Throughout the world there are many conservation projects focused on the protection of wildlife species at risk through loss of habitat or human intervention. While they operate with varying degrees of effectiveness, in the South American Pantanal region of Brazil, one initiative has been so successful that it's hoped it can become a model to encompass the conservation of over 150,000 hectares of habitat. |
The Caiman Ecological Refuge
More than 30 years ago, rancher Roberto Klabin established the Caiman Ecological Refuge on his 53,000-hectare ranch on the southern fringes of the Pantanal. A dedicated conservationist, Klabin recognised the need to create an environment where man and wildlife could co-exist in order to ensure the preservation of indigenous birds and wildlife, including the magnificent Jaguar and Puma.
Putting his money where his mouth was, Klabin chose to absorb the financial ramifications on his working cattle ranch that his conservation project incurred, due to inevitable stock loss. But with a measured commitment to the total protection of all wildlife species, Klabin's forward-thinking approach now ensures a healthy population of prey species - like Pampas Deer, Peccary, and Capybaras - which creates the perfect habitat for the apex predator big cats to thrive on his land.
Building a Model
Klabin's hope is that the success and longevity of the project can be mirrored by other ranches in the surrounding area, enabling the creation of a 150,000-hectare 'safe haven' for wildlife in the Pantanal. To this end, he enlisted the help of professional trackers from South Africa to implement a Jaguar tracking programme in 2013, in order to locate (a notoriously difficult task) and 'habituate' them. Projecto Oncafari, as the habituation programme was dubbed, has developed into an ongoing project.
The aim of habituation is to get the big cat population to a point where they develop a trust for vehicles passing through their territory. The point is not to domesticate them, and in fact it is not humans they become used to, but the vehicles that carry them. The Jaguar tracking and habituation programme is designed to encourage the ranchers of the Pantanal to envisage an additional source of income through eco-tourism, rather than see them as an enemy to their livelihood.
Education Through Conservation
The South African trackers who assisted the Caiman Ecological Refuge with their original Jaguar tracking programme are graduates of the renowned Tracker Academy. Accustomed to working with Leopards, Elephants, Lions and Rhino, by bringing their expertise to Brazil to track the elusive big cats of the Pantanal, they were not only able to lay the foundations of Projecto Oncafari - they also ensured the momentum of the conservation efforts by educating local trackers to continue the work.
The Future of Conservation in the Pantanal
Today, the Caiman Ecological Refuge runs as an entity with three distinct yet intertwined purposes – continuing to promote the original ideals of its founder more than three decades ago.
The Nature Conservation Programme supports a number of ongoing research and management projects across the ranch. The Caiman Ranch is a working commercial venture, running over 35,000 head of cattle and also housing a permanent community for employees and their families. The Caiman Lodge became the first ecotourism venture in the Southern Pantanal in 1985, and it continues to provide a way for visitors to immerse in the wildlife and culture of the Pantanal.
The fruit of one man's vision, the Caiman Ecological Refuge is an enduring and successful model from which, in time, the caretakers of other areas of endangered habitat around the world may be inspired.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar tracking in the Brazilian Pantanal region. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays 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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