WaPo OpEd: Want to save the planet? Focus on wild cats.

By John Goodrich, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist; Director, Tiger Program


This week, 196 nations will gather in Montreal for COP15, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to adopt a global agreement to reverse biodiversity loss. This excerpt was pulled from a Washington Post oped by Panthera's Chief Scientist Dr. John Goodrich who argues that wild cats should be utilized as indicators of the overall health of our planet's biodiversity and combat against climate change. Read the full oped here.

Global biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, with more than 1 million species threatened with extinction. This week, governments from most of the world’s nations will meet at COP15 — the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Montreal — to adopt a plan to reverse our biodiversity crisis. While the science around biodiversity and climate is challenging to grasp for both the public and policymakers, here’s a simple starting point:

Focus on wild cats.

Wild cats play vital roles in almost all the environments where they occur. For that reason, aiding their recovery can also help to achieve quantifiable progress on many of our planet’s urgent environmental goals. As some of the most monitored species on Earth, cats are clear and compelling indicators of biodiversity. They can be measured in a timely, cost-effective way, and their numbers tell a story that — for better or worse — can offer a litmus test for nature and climate.

Focusing on wild cats is efficient thanks to their enormous ranges and high-value habitats, which allows us to protect biodiversity and climate under the umbrella of cat conservation. The 40 wild cat species occupy 74 percent of the earth’s landmass and overlap with 75 percent of its Key Biodiversity Areas, the most critical sites for nature on our planet. Pumas, which inhabit large swaths of North and South America, alone overlap with over 12,000 terrestrial vertebrates. Nearly all of the world’s remaining wild lions live in African savannas, which play a key role in carbon retention.

As keystone species, the big cats, especially, play a critical role in their environments by supporting, and even increasing, biodiversity and overall health. Pumas are “ecosystem engineers,” whose interactions with hundreds of other species profoundly influence the structure and function of their habitats and the wildlife therein. For example, puma kills feed all kinds of wildlife, from elk to birds to beetles, creating intricate webs that help to hold ecosystems together.

Read the full oped in The Washington Post.