Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jaguars: In the Field

Landowner Camera Contest

Defenders has partnered with Northern Jaguar Project and Naturalia to initiate a collaborative project with ranchers in jaguar country which offers incentives for the conservation of area wildlife as an indirect compensation for cattle loss due to jaguar and puma predation.

The Camera Contest takes place on large private cattle ranches surrounding the Northern Jaguar Reserve. Once a month a vaquero (cowboy), trained and employed by the project, visits each of the participating ranches and sets remote, motion-triggered cameras provided by Defenders in areas where cats are likely to occur. The project develops the film monthly and ranchers receive awards ranging between $50 and $500 for pictures of jaguars, pumas, ocelots and bobcats obtained on their ranches. In turn participating ranchers agree to protect these felines and all wildlife within their ranches.

The camera contest helps to promote conservation in many ways by 1) providing an indirect compensation for livestock losses, 2) building relationships and trust with ranchers and vaqueros in the vicinity of the Northern Jaguar Reserve, 3) providing a financial incentive to keep cats alive, 4) providing access to private ranches and gathering information to help guide future research and conservation projects. The camera project is in its early stage of development, but it has already helped change local perspectives on jaguars and conservation in general.

Jaguar Guardian Program

Defenders of Wildlife, in close partnership with Northern Jaguar Project and Naturalia, has established a Jaguar Guardian Program to help stop jaguar killing and to assist with much-needed field research to gain a better understanding of population size, dispersal behavior, and habitat needs. Defenders jaguar guardians work closely jaguar researcher Dr. Carlos Lopez-Gonzalez to ensure that populations remain in the wild and that key biological and ecological information is gained to identify and protect dispersal corridors and core areas for re-population. The Jaguar Guardians also assist Naturalia with security and stewardship activities on the Northern Jaguar Reserve.

Additionally, the Jaguar Guardians are working with ranchers to minimize conflicts with livestock and reduce the killing of jaguars. They strive to build community acceptance of jaguars through a number of methods, including the use of The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Proactive Carnivore Conservation Fund in order to assist with jaguar-compatible husbandry practices in Mexico. By working on the ground with affected parties to win acceptance of jaguars and by assisting with research efforts to guide future conservation actions, Defenders can help to preserve one of the most majestic– and threatened– animals in North America…and all it represents.

Northern Jaguar Reserve

Defenders has teamed-up with Northern Jaguar Project and Naturalia to establish the the 45,000 acre Northern Jaguar Reserve - - the centerpiece of a multi-group landscape-level jaguar recovery effort. The reserve will protect the world’s northernmost remaining jaguars, as well as numerous other rare and important wildlife species including:

  • Military macaws in their northernmost nesting sites
  • The northernmost breeding population of neotropical river otters
  • The southernmost nesting site for bald eagles
  • The northernmost breeding population of ocelots
  • Desert tortoises, Gila monsters, lilac-crowned parrots, eared trogons, and other rare and important species

Protection of this ecologically unique area is crucial for preservation of all species present, but particularly for the last remaining breeding population of northern jaguars.

In 2003, Naturalia, one of Mexico's most active and forward-looking conservation organizations, purchased the 10,000-acre Ranch Los Pavos - - the first of five ranches necessary to establish a functional jaguar reserve. The reserve is dedicated to the protection of jaguars and all wildlife species present, and to the restoration of habitat. The reserve has a small research field station, one of a handful of such field stations in Sonora. Operations at the field station are the responsibility of Northern Jaguar Project, with fieldwork and stewardship assistance provided by Defenders-supported Jaguar Guardians. At the reserve, biologists are working on the first inventories of birds, mammals, butterflies, and plant species ever conducted in northern jaguar habitat.

The area surrounding the reserve is little known; much of it is still unmapped. For many generations, the land in this area has been used exclusively for cattle ranching. Vast, remote, privately owned ranches are distant from even small villages, making ranches unusually difficult to operate. Roads through the craggy hills are no more than primitive dirt tracks, dusty in the dry season, and impassible during rains.

The human population is extremely low, consisting of a few vaqueros who reside for part of the year in ranch camps. Many ranch families have owned their properties for generations, operating under traditional management methods. Some ranchers are progressive and favor conservation initiatives, while others resist change.

When coupled with emerging public outreach and incentive programs, such as the Landowner Camera Contest, the Northern Jaguar Reserve will ensure the continuation of the region's rare wildlife and unique ecological and evolutionary processes.


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