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Jaguars photographed in palm oil plantation

Jaguar cub approaches camera trap in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Mother looks on from behind. Photo by: Panthera.
Jaguar cub approaches camera trap in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Mother looks on from behind. Photo by: Panthera.

As the highly-lucrative palm oil plantation moves from Southeast Asia to Africa and Latin America, it brings with it concerns of deforestation and wildlife loss. But an ongoing study in Colombia is finding that small palm oil plantations may not significantly hurt at least one species: the jaguar. Researchers in Magdalena River Valley have taken the first ever photos of jaguars in a palm plantation, including a mother with two cubs, showing that the America’s biggest cat may not avoid palm oil plantations like its Asian relative, the tiger.

“Typically, jaguars can move across human-dominated landscapes by traveling through riparian forests or using road underpasses, but until now, scientists had no photographic proof that jaguars entered oil palm developments in this region,” said Esteban Payan, the Northern South America Jaguar Program Director with wild cat-NGO Panthera, in a press release.

The researchers emphasize that the jaguars, which were photographed by remote camera traps, were found in a small palm oil plantation near an indigenous reserve, which they note is probably a “best-case scenario” for the collision of jaguars and palm oil.

“Our data suggest that plantations can be part of a landscape mosaic that jaguars will use. But careful planning that avoids large-scale replacement of forest with huge palm oil areas will be essential if we want to avoid the kind of isolation that tigers now suffer,” Howard Quigley, Panthera’s Jaguar Program Executive Director, said.

Photos showed other South America feline species in palm oil plantations, such as the puma, jaguarundi, and the ocelot.

The rise of palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia have been blamed in part for the decline in wild species like orangutan, elephants, and tigers, as well as the loss of carbon-rich habitats like rainforest and peatlands. Criticism of palm oil’s impact in Southeast Asia is not without evidence: for example a recent study found that nearly 70 percent of new palm oil plantations in Indonesian Borneo were over peatlands, while last year another analysis found that 65 percent of deforestation in the Malaysian state of Sarawak was linked to palm oil between 2005 and 2010.

The crop’s movement into South America is already raising deforestation concerns as well: a report in January found that 72 percent of new palm oil plantations in Peru were in forest areas.

“Human development in the shape of large monocultures, like oil palm plantations, are drastically changing the face of the planet, creating refugees out of wild cats by breaking up their habitats and forcing them to live within smaller, often degraded, and more isolated pockets of land,” Quigley said.
“Data collected through Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI) are critical for oil palm growers, national policy makers and local governments in their decision making so they can account for the needs of jaguars across their range and minimize impacts on wildlife.”

Panthera is currently working with governments and other conservation groups to establish a Jaguar Corridor, an ambitious project that would connect jaguar populations from Mexico to Argentina.

Jaguars are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. They are imperiled by deforestation, fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict, and a big decline in prey.

Mother jaguar and two cubs in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Photo by: Panthera.
Mother jaguar and two cubs in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Photo by: Panthera.

Ocelot in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Photo by: Panthera.
Ocelot in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Photo by: Panthera.

Male jaguar in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Photo by: Panthera.
Male jaguar in palm oil plantation in Colombia. Photo by: Panthera.

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