National Geographic's Quest to Save the King of the Jungle

Anyone who grew up watching lions prowl the African grasslands on National Geographic may struggle to think of such beasts as in danger. Whether it's watching them take down a gazelle or just hearing that deep rumbling growl, the big cats of the world seem almost mythical.

But many species of big cats, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, and leopards, are in serious trouble, with numbers plummeting in the face of human population growth. Fortunately, National Geographic does more than document the natural wonders of the world — it funds programs to save them, with a major initiative to save endangered big cats.

The National Geographic Society has been around since 1888, and is one of the largest nonprofit science and education organizations in the world. It boasts a membership of 8.5 million, and is a household name for its television documentaries, magazines, and research and exploration programs. The familiar yellow spine can be spotted on bookshelves and in bathroom magazine racks across the world. (See National Geographic Foundation: Grants for Animals and Wildlife).

The society gives out grants in a handful of areas, including for conservation, exploration, and research awards. But its main wildlife grant program is the Big Cats Initiative. Grants go to field-based conservationists, educators, students, researchers, and advocates, and projects it funds include anti-poaching programs, testing new technology, and educational projects. The program's tagline is "Cause an Uproar," as a big part of the goal is to raise awareness to the problem.

And it is a frightening problem. The highest priority of the program is halting the decline of lions and cheetahs. According to the initiative, lions that at one point were in the millions now may total a mere 20,000. The initiative's goal is to stop the decline by 2015 and then start to restore populations. National Geographic will work with nonprofits, corporations, community groups, and individuals to do so.

The organization clearly knows how to keep the initiative going strong, as it recently started to channel the unstoppable power of cat pictures on the Internet. The Little Kitties for Big Cats program invites donors to make $5 donations to post photos of their cats on the initiative website.

To see photos of the adorable Snickers, Spunxz, and Charlie (and learn about grants to save lions), visit National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.