While a dedicated Jaguar holiday to South America is the only safe and ethical way to enjoy the privilege of observing the big cats in the wild, much to the dismay of scientists and conservationists, the practice of showcasing these magnificent animals in captivity continues in some parts of the world. |
Making World Headlines
The argument for keeping wild animals wild has made global headlines in 2016, alongside the mammoth publicity of the Olympic Games in Rio, with the shooting of a 17-year old female Jaguar called Juma.
The incident occurred following a ceremony celebrating the passage of the Olympic torch through the Brazilian Amazon on its way to Rio de Janeiro, in the city of Manaus, when Juma was brought out and photographed. As she was returned to the military-run zoo (where she had been raised in captivity since a cub), she escaped her handlers. After four tranquiliser darts failed to slow Juma down, it is reported that she turned on a veterinarian handler and a soldier was forced to shoot her dead with a single bullet.
The shooting of Juma has caused outrage from animal welfare groups, who have called for immediate restrictions to be enforced on the displaying of wild animals to glorify human activity. Their ethical concerns about the practice have been echoed across global social networks, and representatives from the zoo have been forced to defend the soldier's actions, saying the killing had been necessary to "protect the team that was trying to recapture her".
The Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Brazil, Carlos Durigan, has gone on record to say the big cat should not have been included in the event and was not a good mascot for the Olympic Games.
The big cat has been an important animal totem for multiple ancient South American civilizations and is, to this day, held in high esteem. As the iconic symbol of the Amazon, organisers adopted a grinning animated Jaguar called Ginga as the official mascot of the Brazilian Olympic team.
Mr Durigan went on to say that using a wild animal as a mascot, especially when it appeared in chains and shackles as Juma had done, was not appropriate, and that it was fundamentally wrong to keep an animal that had the instinct to roam across hundreds of square kilometres of territory in captivity.
Other animal rights groups have weighed in to condemn the shooting, including PETA and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Amazonas state government environmental authority has decried the actions of the event's organisers as illegal, saying that, as the agency overseeing the use of wild animals, no request had been made to them to authorise the use of the animal in the event.
Where to Now for the Wild Big Cats?
While the incident is now being investigated by both the military and Ipaam, it's cold comfort for Juma - although the publicity garnered from the shooting has certainly brought the species' 'near threatened' conservation status to the attention of the world.
Conservationists are working against time to protect the survival of these magnificent big cats, with a number of high-profile initiatives in place throughout the Brazilian Pantanal (where the best Jaguar holiday tours are run) and the rest of South America. Wildlife corridors, camera trapping, Jaguar holiday itineraries and other eco-tourism projects are doing their part, but conservationists warn there's a long way to go while the practice of showcasing wild animals continues. The question is posed succinctly and poignantly by the Rio-based animal rights group Animal Freedom Union: "When will people stop with this sick need to show power and control by confining, taming and showcasing wild animals?"
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar holiday itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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