Botswana leopards reveal bushfires just tip of extinction crisis

Thursday, 14 May 2020

After spending time in Botswana conducting research on leopards, Associate Professor Matthew Hayward has revealed that humanity is at a critical point when it comes to the global biodiversity crisis.

A leopard

Speaking to The Newcastle Herald, Associate Professor Hayward, a conservation specialist from the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, says countries like Australia must act now or risk devastating and potentially irreversible ecological damage.

“Many countries have the wealth to adequately address the biodiversity crisis, but we need the political will to do so," he said.

"Australia's bushfires reinforced this point - so many species are hanging over a precipice of mankind's making."

At least one billion plants, animals and insects are estimated to have perished in bushfires which ravaged Australia over the summer. However, the nation already had one of the highest rates of extinction of any country in the world.

According to Associate Professor Hayward, understanding how leopards co-exist with other apex predators in Botswana gives researchers an understanding of "what to expect in simpler systems like Australia".

"It also helps us understand the mechanisms these species use to avoid costly encounters with potentially dangerous prey," he said.

"If a leopard can co-exist in Africa alongside lions, hyenas, cheetahs and wild dogs, surely a fox can do so in Australia alongside dingoes,” he said.

Associate Professor Hayward said large, effectively protected areas were "critical to the conservation of large predators".

Leopards are listed as a vulnerable species. Associate Professor Hayward’s work on leopards has recently appeared in two academic papers.​

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