World Wildlife Day is a global observance day designated by the UN as a day dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants on the brink of extinction. This year’s theme is Big Cats: Predators Under Threat but all the world’s wildlife deserves your thoughts today – and every day.

It’s World Wildlife Day – well it was yesterday, 3 March, for those of us here in Asia, in Australia and starting the day in Europe, but it’s still 3 March for many of our friends and readers in the Americas – and the theme this year is ‘Big Cats: Predators Under Threat’.

I used World Wildlife Day as an excuse to spend a little time researching and reflecting upon not only the state of the world’s big cats, but of the world’s wildlife more generally and the rapidly diminishing numbers, and what we can do about the dire situation of wildlife on this planet as travellers, writers and publishers.

World Wildlife Day – A Day to Reflect Upon the Value of the World’s Wildlife

There are few things that have brought us greater pleasure on our travels over the years than wildlife encounters – from closely observing lionesses and their cubs, above, at Sarova Salt Lick at Tsavo West in Kenya and koala spotting on Kangaroo Island in South Australia to nature walks, mangrove cruises and birdwatching in places as diverse as Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National ParkS’Albufera Nature Park in Spain’s Mallorca, and Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory.

There were few experiences more enriching or more fun than the hours we spent watching wildlife from our room at Sarova Salt Lick in Tsavo West, Kenya, where the accommodation, lobby, restaurant, and bar, in addition to the wildlife safaris, all offered unparalleled wildlife spotting opportunities.

Over three days we surveyed elephants, gazelles, zebras, buffaloes, baboons, monkeys, warthogs, and an array of birds come to drink from a waterhole and small moat separating them from the lodge, observing their interactions, getting to know their personalities, and delighting in the little dramas that played out between them each day. I’d do that again in a heartbeat.

At Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, we spent a week in a house open to the elements overlooking the jungle canopy. The first thing we’d do after making coffee each morning was see how far the sloth had moved on his branch overnight. Around mid-morning and again in the afternoon we’d wait for the rustling leaves, creaking branches and swaying trees that signalled the arrival of a family of capuchin monkeys who would pass through our home twice a day.

Though I have to confess that wildlife watching has brought heartbreak as well as happiness. While I’ll always treasure the moments of joy we experienced seeing ‘the big five’ in the wild for the first time on our inaugural ‘safari’ (ie. the drive from the airport to our lodge) in the Masai Mara, I’ll never forget the intense sadness I felt seeing a mother giraffe, grief-stricken and in shock, running back and forth and around in circles, as the lioness who had just killed her baby calmly looked on.

Every opportunity, as painful or as pleasurable as it was, has confirmed to us that wildlife watching is enough. There’s no need to ride (mistreated) elephants or pose for photos with (drugged) tigers or bears. A circus doesn’t need animals to entertain, as the incredibly talented Cambodian performers prove night after night here under the big top in Siem Reap.

But our interactions with wild animals have also brought a different kind of pain – a pain from knowing that those opportunities to enjoy observing them are greatly diminishing – so much so that in the future my niece and nephews, your children and grandchildren, might not have the chances to see animals in the wild as we have.

While it’s difficult for an animal lover to observe kills in the wild for the first time, the trauma is lessened by knowing that this is nature and her way of taking and giving back to earth in the form of the circle of life – something that dies gives life to another – but I can never accept what is not natural.

I’m talking about the pointless deaths of wild animals at the hands of humans – whether from trophy hunting, loss of habitat, poaching for the illegal trade of ivory or for their luxuriant fur and skins, or for the so-called ‘medicinal’ properties of their bile, bones, claws, and other body parts.

And it’s the latter that has been leading to an alarming rate of decline in numbers of the world’s lions and tigers, which is why the theme of World Wildlife Day in 2018 is ‘Big Cats: Predators Under Threat’.

Found in Asia, Africa, North, Central and South America, numbers of big cats species – lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, leopards, and pumas – have been dropping at an alarming rate. World tiger populations plummeted by 95% in 100 years and African lion populations have been reduced by 40% in a mere two decades.

While governments, park rangers, enforcement officers, and customs officials around the world have been increasing their efforts to protect wildlife, we – you and I – as travellers, publishers, writers, and readers can also do our bit to protect the world’s wildlife and their habitats. Our collective efforts can make a difference – and could be the difference between a species disappearing or surviving.

If it’s still World Wildlife Day wherever you are reading from on the planet, here are some ways you can get involved on social media to raise awareness. Otherwise, click through to the next post for ideas for things you can do to help save the world’s wildlife from extinction any day of the year and links to the websites of established wildlife organisations.

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