Jaguar conservation in a country as expansive as Brazil is a significant challenge. There are three regional factors that require special consideration in jaguar conservation strategies in order to foster the greatest chance of achieving meaningful success for species survival.
First, the varied and frequently controversial interactions of jaguars with people across the country have led to distinct human perceptions and prejudices. For example, in some areas there are deep-seeded legends which have created a reputation of the jaguar as a deadly threat to people and livelihood whereby it should be shot on sight. In other regions, local people apply an almost spiritual cultural respect for the cat and strive for suitable ways to coexist with it. These powerful preconceptions suggest that there is a need to vary and adapt multiple management and conservation strategies depending on the regional opinions and experiences of local people toward the species.
Second, the jaguar is a nationally protected endangered species in Brazil, but it is virtually impossible to practice law enforcement over ranchers that retaliate against jaguars suspected of predating cattle. The vastness of jaguar range in the Amazon, Cerrado and Pantanal regions, where privately owned properties average around 15,000 hectares, prohibits any practical law enforcement approaches. Most real or alleged jaguar-human conflicts are solved by vigilante killings that go unreported. With about 85% of Brazil’s wilderness in private lands, conservationists will need to employ creative tools such as compensation schemes for cattle losses, or government incentives for maintaining habitat suitable for jaguars, to sustain healthy jaguar populations on these important lands.
Third, although there is still an abundance of habitat favorable to jaguars in the Amazon, and on a smaller scale in some portions of the Pantanal, Brazil is witnessing an explosion of anthropogenic activities such as agriculture and cattle ranching which are drastically reducing jaguar populations in key habitats such as the Cerrado, Caatinga and the Atlantic Forest, the latter of which is on the verge of extinction already. These compromised areas still hold remnant populations of jaguars that will be essential for the long-term survival of the cat, and therefore they must not only be preserved, but they must be connected with real conservation corridors protected from non-compatible uses and unsustainable development.
Despite the many challenges to the survival of the jaguar in Brazil, it is home to half of the species’ current global distribution. If jaguars are to thrive in the wild they will depend heavily on this nation. With this in mind, long-term comprehensive conservation strategies must be planned and put into practice rapidly in Brazil. Without dramatic and sustained conservation efforts for jaguars throughout Brazil, this cat will eventually suffer the same level of endangerment as other large cats such as cheetahs, tigers and snow leopards.
The challenge before the conservation community is to balance all perceptions and attitudes towards the jaguar, and create an equilibrium that can enable the species to thrive on private and public lands, using metapopulation planning with conservation corridors to ensure the future of the jaguar in Brazil.
This special issue of Cat News will explore how researchers and conservationists in Brazil are working to meet the three primary challenges to regional jaguar conservation. I would like to thank everyone who participated and collaborated with us on this issue. Jaguar Conservation Fund owes special thank to the Memphis Zoo, USA, for supporting this issue, and the Monsanto Fund for the help with the organization of the 1st workshop about Distribution, Management and Conservation of the Jaugar in Brazil in 2007, for which large parts of the data presented here were compiled. I hope the articles in this issue can be an enhancement to your own conservation efforts, but more importantly, that you will be inspired to become part of the team of global researchers, specialists, conservationists, professionals, and volunteers devoted to protecting this magnificent animal.
Leandro Silveira, Ph.D
President Jaguar Conservation Fund / Instituto Onça-Pintada
Jaguar Distribution in Brazil: Past, Present and Future by N. M. Tôrres, P. De Marco Jr., J. A. F. Diniz Filho and L. Silveira
Historically, jaguars lived from southern Argentina to the southwestern United States, but due to anthropogenic pressure, their range has been reduced to less than 46% of its original size. As almost half of this area is within Brazilian territory, the country is key to future jaguar conservation. Knowledge of geographic distribution has been recognized as an important issue to support conservation plans, and recently, climatic change has been shown to influence species distribution. This study estimated potential jaguar distribution using ecological niche modeling. We accumulated 1,049 jaguar occurrence points and used climate and topographic data as predictive variables. We employed the Mahalanobis Distance Method to produce a historical and future distribution map, considering values for current and future climate, respectively. To estimate current jaguar distribution, we restricted the historical distribution according to the jaguar’s preferred habitat classes. While range of distribution changed little from current to future climate, the extent of more suitable areas was reduced. Areas with high predicted future suitability are currently under habitat conversion. Comparison of these maps enables the identification of important areas for jaguar conservation in Brazil.
Comparative Ecology of Jaguars in Brazil by S. Astete, R. Sollmann and L. Silveira
To understand the ecology of the jaguar in Brazil, we compared its diet, home range, abundance, activity patterns and habitat use among biomes, using the existing literature. Jaguars preferably feed on medium to large sized prey, but can adapt to the existing fauna in the different biomes. Mean home ranges vary from 49.4 km2 (females, Pantanal) to 265 km2 (males, Cerrado). Density values range from 2.00 individuals/100km2 in the Cerrado to 6.7 individuals/100km2 in the Pantanal. In general, jaguars show a preferably crepuscular-nocturnal activity, but can also be active during the day. Across the different biomes, the species uses more closed vegetation associated with water and avoids agriculture and pasture lands. While there is still a lack of studies in the Amazon, Cerrado and the Caatinga, the results provide insight into the species’ adaptability, as well as baseline information for landscape scale jaguar conservation efforts.
