A conservation project aimed at ensuring the long-term survival of jaguars in the Americas was launched in Mexico this week.
Jaguars are the largest feline species in the region, ranging over territory from the southwest of the United States through Mexico and Central America all the way to the north of Argentina and Paraguay.
While it is estimated that the current total population of the species is around 100,000, their survival is not guaranteed, with human encroachment and habitat destruction posing the greatest threats.
Just over 4,000 jaguars are estimated to call Mexico home with populations spread across different regions, principally the Yucatán Peninsula and Pacific regions from Sonora in the north to Chiapas in the south.
Officially a protected species in Mexico since 1987, jaguars remain endangered.
But Alan Rabinowitz, an American zoologist and the co-founder and chief executive officer of Panthera —the world’s only organization exclusively dedicated to the conservation of the wild cats — would like to change that.
Dedicated to the continued survival of all big cat species, he has been dubbed “The Indiana Jones of Wildlife Protection” by Time magazine.
This week, he and other scientists from Panthera began work on a long term project called, “Journey of the Jaguar,” which will study and monitor the progress of a system of interconnected wildlife corridors known as the Paseo del Jaguar (Path of the Jaguar).
The system, devised by Rabinowitz to enable jaguars to move more freely, now forms the backbone of all jaguar conservation efforts in the Americas.
Over a period of four years, the scientists plan to conduct a “deep dive into the 10 countries that comprise the corridor’s backbone . . . [and] seek to move governments, communities and businesses to take bold steps to save the jaguar and the incredible biodiversity depending on its survival.”
From the mountains between Jalisco and Nayarit, one of Mexico’s most important jaguar habitats, Rabinowitz issued an ominous warning.
“We can’t be overconfident. A century ago there was a similar number of tigers in Southeast Asia and in a few generations they’re on the verge of disappearing. We can’t let that be the story of the jaguar.”
Rabinowitz indicated that hunting, both of jaguars and their prey, is one threat but another comes from the isolation of jaguar populations from each other.
He explained that while the total number of the cats is currently healthy, isolated populations can cause extinction because a strong gene pool is needed for their continued survival. That can only come from interbreeding of jaguars in different areas. Therefore, the corridors play a vital role in ensuring a sustainable future for the species.
Rabinowitz argued that while NGOs, individuals and government in Mexico are all working for the conservation of jaguars, it is essential that they work in collaboration rather than in an isolated fashion. He also indicated concern about diminishing budgets for long-term conservation projects.
Rabinowitz is also confident that an ecotourism industry can be built around the guaranteed survival of the animals.
“Pre-Hispanic cultures, particularly the Olmecs, had a world view born of the jaguar. Their whole lives revolved around this species and that’s something precious that should be appreciated.”
Source: Milenio (sp)