Panthera Boosts Wild Cat Leadership with Appointment of Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager as Small Cats Program and Translocations Director

Clouded leopard

Moehrenschlager to lead global initiatives conserving over 80% of wild cat species 
alongside conservation translocations, including reintroductions, to assist wild cat recovery

Panthera Media Contact: Susie Weller Sheppard, 347-446-9904,

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New York, NY — As part of targeted efforts to conserve the world’s 33 small cat species and establish a robust translocation program benefiting wild cat populations, Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, has appointed Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager as Director of its Small Cats Program and Conservation Translocations.

Dr. Moehrenschlager brings three decades of experience restoring threatened species ranging from butterflies and frogs to cranes and hippopotami. Much of his career has focused on carnivore conservation, including fishers and threatened canids such as swift and kit foxes. As Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Conservation Translocation Specialist Group, Moehrenschlager has advised or assisted on dozens of wildlife translocations around the world. These have included several wild cat species, such as the Scottish wild cat, for which reintroductions to the Scottish Highlands began several weeks ago.

In his new role, Moehrenschlager will focus on leading and expanding Panthera’s small cat conservation initiatives to new corners of the globe and developing an internationally-renowned conservation translocations program for both big and small cat species.

Dr. Moehrenschlager stated: “The scientific community still knows so little about the world’s small cats, but that doesn’t stop threats including poaching, habitat loss, climate change and conservation apathy from endangering their very existence. With many small cats, we risk losing them from our planet before even capturing a glimpse of their coveted coats or grasping the magnitude of their significance to habitats and human well-being.”

Moehrenschlager continued, “Small cats are precious for the ecosystems they depend upon, the functions they provide and the tremendous cultural and inspirational value they bring to people all over the world. We have an unprecedented opportunity to save several species whose entire existence hangs in the balance of possible extinction. It’s an honor to take on this amazing responsibility, in collaboration with others, of developing innovative science coupled with courageous conservation action to save such remarkable wild cats.”

The value of small cats to the planet, humanity and global cultures cannot be overstated. Small cats are particularly good indicators of ecological health, as the large number of species occupy over two-thirds of Earth’s terrestrial area — including diverse habitats ranging from deserts and jungles to mountains and the Arctic. With short lifespans and high reproductive rates, they reflect positive or negative changes to the environment quite rapidly. For instance, the presence of many forest-dwelling small cat species is indicative of healthy, carbon-retaining habitats that mitigate climate change and provide water and other services to human communities.

Yet, scientists estimate that 12 of the world’s 18 most endangered wild cat species are small cats. The threats they face include habitat loss and fragmentation, human-cat conflict, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, the illegal pet trade and direct killing. Today, though 33 of the world’s 40 wild cat species (over 80%) are classified as ‘small cats,’ there is a dearth of scientific data about the animals. This, along with limited conservation funding and a lack of global awareness about the species, has led to small cats being deprioritized on the global conservation agenda.

Panthera Director of Small Cat Conservation Science, Dr. Wai-Ming Wong, stated: “To put it in perspective, thousands of images of the tiger have been captured, with thriving ecotourism industries built around their existence. Yet, it’s likely that no more than twenty images of the bay cat and fifty images of the flat-headed cat have ever been documented, not to mention what little is known about the species beyond their brief appearances on camera. These and other small cat species are equally deserving of conservation investments and far more significant to the future of our planet than is presently recognized.”

Heavily supported by Board Chair Jon Ayers, Panthera launched its Small Cats Program in 2018 to create targeted conservation strategies for these overlooked felids. From the Americas to Africa and Asia, Panthera operates small cat conservation initiatives currently dedicated to the protection of 15 small cat species. A key small cat flagship initiative is carried out in Borneo on behalf of five species, including the bay cat, Sunda clouded leopard, Sunda leopard cat, marbled cat and flat-headed cat. Panthera implements biological monitoring surveys to uncover more about these species’ behaviors, ranges, ecology and threats, and executes protective counter-poaching strategies, in coordination with the Sabah Forestry and Wildlife Departments and Keramuak Community Rangers.

Among others, small cat initiatives are being carried out in Thailand on behalf of fishing cats; in West Africa for golden cats; in Brazil for ocelots; in Costa Rica and Colombia for oncillas; and in Washington State for bobcats.

Conservation translocations restore populations and associated ecological functions by releasing animals into the wild that have been moved from other wild populations or that originate from breeding programs under human care. Through the Arabian Leopard Initiative, Panthera supports the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) in operating an Arabian leopard captive breeding center, which seeks to one day reintroduce the species to the wild.

Panthera CEO Dr. Frederic Launay stated: “We are delighted to welcome Dr. Moehrenschlager to the Panthera team and are confident that his experience and unwavering passion for conservation will elevate our Small Cats Program and the viability of the species to which we have dedicated our lives.”

Launay continued, “As threats intensify and wildlife populations vanish from some regions of the world, carefully executed conservation translocations have become an important intervention for the conservation community. Axel’s expertise and skill set in this unique field is sure to bolster the success of these consequential initiatives. As shown with conservation translocations of the Iberian lynx in Spain, wild cat recovery is very much possible and when supported, conservation works tremendously well for wild cats, communities and ecosystems.”

Dr. Moehrenschlager founded the Centre for Conservation Research and co-founded the Wilder Institute of the Calgary Zoological Society. He led his teams in developing strong international reputations for conservation translocations and community-based conservation initiatives that produce mutual benefits for wildlife and local communities. Among other roles, Moehrenschlager serves on the IUCN’s Leadership and Steering Committee of the Species Survival Commission (SSC).
This announcement comes two months after the designation of Dr. Andrew Loveridge as Lion Program Director for Panthera — a joint role with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU). Loveridge’s appointment aligns two of the world’s preeminent lion programs, expanding the organizations’ presence to 67% of lion range across 12 countries supporting 70% of Africa’s remaining lions.