Deforestation and Poaching Consequences on Dwindling Populations of Lions (Panthera leo), Tigers (Panthera tigris), and Jaguars (Panthera onca)

Abigail Robinson

Canisius College, Buffalo, NY



One of the leading wildlife conservation issues worldwide is human population growth, which brings deforestation and poaching, two leading global threats to the immense decline of wildlife. The rise of the Anthropocene era is the result of four leading factors: economic activity, land use, resource availability, and cultural/social issues. Deforestation has caused, and continues to cause, a significant loss in environmental and ecological stability. Meanwhile, poaching has caused an extreme loss in biodiversity, which is critical for future generations to survive and thrive. These two practices negatively impact biodiversity sustainability, as species extinction is occurring at a rate 1000 times faster than normal, cyclic, and expected background rates over the past century (Pimm et al. 1995, 347).

Anthropocentrism is an moral framework that supports the reasons as to why these two detrimental concerns are occurring at an alarming rate. Anthropocentric agendas that encourage deforestation and poaching are leading to a downhill spiral causing environmental instability, destruction, and extinction of distinct ecosystems’ most important species. However, while anthropocentrism focuses on the importance of human interests, this perspective should be questioned, because human development has caused a staggering amount of destruction on this once thriving and biodiverse planet.

Indigenous peoples have long been associated with appreciation of the earth, wildlife, and the natural world. These belief systems, which emphasize respect and reciprocation of the Earth and its inhabitants, should be recognized by all people. The Anthropocene era and increasing human population have taken over the planet and the once wild and free ecosystems and organisms found within are suffering at an alarming rate.

Consequentialist ethics is also an appropriate way to determine proper perspectives from both sides of the argument, as it is based on the merit of the outcome. This should then make it clear that deforestation and poaching have already been, and will continue to be, detrimental to the environment and wildlife if no change occurs. It is encouraging to see that a variety of sustainable practices and alternative resources have been developed in many geographic regions across the world as a focus on the environment and wildlife conservation is critical to the future of life on Earth. However, if these practices are not put into use at a higher rate, then negative repercussions will result; they are already evident through environmental degradation and plummeting species numbers and population levels.

I specifically will be exploring the effects of deforestation and poaching on the populations of the last lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), and jaguars (Panthera onca) left on the planet. As human population growth is on a rapid incline, the amount of habitat left for animals in the wild is quickly dwindling due to urban sprawl and habitat destruction and fragmentation. This leads to an increase in the number of human-wildlife conflicts.

Because all humans form their own opinions and not every person shares the same viewpoint on the importance of these species existing in their natural ecosystems, it is extremely important to take into consideration the range of geographic areas, cultural influences, and driving forces of humanity, such as economic activity and resource availability, that impact the natural world. While I can agree with an anthropocentric viewpoint that all of these factors are highly influential to the lifestyles and well-being of the people living in these specific communities, the costs to non-human animals of these demanding services in a Homo sapiens-dominated world are destructive to wildlife as a whole. This creates a domino effect of deterioration that ripples through food webs. I argue that we have a slim chance for human and wildlife sustainability and environmental prosperity if parts of indigenous ethical viewpoints are not implemented across all regions, cultures, and political systems. Although this is a bold statement to make, the Earth is a delicate place that needs to be taken care of and respected. Without the resources that the Earth provides us on a daily basis, such as oxygen production and carbon dioxide extraction, from the trees and oceans, life simply would not sustainably flourish. With respect to the lion, tiger and jaguar, all three are listed as “vulnerable,”  “endangered,” or “near threatened” by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. I focus on these species because of the extreme difficulties each one of them faces, impinging on their habitats, prey abundances, and rights to live, driving them toward extinction in the Anthropocene era.

