February 23, 2014
PARIS — Poaching, deforestation, human settlement and scarce prey are among the threats facing some of the planet’s most iconic wild animals, from elephants and rhinos to lions and cheetahs. There are no easy solutions to save threatened species, but a group of veterinarians may be helping to boost their chances of survival.
The two-day old kitten Dr. Jean-Yves Routier is examining has a big bandage wrapped around its middle. It was injured at birth, but it will survive.
The fate is less certain for some of the bigger cats the French veterinarian treats. When he is not at his clinic in the Paris suburb of Noisy le Grand, Routier is in Africa. He uses groundbreaking reproductive techniques to boost the numbers of cheetahs, lions and other game animals – and to diversify their gene pool.
The challenge, Routier said, is how to manage what he calls micro-populations – small populations of wild animals that are threatened, some to the verge of extinction. Zoos use artificial insemination and other techniques to induce pregnancy in captive animals. But that, he says, it does not save threatened species in the wild.
In 2002, Routier founded a nongovernmental organization called CRESAM. That stands for Conservation and Reproduction of Endangered Wild Species. He and his international team of highly specialized vets work with about 20 different species of carnivores in France and overseas. Many are big cats like cheetahs, living in private game parks. CRESAM is one of the rare organizations using artificial reproduction techniques outside of zoos.
A video on CRESAM’s website shows Routier shooting a cheetah with a tranquillizer gun. Once down, the vets take blood samples of the animal. They have to work quickly. Within a few minutes, it will be back on its feet.
Cheetahs once roamed large chunks of Africa and Asia. But their numbers have plummeted from about 100,000 a century ago, to only about 7,000 to 15,000 today. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists cheetahs in general as a vulnerable species. Some subspecies are considered critically endangered. Luke Hunter, president of the global wildcat conservation organization Panthera, said big cats face a basic threat: competing with humans for space.
“The issue becomes the whole suite of threats that humans bring into landscapes in which large cats exist, which includes direct hunting of large cats for their furs or their bones or other things that are considered valuable for certain cultures. [Also] hunting and persecution of cats because they’re considered dangerous, and just wiping out habitats and prey that big cats need,” Hunter stated.