Convention on Migratory Species CoP 13

Protecting Jaguars without Borders

By Maria del Carmen Fleytas | February 15, 2020

Jaguars in Defensores del Chaco National Park, Paraguay. Photo credit: WCS Paraguay

The jaguar is truly a cat of the Americas. Found in 18 countries, from the US-Mexican borderlands to Argentina, jaguars live in dry scrubby deserts of northern Mexico, the dense forests of Brazil’s Atlantic coast, and most habitats in between. And like all big cats, the jaguar pays no heed to international borders. At least 26 of the species’ 34 sub-populations are transboundary.

To protect jaguars, then, requires local conservation solutions and international commitments. Paraguay is a microcosm of the former. Paraguay loses an average of 3,000 km² of forest every year in the Chaco region, mainly to make room for cattle for the beef industry.

As the jaguar’s native habitat and natural prey are replaced by livestock, there is inevitably livestock predation and too often, dead jaguars. As a result, jaguar killing — especially in retaliation for cattle losses — has been relatively common in many Paraguayan cattle ranches and has been identified as the main threat to this iconic species in the country.

Peone (cowboy) works on cattle ranch in the Paraguayan Chaco. Photo credit: ©WCS Paraguay

Human-wildlife coexistence is particularly challenging where aspirations for economic development are not yet well harmonized with biodiversity conservation. Across the globe, WCS works to reduce human wildlife conflict.

In the Chaco of Paraguay, building on our relationships with small, medium and large ranchers and working side by side with government, we have been rolling out innovative non-lethal predation mitigation techniques. It’s a start. We are already seeing evidence of reduced livestock losses and fewer dead jaguars, but the scale needed to achieve large scale jaguar conservation is international.

The tri-national (Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia) Chaco is a jaguar crossroads. On the east it connects with the Brazilian Pantanal and on the north to Bolivia’s Chiquitania and from there to the nine country Greater Amazon forest bloc, home of the largest jaguar population in the world.

The few remaining fragments of Atlantic Forest in eastern Paraguay connect to the same biome in Brazil and Argentina. The jaguar is a multi-national species and transboundary vast areas are necessary for it, and its conservation requires multinational cooperation.

Adult male jaguar in Defensores del Chaco National Park, Paraguay. Photo credit: ©WCS Paraguay

Habitat is being lost, and in some areas at a very fast rate, causing range retraction. Jaguar populations are declining. Using the criteria in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 34 out of 35 subpopulations qualify as Endangered or Critically Endangered. Jaguars are listed as Endangered in nine countries (they have been eliminated in El Salvador and Uruguay, and there are no longer any breeding populations in the U.S.).

This, along with most jaguar sub-populations being transboundary, is why the jaguar should be listed on the Appendices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), during the Conference of Parties in Gandhinagar, India this week.

Encouragingly, an excellent proposal to include jaguars in Appendix I and II of the CMS has been submitted by Costa Rica, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay. With support from other CMS Party countries, we can ensure the extra protection and collaboration that this species needs throughout what remains of its historic range.

Peones (cowboys) working on cattle ranch in the Paraguayan Chaco. Photo credit: ©WCS Paraguay

Addressing habitat conversion and human-wildlife conflict are just part of the solution.

There is now a broad suite of tools for jaguar conservation identified over the course of the three decades since the first studies started in the Pantanal, Belize, and in Iguazu National Park (where in August 2020 an unprecedented congregation of jaguar biologists will rally to celebrate the species, and promote the tools needed for its conservation on a grand scale). Many of these tools are outlined in the 2030 Jaguar Conservation Road Map, a broad and deep document coming out of processes started in a 14-country March 2018 High Level Forum for jaguar conservation, convened by the United Nations Environment Program and attended by WCS and other NGOs.

Anyone who has struggled with conservation for two or three decades knows that victories are won at both the local and international levels. The local level benefits from clear national commitments, and such a commitment across all jaguar Range States will enable the large scale effort the species needs.

Careful stewardship of jaguar habitat, combining sustainable production practices and large scale planning to harmonize conservation and development can mean a win-win for the jaguar and humanity.

Jaguar range in Latin America. Map ©WCS

A commitment from the 130 CMS Party countries to list the species will be a step on the journey that a full complement of 18 country commitments to the Road Map can carry on home. CMS is the only international treaty devoted exclusively to the conservation of migratory species, and it is well placed to heed the call from the range States of the jaguar, and agree to steps to save this culturally and ecologically significant species.

We have a unique opportunity to increase the large scale, transboundary conservation collaborations that the species needs to persist. Jaguars cross borders with frequency and regularity. We need to give them the trans-boundary status they deserve as a species, and protect them accordingly if we still want to hear them roar for generations to come.

Maria del Carmen Fleytas is Paraguay Country Director for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

Wildlife Conservation Society

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WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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