All three big cat species exist in a variety of ecological habitats on three continents. Lions traditionally were found from Northern Africa to Southwest Asia but have disappeared from most countries in this range in the last 150 years (Nowell and Jackson 1996, 37; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). The lion is labeled as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with its population declining. In some parts of the world like Sasan-Gir National Park in India, they are classified as endangered. Historically, tigers were found across Asia from western Turkey to eastern Russia. There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 mature tigers left in the wild today, as they inhabit less than 6% of their historic range (Sanderson et al. 2006, 2; Walston et al. 2010, 2) and are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Jaguars were once found in the jungles spanning from Central to South America; however, deforestation and poaching pressures have caused an urgent need for conservation. They are classified as near threatened, but the IUCN Red List does specify that threats have increased and intensified for this species (IUCN Red List, 2008).

Today, lions are found only in certain geographic regions of Africa with a small subpopulation residing in Sasan-Gir National Park in India. The tiger is found sparingly in the jungles of Central and South Asia and the jaguar found rarely in the jungles of Central and South America. Despite the appearance of occupying wide ranges, all three of these species are suffering from the effects of deforestation and poaching as habitat availability is dwindling due to anthropocentric pressures. Poaching impacts these species directly, as it takes away the life of an individual and fuels the black-market trade of these species. Deforestation is problematic due to the loss of habitat and important natural resources that reside within these territories that the animals need for survival. Both have a direct impact on species’ loss of genetic diversity and gene flow.

Consequentialism is a view that the morality of an action is judged solely by the consequences that follow. The moral obligations that we have toward protecting the animals and the environment are now obvious, as we now have caused immense harm to them. Viewing this pressing issue through a consequentialist theory, we can begin to see the repercussions of human actions that are causing extreme disruptions to the stability and balance that the earth has maintained since before the drastic rise of human civilizations.

Humans have heavily adapted to thriving off of new innovation and technology; however, this can have the effect of driving us away from the natural world. Instead, our innate and ancient biophilic tendencies should drive us toward appreciating and respecting the earth and all inhabitants of it, as we evolved with nature. I argue this by stating that non-human animals have evolved on this planet for much longer prior to the colonization of humans. Non-human animals have always been grounded by nature; when humans began to explore the world and become the cosmopolitan species we are today, non-human animals maintained their habitats and sustained the ecosystems they have always been found in. By accepting the responsibility to protect and conserve species, this in turn also protects the ecosystem, as animals are one of the most important balancing parts of maintaining a healthy environment.

An anthropocentric perspective would argue that non-human animals do not possess the capacity to experience the level of advanced development that humans have obtained so far. But in reply, all species fight for survival, as every species needs distinct resources and living requirements. Whether they can actively think about needing these commodities is irrelevant; it is the common and underlying motivation of survival and reproduction that we all share. While humans have fallen into the corruptions of money and greed, non-human animals have preserved their habitats and grown with the Earth and nature. While we’ve needed these types of systematic approaches to keep order as human civilizations quickly spread, these boundaries are also heavily associated with corruption. The species Homo-sapiens has evolved intelligence in a number of extraordinary ways, and in ways that would lead us to easily believe that we are the most valuable creature on the Earth. However, certain species have capabilities that are distinctive to their life pressures that we would never be capable of achieving. This is not to degrade humans, but rather to show the importance and beauty of all species and their roles on the earth. While animals do not experience the same ecological, social, and political stressors that humans face, they face their own based on different living requirements, and because of this, I argue that their lifestyles and daily challenges are more realistic and difficult than the materialistic and controlling lifestyles we face today in an anthropocentric world. Especially now, most animal species are experiencing a heightened period of decreased resource abundance, habitat availability, and are suffering through predation and habitat destruction by humans. Species such as the lion, tiger, and jaguar are fighting for their species’ survival.

