Big Cat Selfies for #GivingTuesday

A young cub tests the waters and the response of one of our cameras. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)

There’s not much that animals can do to ask for help from us humans. Hopefully though, our finer instincts will kick in when when we see these animals firsthand. If animals could somehow get themselves seen more, maybe humans could manage to help more.

Enter the Big Cat Selfie.

This #GivingTuesday, in support of the UN Foundation’s efforts to foster a day of concentrated donating to worthy causes, people around the world are posting photos with captions or signs spreading the word about the issues they’re willing to make a sacrifice for, and tagging them #UNselfie.

Since it is also Big Cat Week, National Geographic’s focus is on our Big Cats Initiative and so we present a collection of  inadvertent selfies taken by the lions of Tanzania (you can also simply donate to the Big Cats Initiative directly).

(Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)
Without the visual medium of the Internet (or opposable thumbs for that matter), lions maintain frequent long-distance communication by way of their renowned roaring, even in the dark. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)

By Amy Dickman, Big Cats Initiative Grantee

These are some of the “big cat selfies” that our team has captured on camera-traps in Tanzania’s Ruaha landscape.

This vast landscape, covering over 20,000 square miles, is one of the most important places left in the world for lions and other big cats, as it supports a tenth of all remaining lions on earth. Lions are one of the most iconic species in the world–they were one of the first animals featured in cave paintings, and adorn everything from national flags to chocolate bars and movie credits. Because of their ubiquitous imagery, people tend to assume that their populations are secure–but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, lions are highly threatened–their numbers have dropped by around 85 percent over the past century, and they have disappeared from over 80 percent of their range. There are now only 10 large lion populations left on earth (the Ruaha landscape holding the second largest, after the Selous Game Reserve, also in southern Tanzania) so it is absolutely crucial that we conserve them in those places.

(Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)
A mature female triggers a shot that catches her mostly in her own shadow, but with a few sunny-side highlights that peek around her profile. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)
(Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)
Male lions are so old-school, they take their selfies in black and white. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Lions are threatened mainly by habitat loss and fragmentation, and conflict with local people, as much of their remaining range is outside protected areas. It is vital to know where we should focus our conservation efforts, which means understanding how species use wild landscapes. Therefore, the Ruaha Carnivore Project, in collaboration with PhD student Jeremy Cusack, is setting out remotely-triggered camera-traps across the Ruaha landscape, meaning that lions and other species essentially take selfies when they pass.

Data from this camera-trapping enables us to identify hotspots of lion presence, and target conservation initiatives there. Most of these conservation initiatives focus on resolving conflict with people–this is done by reducing attacks, providing benefits to communities from lion presence, and providing education and outreach about wildlife conservation.

(Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)
Lions’ huge size, obvious power, and (in this case) glowing eyes, can lend them a supernatural air. One look at the numbers though reveals just how normal-natural and in need of our help they are. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Cusack/Ruaha Carnivore Project)

National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative has funded extensive conflict mitigation work in the Ruaha landscape as well as many other critical landscapes for lions. This work is having significant results–lion killing has dropped by over 80 percent in the core study area around Ruaha, and the methods are being expanded over a greater area each year. This kind of work produces great benefits for both people and predators, and can only be done with your help. By supporting BCI on Giving Tuesday, you are helping to provide a lifeline for one of Africa’s most iconic species, and we thank you very much for your support.

Donate to the Big Cat Initiative. 

More About #GivingTuesday

This #GivingTuesday, National Geographic is focusing its efforts on helping to save lions tigers, cheetahs, leopards and other big cats, many of which are facing extinction in the wild.  Through the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, a comprehensive program supporting on-the-ground conservation projects, education and a global public awareness campaign, we can help restore big cat populations and habitats, ensuring long term survival for these majestic animals. More information is available at