Jaguars in Mexico are on the rise, a promising sign that conservation strategies are working

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This article is written by Guananí Gómez-Van Cortright and has been reprinted with permission from Mongabay.

Kali the Destroyer, CC license

Mexico’s jaguar population increased by around 800 animals from 2010 to 2018, according to the first two censuses of the elusive carnivores ever taken in the country. The news confirms that Mexico’s national strategy to protect jaguars is working, researchers recently reported in the journal PLOS A.

“It was amazing to see jaguars in so many places where there were none before,” said environmentalist Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, founder of the Mexican National Alliance for jaguar conservation and lead author of the article.

The Jaguar (Panthera onca), listed by IUCN as Near Threatened, extends from northern Mexico to Central America, the Amazon Basin and northern Argentina. Conservationists had never properly counted jaguars in Mexico before, making it difficult to design a conservation program in the iconic cat’s northernmost ranges. The alliance created by Ceballos and his colleagues used the results of the first Mexican jaguar census in 2010 to create a national strategy endorsed by government policies and scientists.

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“It’s very important,” said Ronaldo Gonçalves Morato, jaguar researcher, director of the National Predator Center at Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade in Brazil, who was not involved in the study. “They link science to conservation plans. This can be a good role model for researchers, not only when working with jaguars, but also with any other big cats or other critically endangered species.

Ceballos and a team of 20 conservationists across the country collected data from camera traps to determine where jaguars lived and how many roamed each of the country’s protected conservation regions. Then they created a plan to tackle the most critical issues affecting Mexico’s jaguars: preserving wildlife corridors and sanctuaries; advocate for useful laws and public policies; and avoid or resolve conflicts with livestock owners.

For example, the government paid people living near protected areas not to deforest sanctuaries, compensated them for livestock losses due to jaguar predation, and provided electric fences to keep jaguars from falling. kill cattle. The efforts on the ground have paid off.

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“Local people have been critical,” Ceballos told Mongabay. “When they have the funding and the incentives to protect the forest, they become the most important ally. “

Ceballos expected jaguar populations to stay the same or decline between 2010 and 2018. Instead, the estimated number increased by 20%, from around 4,000 to 4,800 animals. Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is home to around 2,000 jaguars, with others distributed throughout the country’s coastal and inland habitats. Brazil is now home to the largest continuous habitat of jaguars, with an estimated population of over 10,000 individuals.

Going forward, the National Alliance for Jaguar Conservation will focus on key threats, especially conflict with humans and habitat loss.

Morato notes that other wildlife and ecosystems will benefit from these efforts.

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“The jaguar is an umbrella species,” Morato told Mongabay. “They need a large area, so if we are to protect a viable population of jaguars with at least 50 individuals, we will have many other protected species. [within that area]. “

In 2022, the Mexican government and the National Alliance for the Conservation of the Jaguar plan to expand the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in the southern Yucatan Peninsula from 723,185 hectares to over 1.3 million hectares of land. , making Calakmul the largest protected tropical forest north of the Orinoco River. all motivated by the conservation of the jaguar.

“It’s very unusual for scientists to be able to do all of these things: research, awareness, conservation and public policy,” Ceballos said. “And in Mexico, we were able to do it. “

(LOOK a jaguar and calf in Mexico captured on camera.)

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