The necessity for land use providing human settlement and development has served to be a crucial factor in the expansion of human civilizations, and unfortunately has been environmentally detrimental to many species. Anthropocentric ethics would argue that land availability is extremely important to the way of life in underdeveloped countries as farmers rely on land for agricultural purposes, which provide stability for their families and the surrounding communities. This is much needed and highly demanding, as feeding the current 7.6 billion people who are on earth today is a difficult task. However, deforestation due to the agricultural needs of a growing human population is in turn associated with poaching behavior, as the lion, tiger, and jaguar are increasingly moving out of forests and into once-thriving habitat areas that are now agriculturally-dominated regions.

We are forgetting that these species have been thriving in these areas long before humans started to control the natural habitats of these animals, so it is not their fault that farmers are experiencing livestock predation. Viewing this through a property rights lens, it would make sense that the inhabitants who were residing in that area first deserve the right to that land. Present practices are bad for both animals and humans, as poaching these animals leads to a decrease in their population level and also a decrease in crop productions as a result. By depleting the natural prey resources and providing an extensive amount of available domestic prey, lions, tigers, and jaguars have now incorporated domestic animals, and sometimes humans, into their diets. We do not have the right to change their habitats or livelihoods, let alone their diets. It is clear that, with the establishment of agricultural practices, we have also established a shift in these predators’ main sources of prey from only wild to including domestic animals. This makes it our responsibility to come up with solutions or alternatives to this problem, such as taste aversions in domestic livestock or conservation management practices in predator-prey relationships.

Over 80% of the last remaining jaguars’ natural habitat resides in the Amazon rainforest in South America (Tobler, Carillo-Percastegui, Zuniga Hartley, V.N. Powell, 2013, 1). Of the estimated 20% of the Amazon rainforest that has been deforested, 80% has been directly due to cattle ranches, which fuel the unnecessary mass killings of cattle to produce meat for human consumption. This situation means that jaguars are suffering the consequences of our actions, without our thinking about the morality behind it. It seems contradictory that we would take away their natural habitats just so that we can mass produce animals in an unethical way to feed thousands of uninformed people. I claim this is unnecessary, as these animals are bred specifically through genetic manipulation. This is known as speed breeding and decreases genetic diversity. This is not only unhealthy for the species, but unhealthy for human consumption. If the world were more informed about the welfare conditions that these animals were in during the process of producing meat, the demand for meat consumption could potentially drop, helping solve the issue involving mass production of cattle and other domestic animals. This would have a major effect of indirectly reducing deforestation pressures.

The issues involving human-wildlife conflicts should not be blamed on the natural predators that reside in that area. It is frightening for the future that this anthropocentrically-dominated world could be quickly transitioning from an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitats to farmlands taking over that use and abuse animals because of the demand for the satisfaction of human desires.

This is also an issue for lions as well as jaguars. This species has suffered tremendously from human encroachment due to poaching and deforestation on their once-established territories. In Sasan-Gir National Park, sugarcane and mango orchards are being grown at an increasing rate because of the economic profitability and easy maintenance involved. However, this cultivation creates an artificial forest (Vijayan and Pati 2002, 542) in which lions often will kill domestic animals. Although this is damaging both agriculturally and economically, blame cannot be placed on the lions for this killing, as this area has been their territory for years and is yet another consequence of the human species dominating any place we want. By trying to establish communities in habitats already home to other species, of course problems are going to occur, as we see with so many human-wildlife conflicts. In Chitwan National Park in Nepal, tiger predation on humans is increasing, as agricultural societies are established in the wide range of the tigers’ now lost and degraded habitats (Gurung et al. 2008, 3069). Deforestation drives natural prey abundances down, which has caused tigers to turn to humans as prey. This predation leads to further conflicts due to the efforts of poaching and poisoning tigers from local people who have suffered from the implications involved.

