As new environmental crises rapidly upend our ecosystems and societies, Indigenous peoples’ role in protecting our planet is more important now than ever before. Many Indigenous communities and tribes have lived alongside and preserved the wildlife and plant species in their landscapes for generations. Because of their close cultural connections with cats, many Indigenous groups have been longtime defenders of wild cats and their habitats. However, they have lacked the institutional support necessary to turn back the tide of habitat degradation and illegal hunting.
Panthera aims to change that dynamic by partnering with and providing financial, material and scientific support to Indigenous groups globally. Here are just a few examples of these partnerships.
Connecting Puma and Bobcat Populations in the Pacific Northwest
Six tribal nations, including the Lower Elwha Klallam, Skokomish, Makah, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation, along with the Point-No-Point Treaty Council and the Washington State Department of Transportation have joined forces with Panthera to form the Olympic Cougar Project (OCP) and the Olympic Bobcat Project. Through these initiatives, the team has collectively fitted more than 50 pumas and seven bobcats with GPS collars in 2022 alone, unveiling essential insights into these wild cats’ feeding, breeding and dispersal patterns. We’ve also set more than 500 camera traps and collected genetic samples from more than 100 pumas to better understand the threats facing these species.
Protecting Wild Heritage in Malaysia
The tigers and other wildlife of Malaysia’s Kenyir-Taman Negara Core Area are beset by poachers who camp deep in the forest for months to set up devastating snare lines. Given the familiarity of the local Orang Asli Indigenous group with their forest and its wildlife, many Orang Asli community members have become rangers and have now actively protected tigers for nearly a decade. Many of these rangers have even earned national recognition for their outstanding tracking and assistance with combating wildlife crime.
Conducting Community Patrols in Borneo
Borneo is home to five small wild cat species, including the Sunda clouded leopard, marbled cat, leopard cat, Bornean bay cat and flat-headed cat. In this landscape, wild cats are primarily threatened by the illegal wildlife trade and habitat fragmentation caused by oil palm plantations . Fortunately, the Dusun Indigenous people and Aki Keramuak communities have become invaluable partners in Bornean wild cat conservation, conducting community patrols and working with Panthera to monitor these species.
Safeguarding Wildlife Alongside the (Ba)Téké people
In Gabon’s Batéké Plateau National Park, we’re working with the (Ba)Téké people and other communities. The park and surrounding landscape are named after the (Ba)Téké people, who have occupied this landscape for centuries. Together, we are promoting traditional livelihoods by bolstering the area’s infrastructure through improved transportation and creating a community reserve that would be co-managed by six Téké communities. So far, Our collective efforts have resulted in a marked increase in local wildlife populations on the Gabonese side of the landscape, a considerable drop in illegal hunting and improved livelihoods in Téké communities north of the park.
Furs for Life
A decade ago, fewer than 5,000 leopards remained in South Africa — and at least 800 of the country’s leopards were killed annually for their fur. To this day, these coveted coats are used in ceremonial regalia by cultural and religious groups that revere the species, including the Nazareth Baptist Church eBuhleni, commonly known as the Shembe Church. After discovering that Shembe followers were using as many as 15,000 leopard furs during religious gatherings, Panthera, partnered with the leadership of the Shembe Church to inaugurate the Furs for Life program in 2013. Working with the Shembe community and graphic designers, Panthera created affordable, high-quality synthetic leopard fur capes, known as Heritage Furs or amambatha. Supported by Cartier for Nature Philanthropy, the Puma and Bobcat Royal Commission for AlUla and Peace Parks Foundation, the program has distributed over 18,500 capes to the Shembe Church, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in authentic leopard fur use.
Read more about wild cat protection efforts being implemented by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.