Big cats – Predators under threat

Big cats – Predators under threat
Friday, 2 March, 2018
Washington, DC

Big cats may never have been in more danger, and they need help. World Wildlife Day sharpens global focus on not only the threats that face these iconic predators, but also celebrates and encourages support from the public in helping ensure they survive and thrive for the generations to come.

“There’s nothing more important than ordinary people taking action and speaking out for animals,” says Rikkert Reijnen, Programme Director of Wildlife Crime for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “World Wildlife Day raises awareness and also celebrates the variety of fauna and flora with which we share our planet. This year the focus is on big cats. Populations of tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and others are plummeting largely because of human created problems such as loss of habitat, human-wildlife conflict, poaching and illegal trade.”

Tiger populations have dropped by 95 per cent in just 100 years, while African lion populations are just 60 per cent of what they were 20 years ago. In the US, for instance, there are as many as 10,000 big cats in captivity outside of accredited zoos and sanctuaries across America. In addition, approximately 5,000 tigers are thought to be held in captivity in America – in contrast to the 3,900 left in the wild.

“Wild animals are at a tipping point. They need the help of the public, and organisations like IFAW which work worldwide to limit and hopefully end the threats that face so many big cat species. The public can be part of that, as every animal matters and together our voices can ensure the protection of animals and the places they call home,” Reijnen continues.

IFAW works across the globe to protect big cats:

US – IFAW takes a two-pronged approach to the threats to human safety and animal welfare presented by the captive big cat crisis. We do this by building the capacity of legitimate sanctuaries and assisting in rescues, and by advocating for a federal ban on private ownership and breeding of big cats.

We work with the sanctuary community to identify bona fide sanctuaries, assist them to improve and increase capacity, and to rescue, place, and provide lifetime care with good welfare for surrendered or confiscated animals. Since 2014, we have found permanent placement for 38 abandoned or confiscated big cats.

Russia – IFAW’s Amur tiger project has rescued 10 Amur tigers (representing an estimated two per cent of the wild population), successfully releasing seven back into the wild. We have documented that three of the released tigers have bred successfully in the wild producing three litters of cubs.

India - In partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), we work to save Bengal tigers. WTI has also rescued a significant number of Clouded leopards. Seven Bengal tigers have been released into the wild.

Somaliland – IFAW has worked with the Somaliland government on the rescue and care of cheetahs confiscated from illegal trade. Cheetahs are popular pets in the Middle East and cubs are poached from their dens to supply the trade, while sometimes mother cheetahs are killed to access the cubs. 

Big cats are among the most widely recognised and admired animals across the globe. To protect these iconic species, we need political will, resources and international cooperation. During the global Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in October last year, 126 member governments agreed to add lions and leopards to Appendix II of CMS, meaning countries agree to further cooperation at the international level to protect these species. As well as listing these species, CMS will also launch a new African Carnivores Initiative, focused on conservation efforts for cheetahs and wild dogs as well as lions and leopards. We are hopeful that actions like these will bring new focus and funding to protect big cats.

If you want to know more about the work we do, please visit

About IFAW

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on social at @action4ifaw and Facebook/IFAW. 


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime