritage of the region by focusing on initiatives that create sustainable economic benefits for the Maasai community, providing them with an alternative income source to intensive agriculture. MWCT is the largest employer in the Kuku with the majority of all staff coming from the local Maasai community.
Lion hunting forms an integral part of Maasai culture. Traditionally young Maasai warriors will kill a lion to prove their manhood and protect the livestock of their pastoral community. However, lion populations across Africa are declining rapidly due to the loss, degradation and fragmentation of suitable lion habitat, depletion of natural prey base as a result of poaching as well as retaliatory killing of lions due to human wildlife conflict. For this reason MWCT engages young Maasai warriors through education and employment to protect lions instead of killing them. 15 young Maasai warriors have been employed as Simba Scouts (Simba meaning lion in Swahili) as part of their species research efforts, to monitor the lions and protect them on Kuku Group Ranch. Currently, 7 lions are collared on Kuku Group Ranch. These collars help track the lions and protect them by informing the community about their presence in grazing areas and avoid livestock predation that may lead to conflict and the retaliatory killing of lions.
In addition MWCT started the Wildlife Pays compensation Program for predator protection in 2007 to alleviate the burden of living with wildlife for the local Maasai community in agreement to not kill but protect all wildlife on Kuku Group Ranch. MWCT realizes living in harmony with wildlife (i.e. lions, leopards etc) can be very challenging as livestock owners experience considerable financial losses as a result of livestock depredation by these predators. Besides compensation for loss, MWCT also actively engages the community to improve their bomas and herding strategies to reduce depredation of livestock.
Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust also employs 135 community rangers from the local Maasai community and they operate under a formalized partnership with Kenya Wildlife Service. MWCT uses modern technology to ensure maximum effectiveness of the ranger force. At the start of 2013, the conservation software package SMART (Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tool) was introduced and successfully implemented. On a daily basis rangers go out on structured foot patrols dominating the area and engaging the community in conservation. During these patrols, GPS tracking devices collect data on wildlife and illegal activities. This data is entered and analyzed in SMART and ensures accountability. Quarterly feedback and evaluation meetings are held and awards are given to the best performing ranger sectors. This helps to motivate and increase the morale of MWCT community rangers and the analysis of the data ensures accountability and helps with the strategic planning of the next set of patrols. Read more about their work here: https://maasaiwilderness.org/programs/predator-protection/
CHEETAH CONSERVATION AND MONITORING
Tsavo Cheetah Project are working together with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) on long-term, effective cheetah conservation and monitoring programs in the Tsavo region of Kenya. The Tsavo Ecosystem has been concluded as a priority focal area for cheetah research and conservation. Covering an area of 16,000 square miles (42,000 square kilometers) the Tsavo Ecosystem in south eastern Kenya, comprises the unfenced Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks and a diverse range of ethnic communities and tribes.
The Cheetah is a globally threatened species, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Worldwide, cheetah populations are estimated between 9,000 and 12,000 individuals, with population strongholds existing in Southern and Eastern Africa. The cheetah population in Kenya is not well-known, but is believed to be less than 1000 individuals. The main threats affecting the cheetah’s survival are habitat loss and fragmentation, a declining prey base, inter-guild competition with sympatric large predators, and conflict with humans through livestock depredation. The conservation strategy for cheetahs is dependent on reliable population estimates, and an understanding of cheetah distribution and threats within protected areas, ranch lands, communities, and along wildlife dispersal corridors.
Increasing human populations and demand for land and settlement is causing ever-closer interaction between humans and wildlife within the ecosystem, leading to conflict and livestock depredation. Since 2011, the project has conducted research into the conservation and population status of the cheetah, beginning within the region of southern Tsavo East.
Problems with crowding, driving within meters of cheetahs (on most occasions illegally, off-road), and general “harassment” of cheetahs is prevalent in Tsavo and most other national parks and reserves in Kenya. Reported and PI observed cases of this unethical driver and tourist behavior have a negative effect on cheetah behavior. Cheetahs are easily stressed and frightened off, when approached or surrounded in these situations, which results in the cheetah forced to move from its resting place, retreat from a kill, or even abandon cubs. Changes in a cheetah’s natural behavior can both directly and indirectly affect their chance of survival.
There are many misconceptions among local residents on the cheetah’s behavior and ecology. Many people fear the cheetah, unaware of its non- aggressive nature. As a result, reports of unnecessary killings of this threatened cat continue to occur in the vicinity, even within the park’s boundaries by encroaching pastoralists. Local poaching in the study area for bush-meat includes cheetahs main prey species and has even caused cheetah deaths due to indiscriminate snaring.
The aim of the Tsavo Cheetah project is to protect and conserve the Tsavo ecosystem cheetah population for the long-term survival of the species. They work with stakeholders and communities in addition to governmental bodies to foster the coexistence with local residents and influence wildlife laws and policies. Read more about their work here: https://www.tsavocheetahproject.org
WILD CATS AND CAMERA TRAPS
The Borneo Nature Foundation is a not-for-profit conservation and research organization that works to protect some of the most important areas of tropical rainforest, to safeguard wildlife, the environment and indigenous culture in Borneo. They support and empower community-led initiatives to protect forest and biodiversity, including anti-logging patrols, fire-fighting teams, environmental education and the replanting and restoration of damaged forests. All field programmes include high-quality scientific research as a basis for protecting and managing the forests. In addition they provide training and capacity building for local students, researchers, conservation-area managers and local partners to implement successful conservation projects.
The Borneo Wild Cat Initiative was started in 2008, focusing on key questions about wild cat density and abundance in an under-studied habitat, while investigating and mitigating threats facing them. The Bornean tropical forest contains a guild of five felid species: Sunda clouded leopard, bay cat, marbled cat, flat-headed cat and leopard cat . Two are endangered, two threatened, and their presumed primary habitat is rapidly being lost and/or altered in the region. By placing camera traps in different areas of the forest, at ground level and high up in the canopy, data is collected on species present, time of day, and if possible sex, age class and individual identification. Eight research sites across Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo have been studied, and presence of clouded leopards in seven of these forests has been confirmed.
To date their research has confirmed that the Sabangau Forest supports populations of four of the five Bornean cats, including the largest predator on Borneo, the clouded leopard; plus the leopard cat, flat-headed cat and marbled cats. It has been estimated, from camera trap sightings, that there are around 128 clouded leopard individuals in Sabangau. This means that the population in Sabangau makes up over 5% of the total world population. Conducting studies on Borneo provides the chance to study clouded leopard and small felid guild in the absence of tigers and large canids. The Borneo Wild Cats Initiative is the first long-term, intensive camera-trapping study of clouded leopards and other felids in Indonesian peat-swamp forest aiming to increase knowledge on ecology, behavior and conservation status. Read more about their work here: https://www.borneonaturefoundation.org/project/wild-cats/
See More InSitu Work Funded by Big Cat Rescue
See the current year of InSitu work here: https://bigcatrescue.org/insitu/
See InSitu work from 2020 here: https://bigcatrescue.org/insitu2020/
See InSitu work from 2019 here: https://bigcatrescue.org/insitu2019/
See InSitu work from 2018 here: https://bigcatrescue.org/insitu2018/
See InSitu work from 2017 here: https://bigcatrescue.org/insitu2017/
See InSitu work from 2016 and before here: https://bigcatrescue.org/insitu2016/