When determining the devastation from changes in land use on these three big cat species, we should reflect on the fact that these species have used the land in a beneficial and cyclic way for their whole evolutionary duration. It is understandable that agriculture is crucial to the sustainability of human settlements in all three geographic regions where these big cats reside; however, this land is not ours for the taking. Some non-human animals have long adapted to living in close proximity to humans, which has sparked an high increase of human-wildlife conflicts. Because these practices directly affect wildlife, it is ignorant for us to think that these issues would not arise. We unfortunately are the intruders. Although non-human animals such as the lion, tiger and jaguar are suffering at the expense of humans, and some humans at their expense, it can be supported by a consequentialist ethical approach that we are the ones who are going to bear the consequences eventually, in addition to the animals, as the repercussions of massive loss of biodiversity are felt.

Natural resource extraction is a huge factor in the demise of non-human animal species. As Native American ethical approaches such as the Algonquian’s would state, our Earth-Mother does not provide us with these resources just so we can exploit them, use them all, and run other species into extinction. Some who clearly have an agenda show through their actions that they believe that natural resources that the Earth provides us with appear to be limitless. But the relationship between humans and the Earth, along with its natural resources, should be mutual. The world evolves and changes in a cyclic and balanced state.

Since our species is vastly cosmopolitan, we tend not to acknowledge what is not directly in our experience or priorities: an out of sight, out of mind existence. Some humans are not aware of the significant repercussions we have on other life that shares this planet with us. Although natural resources are needed for all people, it should be strongly acknowledged that we are not the only species on this planet who needs natural resources for their survival. We forget to—or look away from—the destruction of nature as a whole. The unfortunate lack of gratitude seen through human activities such as poaching, trophy hunting, natural resource extraction, and deforestation is important. It needs to be understood that we cannot take from the Earth continuously and expect to always have viable and sustainable resources for the billions of people that now monopolize this world as one species.

Without understanding parts of the indigenous tribes’ ethical theories of taking only what you need and returning the gift in the form of reciprocity, we in turn will suffer the negative consequences of our actions. A concerning and very clearly anthropocentric agenda is at work, fueling only those populations deemed important. Humans are innovative thinkers, and we so clearly have the ability to come up with alternative and reusable resources that sustain us in ways that allow balance for all ecosystems and all forms of life for which the Earth is home.

Although there are many people who do care about the Earth and the impact of human population growth, I argue that the reason why we still ignorantly extract natural resources from the earth and other species who also rely on them is because of our lack of education on the matter. If more people were informed about protecting the environment, the vast number of species that we share this earth with, and corrupt corporations, there would be more support for environmental conservation. With the rise of technology and other developments, we are relying on other modes of innovation and problem solving, instead of doing it ourselves, as the world’s natural resources are under the control and scrutiny of corrupt corporations based on money and political power. While this is helping our species thrive in the short term, we are not looking at the long-term destruction of ecosystems and species. A realistic solution to this matter would be to designate specific geographical areas for human use and to preserve land for native animals and ecosystems.

Most cats are solitary, although lions are the only social cats due to differing ecological factors such as ancient competition between hyenas, leopards, and humans for being the top predator in their environment. All three big cat species serve key ecological roles in their surrounding ecosystems because each plays the role of apex predator in their environment. The term “predator” often carries a negative connotation; however, these animals hold the balance for the entire food webs in their ecosystems. All three are keystone species that play a crucial role in their environment, and without their maintaining, the ecosystem would fall apart in a domino effect.  The consequentialist moral theory can be applied to the situation: the consequences from the destruction we are causing to wildlife and the environment are net-negative. With the anthropocentric era running other species into extinction, we experience the irreversible negative consequences of our actions.

In a society driven by money and political power, deforestation and poaching are extremely economicaly valuable. We often place economic value on materialistic items as determined by their demand. The black market economic value of wildlife products is a major problem. The international wildlife trade brings in 19 billion dollars a year. Non-human animal parts are seen as more valuable in this anthropocentric world than their true value in nature. We should view animals as having intrinsic worth because they are on this Earth to experience their lives in species-specific ways. They shouldn’t be viewed as having solely instrumental value to humans because animals are not here for human control.

