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Pfeiffer professor in on efforts to save big cats

MISENHEIMER ó A Pfeiffer University professor has been selected to lead a new initiative to save big cats.
Big cats are in trouble, from lions in Kenya to snow leopards in the Himalayas. The icons of the natural world ó lions, cheetahs, leopards, jaguars and other top felines ó are disappearing, victims of habitat loss and degradation, as well as conflicts with humans.
To address this critical situation, the National Geographic Society has launched the Big Cats Initiative, a comprehensive program that supports on-the-ground conservation projects, education and economic incentive efforts and a global public-awareness campaign.
The society has tapped Dr. Luke Dollar, assistant professor of biology at Pfeiffer, to coordinate the initiative.
Dollar has spent more than a decade studying the fossa (pronounced FOO-sa), a bobcat-sized creature that is a largely unknown predator native to the jungles of Madagascar, an island off the coast of southern Africa. As a result of Dollar’s research of the fossa, which is the subject of legend and fear to the Malagasy people, National Geographic named him an “Emerging Explorer” in 2007.
“Large cats are keystone species of their ecosystems; losing them means not only loss of a majestic predator but destruction of a natural balance that affects an entire environmental system, including people,” said Dollar, who also tracks the rapid deforestation of Madagascar, finds ways to slow it, and educates the Malagasy people on ecotourism to help them make money rather than tearing down the little forest that remains.
The first goal of the Big Cats Initiative is to halt lion population declines by the year 2015 and to restore populations to sustainable levels by 2020. The first phase will target lions, whose populations are dying off rapidly across Africa.
Lions once ranged across Africa and into Syria, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran and northwest India; some 1.5 million lions roamed the earth two millennia ago. Since the 1940s, when lions numbered an estimated 400,000, lion populations have collapsed across the continent and now may total as few as 20,000. Scientists connect the drastic decreases in lions in part to burgeoning human populations.
As a first step, National Geographic will map all available data on lion populations, demographics and habitats.
Using that information, National Geographic will launch a grant program that will fund a variety of conservation projects across the lions’ range. These include innovative projects focused on near-term results for saving lions, including anti-poaching programs and projects that test new techniques and technologies.
More information on the Big Cats Initiative is available at www.nationalgeographic. com/bigcats.

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