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Question of the Month
August 2011

What is the most endangered of the Big Cats, and
which one should be photographed first?



For a lot of wildlife and nature photographers the Big Cats rank among the most sought-after and charismatic subjects. Their beauty, their atavistic threat, their power, and the possibility of seeing one in action, all present an allure that draws photographers.

There are big cats on four of the continents -- pumas in North and South America, Lions, Leopards, and Cheetahs in Africa, Jaguars in South America, and Tigers, Leopards, Lions, and Snow Leopards in Asia. Despite the fact that pumas (mountain lions) and jaguars are rarely seen, they are among the least threatened of the cats. Cheetahs have been endangered, and listed as such, for many years, and sadly, the once widespread and common African Lion now numbers less than 30,000 animals in the wild. And the tiger, perhaps the most magnificent of all the large cats, is truly the most endangered.

Some experts believe that there will be no wild tigers by 2030 and those remaining will be in zoos. India, which has the largest tiger population, has no more than 3,000 tigers, with some estimates ranging, all downward, to as few as 1,800. Poaching is their greatest threat, with tigers still used for traditional medicines in China, and ceremonial robes in Tibet, and even inside the national parks poaching can occur.

Ironically, a rumor I heard that probably has much substance has it that a wealthy benefactor, who contributes as much money to India's Project Tiger as the parks derive from tourist park entrance fees, has spawned the idea that the parks should be closed for tourism, and benefactors could support the tigers without the intrusion of tourism. This ignores the fact that there are more tigers, and more tigers successfully breeding and raising young, in the sections of the national parks set aside for tourist viewing. Much of the tiger national parks are off-limits to tourists, but the numbers of tigers in those areas are much fewer than found in the tourist areas. Why?

The tourists, the park guides, and the drivers, and the Park Wardens patrolling the park to police the tourist vehicles are, in truth, guarding those areas of the park far more thoroughly than the restricted areas. There poaching can occur much more easily, as the risk of being discovered is far less. This proposed idea of closing the tiger parks to tourists also ignores the enormous contribution of tourists to the over-all economy, in the parks with the drivers, park staff, lodge and hotel staff, guides, etc, and elsewhere in the country the hotels, transportation, and food services. Hopefully this rumor will turn out to be like many rumors -- simply a falsehood.

To answer the question, the big cat interested photographers should concentrate on, or eco tourists/photographers should plan on seeing, sooner rather than later, it is the tiger. Their numbers will continue to fall, and the influx of tourism may convince the Indian government to open up new areas for tiger tourism as a means of protecting the cats. Here, it seems, our tourist dollars may truly help in conservation.

We are planning two tiger safaris to the best of India's tiger parks in 2012. You can read the brochure, and my 2011 Trip Reports (One and Two) for more information.

Questions of the Month

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What is the best $69 you can spend in photography?

More Questions about Pumas in Pennsylvania

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How does the 7D hold up in a recent shoot?

Which is the better camera, the Mark IV or the 7D?

Are there Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic States?

Why is bat photography so difficult?

What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

Why do I advocate manual exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Kiboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

Archived Questions of the Month
Most of my original Questions of the Month for the last several
years are available through this link. The 'look' is from my
original web site, although if I ever have enough time I might
redo these pages to match the new web site But that's not
a high priority.