By Jules Lavallee

Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 09/3/2020 –  Big cats are facing big challenges. Leopards now occupy just 25-37 percent of their historic range, and six of the nine subspecies of leopard are now in significant trouble.  For many big-cat populations, extinctions are imminent due to habitat loss, degradation and conflicts with humans. The National Geographic Society has a long history of raising awareness of the plight of big cats and supporting impactful conservation efforts across the planet. Its Big Cats Initiative partners with Nat Geo WILD for its widely recognized Big Cat Week programming event.   

On Monday, Sept. 7 at 8/7c, Nat Geo WILD kicks off its 10th Big Cat Week with JADE EYED LEOPARD, from world-renowned big-cat filmmakers, National Geographic Explorers and co-founders of the Big Cat Initiative Beverly and Dereck Joubert and narrated by the Academy® Award-winning and Emmy® Award-nominated actor Jeremy Irons (“Watchmen,” “The Lion King”). 

JADE EYED LEOPARD, tells the extraordinary story of a young female leopard’s pivotal first three years of life. Big Cats are facing big challenges. Share your perspective. 

All Big Cats right throughout Africa are in trouble. The science shows that over a 50 year period we lost between 75 and 95 % of them. In many of the African countries, they have been wiped out completely. There are 7 African countries that still have a sustainable amount of Lions, leopards, and cheetahs but even these countries are now losing their top predators. The pandemic is now an added concern, borders shut down, tourism stopped, jobs furloughed. Government and private parks have either stopped anti-poaching units or reduced them. Communities have no income without tourism, to make ends meet they have turned to bushmeat, snaring and poaching has escalated everywhere. The predators are not consumed, Leopard and Lions are sadly caught in the traps and either lose a leg, or are killed. One example is in Queen Elizabeth Park in Uganda where two male lions were both missing back legs. 

Predators are killed to remove them from the wilderness areas making it easy for the poaching to continue without harming the poacher. This is not new but has escalated during the pandemic, to the point of cleaning out large tracks of land with nothing surviving. That is why we have to take action to assist communities that are struggling right now, the same communities that are driven to poach to put food on the table. And action is needed to protect these areas. We are doing this through the Big Cat initiative grants programs and an affiliated emergency response campaign that we started in March called” Project Ranger”. This is to support the front line workers and their families and to keep the wilderness areas safe.

A group of giraffes walk across the plains in search of a place to rest safely for the evening. (Beverly Joubert)

What are 3 key facts that you want people to know about the JADE EYED LEOPARD? 

Leopards are vital to the ecosystem, keeping harmony and balance with the herds passing through their territories and keeping the forest healthy and alive. They are unique predators, very adaptable, and can live close to humanity with respect, as this female shows in the film, she had total trust giving birth under the deck of the tent. They have individual personalities, immense characters, each day they have new adventures which we managed to capture some of the highlights of Toto growing up to a mature leopard.  

Are we at a crossroads?  

We have been at a crossroads for way too long and it is amazing that we as filmmakers and conservationists have not been able to reverse the demise of the predators, they are constantly being killed legally through Safari Hunting and illegally, despite all the efforts. We have given it our heart and soul. It is also amazing that some countries’ governments have embraced wildlife, seen the value to their country and citizens, and helped protect it but time is running out, what we have all been doing is no longer enough.  

The situation is dire and getting way worse with the Pandemic. We are really at a tipping point and if we can’t change how we utilize and abuse wildlife then we will have lost the battle and many more species will be extinct in a decade or less. A world without hope is lost. A blindness to the fact that this is a crossroads is even worse. At least we recognize this now and at least we have a collective voice to do something about it.  

What are the big cats saying to mankind? 

Interesting question, I do not believe they are necessarily communicating on how we should start paying attention to the planet’s survival, which we should, or humanity’s survival, and the survival of all living creatures. I suspect they are observing how they are losing landscape, being chased out of areas, being harmed, being hunted by safari hunters. If they could talk to us they should be saying please have respect for the wilderness areas, please respect we are living predators that play a vital role in keeping alive, they can live side by side with human habitats that are close to the wilderness areas. They can be respectful if we could give them the same respect. Sadly we do not. We hunt them, we snare them, we take down their forests, slash and burn for new agricultural land, poison them out of fear of them killing cattle herds, and then to top it off, animals are being traded for human consumption in the medical markets and wet markets in Asia.

I think that all wildlife has so much to teach us, so much to give. In some cases, we can imagine them saying, ‘we tried to teach you and you just won’t listen, so we have to move on.’ In other cases, if we listen carefully, it will be all-out learning empathy, trust, dignity, grace, compassion, and being creative.  

Toto lying on the ground resting. (Beverly Joubert)

National Geographic’s Big Cat Week kicks off Sept. 7th what is your hope?  

We want to illuminate these incredible animals through the eyes of both little Toto and her mother Fig, to inspire our audience to care and take part in the National Geographic Big Cat Initiative, to help us protect them for the future. But it is also about evoking those lessons from big cats, about compassion. These are real characters and we would be arrogant to project that it is only us humans that have personalities and depth. This leopard shows us more about the leopard world, through her personality, that we’ve seen before.  

Tell us about the Big Cat Initiative.  

The Big Cat Initiative is an emergency intervention, to take action throughout Africa to help conserve and protect the Big Cats. To educate and work with communities who are the future conservationists and ambassadors of these wilderness areas. Helping communities bring back wildlife which is a better economy for them. We have now given over 150 grants in 27 countries, each project assists to preserve the areas, educate and bring local conservationists to the arena. We aim to change policy in particular in Africa, to support science, and to bring the stories of the cats to audiences in a way that can change their lives and ours.  

You have been documenting big cats in the wild, particularly leopards for more than 30 years,” What have you learned?  

It is in the way we engage, guided by these big cats. Everything on one level is about survival, we all get that but if that is all we take away from our lives with big cats it’s our lack of depth that is evident. They move in a complex world, not unlike ours, they navigate the social complexities, and more importantly they know their place in this world, as we should, and that they form a part of it, not set aside or apart from it. 

A newly born Thomson’s gazelle tries to stand for the first time. (Beverly Joubert)

Please share your initiatives/goals for 2020. 

The Big Cat Initiative at National Geographic is to not only protect the top predators throughout Africa – it is to protect wild places in the world where big cats can thrive, and every other species in it and where we can find solace in nature because we have found out from this lockdown, it is the places in Nature where we will find the most fulfillment and personal joy. So our ambition is to drive this philosophy, a new Earth Ethic into the sunlight so everyone can understand nature, revere and enjoy it, and not destroy it.

We mentioned Project Ranger in point 1. This is a campaign we started in March during the pandemic, because of the pandemic, to protect the frontline workers men and women in the field doing anti-poaching work, so there will still be wilderness areas to return to and bring them an income after the pandemic. 

CLIP: Big Cat Week Trailer: