Joanne Forster-Martin discusses the importance of wildlife corridors in current conservation approaches for the species, in celebration of International Jaguar Day.
Panthera onca, more commonly known as the jaguar, is the largest big cat species native to the Americas. International Jaguar Day was created in 2018 at the Forum for Jaguar Conservation in New York to celebrate the species as a symbol of biodiversity and cultural heritage. Raising awareness of jaguar conservation initiatives annually provides a great opportunity to reflect on the efforts being made to help these majestic big cats recover from the threats they face.
A wild Jaguar, Panthera onca, spotted in Brazil. Image credit: Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons.
Wildlife Corridors for Conservation
Traditional approaches to jaguar conservation tend to focus on preserving individual populations, often in protected areas. However, a recent approach to jaguar conservation, spearheaded in 2010 by Alan Rabinowitz and Kathy Zeller, put forward a wide range-model for conservation with the identification, implementation, and monitoring of travel corridors at its core. These corridors are areas of land that jaguars can use to travel between populations that have been separated by human activities and infrastructure. The jaguar is particularly threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, which has already dramatically decreased its range, making these corridors extremely important. They also help to reduce conflict between humans and jaguars, as many farmers threaten to kill jaguars that prey on their livestock.
This is not the only reason that corridors are an important conservation tool. They help to increase the survival chances of the smaller, fragmented populations jaguars have been divided into. In small populations, genetic diversity is lower because the gene pool is smaller, reducing the potential for adaptation to environmental changes and increasing the risk of extinction. Not only that, but where the gene pool is smaller, inbreeding is more likely to happen and the chance of harmful genetic combinations coming together is increased, potentially affecting mating ability and survival of offspring. Smaller populations are also more vulnerable to the negative effects of random changes in the environment and rate of births and deaths that occur from year to year. Corridors help overcome these threats, helping to maintain widespread gene flow between populations across the species’ range. This shows the potential of these corridors and the importance of thinking big to ensure the survival of this majestic species.
Wild jaguar licking its paw. Image credit: Petr Kratochvil on Wikimedia Commons.
The success of corridors is being seen on the ground already; research published this year by Flavia Caruso and colleagues, reflects on the success of the Baritú–Tariquía corridor. This corridor stretches between the borders of Argentina and Bolivia to connect populations in Tariquía National Reserve and Baritú National Park. These are some of the southernmost populations of the species and represent a sizable area of jaguar range.
The team set a camera trap survey to track the presence of jaguars after sightings were reported by locals. This allowed the scientists to monitor the corridor and confirmed the presence of jaguars there. Jaguars were recorded at 7 sites across its length and at least three individuals were identified, suggesting that this corridor is functional for populations. This is encouraging news that shows the importance of current conservation work, though efforts are still being made to secure legal protection for the corridor.
Male jaguar yawning, Rio Negro, the Pantanal, Brazil. The animal is fitted with a tracker device around its neck. Image credit: Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons.
This new range-wide approach also had important positive consequences through the creation of the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, in collaboration with the governments of range countries, charities, local communities, and the private sector. This is one of the most ambitious conservation efforts yet, including corridors that extend across the entire range of the jaguar.
The charity Panthera is playing a leading role in these efforts in many range countries and has helped to train and equip local communities, and to raise awareness, including through its Jaguar School in Colombia. The Jaguar School aims to educate students of all ages on the cultural significance and ecological role of the jaguar, and to teach other key skills, such as maths and languages, while doing this. The hope is that this will inspire students as future conservations to improve attitudes towards jaguars within these communities, potentially reducing human-jaguar conflict.
This new range-wide corridor-focused approach also led to the Jaguar 2030 Conservation Roadmap, which came out of COP14 (Conference of the Parties 14 for the Convention on Biological Diversity). This is another important step for jaguar conservation and part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This has helped to raise the profile of jaguar conservation and was the catalyst for the creation of International Jaguar Day, following the 2018 Forum for Jaguar Conservation. The Roadmap came out of this Forum and its key aim is to strengthen Jaguar Corridors across the species’ range with collaboration across the many parties involved. The hope is that this will be achieved by 2030 through securing 30 priority jaguar conservation landscapes. A further key priority is to provide opportunities for sustainable development, such as eco-tourism, to ensure that communities and indigenous peoples are supported. Significant efforts must be made to realise the ambitions of the roadmap, but nonetheless, this represents an encouraging step towards progress that has raised the profile of jaguar conservation.