Cape Town – World Wildlife Day (WWD) has been around since 2013 when it was first proclaimed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Not only does it celebrate the protection of our animals, but it also raises awareness around the conservation of plant biodiversity.

This year the theme is ‘Big Cats: Predators under threat’. This includes not only our local lions, cheetahs, leopards and caracals but also tigers, snow leopards, jaguar and pumas across most continents.

Their species survival is constantly under threat due to losing their habitats and ranges, hunting, poaching, climate change and smuggling across the world. Their populations have plummeted, some over 95% in the last 100 years, and it is important to continue the fight for their conservation.

Here are 5 ways you can celebrate WWD and spread awareness of these kings of the jungle.

Overnight in a lion sanctuary

There are a few captive lion sanctuaries around South Africa, where big cats who cannot be reintroduced to the wild spend the rest of their days in comfort. Drakenstein Lion Park near Paarl is one of these homes and lets the public come look at the lions and caracals during feeding times. Some were illegally captured in the wild, while others come from closed down zoos, circuses and rescued from the illegal pet trade and canned lion hunting industries.

For the more adventurous, you can also stay over in a tented camp and ‘sleep with the lions’ for R750 per adult sharing, and R500 per child. You can even adopt a lion with the money going towards their care.

Take a walk with wild cheetahs

Our national parks are filled with all kinds of big cats – from lions to cheetahs to leopards – so a drive through your nearest SANParks is a great way to spend WWD.

And you don’t have to go to problematic wildlife interaction centres to get up close to a big cat. The Mountain Zebra National Park in Eastern Cape offers cheetah walks alongside trained rangers for R400 per person. This gives you the opportunity to view game outside of the confines of a vehicle, and the ranger tracks their collared cheetahs while keeping you safe.

DON’T do cub petting

The canned lion hunting industry is a sore point in South Africa’s conservation circles, and most lion cubs used in tourist interactions are bred for this hunting industry. South African Tourism encourages tourists to avoid visiting breeding farms and captive facilities that offer animal interaction experiences.

Instead, why not learn more about the industry by watching the iconic documentary Blood Lions? It’s part of an active campaign to ban the practice in South Africa. You can either order the DVD online for R50 or rent it on Vimeo for about R40.

Throw wild party

WWD is a great reason to throw a party, and with Big Cats as a theme everyone can get out their faux leopard prints and lion manes for a roaring good time.

You can go either sexy or cute, and serve up some safari-themed cupcakes and braai meat for the carnivores, and even take up a collection to donate to your favourite wildlife organisation. If you’re hosting a big event, remember to register it on the WWD website so others in your area can join in the festivities.

Donate and spread awareness

Many big cat sanctuaries and wildlife organisations are dependent on donations by the public to continue looking after rescued animals, rehabilitation and fighting for their rights in the media and in the courts.

Besides donating, you can also share awareness on your social media platforms and talk to your friends and family about the plight of wildlife in the world. People only start caring when they understand the issues, and we need to make sure that future generations are able to see our Big Cats in the wild, and not only in history books.

Blood Lions and Humane Society International will be going live on their social media of a pride of wild lions at Makalali Private Game Reserve to show how our Big Cats should be viewed – out in the wild!