Thinking outside the box is helping to save the lives of leopards in Africa. Long revered and worn by native people such as Zulu leopard skin is a symbol of affluence. Fake fur is replacing the real thing in a bid to stop leopards from being hunted and killed for their spectacular skins. The fake fur seems to be just as desirable to the people so it's a win for the leopards that are facing all kinds of pressure to survive such as habitat loss and trophy hunting. Just as other big cats are disappearing so are the leopards so anything than can be done to stop the decline and senseless killing of these beautiful animals is good news.
It's not all bad news for elephants. Under the supervision of some incredible and dedicated people the elephants in Chad have rebounded from almost total annihilation because of ruthless poaching. In 2002 the Zakouma National Park was home to 4000 elephants but by 2010 there was only about 450 of them. A staggering and terrible decline that indicated that the remaining elephants would also be lost. It is a wonderful story of hope that with focus and determination to save wildlife it can be done even when all seems lost. Animals seem to have the most extraordinary capacity to survive if we just give them a chance and help them.
The small wildcats that inhabit the world often get overshadowed by their larger and more dramatic larger cousins, lions, tigers and leopards. Secretive and elusive, efforts to understand the needs of these smaller beautiful cats is vital to protecting them. Living on the edge of humans populations there are many dangers that impact on their survival but the reintroduction of ocelots in Texas are yielding promising results and giving new hope this this species.
The ongoing trade in lion bones and body parts in South Africa signals more bad news for the survival of lions. When are these countries going to wake up and do something constructive to protect lions and the other wildlife that lives in a fragile balance between human demands and extinction. Lions are not just a resource to be plundered to supply a dubious trade in Asia, they are magnificent animals that have existed for millions of years long before we dreamed up the various ways we can exploit them.
This painting has been the most difficult and challenging to complete without doubt. I wanted to depict a broad view of the life of lionesses with their cubs without it being a sentimental image. Their lives are intricately woven with the haunting ever present threat of a takeover by marauding males who will kill the prides protector and all the cubs he has fathered. It is a natural cycle of life and death that seems incredibly brutal however the takeover of intruders is all about ensuring that only their genes survive. Eliminating the cubs of the pride causes the females to become fertile again and mate with the intruders who will father the next generation of cubs. This is what I wanted to convey in this painting, a big story on just a small canvas.
The idea of staining or dying rhino horns seems like the solution to deter poachers but is logistically a very difficult and expensive option. Already a group of black rhinos have been removed from a poaching hot spot in south Africa to relative safety in Botswana in order to save them from a cruel and unnecessary death. That rhino horn is worth more than gold puts the danger these amazing animals are in from being poached into perspective but what can be done to save them. Asia continues to feed the demand for not just rhino horn but ivory, and the bones and teeth from big cats because of their insatiable need for status symbols to declare their new wealth. If you can afford ground rhino horn to treat all sorts of ailments then it shows you are wealthy. Sadly rhino horn does not cure anything or help libido, all that happens is that a massive harmless animal that has walked the earth for millions of years needlessly loses it's life.
A broad view of the issues around big cat conservation and it's clear nothing is straightforward. When you realise that big cats inhabit a diverse range of habitat and different array of threats within each of those environments it is obvious one model does not fit all. What threatens the existence of a lion in Africa will be different from the threat faced by a cougar in North America. What is obvious is that something must be done and urgently to stop the decline in the populations of these amazing predators that have been on the planet millions of years. In the such a short time human populations and the various threats we pose in either poaching, trophy hunting or encroachment is contributing to the very real possibility these magnificent animals will no longer stalk the jungles and plains and wild places of earth. For me no tragedy could be greater than to see this happen my lifetime.
No longer will the circus be coming to town for Ringling Brothers. This old and antiquated tradition has come to an end and with it an end to the awful exploitation of animals for human entertainment. Thanks in part to animal activism and the usual mounting costs of running a circus it's over and I for one couldn't be more pleased for this one small victory for the rights of animals. Surely the unfortunate animals used in these awful shows deserve to be treated with more respect than they have been in this circus for the past 146 years.
Kevin Richardson makes so much sense, educating us about the animals in his care which includes the much maligned hyena. It's an animal not many people like and is also a hugely misunderstood predator of the African bush. This wonderful video tells us something about them and just how smart they are.