Conservation news

Jaguar numbers rising at field sites, WCS says

  • WCS reports that jaguar numbers have risen by almost 8 percent a year between 2002 and 2016 at study sites in Central and South America.
  • The sites cover around 400,000 square kilometers (154,440 square miles) of jaguar habitat.
  • Despite the promising findings, WCS scientists caution that habitat destruction, hunting in response to livestock killings, and poaching for their body parts remain critical threats to jaguars.

Jaguar numbers at specific study sites in Central and South America are rising, based on surveys over the past decade and a half by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation at WCS, said the gains resulted from partnerships with local communities, government agencies and other conservation groups.

“We are excited that our jaguar conservation efforts of the past two decades are showing signs of success,” Bennett said in a statement.

Jaguars face threats from hunting and habitat destruction. Photo ©Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

The number of jaguars (Panthera onca) at all WCS sites across some 400,000 square kilometers (154,440 square miles) of the cat’s habitat in Latin America rose by almost 8 percent a year between 2002 and 2016. Those sites are home to around 5,000 of the remaining 60,000 jaguars left in the Americas.

Even with the good news, however, WCS scientists caution that the dangers that have driven — and continue to drive — down jaguar numbers still exist.

“Two threats have taken a particularly heavy toll on the Americas’ largest cat species: habitat depletion due to the conversion of forest for development and agriculture, and killing in response to the loss of livestock,” John Polisar, the jaguar species coordinator at WCS, said in the statement.

Jaguars, listed as near threatened by the IUCN, roam on only about two-thirds of the range that they had before 1900. Few remain in the U.S., and the bulk of the jaguar population lives between dry scrubland in Mexico and the northern tip of Argentina.

Around 60,000 jaguars still inhabit a variety of ecosystems throughout the Americas. Camera trap photo courtesy of Guido Ayala & Maria Viscarra/WCS.

To protect jaguar habitat, WCS said it worked local and indigenous communities, like the Tacana, who live in the Greater Madidi landscape of Bolivia. The Tacana’s finely tuned relationship with the land results in a deforestation rate that’s four times lower inside the area they manage as it is outside, according to a 2015 WCS estimate. Tacana land also overlaps with the boundaries of Madidi National Park.

In fact, the density of jaguars encountered inside Madidi National Park, already one of the world’s most biodiverse protected areas, was three times what it was in 2002.

Biologists weigh such successes against new threats on the horizon, like poaching for the trade in jaguar body parts, said Julie Kunen, the vice president for WCS’s Americas program. Fangs, in particular, are sought after in Chinese markets. A 2016 bust led to the confiscation of 337 fangs, many of which likely came from jaguars in Madidi National Park.

The WCS sites included the habitat of some 5,000 jaguars. Camera trap photo courtesy of Guido Ayala & Maria Viscarra/WCS.

Still, WCS has documented an increase in jaguar numbers at specific places throughout their range.

“We can look with optimism to the future for jaguars in the Americas,” Bennett said, when WCS first announced the findings on March 3, World Wildlife Day, which marks the date that CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, was adopted by the U.N. in 1973. “That’s welcome news, indeed, on this World Wildlife Day.”

Banner image of jaguars with a camera trap courtesy of Guido Ayala & Maria Viscarra/WCS.

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