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Pounce on the facts: big cats and the wildlife trade

Hey everyone! Allie here with the Carnivore Team, and today I’ll be talking to you about this year’s conservation theme at Zoo Atlanta: Wildlife Trade.  Specifically, the focus this month is on big cats.  I know you are roaring with excitement, so let’s pounce on these facts!

Let’s start off with the defining characteristics of a big cat. The term “big cat” typically refers to any member of the genus Panthera. Panthera is derivative of the family Felidae (called Felids).  The five members of the big cat family are lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, and snow leopards. We have now determined what a big cat is, but how do these animals relate to wildlife trade?

Unfortunately, because of their remarkable beauty, power and mystique, big cats are often poached for their teeth, claws, bone, fur, and skins. Due to the high demand for these items in black market trade, the world’s big cats are at a greater risk of premature extinction.  Trying to imagine a world without big cats is unbearable to picture myself.  Not only are we verging ever closer to the possibility of losing these animals forever, but without them in the wild, their entire ecosystem also suffers. 

All big cats are apex predators, meaning that they are the top predators of the food chain. After a big cat achieves a successful hunt, they feed on that prey, leaving behind only the remains.  Animals that are lower in that environment’s food chain will then come and feed on that item and so forth, until the remains decompose back into the soil. It’s exactly like the circle of life that Mufasa described in “The Lion King”!  Big cats are crucial to the environment because they regulate prey populations and structure animal communities. Not only that, but they also indirectly aid in the maintenance and preservation of plant populations through seed dispersal in their scat. 

In essence, big cats play a vital ecological role in every terrestrial environment. Without them, the balance of nature would suffer greatly. Don’t fret, though – there are actions you can take to help! You can support your local AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoo, GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) sanctuary, or multiple organizations, such as Panthera, which is a big cat conservation organization on the front lines devoted to stopping poachers, preventing conflict with people, conserving wild cat habitats, and reducing unsustainable legal hunting. Come by and see the big cats at Zoo Atlanta – including the lions, tigers, as well as the clouded leopard!  
Thank you all for listening about the big cat wildlife trade, and what you can do to help. Education is such a powerful tool!  Together we can become more aware of worldwide issues and put an end to illegal wildlife trade in an effort to save these immaculate animals.  Take care and stay safe!

Allie C.
Keeper I, Mammals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl