“There is no bigger thrill then when you shoot a jaguar” says hunter Carlos Roberto Platero. He follow a trail in one of the last portions of Mata Atlântica preserved in the Ivinhema, southern part of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The dogs are Platero’s eyes in the forest. They are trained to sniff out and surround jaguars. They continue to walk until they are interrupted by a sequence of howls. The hunter then places the rifle on his back and disappears down the trail in the direction of the racket of howls. In the meters ahead, a jaguar is found on the limb of a tree. It has been surrounded and trapped by the dogs. Platero aims the rifle at the animal and one shot is all that is necessary to bring the animal down. “The hunt is over”, says.
The hunt captured a female jaguar, the third largest felid in the world. “We catch Tina”, says Laury Cullen, a forestry engineer from the IPÊ – Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Institute of Ecological Research). “We had met this jaguar before”. Laury and Platero are old friends and they have captured over than 30 jaguars together with the aid of the dogs. However, they are not traditional hunters. They do not kill animals. The shoot was a paralyzing dart that delivers an anesthesia to the animal. Tina is only sleeping.
Moving to the other side: from hunt to conservation. Carlos and his “jaguar dogs” (onceiros).
The jaguar hunt is part of a program that has been changing the way to create forest reserves in Brazil. Researchers now are able to follow the animals before drawing maps of the best areas for protection. The capture gives time for the team to place a radio collar around the neck of the jaguar that will emit radio signals to allow for the monitoring of the movement of the animal. Tina is one of the animals that is monitored from distance. The objective of capturing this particular jaguar was to change the equipment from the collar that had been installed three years ago. The data retrieved from the radio collar that is passed to a researcher’s computer reveals the paths followed by the felids. “It is as if we are asking them what are the most important regions for them to live”, says Cullen.
“Thanks to this research, we are able to understand that jaguars don’t only live in the shelter of the core of forests, but venture out quite often. Therefore, it is not unusual to see jaguars walking close to farms and cities.” With this information, the researchers are beginning to find error with the traditional way in which protected areas were chosen for creation. “The original methodology resulted in the formation of forest reserves that were isolated. True islands were protected that were very rich in biodiversity, but were very detached from other forest fragments”. The lack of a linkage between areas has been recognized as a major obstacle in the reproduction of animals and plants. “The limited genetic exchange in small populations can result in waves of extinction. Or worse, can increase the incidences of road kills in between reserves when an animal decides to migrate from one fragment to another in search of partners.”
The Jaguar as Landscape Detectives project has already helped to form a corridor of 2.500 km of forest that goes from São Paulo to Paraguay
“When we saw the maps resulting from our studies we decided to discard definitely the old school practice of create natural reserves by studies made inside offices”, notes Cullen. The new model proposed by IPÊ follows the concept of natural corridors, which are areas beyond the borders of the forest in which the animals move – including farms and edges located near roads and cities in many regions. It has taken more then ten years of research to arrive at the ideal model. As a result, the monitoring of jaguars has produced one of the largest national programs to save Mata Atlântica, the most threatened ecosystem in the country.
The first task of the researchers was to trace the continuous area that makes up the remainder of the forest throughout an area of a 2.500 km expanse. The forest corridor begins in São Paulo and follows down to the Brazil and Paraguay border. Some fragments are already conservation areas, while others must be created to piece areas together, nominated as the Biodiversity Corridor of the Upper Paraná. The concern for jaguars generates added benefits – it helps to preserve the vegetation that protects the resources of lower south and southeaster regions. The conservation acts will guarantee the water supply to southern cities where almost 55% of the Brazilian population currently lives. The research that IPÊ carries out helps to preserve other species of animals and plants as well. “We choose to place the radio-collars on the jaguars because they represent the top of the ecological food chain. By knowing where these felids circulate, you additionally know where their prey – such as peccaries and tapirs – do”, says Cullen.
Once the obstacle of connecting fragments and understanding how to conserve jaguars had been carried out, a new problem arose. How can the survival of jaguars in the region be guaranteed when they are constantly under threat from a growing human population? The first obstacle that faced was overcoming the resistance of farmers to the project. Pastoralists are historical enemies of the jaguar – after all they invade pastures and attack cattle. A jaguar can devour up to 40 one-year old calves per year. To prevent attack on their stocks, pastoralists often contract hunters. However – it was the arrival of agriculturalists to the area that transformed the landscape, adding cattle to a jaguars list of possible prey. The extent of deforestation that arose from the formation of pastures caused small animals that could not easily disperse to other fragments to disappear, shifting cattle to being a protein source for these large felids. “I have already hunted and killed many jaguars for pastoralists in the Pantanal”, says Platero. “But now I only work with the researchers – I peruse the hunt with the same thrill even though the animal is not killed”. The challenge for the IPÊ team is to not only change the conscience of the hunter, but also the land owners in the region.
How does one convince the farmers that the jaguars are not a threat? “At the start I thought about giving up. To place radio collars on the jaguars seemed like so easier”, says Cullen. Luckily for the jaguar, the scientists had an idea to make a pact with the cattle owners. The researchers started to plant trees for the pastoralists. A great majority of the landowners in the South and Southeastern area have destroyed much of the forest illegally, and now are required by law to reforest, or face the fines and restrictions of agricultural credits. To help these farmers reforest was the focus of the partnership. In exchange, farmers would pledge to no longer kill jaguars. The agreement has been solidified and is a great success because it made economic sense – replanting 1 hectare of forest can cost up to eight thousand Reais (US$ 5,000.00), while a year-old calf only three hundred (US$ 185.00). “In the end, the damage that jaguars inflict on cattle is small”, notes Osmar Cirino Lopes a rancher at Ponte Branca Farm in Teodoro Sampaio- “It was a good agreement on both sides”.
