Sharing the Planet: Panthera’s Work to Increase Coexistence with Wild Cats

By John Goodrich, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist

Collage of wild cats and people in different landscapes
© Panthera

Panthera, dedicated to fostering harmony between humans and wild cats since its inception, is intensifying its efforts this year as the rapid expansion of human development has brought wild cats into closer proximity with people than ever before. On nearly every continent where wild cats roam, we lead or support initiatives that address the root causes of human-cat conflict. However, we can’t do this work alone, and we need passionate and committed individuals like you to join us in this mission. Together, we can protect and conserve wild cats, ensuring their survival for generations to come. Read on to learn more about what exactly coexistence is, why it is important and what Panthera is doing to promote it.

What Is Coexistence?

Let’s start by defining what we mean by coexistence. Coexistence is a sustainable state where humans and wildlife share landscapes with minimal risk to both people and wildlife. When coexisting with wildlife, our actions, behavior and attitudes toward wildlife and their habitats enable their populations to thrive with reduced risk of harm to us. When promoting coexistence, we are creating an environment where humans are stewards of the land, valuing wildlife and the role they play in maintaining the health of the natural world.

Why Do Humans Come into Conflict with Wild Cats? 

In the natural world, wild cats hunt a wide variety of prey species, including hoofed mammals (ungulates), other mammals, reptiles, bird species and fish. Over the past century, habitat destruction and fragmentation for human development (including farming and the creation of roadways) have brought humans into closer and closer proximity to wild cats. This rapid human expansion into cat habitats results in the ever-increasing overlap of people and felines. 

Where this overlap occurs, sick or injured cats sometimes prey on domestic animals. Very rarely, they may attack humans in defense of cubs or prey. When wild cats prey on farm animals, it can result in significant losses for farmers and their families, who depend heavily on these livestock for their livelihoods. 

Consequently, humans may retaliate by resorting to attacking wild cats out of fear that they could potentially endanger their livestock or loved ones.  

Coexistence requires creating an environment where both cats and humans can access the resources necessary for their survival, including: 

  • Water; 
  • Food; 
  • Suitable habitat and shelter, while negative interactions and their consequences are minimized for both people and cats. 

What is Coexistence with Wild Cats? 

Coexistence with wild cats hinges on intact natural habitats, wildlife corridors (spaces connecting different habitats) and reduced human-cat conflict. Panthera and partners actively collaborate with communities that live alongside wild cats to establish mutually beneficial programs that protect humans and livestock and enable wild cats to roam through their natural habitats. 

Why is Coexistence with Wild Cats Important?

Wild cats occupy 74 percent of Earth’s landmass, and nearly every forest on Earth is occupied by at least one cat species! Humans will inevitably need to share space with wild cats. Panthera aims to make these shared spaces safer for both. 

Humans require a healthy planet, with adequate water, clean air and abundant natural resources to ensure human health. A healthy planet starts with healthy landscapes, in which wild cats play a vital role in balancing and shaping. As carnivores, wild cats play several essential roles in their ecosystems that benefit both humans and wildlife, including: 

