Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Update on jaguar research in U.S.-Mexico borderlands

by Sergio Avila, M.S., Conservation Biologist

A year has passed since the Wildlife Monitoring program did the "big jump" into working in Mexico, and as we say "el tiempo pasa volando!" The Jaguars of the Sonoran Sky Islands project has taken slowly-but-steady steps towards jaguar habitat research while establishing landowner collaboration, and we look forward to 2007's challenges and opportunities.

We first introduced this project in the Spring issue of Restoring Connections ("On the Ground in Sonora", 2006, Vol.9, Issue 1) when the initial purpose of the study was to evaluate the feasibility of conducting research on the presence and movement of jaguars in northern Sonora, Mexico. Sky Island Alliance is committed to securing jaguar recovery in the region and promoting conservation throughout the borderlands; today we have new and exciting advances to report, and stronger goals have been set. This project's long-term goal is to build cooperative relationships with landowners in Sonora in order to encourage jaguar conservation and facilitate ongoing scientific research in the region, and to strengthen collaboration with our partners in both sides of the border, like the Northern Jaguar Project, whose work focuses on preserving viable habitat for the last remaining breeding populations of endangered jaguars in northern Mexico.

During the course of 2006 we experienced a region that features species, climate, and ecological processes typical of the Sky Island region.We learned that similar to other rural areas in the region, whose economies are based on the livestock industry, local culture and customs are divergent and diverse giving the use, management and preservation of natural resources a different approach and presenting different challenges. In May 2006, we successfully explored Sierra El Pinito (please read the complete account by herpetologist Robert Villa, in Restoring Connections, Vol. 9, Issue 2, Summer 2006). In July and December we visited Sierra Azul, and met the Robles: a hard-working, environmentally conscious family and wildlife conservation advocate who decided to "let ecologicalprocesses happen" and allows wildlife species to recolonize areas that were used for grazing before excluding cattle. Mr. Robles' words described perfectly his family's approach to conservation: "cattle grazing is not worth the damage to the land".

Sky Island Alliance also participated in the development of a standardized protocol for utilization of camera traps to validate presence/absence and population densities of jaguars, published by Mexican researchers Chavez and Ceballos (2006; Chapter III: Census and Monitoring).

The Jaguars of the Sonoran Sky Islands project aims to "ground proof" the results of Geographic Information System habitat modeling studies. Two of those studies focused on potential habitat in Arizona (Hatten et al., 2003) and New Mexico (Menke and Hayes, 2003), while the other two focused on the borderlands region, presenting jaguar distribution maps that include the Sonoran Sky Islands and strongly suggesting this region as potential jaguar habitat (Boydston and Lopez-Gonzalez, 2005; Grigione et al., unpublished).

Threats to jaguar conservation remain on both sides of the international border, from habitat degradation to
poaching to loss of wildlife linkages. These threats compromise the ecological integrity of the landscape and
have the potential to jeopardize jaguar survival. Border security and law enforcement activities result in
environmental degradation and threaten the movement or establishment of individual jaguars in the border
region. These activities will disrupt, section and isolate wildlife populations in both sides of the border, the
linkages animals use to disperse and the jaguar's opportunities to colonize northern areas. The lack of
permeability in the border also threatens ecological processes like gene flow and genetic variability, control of
prey populations by predators, seed dispersal, and pollination.

Additional research in some areas needs to be undertaken to fill gaps in knowledge (Menke, 2004). By maintaining landscape connectivity across subtropical and temperate zones, conservation of jaguars would help conserve a number of other species and preserve the biological integrity of the unique Madrean region (Boydston and Lopez-Gonzalez, 2005). In 2006, we cultivated relationships with landowners and ejidos from different mountain ranges and ranches; in 2007 we will continue our efforts on outreach to landowners, collection of scientific data through non-invasive methods using remote camera traps and track counts, and collaborative work with our conservation partners and allies, within this unstudied area of the Mexican Sky Islands.

To learn more about organizations working on jaguar conservation in Sonora, please visit:

Northern Jaguar Project at

and Naturalia at

Boydston, E. and C. Lopez-Gonzalez. 2005. Sexual differentiation in the distribution
potential of the northern Jaguars (Panthera onca). USDA Forest Service Proceedings

Chavez, C., and G. Ceballos. 2006.Memorias del Primer Simposio. El Jaguar Mexicano en el Siglo XXI: Situación Actual y Manejo". CONABIO-Alianza WWF Telcel- Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. México, D.F.

Grigione, M.M., Menke, K., Lopez-Gonzalez, C., List, R., Banda, A., Carrera, J., Carrera, R.,Morrison, J., Sternberg, M., Thomas, R., and B. Van Pelt. (Unpublished). Identifying priority conservation areas in the U.S.- Mexico border region for Neotropical cats, the jaguar, jaguarundi and ocelot. Dept of Env Science & Policy, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL.

Hatten, J. R., Averill-Murray, A., and Van Pelt, W. E. 2003. Characterizing and mapping
potential jaguar habitat in Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department. 203, 1-28.
Menke, K. A. and Hayes, C. L. 2003. Evaluation of relative suitability of potential jaguar
habitat in New Mexico. New Mexico Game and Fish Department. 1-30.

Menke, K. 2004. Priority Conservation Areas in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region for
North American Tropical Cats: the Jaguar, Jaguarundi, and Ocelot. University of New
Mexico. In: Vacariu, K., and J. Neeley. 2005.

Ecological Considerations for Border Security Operations: Outcomes and Recommendations of the Border Ecological Symposium. Tucson, AZ.

Want to support this project? Adopt a Camera!
And support on-the-ground jaguar research and conservation
$150 provides: Film camera purchase and setup*
$250 provides: Film camera purchase, setup and checkup** for 6 months (4 times)
$500 provides: Film camera purchase, setup and checkup for a year (7 times)
$1000 provides: Digital camera purchase, setup and checkup for 3 months (2 times)
All donors receive:
An update on the status of camera after every checkup (site, species present) including a photo-index
Favorite wildlife photos printed on 8"x10" paper (3 photos per film)
An 8"x10" print of camera site
Membership to Sky Island Alliance for one year
Acknowledgements on this project's reports, presentations, etc.
* Camera purchase, setup and checkups are conducted by Sky Island Alliance 07-Spring-SIANewsletter-geology.pdf

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