TreadRight Ambassador Céline Cousteau kicks-off Earth Month 2018 at The TreadRight Foundation with a call-to-action to help protect big cats.
We must work to protect big cats. Failing to do so will not simply mean the end of these magnificent creatures, it will lead to ecosystems going out of balance.
Through my years spent working across every environment imaginable, whether I’m telling the stories of people or wildlife, there remains one constant in any healthy ecosystem, no matter the habitat, from the oceans to deserts to rainforests; top predators are integral to robust and flourishing ecosystems.
The opposite is also true; without top predators, ecosystems lose their dominant constant and – as a result – crumble.
The reality is, throughout many ecosystems across our beautiful planet, big cats are the critical fulcrum point from which the entire food chain hangs. Protecting big cats is therefore crucial to every other piece of the brilliant, complex workings of each unique habitat.
In recent years, I’ve spent a great deal of time in Vale do Javari in the Brazilian Amazon, working to tell the story of the ancient tribes that still live there for my film Tribes on the Edge. I first visited the region as a child in the early 1980s, accompanying my grandfather as he explored and filmed the region and it continues to call to me and inspire me to this day, but it faces an uphill battle.
While the vast Amazon Rainforest remains the largest on Earth, increasing human enterprise, deforestation, and sprawl leaves the Amazon’s future uncertain. Illegal industries are stressing the ecosystem, threatening the Indigenous people of the region and the diverse cross-section of wildlife that call this area home. That includes immense threats to the region’s top predator; the jaguar.
In the depths of the Amazon Rainforest there is tremendous reverence for this exquisite animal. Elusive as they are, the jaguar’s place at the top of the food chain does not go unrecognized or disregarded. In a place where the people live in rhythm with nature and understand their place in the natural world, I’ve witnessed an innate respect of and appreciation for these mesmerizing, powerful felines.
However, for those of us who have been disconnected from the natural world in much of our day to day lives, it can be a challenge to bridge that gap. Despite this, we need to tap into the central idea of an ecosystem in balance. We need to remember the importance of top predators.
Every now and again we experience a collective remembrance of this inherent unity between people and the natural world. The killing of Cecil the Lion is a prime example of the kind of fleeting moment where there has been a collective push to protect top predators like big cats, but so often we watch as thepassion to protect top predators fades with time.
It’s not as though big cats fail to capture our imagination and it is no coincidence that big cats like lions and tigers have a near iconic status in our view of the animal kingdom. Still, we have often failed to connect that iconic aspect of big cats with the need to protect them. Perhaps it’s because of the power and strength they represent that we forget that they remain extremely vulnerable.
They remain vulnerable to the point that all seven species of big cat – cheetahs, jaguars, lions, leopards, snow leopards, tigers, and cougars – are listed as Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, while the tiger is categorized as a more critical Endangered. Though the threats to big cats change somewhat based on geography, habitat destruction and poaching remain the leading threats to these formidable creatures.
We have put these vital animals at risk. It is our responsibility to save them. We have to remember the essentials of a human-nature co-existence. We need to tap back into the idea of balance and recognize that in a multitude of integral ecosystems around the globe, the survival of big cats is central to a healthy ecosystem.
– Céline Cousteau, TreadRight Ambassador