It seemed natural to follow tigers with another jungle cat. This week we are heading over to the Americas as our topic is jaguars, Panthera onca.

When I was a little kid I would say the jaguar was my favorite animal. Looking back, this was probably the beginning of my fascination with large cats. While I have shifted my focus to African cats the jaguar still holds a special place in my heart. However, these gorgeous cats find themselves in trouble.Listed as near threatened by the IUCN these cats have been in a decline thanks to habitat loss and persecution from humans.

Much of the jaguars historic range has been reduced. Theses large cats once roamed from the southern U.S. to central Argentina. But for generations they have been pushed out of their home range by ranchers as they bring in livestock. Development and destruction of rain forests has also played a key role in jaguar declines. Due to all of these factors jaguars have been reduced to roughly 45% of their historic range (Rabinowitz). But on top of habitat loss jaguars have also had to face direct human persecution like many other large predators.

Jaguars have been persecuted ever since the first settlers. Theodore Roosevelt once wrote about the ranchers of Brazil hiring professional jaguar hunters to protect their livestock, which he witnessed during his travels there. He himself participated in the hunts and took a couple of jaguars. At the time no one could have guessed the extent to which jaguars would be persecuted in the future. At the peak of their decline during the sixties and seventies it is estimated that nearly 18,000 jaguar were slaughtered for their beautiful fur (Big Cats). Leaving only 12,000-15,000 in the wild (Big Cats).

There is some hope on the horizon. Several reserves have been created throughout jaguar ranges and studies are being conducted to determine current population levels and distributions, as well as methods to best conserve jaguars. One such study in the Yucatan was support by Safari Club International Foundation, SCIF, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation who donated $225,000 (SCIF). Jaguar have even been spotted in the United States again as one  was recently been spotted in Arizona (LA Times).

A key to jaguar conservation which many may not consider is the involvement of hunters. As of the latest information I could find it is not legal to import jaguar skins to the United States. However, many hunters still travel to South America and pay to hunt jaguar. These are not normal hunts though as most jaguar hunts are conducted as green hunts. This means the animal is tranquilized so the hunter can take photos and measurements. Typically DNA samples are also taken for research. This brings value to the jaguars while furthering jaguar research. These DNA samples plus samples gathered from research projects have surprisingly shown little variation in genetics of jaguars. This means the populations are not as isolated as once was believed (Rabinowitz).

Jaguar are considered to be an umbrella species. This means that due to their specific habitat needs the conservation of jaguars leads to the conservation of many other species. With the recent evidence of the genetic integrity of jaguar, their expansion back into the U.S., and combined efforts from conservation groups there is a glimmer of hope. With all this effort to protect jaguars maybe some day I will be lucky enough to see these gorgeous cats in their native range.

References:

Rabinowitz, Alan, K. Zeller. “A range-wide model of landscape connectivity and conservation for the jaguar, Panthera onca.” Biological Conservation. 143 (2010): 939-945.

SCIF. http://www.scif-conservation.proboards.com/index.cgi board=9&action=display&thread=29

LA TImes. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/11/jaguar-spotted-southern-arizona-macho-b.html)

Big Cats Online. http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/agarman/jaguar.htm

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