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News from the field: Jaguar Conservation Fund

Posted by: Bobbi Miller, Field Conservation

Female jaguar, Nayla, at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

To look at a jaguar—its massive jaws, its muscular body—one would think nothing could take it down. But the jaguar faces very real threats: man-made ones. Threatened in its native Americas, the jaguar is declining in numbers due to loss of habitat and conflict with humans. The two issues are connected, as hungry jaguars living in reduced habitats wander into human-occupied land in search of food, particularly in the form of cattle ranches.

Jaguar Cove exhibit at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thanks to a generous bequest, the Jaguar Conservation Fund was established in 2003 by Woodland Park Zoo to support field conservation efforts for jaguars. The Fund’s goal is to support projects that lead directly to conservation of jaguars and their habitat by incorporating conservation, education, and research components, along with strong connections to communities living with jaguars. Projects must clearly demonstrate that their work will lead to long-term jaguar survival in the wild. Each year a total of $10,000 is awarded to deserving programs.

For 2012 three grants were awarded, and this update features two of those programs and what they’re currently working on in the field.

Viviendo con Felinos: Community and Conservation Living with FelinesNorthern Jaguar Project, Sonora, Mexico

The foothills of the Sierra Madre in central Sonora are home to the world’s northernmost population of jaguars. For hundreds of years, ranchers have used this remote region to graze cattle, with human-wildlife conflicts resulting in the decline of the feline population. Non-sustainable ranching practices have impacted valuable wildlife habitat and threatened ecosystems shared by jaguars and many other species, such as migratory birds, native amphibians, and a diverse assortment of mammals, reptiles and flora.

The Northern Jaguar Project works with ranchers that have land adjacent to the 50,000-acre Northern Jaguar Reserve. The participating ranchers sign agreements to protect wildlife in exchange for the chance to earn rewards for motion-triggered photos taken on their properties of the four feline species in the region: jaguars, mountain lions, bobcats and ocelots. In addition, the ranchers participate in restoration activities and learn more about wildlife preservation. Just this year a 227-acre cattle-exclusion zone was erected at Babaco—one of the newest participating ranches. This cattle exclusion zone not only protects the sensitive habitat from the constant impact of the livestock grazing, but it provides an undisturbed space where jaguar prey can thrive —reducing the potential for cattle predation. Since the fence went up in May, there have been no reports of cattle predation in the area.

Ferb and Libelula at Duraral in May 2012. Photo courtesy of Northern Jaguar Project.

Exciting photos continue to come in via the remote cameras on the ranchers' land. Recently photos of a male (Ferb) and female (Libelula) jaguar have been taken with the pair together on five separate occasions. Libelula was seen on two of the participating ranches in August showing signs of pregnancy. Since that time the photographs have been shown to several jaguar biologists who all agree that the photo indicates she is lactating, having already given birth to a cub. The hope is that sometime in the next year she, and her cub, will make their way past one of the cameras, reinforcing the work that the Northern Jaguar Project is doing to rebuild this crucial northernmost jaguar population.

Libelula at Los Alisos, photo from August 2012. Courtesy of Northern Jaguar Project.

Wildlife Conservation Society: Reducing human-jaguar conflicts in the outskirts of the Maya Biosphere Reserve – Guatemala

In the southern buffer zone (Zona de Amortiguamiento – ZAM) of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, human activities often overlap with or abut jaguar habitat—increasing the potential for human-jaguar conflicts. The conflicts, typically a result of poor livestock practices, lead to tension between ranching communities and governmental authorities, impeding the potential for collaboration and long-term advances in conservation and sustainable management. Recently, in the community of Macanche, a jaguar was blamed for the loss of livestock and killed. That led to a standoff between local ranchers and community members, the National Police and wildlife protection authorities. In an effort to address these issues, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is working with Macanche community members through the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA)—lending credibility to the program and instilling confidence in the community members.

Training MAGA technicians about the livestock-jaguar conflict. Photo courtesy of WCS.

MAGA was successful in obtaining permission for WCS to participate in a joint MAGA/community activity in October. At this meeting, WCS was able to begin work with ranchers, engaging them in ideas about jaguar-livestock conflict resolution, and providing residents with 3,000 tree seedlings commonly used as forage for livestock. This gesture should go a long way towards establishing a viable and productive working relationship between WCS and local community members, with the ultimate goal of protecting and preserving crucial jaguars and habitat. In addition, WCS, through the partnership with MAGA, will participate in the “Mesa Agroforestal del MAGA,” sharing jaguar conservation messages, working on training workshops and establishing new technologies like foraging banks in selected ranches.


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