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Can ranchers co-exist with jaguars?

The 3rd Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival ( runs from January 30 – February 2, 2013. Ahead of the event, is running a series of Q&As with filmmakers and presenters. For more interviews, please see our WCFF feed.

Jaguar in the Pantanal.
Jaguar in the Pantanal. Photo by Steve Winter / Panthera.

Jaguar once roamed from the United States to Argentina, but today they’ve been eliminated from several range countries, including the United States. The chief reasons are habitat loss and direct killing by humans, putting ranchers and farmers at the heart of the issue. Both ranchers and farmers convert key jaguar habitat and kill the big cats as a threat to their livestock.

However in parts of Brazil’s Pantanal, some ranchers are going about their business without killing jaguars. My Pantanal, a film by Andrea Heydlauff, Vice President of the wild cat conservation group Panthera, takes a look at one particular ranch that is helping prove that jaguars and ranchers can co-exist.

My Pantanal will be shown on Jaunary 31st at the 3rd Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival. Ahead of the screening, Heydlauff answered some questions from about the film and her conservation work.


Andrea Heydlauff.
Andrea Heydlauff. Photo by Steve Winter / Panthera.

Andrea Heydlauff: I come from a conservation background and did my Master’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from the University of Arizona, where I studied human dimensions of wildlife – essentially conflicts among humans, elk and cattle. I spent a year visiting ranches and talking to ranchers, documenting and understanding conflict – and it became pretty clear to me then, 12 years ago, that all conservation issues involve people and that most conservation solutions lie in the people who live closest to wildlife; and that my job as a professional in conservation meant I had to be a good listener, and a good communicator. Having studied British Literature in college, I found this to be a good mix – of merging my love for wildlife, with what I had always loved about literature – the baring of the human condition – and a good story. After graduate school, I worked for the Asia Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and then as their Tiger Program Coordinator, and was with them for 5 years. In 2007, I became the first employee of Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization based in NYC, and am now their Vice President. How long have you been making films? What are some other examples of your work?

Andrea Heydlauff: I’ve only been making films (and that would be one!) since 2009 – but I’d been thinking about and talking about this nonstop since 2003! Since my time at WCS, every time I went to the field I could see the films I wanted to create – and it was really about the stories I felt needed to be told – ones I wasn’t seeing on TV or anywhere else. So I wrote a lot. And then I got my chance. In 2009 our Director of Media, Steve Winter, came down to our project site to photograph jaguars, and he brought his assistant at the time, Gabe DeLoach who was starting out his career in filmmaking – so I thought – well, we have 5 days down here together– we can do this!!! And we did.

Jaguar in the Pantanal.
My Pantanal. Why did you choose this film? What does it mean to you?

Andrea Heydlauff: Having spent quite a bit of time in the Pantanal since 2007 helping with setting up our project there, I was immersed in the issues – with the main threat to jaguars being conflict with the local ranchers, the Pantanieros. The Pantanal is a wetland which can flood as much as 8 meters during the rainy season; 98% of it is privately owned, with 8 million head of cattle, a small human population, and the highest known density of jaguars across their entire range (jaguars span 18 countries in Latin America from Argentina to Mexico). There is no cell service, no telecommunications, little to no infrastructure in terms of schools or health care, many people can’t read or write; people have lived there for over 400 years – and ranching methods are that old. And yet you have this wild landscape, with hundreds of species of birds, and plants, with giant everything – giant anteaters, anacondas, tapirs, capybara, peccaries, and the largest cat in the Americas, the jaguar. And I saw this rich human culture, living in this wild place, and how they ranch, how the choices they make impact the landscape and the wildlife. So I thought it would be interesting to tell a human-interest story about conservation, from the eyes of a boy who is a Pantaniero, and for that storyteller to tell this story to his community – our primary audience.

The film means many things to me – I was moved by the beauty of the place, and relationship between the main character (a 9 year old boy) and his father; their pride in being Pantanieros; their love of the land; and the optimism that exists. I was told that several ranchers who saw the finished Portuguese version were very moved by the story, and seeing a young boy who was proud to be a cowboy. While it’s a love story for me about jaguars, that’s not the reality – it’s really about finding ways people can live with this large cat, a perfect predator, and finding that threshold where enough of the conflict can be alleviated so that jaguars (and other big cats) can survive. That’s a big part of what Panthera does around the globe.

