National Geographic : 2011 Dec
• mysteriously alone in the great swamps of Bra- zil's Pantanal. Yet today I behold these icons of wildness and wilderness with concern, know- ing that their fates rest solely with humankind. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, we did basic, and some would now say old-fashioned, natural his- tory. ere was no satellite imagery available to us to delineate suitable habitat. Radiotelemetry was primitive, though we did collar jaguars and trace their movements. We had no automatic infrared cameras to photograph any passing crea- ture. To recognize a tiger with certainty, I looked closely at the stripe pattern of its face. I picked apart scats to determine what cats had eaten, fol- lowed their tracks in dust or snow to plot the extent of their travels, and examined each kill to nd out its age and sex. Conservation depends on such information. At the time I did not think that wilderness would so quickly become exhaustible. e hu- man population has more than doubled since then, forests have given way to elds, and live- stock herds have replaced wildlife on rangelands. Lions, once so abundant, are vanishing out- side of reserves. Shot, poisoned, and snared by pastoralists and farmers, partly because they kill cattle and occasionally a person, lions may ulti- mately survive only in protected reserves. Tigers now occupy roughly 7 percent of their former range. Fewer than 4,000 may be le in the wild, whereas, by sad contrast, China and the Unit- ed States are thought to have some 5,000 each in captivity. Tigers and leopards in Asia are threatened by networks of poachers that supply the East, particularly China, with skins, as well as bones and other body parts with supposed medicinal value. No wonder two of India's reserves, Sariska and Panna, lost all their tigers under the eyes of a complacent and unmotivated guard force. I once followed the lone track of a rare Asi- atic cheetah across its last home in the desert of central Iran. How can the world stand idly by while natural treasures such as this vanish, country by country? When I began fieldwork, it was with the aim not only of studying a species but also of promoting its safety within a protected area. Both such e orts remain essential. But I have had to change my mind-set. Most countries now lack the space to set aside large new areas to support a population of, let us say, 200 snow leopards or tigers. Most existing reserves are small, able to sustain only a few of the great cats---and these may become extinct due to inbreeding, disease, or some accidental event. And as ecosystems shi with climate change, animals will have to adapt, migrate, or die. Instead of focusing just on discrete, isolated protected areas, conservation has enlarged its vi- sion to manage whole landscapes. e goal is to create a mosaic of core areas without people or development where a leopard or jaguar can breed in peace and security. Such core areas are con- nected by corridors of viable habitat to enable a cat to travel from one safety zone to another. e remaining area of a landscape is designated for human use. is approach integrates ecological, economic, and cultural aspects. I am involved in such a landscape plan for snow leopards on the Tibetan Plateau in China. We map the distribu- tion of the cat; census prey, such as blue sheep; train local people to monitor wildlife; and work with communities and monasteries to promote good land and livestock management. is work is coordinated by the Shan Shui Conservation Center at Peking University. It's easy enough to outline landscape plans, pinpoint potential sites on satellite maps, and create a mental idyll of great cats and people living together in harmony. Many conferences have been held to de ne problems and set pri- orities---but rhetoric has far outstripped imple- mentation. All great cats continue to fade in number. Most countries have simply lacked the political will and public pressure to save their wildlife. Even protection of reserves tends to be feeble, with poaching of animals and timber rampant and mining and other illegal activities common. Needed by each country are an elite George B. Schaller serves as vice president of Panthera (panthera.org), an organization devoted to wild cat conservation.