In December 2019, Big Cat Rescue was invited to attend the 2nd ever International Small Wild Cat Conservation Summit, being held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Summit, which was a 5-day event, filled with presentations, discussions, and workshops, was open to Conservationists, Donors, and enthusiasts from around the world. Over 30 participants attended from a variety of home ranges such as Mongolia, Iran, Japan, India, South African, Bhutan, and the US and even included representatives from Panthera, The Mohammed Bin Zayed Conservation Fund and Global Wildlife Conservation.
The purpose of the Summit was to bring together those working on the frontline of small wild cat conservation to share experiences, forge connections and make conservation of small wild cats work, as a means of optimizing global conservation efforts of small wild cats.
There are 40 cat species in the cat family (Felidae), 33 of which are small cats, some weighing less than 1kg. Small cat species include Bobcats, Ocelots, Sand Cats, African Golden Cats, Fishing Cats, Pallas Cats, Andean Mountain Cats, Pampas Cats, and the smallest of them all, the Rusty-Spotted Cat. Small Wild Cats are the least studied in the cat family despite the fact many are alarmingly threatened globally and are neglected when it comes to species conservation and management plans. Small Wild Cats receive less than 1% of the funding available for cat conservation, with 99% going to their 7 bigger relatives, the tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar, snow leopards, cougars, and cheetahs.
Each year Big Cat Rescue sets aside a conservation budget, with the intent of donating to conservation projects in the wild, and initiatives assisting those on the ground doing the work. As we grow our reach as a sanctuary and continue to spread our mission, we are able to increase our donations annually and as a result, our captive cats are able to help save their wild counterparts. When we learned about the lack of funding for small cats, we made a pledge to donate at least half of our donation budget each year to small cat species. Big Cat Rescue helped fund the 1st Small Wild Cat Summit in Kent, England in 2017, but this was the first time we were able to attend and participate in the Summit.
A number of the attendees for the summit were beneficiaries of our donations in the past and this was our first chance to meet them in person and discuss how the donations were utilized. Lauren Grant, a long-term volunteer, and Lauren Buckingham, our Conservation Projects Officer went as the Big Cat Rescue representatives.
In addition, we used the 2nd Small Cat Summit as a platform to share our newest venture, using Augmented & Virtual Reality along with 360 and 180 3D Video to raise awareness for the plight of wild cats.
Lauren B presented to the attendees about 360/180 VR and how they could also create content. She spoke to them about the impact the videos could have for raising awareness of their work, stating that if someone is able to see the work for themselves they are more likely to feel a connection and want to help, without the exploitation of a living cat.
With the help of Insta 360, we were able to take 20 Insta Evo cameras to the summit and pair one with each of the conservationists. For many of the conservationists, this is a tool that may not be accessible with their limited budgets, so we were thrilled to be able to donate it to them. Lauren B also took an Oculus Go VR headset to show the conservationists the potential of their footage.
For many months Big Cat Rescue has been sharing footage of our cats here at the sanctuary, but we would love to allow viewers to experience a wild cat in its natural habitat, up close and personal in a way that has not been available previously. Their home ranges are inaccessible to your everyday person and the likelihood of seeing one up close in the wild, is many times unrealistic, not to mention dangerous, but the summit gave us the opportunity to meet people who know their target species better than most and work with them on the ground. Our hope is that conservationists will be able to gain footage of the cats habitats, individuals being collared, health exams on individuals and deep into conservation sites, amongst other things, introducing people to small cat species and environments they may never know about or see otherwise. For many it is still the belief that people have to see wild cats in cages, up close, to appreciate and save them, but we feel that is not the case, especially with these advances in technology. We hope this partnership will help to prove that.
The summit was an extremely worthwhile trip, allowing us to gain many new contacts and partners in the Small Cat World. Going forward what was learned will be a great resource when selecting our small cat donation beneficiaries and knowing what it is the conservationists need to continue their extremely worthwhile work. We will continue to work with conservationists with their Virtual Reality venture and hope to bring you some exciting new footage in the near future. The next summit will be held in 2021 in Singapore and it is exciting to think about what could be achieved by then.