Jaguar Conservation in Brazil: The Role of Protected Areas by R. Sollmann, N. Mundim Tôrres and L. Silveira
Brazil holds 50% of the jaguar’s current range, much of it centring in the Amazon basin, which has long been considered the species’ stronghold. Jaguars also range across four other biomes of Brazil (Cerrado, Caatinga, Pantanal and Atlantic Forest). We estimated jaguar population size for reserves and indigenous lands > 100km² using biome-specific density estimates. These results informed a population viability analysis (PVA) to assess the potential of the protected areas system for jaguar conservation in the five biomes. Mean protected area and jaguar population size varied significantly among biomes: the Atlantic Forest biome had the smallest and the Amazon forest biome the largest mean area and mean population sizes (431 km² and 10 individuals, and 10,993 km² and 311 individuals, respectively). Based on the PVA, jaguar populations >85 individuals were viable for > 200 years. These populations accounted for 90% of all protected jaguars, but are mostly restricted to the Amazon biome. In the other biomes, ≥ 50 % of populations were viable for up to 10 years only. Only in the Amazon are protected areas alone large enough to have the potential for long-term jaguar conservation. In other more fragmented biomes, landscape-scale conservation will be essential to sustain jaguar populations over the long term.
Humans and Jaguars in Five Brazilian Biomes: Same Country, Different Perceptions by F. Rodrigues dos Santos and L Silveira
Human perceptions of and attitudes towards wildlife are important aspects of conservation as they indicate and reflect potential impacts on species populations. This study focused on identifying perceptions of the jaguar within local communities in five Brazilian biomes (Caatinga, Cerrado, Pantanal, Amazon and Atlantic Forest) using interviews for adolescents and adults, and thematic drawings for children. The majority of the public interviewed was in favor of jaguar conservation. In general, people presented positive perceptions and values of the jaguar, although there were differences between the biomes in perception of the species and values attributed towards it. Children’s perceptions did not necessarily reflect that of the adults across the biomes. Results highlight the need for regionalized programs addressing the human aspect of jaguar conservation.
Domestic Livestock Predation by Jaguars in Brazil by L. Silveira, R. Boulhosa and S. Astete
Like other large predators, jaguars can prey on domestic livestock and are often killed in retaliation to this. The management of this conflict is not an easy task, as appropriate management measures depend on local landscape characteristics, herd husbandry practices, and the scale of the problem, as well as social situation and culture. In Brazil, the conflict between jaguars and ranchers has a considerable impact on jaguar populations. A lack of governmental help does not alleviate the problem. Here, the applicability of techniques used worldwide to manage the conflict between large predators and humans to examine management options for the jaguar-rancher conflict across the country‘s different biomes is evaluated. Major conflict zones in Brazil are mapped. Property zoning is recommended for the Amazon and smaller properties in the Pantanal. For the Caatinga, Atlantic Forest and partially the Cerrado, smaller scale approaches like guard animals or electric fences are applicable. Major conflict zones are located in the northwest of Brazil. Apart from the technical challenge, there is a political issue that must be tackled, namely, ascertaining who is responsible for developing and executing control measures for predator-human conflict in the country.
Supporting Online Material:
Appenidx I. Description of conflict control measures
Jaguar Conservtaion Genetics by E. Eizirik, T. Haag, A. S. Santos, F. M. Salzano, L. Silveira, F. C. C. Azevedo and M. M. Furtado
Information on genetic aspects of jaguar populations is still scarce. Initial studies have surveyed genetic diversity parameters and assessed the geographic differentiation among individuals on a continental or sub-continental scale, but so far little has been accomplished with respect to investigating regional or local jaguar populations. Moreover, different studies have employed different sets of molecular markers, posing potential problems for the future development of comparative analyses across study sites and ecosystems. Here we review the current status of jaguar genetic studies, present a new set of microsatellite markers that may be useful for jaguar population genetic studies, and survey the molecular diversity of two adjacent wild jaguar populations, sampled in the Brazilian Pantanal region. Our results suggest that this set of markers is highly efficient for jaguar genetic studies, and that moderate to high levels of variability are present in wild jaguar populations, at least in the surveyed areas of the Pantanal. This contribution may be useful as a review of jaguar genetics, as well as a baseline empirical work that might support future in-depth investigations of these and other free-ranging populations of this felid.
Diseases and Their Role for Jaguar Conservation by M. M. Furtado and C. Filoni
Recent declines in free-ranging wildlife populations have highlighted the potentially devastating effect of infectious disease. Diseases are an increasing threat to wild felids due to habitat restriction and encroachment from domestic animals. Domestic animals can directly or indirectly enter in contact with natural felid populations, potentially disseminating pathogens and altering disease patterns. Although wildlife populations can have the ability to cope with perturbations such as diseases, the relative increase in mortality and morbidity in dwindling populations and the introduction of new pathogens can exert important effects on demography, creating great concern for any endangered species. However, the potential role of diseases in wild carnivore populations is still poorly understood, and this is especially true for the jaguar Panthera onca.
Studying Jaguars in the Wild: Past Experiences and Future Perspectives by M. M. Furtado, S. E. Carrillo-Percastegui, A. T. A. Jácomo, G. Powell, L. Silveira, C. Vynne and R. Sollmann
Jaguars have been studied in the wild since the late 1970’s. However, compared with other large cat species, jaguars are still one of the least known. We describe capture methodologies and study methods used in jaguar research, their application, advantages and disadvantages. Over the years, capture methodologies have improved, primarily in relation to safety measures. Telemetry studies are shifting from VHF to GPS systems with the capacity to collect more information on the species. Among non-invasive methodologies, camera trapping is used to study jaguar density and feces collected with the help of detector dogs can provide information on diet, genetics, health and hormonal status. With improving methodologies and more published information about their applicability, studying jaguars in the wild will hopefully become less challenging.