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Interview by Inga Yandell PANTHERA’S PLAN


How did you identifying priority zones for the jaguar corridor? In 1999, a group of experts conducted a range-wide assessment of the long-term survival prospects of the jaguar and prioritised Jaguar Conservation Units (JCU) occurring in major habitat types.


A JCU is an area with stable prey community, currently known or believed to contain a population of resident jaguars large enough (≥ 50 breeding individuals) to be potentially self-sustaining over the next 100 years or fewer jaguars but adequate habitat and stable, diverse prey, so a jaguar population in the area could increase if threats were alleviated. This work was published in Conservation Biology (Sanderson et al. 2002).


At Panthera, researchers used satellite imagery to identify potential corridors for jaguars across their geographic range. They selected GIS- based landscape characteristics which were considered to most affect jaguar movement and survival and asked 15 jaguar experts to assign cost values to the landscape characteristics based on how costly they would be to jaguar movement. In this way they identified potential ‘least-cost’ corridors between jaguar populations. This work was published in Biological Conservation (Rabinowitz & Zeller 2010). The next step was to validate the models by collecting field data, find out if the corridors are functional, and refine their boundaries.


So, they developed a novel corridor assessment protocol to refine the least-cost corridor boundaries, based on interview data and site occupancy modelling. Using the least-cost corridors as a guide, the corridors were divided into grid cells and local residents who frequent the grid cells were interviewed about the frequency with which they see jaguars and their main prey. These data were used to predict the probability of use of each grid cell by each species. This information was combined with data on land tenure and proposed development, to refine the boundaries of the corridors.


An example of this method in use in southeast Nicaragua was published in Biological Conservation (Zeller et al. 2011). This ‘ground truthing’ of the least-cost corridors has also been conducted in Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, and Belize. Researchers at Panthera are also using camera traps and telemetry to estimate abundance and learn more about how jaguars and their prey use the landscape and move through corridors between JCUs.


BE PARTNER │ PSA With Rebecca Foster


Given your experience working in this densely forested ecosystem, what obstacles do you foresee for conservation efforts in the region? Jaguars, like all big cats, are threatened by habitat loss, direct persecution by people, and depletion of their natural prey. Clearance of forests reduces habitat for jaguars and their natural prey, and increases the contact zone with people. Overexploitation of wild prey by people further reduces the wild prey base available for the jaguars, and can lead to attacks on livestock and domestic animals, which in turn can lead to the persecution of jaguars. Failed attempts to kill jaguars may exacerbate the problem: injured jaguars may find it difficult to hunt wild prey and resort to hunting ‘easy’ domestic animals. If properly managed, protected areas can safeguard core jaguar populations from these threats; but to ensure genetic integrity, some jaguars must move between these protected areas.


Connectivity between jaguar populations will allow the exchange of genetic material and ensure their survival into the future. As the human population grows, and development expands, it will become increasingly difficult for jaguars to move through human-influenced landscapes. That is why it is necessary for range countries to support the idea of a jaguar corridor, through which some jaguars, at least, can safely move between JCUs/protected areas. Where I work in Belize, people are remarkably tolerant of jaguars on their lands and farms. Through support from Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative, the Belize Forest Department Wildlife Program has hired a wildlife officer who works within the corridor, and also assists farmers at a national level to help improve their livestock management to minimise predator attacks.


What is Panthera's role in the project?


Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative is using a holistic range-wide approach to ensure connectivity between core jaguar populations from Mexico to Argentina. We work in partnership with Governments, local communities, private landowners and conservation organisations. Currently, we work in 13 of the 18 range countries. Our work includes verifying where jaguars are and understanding how they use the landscape, managing and conserving key prey species, understanding land-use issues, helping farmers to improve livestock husbandry so as to minimise conflict with jaguars, and assisting Government’s with protected area management. In Belize, we work in partnership with the Belize Forest Department and the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize, and our collaborative work has received international support from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative.


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