www.jaguar.org.br | Issue 36 | January 2010
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Jaguars in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
By David Aneurin Jones and Sara Calcadas, Global Vision International (GVI) Costa Rica costarica@gvi.co.uk

In Tortuguero National Park (TNP), on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, two charismatic species threatened with extinction are in a fatal conflict.

Tortuguero, famed for the marine turtles from which it derives its name, has a long history of study dating back to the work of Archie Carr in the 1950s. The area encompasses stunning rainforest and waterways and one of the largest rookeries for endangered green sea turtles in the world. Almost two thirds of TNP extends into the Caribbean Sea; a measure designed to combat poaching and imprudent fishing practices, which are thought to result in the death of thousands of marine turtles every year.

In the early 1980s, two instances of jaguars predating sea turtles were reported, and remained the only records for over a decade. When, in 1997, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), reported four jaguar-predated turtles, it was big news. In the subsequent years the phenomenon has been reported in every season report produced by the CCC. In 2002, the Costa Rican Environment Ministry undertook a study on the predation, which, in 2003, was discontinued due to lack of resources. It wasn’t until the arrival of researchers and volunteers in the form of GVI Costa Rica in 2005 that the study was picked up once more. Whilst previous work had highlighted the occurrence of the phenomenon, it lacked the consistency in methods and effort essential for comparison between years.

Measuring a jaguar predated turtle on Tortuguero National Park beach. By David Aneurin Jones, GVI Costa Rica.  

Predated turtle on the beach. By David Aneurin Jones, GVI Costa Rica.  

GVI Costa Rica have also been investigating several of the theories of the driving force behind this shift. Predation is increasing rapidly – from 74 individuals recorded in the first year, to 166 by 2008. So far this doesn’t appear to be linked to the availability of turtles nor more traditional prey, or to the learned behaviour of a few individuals. Together with the increase in predation, jaguar presence on the beach has become increasingly common outside of the nesting seasons.

TNP is the southern extent of forest that decreases in area while increasing in protection; from the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve, through the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge into the National Park. Staggered degrees of protection may have resulted in funnelling species towards the relative haven of the Park. Except for a tenuous corridor into the refuge to the north, the National Park is bordered by agricultural land or sea. Unfortunately, as land use changes around the protected areas and vital habitat continues to disappear, a perhaps inevitable and yet unprecedented conflict has arisen, which highlights the limitations of protecting areas in isolation. The jaguars seem to have incorporated the only available undisturbed area into their range, the beach. The rest may be frighteningly simple. Cats are opportunistic and known to overkill and this cat is the largest in the Americas and pound-for-pound the strongest in the world. They walk the beach daily and for half the year encounter a species adapted for the oceans and lacking in any defences against large land predators at all.

Read more at: http://gvicostarica.blogspot.com or contact costarica@gviworld.com


 
         

Community Protected Areas and Jaguar Conservation in Southern Mexico
By Joseph Figel, Dept. of Environmental Studies, Florida International University, Miami, USA jfige001@fiu.edu


The Chinantla. By Joe Figel  

Jaguar camera trapped in Chinantla. By Joe Figel  

“The climate and vegetation have exercised a more predominant effect on the life of the natives than can be true of almost any other tribe in Mexico. The Chinantec is bound down to his surroundings, fighting for his very existence, and fighting no human adversary but a wild forest whose strength is continuously fortified by the almost incessant rains.”

These were the words of the intrepid explorer Bernard Bevan in his book The Chinantec and their Habitat chronicling his 1938 expedition through the part of Oaxaca’s Sierra Juarez known as La Chinantla. Bevan recorded anthropological notes and wrote a thorough general description of the region. But it was his mentioning of “tigers” that caught my interest. This was what I wanted to find out for my M.Sc. thesis research on jaguar conservation in community conserved areas (CCAs), which I completed at Florida International University in December 2008 under the supervision of my advisors David Bray and Elvira Duran.

Upon arriving in camp, it didn’t take long to realize how little had changed in the 70 years since Bevan’s expedition

La Chinantla has remained one of those few wild places on earth where natural habitat has stayed intact and ancient customs have remained frozen in time. The region was entirely roadless until 2003, with non-navigable waterways and as I was about to learn later, almost impenetrable jungles. The precipitous slopes and high rainfall (>5,000 mm/year) made for arduous trekking conditions. Clearly, the Chinantla was not exactly an ideal setting for camera-trap research, which along with interview questionnaires, was going to make up the bulk of my thesis fieldwork. This wasn’t going to be like jumping in the back of a 4x4 or floating down a meandering river to service a camera-trap station. Everything would be done on foot. The first camera-trapping session produced no jaguar photos. I was discouraged and wondered if there were even any jaguars out there in those rugged montane forests. I even suggested to Dr. Bray that the Chimalapas – a bonafide jaguar conservation unit located 200 km to the southeast – would make a better place to research jaguars. Dr. Bray reminded me that lawless drug trafficking and violent conflict over land tenure would make that move highly unlikely. La Chinantla was going to remain my field site. By the end of the study we did find jaguars in La Chinantla albeit at a low density (less than 2 individuals/100 km²). But it is important to note that the camera trapping took place on community lands in a study area where six communities have together placed 26,720 ha under protection as CCAs, with certification by Mexico’s National Commission on Natural Protected Areas (CONANP). Since 2003, CONANP has recognized 34 CCAs in Mexico; of these 34, 13 are in indigenous communities and 12 of these are in Oaxaca.

With 56-62% of its forests under community ownership and 11.5% of its land already designated as reserves, jaguar conservation in Mexico must go beyond biosphere reserve and national park boundaries. Our study in La Chinantla shows that CCAs have potential to protect jaguars but more work is needed so rural communities can be an alliance to jaguar conservation rather than a threat.

¹ Early explorers commonly referred to jaguars as tigers.


 
 

On September 20th, 2007, while monitoring a giant otter group on the Vermelho River - in the Pantanal of the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil - I came across a couple of jaguars mating. For 28 minutes I filmed the behavior of the couple, which did not seem to care about my presence. But suddenly a curious giant otter appeared, faced the male jaguar and snorted at him. The male, standing over a fallen tree, crossed looks with the giant otter, which quickly left the spot. There are unconfirmed records of predation of giant otters by jaguars, although it seems that when such meetings happen, both species avoid and respect each other.

By Caroline Leuchtenberger caroleucht@gmail.com

 
 

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"Our mission is to promote the conservation of the jaguar, its natural prey and habitat throughout the species geographical range, as well as its peaceful coexistence with man through research, management and conservation strategies."


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