  • Maintaining biodiversity: By limiting prey populations and influencing their distribution as well as removing weak, old and sick prey, species like tigers and lions help prevent overgrazing and habitat degradation and reduce the spread of wildlife disease, but also prevent overgrazing of vital plant species. Additionally, through aggressive interactions, they limit populations of medium-sized predators (including smaller cats), which can have a profound impact on smaller prey and their habitats. Read about biodiversity loss in wild cat habitats » 
  • Creating nutrient-rich soil: Panthera research found that pumas prefer to hunt in certain areas, creating spots rich in nutrients. When prey like deer decompose, they enrich the soil and plants with nitrogen and other elements. This attracts other animals, such as elk, which prefer nitrogen-rich plants. Read about pumas as gardeners »   
  • Mitigating climate change: The forests and savannas on which nearly all wild cat species depend are critical for carbon sequestration and storage. By protecting cats and their habitat, we protect our planet and ourselves. 
  • Improving the economy and creating jobs: Wild cats like jaguars even bring economic benefits to their habitats. For example, in the Brazilian Pantanal, millions of visitors each year visit to view jaguars, giant river otters and other incredible species. Ecotourism in the Pantanal offers four major advantages: it creates employment opportunities for locals (especially women), transforms jaguars from a threat to farming to a source of sustainable income, generates funding that can be used to improve infrastructure and inspires tourists to gain a deeper understanding of jaguars and their ecosystems. Read about Panthera’s solutions through ecotourism » 
  • Generating conservation awareness: Wild cats are flagship species — charismatic animals who unite the world in the call for environmental protection. This means that they are powerful symbols of global conservation — especially big cats like tigers and lions. When humans coexist with wild cats, humans have powerful advocates in their corner — these cats serve as compelling rallying points in the fight against biodiversity loss, pollution and habitat destruction. Read how tigers are an iconic symbol » 

Be sure to follow us on your favorite social media platform to learn more about how you can help protect wild cats and ways to coexist. 

How Does Panthera Help Foster Wild Cat Coexistence?

Everyone plays a crucial role in fostering coexistence with all wildlife. Panthera works with and supports partners globally to design and implement collaborative programs to ensure that human communities can safely live alongside wild cats. With a focus on coexistence, Panthera's efforts span from Southeast Asia to the Americas. Keep scrolling to discover more. 

Asia: Learning to Live Alongside Fishing Cats and Tigers

Fishing cat of Thailand
©sebastian kennerknecht

Fishing cats share fishing grounds with local communities near Thailand's Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. This overlap has led to conflicts and illegal retaliatory killings of fishing cats, a species whose numbers are declining globally. To address this, Panthera and its partners have launched the Fishing Cat Conservation Promotion Project. Learn more by reading the story of Olan the fishing cat » 

Africa: Promoting Coexistence with Leopards, Servals and Lions 

Lion on the grasslands of Africa
©sebastian kennerknecht

Communities in Zambia may lose livestock to hungry carnivores like lions and leopards, which can lead to retaliatory killings by humans. Learn how Panthera has collaborated with these local communities to construct bomas (enclosures) that separate livestock from potentially hungry carnivores to great success »

The Americas: Recognizing the Importance of Jaguars, Pumas and Bobcats 

Jaguar looking out over the Pantanal
©sebastian kennerknecht

In Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil, we work with farmers to construct fences around livestock pens that successfully protect domestic animals from wild cats. In Brazil, domestic cattle are put in the same enclosures as Pantaneiro bulls and Indian water buffalo. Learn more about how larger, more fierce bovines serve as protection for their smaller cousins » 

Puma team staff
©PANTHERA

In Chilean Patagonia, Panthera supports partners Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación and Leona Amarga to mitigate human-cat conflict in a region where people have historically seen pumas as pests, often killing them in retaliation for preying on domestic livestock. Check out how this project implements Foxlights as deterrents and employs sheepdogs near livestock herds to successfully deter pumas from approaching » 

Jaguar School class
©LUCÍA PEREZ/PANTHERA

We also run educational initiatives in both Brazil and Colombia, including the “Escuela Jaguar” (Jaguar School), which has already taught over 2,100 children and youth to this date. The curriculum focuses on showing the importance of jaguars and other wildlife to the children's local environments. Learn more about Escuela Jaguar » 

Coexistence in 2024 and Beyond

Wildlife is crucial to our own well-being and planetary health. When we coexist and protect our planet, we can make strides for wild cats. Make sure to follow our journey as we explore human-cat coexistence all through 2024 by subscribing to our monthly newsletter and following us on social media.

Want to spread the message of coexistence? Share our #WeCanCoexist gifs to your social media and make sure to tag @Pantheracats. They are available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Thai and Malay.