XPOSURE 2019 learns saving the big cats must be prioritised
for their intrinsic value as apex predators
Panel discussion held yesterday at the Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Centre for Gulf Studies at University City in Sharjah.
Sharjah, September 21, 2019
Habitat loss, environmental degradation, conflicts with humans, the demand for animal body parts, including fur, bones, teeth and claws, and poaching are just some of the key factors that have brought the big cats around the globe to the brink of extinction, said a panel of wildlife conservation experts at a discussion on ‘Big Cats Conservation’ held yesterday as part of the International Photography Festival XPOSURE 2019 at the Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Centre for Gulf Studies at University City, Sharjah, UAE.
The experts also highlighted how sustainable conservation measures in the form of engaging communities who are the hereditary custodians of the land and wildlife, enacting and enforcing strict laws to criminalise wildlife trafficking and game hunting, reducing demand for body parts through innovative measures like faux fur, for instance, and investing in resources at a larger scale are needed to ensure the survival of these apex predators.
Speaking at the event, Steve Winter, a National Geographic photographer whose photos, like the Hollywood Cougar, have become some of the most iconic images of our time, said that big cats need to be saved “for the simple reason that as living beings, they have the right to walk the face of the earth.”
The larger reason, he adds, is that the geographical territories these large cats are found in across the world “are vitally important to us as humans. All these regions give us the oxygen we breathe and provide 75 per cent of the fresh water on the planet. So I always say, if we can save big cats, we can help save ourselves.”
Admitting that the captive industry in South Africa poses a serious challenge to the continued lucrative activities, such as trophy hunting and exporting of animal parts, Namibia-based Dr. Paul Funston, Senior Director of the Lion Programme at Panthera, the global leaders in cat conservation, says that the number one threat to big cats and “the story not being told is how critically under resourced national parks and game reserves are in Africa. It would cost around $1 billion per year to manage the protected areas here adequately.”
Multi-award-winning documentary photographer David Chancellor stressed the crucial need to empower communities and recognise local people as important change agents in wildlife conservation. “People whose lives are affected should be placed at the forefront of protecting and managing natural resources so that they can both benefit from and live in harmony with their ecosystem.”
Underlining the power of photography and storytelling in igniting action, Kathy Moran, National Geographic Deputy Director of Photography, cited the publication of the Hollywood Cougar image, which has since led to the creation of one of the largest wildlife corridors in the world. “It is no longer possible to tell a wildlife story without shining a light on issues of wildlife conservation, conflicts, trafficking and animal welfare,” she said.
Steve Winter also laid emphasis on drawing the younger generation into the conservation talk. “We need to keep people engaged on conservation issues because this is our blue-green globe, which keeps all the animals and us alive.”