These animals are not only being killed, but are also experiencing death in horrifying and unethical ways. For example, tigers are poached mainly for their fur, as it is a statement of wealth and popularity to humans, although every part of the body is sold at extreme prices. Because the direct economic value significantly decreases when there is a bullet hole in the coat of a tiger, poachers use snares, which the animal usually steps in and then bleeds out for hours, while suffering an extremely elongated, painful, and degrading death. This isn’t a concern to the parties participating in the sale of this animal on the black market due to the driving force of money. This is an example of how some humans will so clearly choose economic value over respect and appreciation of wildlife. Traditional Chinese medicine is a major driver for black market wildlife products, but the medicinal benefit, if any, that humans receive comes at too high a moral cost in the form of the loss we are causing of these species. Fueled by poaching, tigers are suffering tremendously due to the traditional Chinese medicine, which ascribes value to different parts of their bodies. Tiger soup and tiger wine both go for exceedingly expensive prices on the black-market. Money is fueled by both wants and needs; however, black-market trade is largely based on perceived wants and not real needs. Long-term consequences of whole species extinctions, running out of precious natural resources, and reduced air quality due to deforestation clearly are not taken into account.

I do have faith in the human race that if we are able to educate and spread awareness to the reality of this market; demand would decrease, which in turn would cause poaching to decrease. Many geographic regions of the world have developed more conservation-minded measures such as ecotourism instead of poaching or trophy hunting, which is important for biodiversity sustainability. The tiger, jaguar, and lion are suffering at the expense of poaching. Having these apex predators within and near agricultural zones is economically detrimental to the human societies living in the same area. By fragmenting these species’ habitats, they are forced to find food elsewhere, as this directly impacts their natural prey availability. More lions, tigers, and jaguars are being poached due to their growing appearances at forest edges that were once their territories and are now being overtaken by anthropocentric demands. In developing parts of the world such as Africa, Asia, and South America, crop and and livestock loss are a huge problem, as economic systems are not as strong in the first place. But we often overlook the fact that wildlife and biodiversity loss is a far bigger problem, as this can lead to whole ecosystems collapsing. While agriculture helps meet human needs, we cannot replace these resources at the same rate that we are reducing them.

Money fuels everything in an anthropocentric world. Although non-human animals do not use our money, they do use other types of exchange that have similar influence on their lives. An example of this is mutualism, in which both organisms involved directly benefit from one another. We cannot experience the daily challenges that they do, nor can we relate at all in some respects. The wild is a harsh place, and the circle of life is an important part of ecosystem prosperity. In an anthropocentric ethical approach, the environment is merely a “factor of production,” but the environment has not only fueled our economic values and wealth, but has given every single living organism on this planet a chance for life. The lands, oceans, rich fauna, and biodiversity of the world naturally produce healthy ecosystems for all organisms to live in, so the environment is not merely a factor of production, but an invitation to life. Although human economics are driven by the production, distribution, and consumption of specific goods and services that are needed by the human population at that time, “economy” should not be subjected to an anthropocentric meaning only. Non-human animals are diverse and unique, and despite all that is known about them, their lives still remain a mystery. We cannot afford to lose them as a consequence of the greed that clouds our economic decision-making.

When viewing wildlife poaching and deforestation, differing social and cultural views should be acknowledged. Human cultures can provide reasons as to why people take destructive and sometimes irreversible measures in poaching and deforestation. Cultural and social norms differ in interesting ways around the world, reflecting how societies participate in deforestation and poaching. Many regions of the world highly involved in these anthropocentric dominations are underdeveloped countries with weak political, social, and economic power. Stakeholders in developing countries involved in these detrimental actions are highly influenced by the struggle for survival; so nations of the world with developed social and political systems cannot expect to completely understand the motivations to poach and deforest, due to the vast difference in wealth. I truly feel privileged to be given a life where I have the ability to make my own decisions, have rights and the availability of employment, food, water, and shelter. This privilege is not the case for many people in countries where the lion, tiger, and jaguar live. The desire to feed your starving children would influence any person to poach and deforest if these were their only options to support their families. That is why developed nations such as the United States need to step up their involvement and awareness with the rest of the world and the global issues that keep expanding.

