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Experts: Big cats may be extinct in 20 years

The populations of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs and other big cats have decreased dramatically in the past 50 years and experts warn that they may die out altogether in the next 20 if nothing is done to stop it, USA Today reports.

Many of these cats are national symbols, but also play an extremely significant role in their respective ecosystems as predators, the news source reports. Biologists have documented that removing top predators from their habitats leads prey numbers to explode. The high numbers of the prey strip vegetation and later die of illnesses and starvation.

"Ecologically, focusing on protecting top predators just makes sense," John Robinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo told the news source. "Protect them, and you are protecting the habitat for everything else."

National Geographic has undertaken a project to save big cats in the wild. The program will support on-the-ground conservation initiatives in education and economic incentives as well as a global public awareness campaign, according to its website.

"We no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to big cats,” Dereck Joubert, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence told the news outlet. "They are in such a downward spiral that if we hesitate now, we will be responsible for extinctions across the globe." 
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