Jaguar Conservation on the Continental Scale

By John Polisar

As a college student, my summer wages were earned clearing trails in the premier wilderness areas of the American Mountain West. From the mountaintops, I could look across 360-degree vistas and not see a hint of a road. The areas with grizzlies felt different than those without.

In his short stories, Thinking Like a Mountain and Escudilla, Aldo Leopold notes the same; without wolves and grizzly bears, the king carnivores of the North, something is missing. Intact ecosystems always contain their top carnivores. It’s good when humans sense a power that is greater than their own. In tropical America, that force is the jaguar.

Following college, I became a wildlife biologist. My dissertation was done on a productive cattle ranch on the plains of Venezuela. With 10,000 head of cattle distributed across almost 200,000 acres and a tourism business, Hato Piñero was a working model of integrated development and conservation. Twenty years later, it still has jaguars, peccaries, caimans—a feat accomplished by retaining as much forest as pasture, controlling hunting, and practicing tolerance for the big cat, using tools for coexistence.

Caught on a camera trap, a jaguar in Paraguay’s largest national park, the 7000km ² Defensores del Chaco. Photo credit: WCS Laura Villalba/Maria del Carmen Fleytas, WCS Paraguay.

There is space for us and the jaguar. We need large wild areas to keep the planet alive, and our spirit as well. We also need to manage productive landscapes with an understanding that we humans are not the only inhabitants that rely on them. We must thrive, but we also need to keep a place for the plants and animals of the natural world. From them, we draw planetary and spiritual sustenance.

We can see such an approach at the ongoing 2018 Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity. There, all the jaguar range countries have united to execute a 2030 Jaguar Conservation Roadmap with the expressed goal of ensuring the viability of core population strongholds and corridors between them, nationally and range-wide.

The Roadmap integrally links United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (sustainably managed forests, halted land degradation and biodiversity loss, and responsible production) with jaguar conservation. It also emphasizes the importance of incorporating jaguar conservation in development plans for energy, agriculture, and transportation expansion with the goal of no net losses for jaguars and no net losses for biodiversity.

This feat will not be easy, but it’s possible. As coordinator for the Jaguar Program for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), I work with a team that is responsible for supporting about 385,000 square miles for jaguars. All are threatened. Deforestation alone eats up to two percent a year. That’s 22 percent in ten years. Thirty-three percent in 20. We live to slow that down, and to increase jaguar populations.

The number one threat to biological diversity in much of jaguar range is uncontrolled expansion of cattle operations into biodiversity rich protected areas. Photo credit: ©David Medina.

Protected areas are critical, safe, conflict-free homes for America’s largest cat. However, research we have done in productive, selectively logged forests—on well-managed ranches and in well-defended indigenous territories—has demonstrated that humans and jaguars can coexist.

Among the areas we help protect, thousands of square miles in Guatemala are well-managed, certified sustainably harvested forest lands. One thousand square miles are productive ranches with forests in Paraguay. Hundreds of thousands of square miles in countries like Peru, Bolivia, and Honduras are indigenous territories, areas whose inhabitants value the services their forest homes provide and seek to preserve traditional lifestyles within intact landscapes.

Where forest products are extracted, or livestock maintained, a careful approach can help humans avoid conflict with carnivores. Thousands of square miles where we work is uninhabited wilderness, including national parks, where humans are only brief visitors and where—for now—nature reigns.

Almost every significant jaguar stronghold from Mexico through Argentina is transboundary.  Transboundary conservation can be accomplished when each country’s protected and managed areas are working well and effectively united with their neighbors’ reserves.

A jaguar cooling down in a pool deep in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve. Photo credit: Rony Garcia/WCS Guatemala.

Global conservation institutions have helped ignite this week’s new initiative—Panthera, WCS, the World Wildlife Fund, and the United Nations Development Programme. This unprecedented commitment by range countries to ensure that jaguar populations are stable or increasing will be celebrated on the world’s first International Jaguar Day on November 29.