Laury sowing a new forest corridor on Pontal on a communitarian event.
This partnership has already changed the landscape of the Pontal do Paranapanema, where the project began. The old picture of degraded pastures and deserted fields is now being replaced by hues of green. The first spots of new forests can be seen now in the region. The population of jaguars has been increasing. “It has people accusing me to bring jaguars from other areas in Pontal!!!” notes Cullen.
Research also happens at the sites of agricultural settlements. In the 1980’s, there was a big push in the region for agricultural settlement that attracted thousands of people. In less than two months, settlements were popping up all around the last reserve in the Atlantic Forest: the Morro do Diabo State Park. “I thought that if our approach did not appeal to the people in these agricultural settlements, that all of our preservation efforts would be in vain and not effective”, says Cullen. “Without getting orientation they would be the first to knock the trees down to make room for agriculture”. The beginning of the dialogue with locals was marked with discordance. “Many people felt as if the project was seeking to keep on eye on their practices”. Today, many of the settlements are integrating the project. Jose Santiago was one of the first: “I have a little problem with the jaguars, but my need to have trees in my lot wins out”, says Jose showing the forest planted on his land with the aid of IPÊ.
The project has also changed the life of settled sons. They are responsible by the seedlings that will be planted on farms and other settlements. In ten years, more than 2 million trees have be planted in the region – this is the equivalent of the area of 30 Ibirapuera Park, one of the greatest in São Paulo. Luís Soares is one of the youths that helps out on the project. He has been inspired by the success of the program, and was just approved in a Biology undergraduate course. “The change that I have witnessed has made this the best work I have done so far”, he affirms.
By add a social component with this research project for jaguars, the researchers have commanded international recognition. Cullen and his IPÊ team had received the Whitley Gold Award from the Royal Geographical Society. Princess Anne, who delivered the prize, also came visit IPÊ headquarters during a trip to Brazil in 2007. Cullen received additional recognition by gaining the Rolex Awards for Conservation of Nature. The money (US$ 5 thousand) was for the project in the Pontal. The watch today, is safe in his house. “It is too chic to be used for jaguar hunts”, says Cullen. “But it is a symbol of the success of our efforts”.
Researchers have found seven spotted jaguar in the Caatinga, a region where they were once considered extinct.
Similar projects have started to come about across the country. The newest study is in the Caatinga in the northeast. In this region, the spotted jaguars were considered extinct. Today, seven individual cats have been identified. “We are monitoring these individuals to understand how we connect areas of the Caatinga. It is a chance to save this vegetation in the country”, says Ronaldo Gonçalves Morato, head of the National Center of Research and Conservation of Natural Predators of Ibama. In the Pantanal, the jaguars also can aid in the dream to conserve the area. In the North there is an area protected by a national Park in Mato Grosso, but the other half in Mato Grosso do Sul is not. By following the jaguars, the researchers want to identify the optimal conservation units that would cover their most critical habitat in the Pantanal. “We want to create a good natural corridor that enters the Pantanais, a mesoregion of Mato Grosso, to protect the entire region”, says Sandra Cavalcanti, a biologist from the Panthera Foundation. All of the research uses the capture-recapture models with camera traps and monitoring signals from radio-collared jaguars. The same equipment in Ivinhema is deployed for the jaguars in this region. “I never thought that shooting a jaguar would go so far beyond the pure fun of a hunt”, Platero says.
WHERE THE JAGUARS ROAM
What is being done to protect these animals and the regions where they live
PUMA, COUGAR or SUÇUARANA (Puma concolor)
This species has a large distribution and is adaptable to degraded environments. All of the national registrations of attacks on human beings have been by pumas. The last occurred in the 1980’s, in a village of scientists in Siderúrgica Vale do Rio Doce, in Pará.
BLACK JAGUAR (Panthera onca)
Although there is a color difference, this species is the same as the spotted jaguar. The change in coloration is due to a genetic mutation. Due to their small population size this mutation has become fixed producing jaguars that are black in color in Pontal do Paranapanema.
JAGUAR (Panthera onca)
This is the third largest felid in the world, behind tigers and lions. It can measure up to 2.1 meters in length and weigh up to 135 kilograms. They are a species of cat that are able to successfully kill their prey with the force of a bite into the skull. Like the lion the jaguar will emit a roar. In 2006, seven of these felids in the Caatinga were rediscovered- the animal was once considered extinct in the region.
THE TRACKS OF THE JAGUAR
Researchers monitor the animals in order to define protected areas
1. Mata Atlântica Corridor
It is the biggest national project to connect fragments in Mata Atlântica. It follows from Pontal do Paranapanema, in São Paulo, all the way to Paraguay.
2. Caatinga Corridor
The re-discovery of jaguars promoted the protection of this vegetation and the creation of the National Park of Boqueirão da Onça in Bahia.
3. Pantanal Corridor
The Panthera Foundation bought an area in Mata Groso to promote the connection of two parks. The idea is to expand this initiative to the Pantanal.
4. Norte do Mato Grosso
In an region where the destruction of Amazônia has accelerated, monitoring can help to define priority areas for conservation
5. Calha do Rio Amazonas
This area still has an extent of connected forest. In this region, all jaguar species move freely.
Source: Revista Época
Translation: Kaitlin Baird and Fernando Lima
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