While the natural range of Panthera onca – the Jaguar – has declined over the past century due to fragmentation and loss of habitat, there are currently a number of conservation projects focused on preserving the species' genetic integrity and reversing their 'near threatened' status. |
Predominantly found in the rainforests of Central and South America, these elusive and mysterious big cats are indigenous to the western hemisphere. But while in the past their domain was far more extensive – ranging throughout the entire continent and up into parts of the USA - their habitat has been substantially reduced.
For wildlife enthusiasts wishing to catch sight of the notoriously secretive big cat, an organised Jaguar tour to the Brazilian Pantanal provides the best opportunities, with established conservation projects ensuring a healthy population continues to survive in this accessible, bio-diverse area.
But the Pantanal is not the only habitat conservationists have in their sights. In the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in north-eastern Nicaragua, a team of dedicated researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Jaguar Conservation Programme is working with the military, national police, and the local communities to preserve this area of outstanding wildlife diversity.
Protecting Vital Wildlife Habitat in Nicaragua
Encompassing more than 20,000 sq kms of lowland and lush, mountainous areas, the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is home to an astounding number of wildlife species. These include over 368 kinds of birds, many reptile and amphibian species, and large mammals like the Baird's Tapir, the White-lipped Peccary, the puma and, of course, the mighty Panthera onca. There are also more than 300 kinds of trees, including those endemic to the high natural cloud forests.
Despite being such an important ecosystem, the reserve is faced with a very real threat to its survival, due to overhunting and deforestation by pastoralists.
A decade ago, in a measure to protect the region's biodiversity, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Nicaragua, in collaboration with the St. Louis Zoo and the WCS, installed a series of camera traps, which resulted in the country's first images of the resident big cats.
Understanding the expansion and decline of the reserve's wildlife population is a vital part of the conservation process and, in 2015, the WCS, the indigenous communities, military, police, and the Ministry worked side-by-side on a project to determine the population status of the reserve's wildlife and forests.
What they discovered was both heartening and alarming in equal measure. Whilst they were impressed by the incredible biodiversity of the region, they also found worrying evidence that the hunting and deforestation occurring in some areas posed a very real threat to the reserve's future and that of its resident wildlife – particularly the Jaguar, which needs large areas to range.
Building a Future
The WCS is working in Bosawás to help decrease deforestation, reduce human/big cat conflict, implement sustainable hunting and farming practices, and educate local communities in order to allow a peaceful coexistence of man and nature. While much of the reserve is inaccessible to ecotourism (so there are no Jaguar tour opportunities here), the country's first national park – Saslaya National Park – on its south-eastern corner allows tourists to experience the natural beauty and wildlife of the area. By bringing recognition and visitors to this beautiful region, the need to conserve it is being highlighted.
A Holistic Approach to Conservation
Encountering Panthera onca in its natural habitat on a Jaguar tour through the Pantanal is the ultimate wildlife spotting experience, but it should be remembered that it's not the only place the big cat exists. Programmes like those in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve are an important part of the holistic conservation effort needed to ensure the continued survival of this majestic species.
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 tour 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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