Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

Big or small, cats find themselves in the line of fire

Rym Ghazal looks at the animals that are becoming extinct due to human activity and argues that keeping them as pets just makes the situation worse.
Recently, 13-year-old Cecil, the dominant male black-maned lion in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, was shot with an arrow by American dentist Dr Walter Palmer, and suffered for 40 hours before being finished off, beheaded and skinned. AJ Loveridge / Reuters
Recently, 13-year-old Cecil, the dominant male black-maned lion in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, was shot with an arrow by American dentist Dr Walter Palmer, and suffered for 40 hours before being finished off, beheaded and skinned. AJ Loveridge / Reuters

By the time you finish reading this column, one of our planet’s unique species will have become extinct. Yes, it has reached this stage.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), this is at least 100 times the natural rate of extinction. One in four of the world’s mammals are threatened with extinction, and so are one in eight birds, one in five sharks, one in four coniferous trees and one in three amphibians.

The cause of all this? Us – through hunting, the destruction of habitats and our role in climate change.

I was reminded of this issue while writing about a baby gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda. These gentle giants have almost died off because of poaching and the destruction of their homes. With fewer than 900 mountain gorillas left in the world, you realise how precious each new baby is. I suggested calling one of the babies Noor, meaning light or spirit, because each name should reflect our hope for these furry creatures.

It is extremely depressing to read the list of endangered species. Some say it’s a matter of the survival of the fittest, but it is mainly humans killing other species just because we have the means to do so.

The list ranges from the beautiful Amur leopard (fewer than 40 left) to Javan rhinos (about 60 left) to different types of lemur, elephants, gorillas, pandas, polar bears, wolves, foxes, sheep, whales, dolphins and turtles to all kinds of birds, fish, insects and plants. There is even an animal so rare – the saola, which resembles an antelope – that it has been called the Asian unicorn.

All the types of tigers are endangered, with the WWF saying we have lost 97 per cent of wild tigers in just over a century.

My introduction to a tiger was via the Disney animated film, The Jungle Book, and as a child I thought all tigers spoke with a British accent like Shere Khan. That was until I met a tiger at a palace in Jeddah, who had the most mesmerising eyes and stinky breath. It was chained to a pillar, and it was so miserable and bored that it would move its head away from anyone who was trying to take its photo.

But this tiger was relatively pampered compared to the big cats and other animals that are purchased as household pets. The owners file down the animals’ teeth and declaw them, and know nothing about taking care of a wild animal.

Even animals in protected areas in the wild are not safe. Just recently, 13-year-old Cecil, the dominant male black-maned lion in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, was shot with an arrow by American dentist Dr Walter Palmer, and suffered for 40 hours before being finished off, beheaded and skinned.

In Australia, the government has announced a “war on cats”. Up to two million feral cats will be culled by 2020 because they are a threat to small mammals and birds. The authorities said the “humane and effective” culls would “involve baiting, shooting or poisoning feral cats”.

French former screen siren and animal welfare activist Brigitte Bardot condemned Australia’s plans as “inhumane and ridiculous”. In an open letter she said: “The $6 million you plan to spend in destroying these animals would be much better spent in setting up a large-scale sterilisation campaign.”

Sure, it may be easy and cost effective in the short term to kill cats, but what gives any person a right to take another living being’s life? The trap-neuter-return method helps decrease feral cat populations over time, but takes more effort.

Though history has shown that we usually take the quick and ruthless way when it comes to other species, I remain hopeful that this will change

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau

Updated: August 19, 2015 04:00 AM

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