However, it should be noted that more developed and stronger countries such as China and the United States also have an effect and are also supportive of some of these actions. In both the jaguar’s home in the Amazon rainforest and the lion’s home in the African Serengeti, ecologically appropriate cultural practices and the last native indigenous tribes who have maintained coexisting relationships with these big cat species are dwindling due to deforestation by outside forces. Indigenous societal narratives state that white people dominated the natural world. We have collectively developed a strong and dangerous aspect of personality to the point that we think we can control any landscape, natural resource, or living creature. This is extremely skewed and has led us into the Anthropocene epoch.

If we treat nature with respect and let nature run its course, we would see an undisrupted cyclic and balanced Earth. However, this is unrealistic in today’s world, so we now have to monitor and manage animals and the environment in an effort to help save them. We should strive to find ways to save nature while being minimally invasive. An example of this is camera traps. Camera traps effectively provide biologists and animal experts a non-intruding and close-up experience into the lives of a variety of animals including tigers, lions, and jaguars.

Humans are the most invasive species, as poaching and deforestation persist at a disturbing rate. Non-human animals represent the way in which all beings on the Earth should persist, with each species participating in their ecosystem in a balanced manner. Instead of destroying the environment and the incredible species that live within, humans should learn from non-human animals and their appreciation of and reciprocity with the natural world. Although humans are often considered to be the superior species, the ignorance involved in the current destruction of our natural world casts doubt on this narrative. If we were the most sophisticated species on this planet, then we would be able to recognize the present and future negative environmental consequences of poaching and deforestation.

Human land usage can be justified for agriculture. However, land usage affects resource availability for all species. The answer is not poaching and deforestation. The answer is finding a balance with wildlife, appreciating all that they do, and sharing prosperity on this Earth. Natural resources are not limitless, and as a human population, it is critical that we recognize the implications of exploiting natural resources at the rapid rate that we are. The lion, tiger, and jaguar are three extremely valuable big cat species that we cannot afford to lose. They play crucial roles in their ecosystems as keystone species and help to keep their ecosystems balanced. However, these animals also need their natural prey to sustain them. Human-wildlife conflicts often are a consequence of thinking we can dominate and control the living requirements of other species. Their predation is instinctual, and so they should not be punished for the immeasurable amount of intrusion that humans play in their everyday lives, as poaching and deforestation are increasing. However, if we know wild animals are eating domestic animals who exist in ranges in their previous territory, we should know that they don’t do this out of resentment, but out of hunger. We do not take enough responsibility for our actions and instead rely on finding scapegoats to blame. Because of this dodging of responsibility, we need to move away from anthropocentric theories, as they will only lead us to destruction of the environment, other species, and eventually our own. We should be compassionate, aware, and empathetic toward the strain we have caused on the Earth. Our brains are smart enough to feel these things; the application of our emotions to our lives is just the hardest part.

Going forward, as we try to address the time-sensitive issues of deforestation and poaching, we should recall that humans are just another animal species coexisting on Earth. Humans are not separate from nature, but a part of it. We are not superior to other animals or natural lands, but should simply coexist with them. We have a responsibility to respectfully recognize the true beauty and intrinsic worth of nature, as it has a value that goes far beyond human usage. Its highest value does not exist in its degradation or of natural resource extraction, but in its pristine and untouched state. By taking an indigenous ethical approach informed by the overwhelmingly negative consequences of deforestation and poaching, we can begin to properly understand the importance of these species and ecosystems for maintaining a balanced world. From the grace of weather patterns, to the simplicity and peace found in nature, to the sophistication of the different species of the animal kingdom and the many different cultures, beliefs and lifestyles that we have, we must remember that we are all connected, and all in this together.



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