When Carolyn at Arkive invited me to be a guest blogger, I jumped at the opportunity to tell everyone about our exciting new campaign – Saving Big Cats and Wild Dogs.
Instinctively I started by writing down all the shocking statistics, such as: ‘as few as 3,500 snow leopards, 2,500 dholes and around 1,000 Persian leopards are left in the wild’ but then I thought – how depressing! This is the last thing people need to hear, especially as we are all recovering from a cold wet winter and looking forward to the joys of spring. So, instead I’ve decided to skip the miserable bit as much as possible and focus on the positive difference we will make to some of our top predators.
For the next year or so we will be raising awareness and raising money to save nine species of big cat and wild dog from extinction across the globe. I don’t have the space to tell you everything here so I’ll just focus on a couple of species for now.
Let’s start close to home – the Scottish wildcat. Ok it isn’t officially a ‘big’ cat but it is the only native cat we have and as it is at serious risk of extinction we felt it was essential to include it in the campaign. Now confined to the highlands of Scotland it has been dubbed the Highland tiger but this cat once roamed freely throughout the UK. The biggest threat to the Scottish wildcat is hybridisation from breeding with domestic and feral cats and producing viable hybrid offspring. There is thought to be as few as 35 true wildcats left in Scotland but it is difficult to be sure because apart from being incredibly elusive, it is also very hard to tell a pure wildcat from a feral hybrid by sight alone. In order to save our only native cat we need to know where the pure populations exist so we can put measures in place to protect them. Therefore, we are funding a project to study DNA samples and isolate the ‘wild gene’ in order to confidently identify once and for all the true wildcat.
Further afield, in Mongolia we are concentrating our attention on the endangered snow leopard. Whilst the threat of poaching is often the most quoted reason for the snow leopards decline, it is not that clear cut. In fact one of the biggest threats comes from the conflict with local herdsmen who kill the snow leopard in retaliation to them predating on their livestock. This, in conjunction with the domestic livestock out-competing the snow leopards’ natural prey species (the ibex and argali) for grazing rights, paints a bleak future for this charismatic animal. However, all is not lost and we are funding vital work to reduce the conflict between the local herdsman and the snow leopard and also assessing the availability of natural prey species. The teams in Mongolia are making great progress and you can keep up to date with it all on our website.
We are also supporting work on the dhole, or Asiatic wild dogs, in Cambodia and Nepal, the lion, African leopard and African wild dog in Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya, the cheetah in South Africa, the Ethiopian wolf in Ethiopia and one of the rarest big cats, the Persian leopard in Iran. Here at People’s Trust for Endangered Species we work in partnership with other organisations and believe that conservation should be built on sound scientific evidence. We identify the problem then research possible solutions before investing in practical on-the-ground action.
We have put on our thinking caps at PTES and come up with some fun new ideas on how you can get involved in saving our big cats and wild dogs. You can twin your pet with one of its wild cousins or simply befriend a wild animal. If you have some spare time you could hold a claw (nail) painting party or even organise a sponsored dog walk at night – Bark at the Moon.
For more information please visit www.savingcatsanddogs.org.
Hannah Stockwell, PTES Fundraising Officer