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December 3, 2010

Kings Of The Jungle

Powerful. Deadly. Stunningly beautiful. Endangered. All this defines the big cat species that often dominate the ecosystems in which they are found. The big cats are revered predators that face an epic battle for survival be it in the wilds of the African plains or the thick dense jungles of Asia.

In a dramatic showcase of the world's most extraordinary big cat species, Nat Geo Wild presents Big Cats On The Edge, a four-part special television event that features visually stunning and powerfully resonant stories of nature's fiercest felines.

The program follows four dedicated people out to make a difference in the world. They are Dereck and Beverly Joubert, on their lifelong odyssey into the soul of big cats; John Varty who has filmed intimately for two decades, a mother leopard; and Kire Godal who has filmed the Maasai warriors who hold the fate of their lion population in the balance.

Although the number of the cheetah population is increasing, there is still the need to save them.

From the lions in Kenya to the snow leopards in the Himalaya, the big cats of the world need help. Lion, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, jaguars and other top felines are quickly disappearing, all victims of habitat loss and degradation as well as conflicts with humans.

To address this critical situation, the National Geographic Society has launched the Big Cats Initiative, a comprehensive program that supports on-the-ground conservation projects, education and economic incentive efforts and a global public-awareness campaign.

Big Cats On The Edge is an extension of the Society's Big Cats Initiative. This initiative is Nat Geo's long-term commitment to stop poaching, to save the habitat and to sound the call that big steps are needed to save these magnificent creatures.

The Big Cats Initiative is the brainchild of National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence, Dereck Joubert. Together with his wife, Beverly, the two have filmed and taken part in eight field projects to help stop and reverse the precipitous decline of Africa's lions.

The team of Dereck and Beverly Joubert are the co-founders of the Big Cats Initiative.

Numbering at about half a million cats fifty years ago, now fewer than 20,000 lions may be surviving in the wild. In an interview, Dereck Joubert discusses the idea behind the Big Cats Initiative and what is being done to help the African lion.

How did you come up wit the idea of the Big Cats Initiative? What have you and Beverly witnessed and what led you to believe that such an initiative could work?

We had a chance when we became National Geographic Explorers in Residence to look back at our lives, spent doing films and books inspiring people to care about big cats, to see how effective we and others like us had been.

The most dramatic number milestones started coming in. For half of our lives we have been actively promoting big cats, but since we were born 50 years ago, lions numbered 450,000 and today there may be as few as 20,000.

Forming some kind of emergency plan was clearly urgent. We approached Nat Geo with this idea and started gathering support from the big cat world.

Who are your main supporters?

Mostly NGOs, conservationists, and leaders in conservation for the concept of an emergency effort around the world. Financially, we find support wherever we can, from large donors and small contributors alike. We also have a hugely successful web presence with millions of interested 'hits' a month and the message is going out far and wide.

Who else would you like to include in the partnership?

This has to be a joint effort across all concerned people, politicians, conservationist, even hunters, or we will lose lions within 10 years.

What about the world's other big cats?

We do have a cheetah program in place and also a leopard project. The tigers are in a much worse place, so we must get involved there as soon as we can without it becoming political.

You commented that you are confident the number of big cats can be restored.

I am convinced the cats will bounce back. Cheetah, for example, bounced back from 200 to about 12,000 today. There is that potential to breed back. The Big Cats Initiative was formed to highlight to everyone that we have a problem. Once that is acknowledged, at least we have taken the first step.

More and more people are already starting to take notice. Kids are coming up to us after lectures and asking how they can help.

Will we bring the big cats back from the brink of death or will we kill the remaining numbers? Only time will tell.

What are the biggest hurdles that must be overcome if we are to be sure that the big cats will survive in Africa?

I believe it's habitat destruction, the consequent isolation of breeding populations, hunting, poisoning and other persecution that are a consequence of increasing collision between cats and humans.

The problem is human-predator conflict, but habitat destruction is not necessarily the main cause. Some 84 percent of Africa is uninhabited as a result of the urban migration of people. But what is left is poached to shreds.

We kill big cats for everything, because we love them (safari hunting takes 600 lions a year, hundreds come into the U.S. [as trophies] each year!). Poachers use poison to [kill] them for bone trade. Cattle herders poison them so they don't kill their cattle. The real problem: seven billion people.

Big Cats On The Edge starts 8 December at 11pm on Nat Geo Wild (Astro Channel 550)

Source: The Star



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