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BE Wildlife Heroes Leonardo Silveira


This is why Silveira’s organization, the Jaguar Conservation Fund, has focused for years on educating local people and showing them the benefits of conserving jaguars. Over a decade ago he started the Annual Jaguar Festival in the Pantanal̶the Brazilian wetlands, where the healthiest population of jaguars in South America is thought to live. Once a year, Silveira’s organization would bring in free medical and dental care for the locals, along with fun activities for families and educational presentations about jaguars and their importance for the biological and economic security of the region.


“We continue to work with the landowners, compensating them when there are confirmed kills of cattle by jaguars, but in the end, it is the ranch hands and locals who actually hunt the jaguars that are considered a ‘problem’; so it is vital that we reach these people as well as the politicians and landowners.”


Silveira, who is known for his deadpan sense of humor and pranks on unsuspecting visitors to his field stations, is always serious when working with wild jaguars. “One time we were tracking a jaguar in the Pantanal Amazon, when one of the locals decided to show off to our team for a camera crew. He ran up on a cornered adult female jaguar, who of course jumped at him. Our team members had to run forward and help pull the jaguar off the man’s arm, and now he and one of my colleagues have the scars to show for it.”


As the largest predator in the Western Hemisphere, the jaguar boasts a range that stretches from southern Arizona to northern Argentina. Its presence is vital for the equilibrium of the ecosystems in which it lives, as it helps maintain healthy levels of prey species, such as peccaries, deer, and tapirs. Jaguar habitat is diminishing rapidly due to agricultural expansion and development̶the species has already been eliminated from many parts of its range.


In Brazil, the jaguar’s original distribution range has decreased by 48 percent, and less than six percent of its habitat is protected from future development.


Although many people admire the species as a symbol of power and beauty, farmers lose cattle to them annually and view them as dangerous pests. Most farmers are also terrified that they will themselves be killed and eaten by jaguars; therefore, convincing them to protect the species on their land is extremely difficult. This is a deep-rooted attitude, forged by centuries of conflict and fear.


INSPIRATION │ KNOWLEDGE


After years of conducting jaguar research and starting conservation efforts in the Pantanal, Silveira founded the Jaguar Conservation Fund in 2002 with his wife, fellow wildlife biologist Anah Jácomo. Through Silveira and Jácomo’s work and educational efforts in the Pantanal, the jaguar is now flourishing in the region, and native residents have a new appreciation for jaguars and their historical, cultural, and economic role in the area.


Silveira has led significant scientific research on jaguars, not only in the Pantanal, but also in the five other biomes of Brazil that still hold viable jaguar populations. And his latest, most ambitious project has been mapping and researching a twenty-one-hundred-mile stretch of river connecting the Brazilian Pantanal and grasslands (or cerrado) to the Amazon basin. “This amazing and mostly undisturbed habitat is not only a vital wildlife corridor for jaguars who use the riparian zone for hunting, shelter, and seeking mates,” he explains, “but also for other key species, such as pink river dolphins, lowland tapirs, giant river otters, and giant catfish.”


Silveira hopes to generate enough scientific data to give the Brazilian government everything they need to declare the entire stretch of the Araguaia River a conservation corridor̶complete with legal protections and monitoring to ensure that it remains a wildlife highway free from threats to jaguars and other important Brazilian species.


Since the age of fourteen, Silveira has known that his life would be devoted to jaguar conservation. He has continued his conservation work while facing physical danger, confronting cultural hurdles, and challenging institutionalized prejudices in his native country of Brazil̶all in the hope of saving this great cat in his own homeland and throughout its range.


JAGUAR FAST FACTS


Scientific Name: Panthera onca Range: The jaguar’s geographic range extends from the Southwest United States to lower Argentina, with nearly 50 percent of its distribution in Brazil. Population Trend: Although the population is globally declining, jaguars can still be found in nineteen countries in the Western Hemisphere. IUCN Status: Near Threatened


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