It will soon be one year since Panthera opened a branch in France headed by Gregory Breton. A meeting to discover this world-renowned NGO and discuss conservation issues around big cats.
Panthera is an international organization and the only organization in the world exclusively dedicated to the conservation of all felines. Why open an antenna in France?
Grégory Breton:The creation of Panthera’s French-speaking branch is both the result of meetings and the needs of the NGO for the development of its conservation missions.
As Panthera is an NGO of American origin very famous among Anglo-Saxons (USA, United Kingdom, Australia …). The opening of the French branch will allow the organization to increase its influence and its notoriety in the Francophones countries (France, Switzerland, Belgium …) but also to help the NGO in the development of its actions in West African countries. Indeed, Panthera aims in particular to protect the lion which, although classified as “vulnerable” at the global scale on the IUCN red list, is in “critical danger of extinction” specifically in West Africa. In the region, Panthera and its partners significantly improve the frequency and effectiveness of national park rangers’ anti-poaching patrols, particularly in the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) transboundary protected area complex in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger, where lion numbers are the highest in the region. In the Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal, where a lion population is present, targeted action is essential for the local population to not disappear but to flourish again.
Panthera does not only work for the lion’s sake and has many projects for other cat species in 36 countries. My arrival is the fruit of my meetings with the personalities of the NGO, as well as my career and my achievements, including my study program of the cat of the sands, a small desert feline, unique for this species and developed with my colleague Alexander Sliwa, initially on our free time. Joining Panthera is for me a great opportunity to put my experience and knowledge to the benefit of this very effective organization, which brings together many researchers and experts of felines around the world.
How do you create new projects within the organization? Are future projects planned in France?
G.B.: The organization brings together professional biologists and passionate advocates who for many years have been studying and devoting their lives to protecting felines. Since its inception, Panthera has created 7 different programs for the largest species of felines, which are both the best known to the general public and the most impacted by human expansion: Tiger, Lion, Jaguar, Snow Leopard, Leopard, Puma and Cheetah. Within these programs, we manage many different projects related to different localities.
These large predators are at the top of the scale and are therefore indicators of the health of an ecosystem. If in a park in India or Southeast Asia tigers were to disappear, the population of leopards would increase significantly. Being much more opportunistic than tigers, they would put more pressure on the populations of small cats, which would in turn disappear. Some small felines are also in great danger and we have an 8th program for all other cat species.
For the time being, the creation of new programs comparable to those mentioned above is not planned, but effective and relevant initiatives, such as those conducted on the African Golden Cat or the Sand Cat, are being helped to continue in the future. the weather. It’s a question of encounters and opportunities. For example, for Cheetahs Panthera does not work in all countries where the Cheetah is present. There are already competent NGOs in some of them (Namibia), so both to help these NGOs and/or to make our contribution in another country where the species needs us. This is also the case for the Snow Leopard, where we collaborate with the Snow Leopard Trust on some sites such as Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.
What future do you see for wild cat species?
G.B.: It will really depend on the places, the localities, and therefore the political will and the resources allocated. In some places on our planet, NGOs are simply pushing back the deadline, namely local extinction, because of the strong population growth and needs (but for how long?). In other places, such as reserves and protected areas, if strong means of protection are put in place to conserve them, it is possible that we end up managing large “flocks”, a bit like zoos today, where animals are moved between different spaces to keep a population healthy and genetically viable. In the wild, this is already the case for some species, such as the Pradel Lynx in the Iberian Peninsula, the Persian leopard in the Russian Caucasus and the Amur leopard in the Russian Far East .
You mentioned several structures involved in the conservation of felines. What differences and roles for each?
G.B.: Regarding national parks, it is the states that decide on their creation and allocate their operating budgets. Nowadays, there is globally a real understanding of the need and a desire to create long-term wild spaces and reserves for future generations.
Concerning the zoos, these structures have a heavy past: massive capture of the wild animals in their natural environments, inadequate feeding and limited veterinary care, exposure in small cages where they would die before reproducing, staging the animals in positions or ridiculous accoutrements … But for about 30 years, a substantive work has been done to make things change: a real split with the circus world has been made, breeding programs have been created and are managed qualitatively so to build viable captive populations to provide flocks and individuals that may eventually be released, financial support for in-situ programs … We are now at this important turning point. But the world of zoos is very heterogeneous, there are state structures, municipal structures, private structures, private / public structures with economic objectives behind.
The zoos are also different depending on countries. In many developing countries, there are good zoological parks, sometimes even superior to some French parks, because they are the first bulwark in the protection of wildlife in the country. Funded in whole or in part by governments, they must be poles of excellence with veterinarians trained to manage wildlife.
Reserves, sanctuaries and refuges are appellations whose meaning is vague and variable according to national regulations. In South Africa, France or the United States, a refuge or sanctuary does not refer to the same type of establishment and the same type of activity. Some may have a superb ethic and actually act for conservation, not taking advantage of the animals housed, while others, not at all and are degrading places.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges for conservation in the years to come?
G.B.: It is important to realize that we have only one planet with limited resources. Everyone is not sensitive to this cause – if a dozen species disappear immediately in Asia, without direct consequences on their daily lives, a large part of our fellow citizens in France would not be sensitive and would not feel interested. Moreover, the majority of the world’s population is facing immediate vital concerns. As long as there is no balance in mentalities, a global ethic and the sharing of resources, it will be difficult to preserve a planet as we knew it in the twentieth century.
I would add that before supporting an association for the conservation of wild species and environments, it is important to check its ethic and effectiveness, for example through the publication of its annual accounts. For felines, all major NGOs know each other and “competition” is weak. There are only three international organizations working for the protection of the Snow leopard and a dozen for the Cheetah for example. In contrast, for the white rhinoceros, there are nearly 350 associations in South Africa alone. What do they do, because it always disappears? It is important that a sort be done to distinguish the relevant associations and to avoid a dilution of funds and therefore actions, but this is not an international concern. IUCN unfortunately does not have the authority to do that. Each country could do it, but there is a need for a global fund to achieve it …
In short, hope is not lost, although we still have a lot to do to save our felines and the environments where they live and behave as super-predators!
Gregory Breton, MSc – General Director, Panthera France
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