community conservation, land acquisition, predator-friendly ranching
Naturalia & The Northern Jaguar Project
catalyzing conservation for the northern jaguar
Photo Credits: Naturalia, Northern Jaguar Project, Ian Fritz, Miguel Gomez, Oscar Moctezuma, Cristina Mormorunni, Jim Rorabaugh & Wildlife Motion Camera
The Elusive Yaguara
Protecting Land for Predators
In this rugged landscape, where remote rural communities rely heavily on cattle economies, it will take more than buying land to protect essential carnivore populations. Recognizing these challenges, Naturalia and the Northern Jaguar Project have developed creative strategies aimed at ensuring enduring conservation. Jaguar conservation priorities are to:
- Immediately reduce the illegal hunting and trapping of jaguars;
- Encourage and expand a conservation ethic and awareness amongst rural landowners in jaguar-occupied areas; and,
- Gain a better understanding of population size, dispersal behavior, and habitat needs to guide landscape-level conservation.
Some of the region’s generations-old ranch families are supportive of these types of conservation initiatives, while others are not. Poaching and trapping constitute the greatest threat to jaguar and other carnivores. In the last few years, 24 northern jaguars, representing one-quarter of their total population, have been killed.
Inspiring a conservation ethic amongst those ranchers that have seen yaguara as their enemy for centuries is not an easy task. Nor is fostering a belief that minimizing human-wildlife conflicts with jaguars is possible. Yet through Naturalia and NJP’s creativity and innovation, we are beginning to see just that.
Viviendo con Felinos—Living with Felines
Increasingly, ranching communities surrounding the Northern Jaguar Reserve are beginning to see jaguars as more valuable alive, than dead. This is a direct result of an innovative photo-contest taking place Naturalia and NJP designed and have been implementing. Rather than compensating ranchers for livestock lost to predation, the Viviendo con Felinos Project offers positive economic incentives that reward ranchers for the presence of wildlife on their land.
Once a rancher decides to participate in the Project, motion-triggered cameras are placed on known wildlife corridors on their land. Agreements are signed prohibiting the killing of any predators, and a condition of their participation in the project allows for unannounced visits to the ranches. Participating ranchers stand to gain USD400 (MXN5000) per jaguar photo. Since the same jaguar can be ‘shot’ numerous times on a rancher’s land, its overall cash value is much greater than the 5000 peso bounty offered locally for a dead jaguar. Photos of ocelot, mountain lions, and bobcats also garner awards.
In recent years, the photo network has grown to include 150 motion-triggered cameras and captured a record number of jaguar photos—identifying 12 distinct individuals on the Reserve and the Viviendo con Felinos ranches. The Project has also been wildly successful in building community support for carnivore conservation—no small feat in cattle country. When a proud ranch owner was asked what he was going to do with the reward for ten ocelot photos, he laughingly replied: “Buy more of those cats—they’re worth more than cows.”
Viviendo con Felinos also works with ranchers on implementing habitat restoration techniques on their properties to reduce cattle predation and protect critical wildlife habitat in jaguar territory. Restoration projects range from establishing cattle-exclusion zones to fence cows out of sensitive riparian habitats to building gabions that reduce erosion and promote water conservation.
Although reductions in predation trends will take some time to prove, rancher’s attitudes are starting to change. One of the most exciting developments is the emergence of the group “Rancheros Amigos de la Reserva del Jaguar del Norte” (Rancher Friends of the Northern Jaguar Reserve). This is a clear signal that outreach efforts are inspiring the emergence of a new brand of cowboy—one that is predator-tolerant.
Through the Northern Jaguar Reserve and Viviendo con Felinos ranches, the story is being rewritten on ranches where jaguars once faced countless threats to their survival and now find refuge. It will take years to deepen relationships within the ranching community and unseat long-held intolerances of predators. Naturalia and the Northern Jaguar Project remain undaunted, changing the conservation reality for jaguars and other predators one rancher and one ranch at a time.