Very often referred to as 'elusive', much about the Jaguar remains largely a mystery to researchers and wildlife biologists. Panthera onca is notoriously secretive in its behaviour and it's virtually impossible to have the luxury of observing them for long periods of time. Even the most eminent experts in the field of Jaguar tracking and research admit they know precious little about this magnificent big cat. |
Alan Rabinowitz, who established the world's first Jaguar reserve in 1984, is one of the world's leading experts. For many years he has led a team of researchers studying the big cat's key habitats, including the Brazilian Pantanal. Tackling the issue of conservation through a long-term lens, Rabinowitz's focus has been to determine a baseline of populations within particular regions and, from that data, set up monitoring to determine the stability of those numbers over time.
Methods of Jaguar Tracking
The methods Rabinowitz and his team use for Jaguar tracking are also in use in other wildlife conservation initiatives set up in South and Central America.
Camera traps are cameras equipped with infrared sensors, which fire off a predetermined number of frames when an animal's movement and body heat trigger the device. Because the markings ('rosettes') on every animal's coat are unique, the images captured can be used to determine population numbers in the area. When data is collected and analysed over several decades, researchers will be able to determine whether numbers are increasing or decreasing – giving them an insight into the success or otherwise of their conservation efforts.
With hi-tech advances in GPS (global positioning systems), Jaguar tracking has now become much more sophisticated. With the use of radio collars, researchers have been able to gather data on the size of an animal's home range and their movements within it. The ability to track the tagged big cats 24 hours a day has given them a valuable insight into their territorial behaviour, and allowed them to come up with far more accurate data on the density of the population and the sizes of individual's ranges.
Specifically, Rabinowitz hopes to use territorial data gathered from radio collars to create a 'corridor' through human habitat (ranches and farmland) in which the big cats can safely move.
In the US, where sightings of the big cat are extremely rare, researchers were able to augment their use of camera traps in the Santa Rita Mountains, outside Tucson Arizona, by using a specially trained dog to trace the scent of faeces. By using the dog to determine the best possible locations for camera traps, they were able to capture images of the infamous big cat they named El Jefe.
Out of all the big cats, Panthera onca is the one we know least about; however, with its habitat having rapidly declined over the past few decades, experts agree it's vital we start learning more about their ecology in order to create conservation initiatives that will ensure their long-term survival.
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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