Monday, July 26, 2010

New Report Shows Sharp Declines in Populations of Wild Cats and Dogs

/PRNewswire/ -- The Fading Call of the Wild, a report released today by the world's leading wildlife conservation organizations, details the increasing threats and plunging populations of big cats and rare canids living in the wild. Faced with a striking loss of habitat and prey due to over-development of land and direct killing by poachers and others who see them as a threat, wild cats such as lions, cheetahs and snow leopards, and wild dogs like the Ethiopia wolf and bush dog face an uncertain future.

Eighty percent of all wild cat species are experiencing population declines, as are 25 percent of wild canids - the family of foxes, wolves and wild dogs. The report looks beyond the raw numbers and delves into the plight of 15 of these species that are considered ecologically vital, detailing their current numbers in the wild, changes to the population in the last ten years, and conservation solutions for improving their status. The 15 species were chosen because they are considered umbrella species that, if conserved appropriately, protect their corresponding landscapes and other species dependent on those ecosystems.

A snapshot of the report's findings include:

-- A century ago there were as many as 200,000 lions living in Africa,
today there are fewer than 30,000. Lions are now extinct from 26
countries that they formerly occupied. The single greatest threat to
lions is killing by people who own livestock. Herders and ranchers
shoot, trap and poison lions across their range.
-- There are fewer than 500 Darwin's Fox living today. The animal are
found only in Chile and their restricted distribution makes them
highly vulnerable to extinction. The gentle and curious canids are not
fearful of people which contributes to their endangerment, however
timber exploration and land development are the two biggest factors
that have pushed the animals to the brink.
-- There are fewer than 7,000 snow leopards in the wild today. Snow
leopard poaching is rampant with their bones and hides frequently
confiscated in illegal shipments of wildlife parts bound for markets
in China and throughout Asia.
-- Fewer than 500 Ethiopian wolves remain with more than half found in
the Bale Mountains. The highly social animals live in packs which
makes them especially vulnerable when their populations decrease.
Entire packs are wiped out by rabies outbreaks, while those that
survive face rapid loss of habitat.
-- One of the most ecologically and genetically unique animals, African
wild dogs exist in less than seven percent of their historic range,
and are extinct in 22 countries that they formerly inhabited.
Accidental snaring and rabies have decimated populations throughout
Africa, and fewer than 8,000 of the animals remain.

The report calls for increasing conservation resources and swift policy changes, specifically passage of the Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act that would provide conservation assistance to the 15 species highlighted in the Fading Call of the Wild report.

"Great cats and rare canids are currently suffering from a variety of threats and the positive impact from their protection will no doubt benefit them and many other species," said Jeff Flocken, DC Office Director, IFAW. "The Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act offers viable and valuable methods to ensure a safe future for these majestic animals."

First introduced in July 2004, and set to expire this year unless the Senate takes action, the measure would provide wild cats and canids the same type of conservation assistance presently supporting tigers, great apes, elephants, sea turtles and other iconic species through the Multinational Species Conservation Funds, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The funds were designed to conserve species deemed by Americans to be of special global value, but simultaneously endangered with extinction.

Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are leading the charge to usher the bill through their chamber this Congress. The House passed the measure in April 2009 with a two-thirds majority and bi-partisan support led by Reps. Jay Inslee (WA-01), Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and the International Conservation Caucus. The Act is supported by more than 80 scientific, animal welfare, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos and aquariums.

Actress Glenn Close contributed the foreword for the report and noted, "Whether it is the iconic African lion or the shy Darwin's fox, these animals hold an important place in the landscapes they occupy. They are all ecosystem guardians. As predators, they maintain healthy functioning places, and their absence negatively affects wildlife and people. Not only would losing these species have drastic ecological and economic impacts, I believe their loss will impact us in ways we aren't event able to yet articulate."

The report was authored by Panthera, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, in cooperation with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Canids and Cats Specialists Groups.

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