Right now, the momentum behind the 2030 Jaguar Conservation Roadmap is growing across the jaguar’s range. It’s gathering strength through unified national commitments and transboundary visions to accomplish successful coexistence of humans with the power of the wild world—the jaguar. Both will benefit.

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Dr. John Polisar is the coordinator for the Jaguar Conservation Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).


Photo
(top): Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS

In Sharm el Sheikh, A Time for Action on Biodiversity

By Susan Lieberman

Sharm el Shekih, Egypt

The global community has gathered in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt for the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD—an international treaty to which every country in the world other than the U.S. is a member (but that’s another story). I am here leading the delegation from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the global organization I’m proud to work for as Vice President for International Policy.

For close to two weeks, we will discuss the many threats to the world’s wildlife and habitats, from tropical rainforests to the world’s ocean. Our planet is in the midst of an extensive, well-documented biodiversity crisis. We see a loss of species, habitats, and ecosystems critical to our planet’s health, and to the well-being of all of us—including to Indigenous Peoples and local communities that are directly dependent on healthy ecosystems for their very survival.

A tiger in the Sundarbans mangrove forest. Photo credit: Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli/WCS.

Recent scientific reports have shown that the extent of terrestrial and marine ecosystems that can be still be considered intact and ecologically functional is dwindling. Threats across the globe today are massive, and include habitat loss and devastation, illegal killing of wildlife and wildlife trafficking, illegal and unsustainable fishing, illegal and unsustainable timber trade, harmful development projects, climate change, and so much more.

The images of devastated landscapes devoid of their natural biodiversity, vast industrial-scale monoculture for commercial agriculture, and largely empty seas are becoming all too familiar and all too dominant. The consequences for biodiversity are clear: ever increasing numbers of species facing extinction and the degradation of the critical ecosystem services that underpin the very health of our planet and our own well-being.

In short, we are moving from a serious erosion of biodiversity to a serious ecological crisis that will impact all of us. And yet how many people know about this conference in Egypt? Or that between this meeting and the next conference in Beijing in 2020, the world will adopt new targets to set the course of biodiversity conservation for the next decade and beyond? But even as we endeavor to expand the constituency for this critical work, we cannot wait to take action.

The expansion of humanity’s footprint both on land and in the sea is staggering and ever-increasing. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

More than anything, all of the governments here in Egypt must work and commit to save the Earth’s last intact places: the remaining boreal forests of Canada and Russia; the remaining tropical forests of Central Africa and the Amazon Basin; the remaining grasslands of Central Asia; and the remaining healthy coral reefs found in the tropical belt around the world to identify just some of the most critical biodiversity strongholds.

Just as urgently, we must secure the intact ecosystems and corridors between these place that are so critical for the maintenance of healthy, thriving populations of jaguars, elephants, tigers, sea turtles, parrots, whales, and so many other species threatened by the actions of people.

These intact forests, grasslands, coral reefs, and other intact landscapes and seascapes must be prioritized for many reasons, including because they are the most resilient to the impacts of climate change and increasing development pressures, and offer some of the greatest potential for protecting biological diversity for future generations.

Threats across the globe today include the illegal killing and trafficking of wildlife such as the pangolin. Photo credit: Lucie Escouflaire/WCS

I am excited to be here in Egypt to work through these issues with government officials from around the world, as well as other conservation organizations, indigenous peoples and local community representatives, and so many more. But I am very worried. This treaty, like all treaties, is made up of governments, and they are the ones making the decisions on behalf of all of the inhabitants of our beautiful and fragile planet—the only one we have.

Will the governments of the world talk but not act, show complacency, support business-as-usual, and squabble over minutiae? Or will they be ambitious and bold, and show true leadership and commitment to the future of a healthy planet? Will we be able to look back on this meeting as a watershed moment, when the governments of the world, through the CBD, truly committed to real conservation action, and to saving the magnificent, intact places on earth, for all of us?

Our children and future generations will ultimately be the judge, and they need our commitment, action, and leadership more than ever.

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Susan Lieberman is Vice President for International Policy at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

(Photo, top: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS)

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