My Pantanal from Panthera Cats. What is the plot of the film?

Andrea Heydlauff: My Pantanal is a film about a boy named Aerenilso, who lives on a fazenda (a ranch) in the Pantanal, the world’s largest and wildest wetland. We see through his viewpoint what it’s like to be a Pantaniero, riding his horse, working on the farm, and exploring this incredible landscape that is teeming with wildlife, including the jaguar. Jaguars have been hunted there by people for centuries but Aerenilso’s ranch is different. He lives on a conservation ranch where the cowboys and Panthera’s scientists are working together to show that ranching and jaguars can coexist in that landscape

Jaguar in the Pantanal.

Kids in the Pantanal (top) and Aerenilso (bottom). Photos by Panthera. What was the most exciting or interesting part of making the film?

Andrea Heydlauff: Literally seeing the Pantanal through the eyes of a 9 year old. I even rode, sitting behind Aerenilo, on his horse, and at times also felt like I was exploring the place for the first time. All the other kids in the film just tagged along and became part of it – and you’ve heard that filming / photographing kids and wildlife is hard – well, add them together, and let’s just say we laughed a lot (otherwise I might have cried). What impact do you hope this film will have?

Andrea Heydlauff: I made the film for the ranching communities on the ground in the Pantanal – and then for Brazil more widely (we did it in English and Portuguese); and then for a US / UK more global audience. Most wildlife documentaries I’ve seen hardly ever include the local people living in these places, and if they do, seldom do those people ever get to even see the finished product or in their native language. I also wanted this to be a way for ranchers to see what Panthera is doing in the Pantanal – working with local people to find solutions to conflict, and to help prevent jaguars from being killed. And we’re seeing amazing things from our project (not because of the film but the film is a medium by which to show that solutions exist) – simple, relevant and replicable ways ranchers can prevent livestock from being killed (not entirely, but enough to make a difference) by fixing fences, corralling the young, pregnant and sick cows, vaccinating cattle, and inserting buffalo into a herd of cows because they’re territorial and will help deter jaguars. And we’re seeing an ecotoursim boom there where for three months people come from all over the world to see jaguars, and people are starting to see that jaguars have value. And what we’re seeing is a real recovery in jaguar numbers. It’s fabulous.

The film has been used to help fundraise, and is free content for schools (it’s being used in a literacy program in Wisconsin, NY and Belize) and is free to watch on our website – and for anyone who wants it! Is this the debut? Are you planning to show it elsewhere?

Andrea Heydlauff: No, it’s old news 🙂 Since completion in 2010, I submitted it to a few festivals and I was delighted with the recognition – it won the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, MT and Wild Talk Africa (both Children Categories); and was a finalist at Jackson Hole, WY, and got screened at numerous others; and National Geographic had it on their kids video site – and Mongabay even promoted it!!! (thank you for that by the way). What’s next on your agenda?

Andrea Heydlauff: Well, I’m off to Kenya next week and will be missing the Wildlife Film Festival in NYC because I’ll be going to shoot my second film! Thanks to a private foundation, they are providing the resources for me and Gabe to go out to Amboseli and plan a film about the Lion Guardians – Maasai warriors who now are working to protect lions. We’ll be doing this with our partners there and I can’t wait. This will be different from My Pantanal – it’s a site I haven’t been to before – and so while I have some ideas of what this film will look like, I’m going to plan to be surprised…I’m going to listen to their stories and let them really guide this. Like my first project, this film is for them, about them, and for other areas where Panthera is working to expand this model of local people turned protectors. I find putting your main audience in the film is a good way to get their attention. And I look forward to sharing it with you when it’s ready.

My Pantanal


10 minutes

* New York City Premiere

January 31, 9:00-11:00 PM – Purchase tickets

“My Pantanal” is a film about a boy named Aerenilso who lives on a ranch in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland located in Brazil. Aerenilso show us what it is like to be a Pantanero (cowboy), riding his horse and exploring this incredible landscape that is teeming with wildlife, including the jaguar. Aerenilso lives on a conservation ranch where the cowboys and biologists are working together to show that ranching and jaguars can co-exist in the Pantanal.

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