A case study from the Mexican Caribbean – sciencedaily

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Mahahual is a small fishing village in the Mexican Caribbean that welcomes large numbers of tourists every year. Over the past 15 years, its population has grown rapidly and as a result people have started to settle in areas far from the main center of the village, sometimes encroaching on the habitats of jaguars. Since most of these people keep guard dogs on their properties, jaguars have taken advantage of this by wandering around people’s homes at night, and sometimes these dogs end up serving as a nighttime snack for the big cats.

Unlike attacks by jaguars on livestock, attacks and predation on other domestic species such as dogs have only been documented anecdotally (through interviews or from remains found in feces). Such attacks can indeed lead to pet predation conflicts, which can ultimately have a negative impact on jaguar populations. Attachment to pets can cause humans to start killing big cats, which is of particular concern for an endangered species like the jaguar. Additionally, it is possible that a wide range of pathogens could be transmitted from dogs to jaguars, further threatening the health of jaguar populations in Mahahual.

This is why a multidisciplinary team made up of veterinarians, environmentalists, locals, NGOs (Aak Mahahual AC and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)) and researchers (El Colegio de la Frontera Sur and Universidad Tecnológica de Calakmul ), led by Dr Jonathan Pérez Flores, began investigating the occurrence of jaguar predation and dog attacks at the Mexican Caribbean tourist site almost 10 years ago. Their research has just been published in the open access journal Neotropical biology and conservation.

According to their report, the behavior of the Mahahual jaguars resembles that of Indian leopards, who once made dogs an important part of their diet, preferring them to cattle. Jaguars and leopards typically attack from a blind side, biting dogs on the neck or head to avoid counterattacks. Like leopards, jaguars attack at night and kill more dogs during the dry season. This is probably due to the fact that it is easier for jaguars to hunt dogs than their natural prey: armadillo, plains paca, brook deer, white-tailed deer. In addition, the latter are less available during the dry season.

In 2017, the people of Mahahual partnered with Aak Mahahual AC and IFAW to build protective wooden and wire mesh night houses to protect dogs at night. So far, they have built 38 of these houses to prevent jaguar attacks. The sterilization and vaccination campaigns have also intensified since the end of 2020 to prevent the transmission of diseases between the two species.

Thanks to this study, we now have a better understanding of the adaptability and persistence of jaguars in human-dominated landscapes and the impact of canine predation by jaguars. However, the authors call for more research in the area to help paint the full picture.

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