Coastal Jaguars

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

Photographs by iLCP Fellow Sebastian Kennerknecht/Panthera
Text by Betsy Painter

Jaguar (Panthera onca) yearling female cub approaching predated Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) at night, Coastal Jaguar Conservation Project, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Along the borders of Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica, sturdy tree trunks guard the entrance to the rainforest like a gate, and palm fronds bend down from the canopy and sweep across the ground, drawing a line in the sand. In the categorized recesses of our minds, as far as biomes are concerned, we tend to keep rainforest and ocean life separate.  Jellyfish and chameleons may share eccentric colors, but have no ecological business between them. Three-toed sloths and shrimp may both be underdogs in speed and size respectively, but would never compete in the race for resources. But on the shore of Tortuguero National Park, the nautical-jungle boundary is constantly crossed by an unusual pair: jaguars (Panthera onca) and sea turtles.

On any ordinary evening on Tortuguero beach, through the lens of a carefully placed camera trap, this interesting interaction begins as the phantom predator of the rainforest, one of the toughest to track, steps out through the forest bush and onto the beach. Like shadows on the shore, jaguars stalk across the sand in search of sea turtles. While cultural legends and myths attribute supernatural characteristics to jaguars, building off of their cryptic nature, the jaguars are not there to haunt, but to hunt.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) tracks on beach, Coastal Jaguar Conservation Project, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Jaguars are “opportunistic predators” with diets depending on the availability of prey. On Tortuguero beach, sea turtles arrive each nesting season in impressive numbers to lay their eggs. It is the largest rookery in the western hemisphere for the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas), and also serves as a nesting ground for three other sea turtle species: leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta). As the sea turtles roll in with the waves, the natural instincts of the jaguars draw them out from their hidden lives in the rainforest and towards the tide.

Paw prints in the sand

In the rainforest, jaguars’ tawny golden coats marked with smudged dark spots camouflage with the earthy scenery of tangled vines, rugged bark and dense vegetation. However, on their nightly prowls on the beach, the only veil is the dim light of the evening sky, and their large paw prints left behind in the sand serve as clues to their activities. Following the path of the prints leads to abandoned sea turtle carcasses that vultures and other scavengers now claim for their clean-up role in nature. Provision for scavenger species is one way predator-prey relationships prove vital to ecosystems.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) biologists, Jizel Miles and Ian Thomson, looking at camera trap images, Coastal Jaguar Conservation Project, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

These tracks also prove helpful for scientists Ian Thomson and Stephanny Arroyo-Arce on their research investigating this predator-prey relationship through their ongoing Coastal Jaguar Conservation project with the collaboration of Global Vision International (GVI). Little was known about the impact jaguars have on sea turtle populations on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica before the work of Thomson and Arroyo-Arce. Through weekly surveys along a 14 1/2-mile stretch of the coast from 2005 to the present, researchers have collected data by counting identifiable jaguar tracks and marine turtle carcasses containing evidence of jaguar predation. Their research found that within 18 miles of coastline, jaguar predation accounts for less than three percent of the nesting green turtle population on the beach. Based on the researchers’ current findings these jaguar predation rates are not considered a significant threat to the green sea turtle populations.  For the other marine turtle species, it is too difficult to measure the effects of jaguar predation based on available evidence because cases only occur sporadically. However, for all marine turtles, the impact of jaguar predation on the populations is minimal compared to the losses caused by human activities such as illegal poaching, commercial exploitation and incidental captures in fishing gear.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) male in rainforest at night, Coastal Jaguar Conservation Project, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Human pressures push jaguars to the coast

Anthropogenic pressures may also be influencing the jaguars’ shift towards coastal habitats.  One human factor comes into play in the form of habitat degradation in the buffer zones around the park. In the early 1990’s, an expansion of large-scale banana and pineapple plantations outside of the park coincided with an increase in jaguar predation of marine turtles.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) female approaching predated Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) at night, Coastal Jaguar Conservation Project, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Another factor may be illegal hunting of other prey species inside the park. Jaguars have over 85 prey species throughout their ranges, and within Tortuguero National Park specifically, common prey includes the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), the green iguana (Iguana iguana), and both species of sloth found in the area, the three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) and the two-toed (Choloepus hoffmanni). Illegal hunting of these species can decrease the populations and potentially encourage jaguars towards more readily available prey like the sea turtles.

A not so antisocial big cat

This abundance of marine prey has also led researchers to believe that they are documenting a reduction in competition between the jaguars. Thomson and Arroyo-Arce have recorded over 36 jaguars on a meager 18-mile strip of coastline since 2010. Anywhere else jaguars are described as being typically solitary with vast territories and sparse overlap. With jaguars in closer proximity to each other on Tortuguero beach, the scientists are observing rare and unusual social behaviors in the big cats, such as facultative scavenging and smaller territories with increased interactions between individuals. Some of these activities have never before been documented in the wild.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) yearling male cubs on beach at night, Coastal Jaguar Conservation Project, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

For example, as part of the long-term monitoring program by Thomson and Arroyo-Arce, one camera trap video lasting seven minutes captured two male jaguar cubs nursing from their mother at an atypically advanced age, giving new insight to maternal and cub behavior.

The role of conservation science

This opportunity to study jaguar behavior up close is remarkable, yet the link to sea turtle predation may be challenging for some. The poetic drama of natural predation, where one species experiences loss at the benefit of another, is heightened by the fact that conservationists champion both the declining jaguar populations and the endangered sea turtles. But nature is not sentimental, nor does it favor one species over another based on emotion. Rather it is detached from humanity in this way—wild, free, and sometimes hauntingly so. The role of scientists is not to judge the fairness of what takes place, but to study and observe. It’s a position of humility, as they stoop to the ground to observe a print, take notes on a fallen prey, or ask questions that reveal there is still much to learn. The objective freedom of science allows the facts to speak louder so that we can make truly informed decisions when it comes to managing wildlife populations and ecosystems.

The unusual jaguar and sea turtle relationship on Tortuguero Beach unites our marine and forest worlds, reminding us that nature is a vibrant, breathing, interwoven network. As the beach continues to boast a stable population of sea turtles, jaguar connectivity will grow and gene flow will increase between populations, strengthening them in Tortuguero and beyond. Humanity’s actions and choices are a force in between the strands of nature’s web, and the goal is to address where these actions may impair that balance.  Thomson and Arroyo-Arce are working with the local communities, the local government and other conservation organizations to protect this unique place, which will be essential for the long-term survival of both jaguars and marine turtles.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) biologists, Stephanny Arroyo-Arce and Ian Thomson, digging out female Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) that is stuck in the sand, Coastal Jaguar Conservation Project, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Bibliography
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce and Roberto Salom-Pérez. 2015. Impact of jaguar Panthera onca (Carnivora: Ferlidae) predation on marine turtle populations in Tortuguero, Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Rev. Biol. Trop. 63: 815-825.
Arroyo-Arce et al. 2014. Habitat features influencing jaguar Panthera onca (Carnivora: Felidae) occupancy in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Rev. Biol. Trop. 62: 1449-1458.
Arroyo-Arce et al. 2017. First record of jaguar (Panthera onca) predation on a loggerheard sea turtle (Caretta caretta) in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Herptology Notes 10:17-18.
Thomson et al. 2014. Record of two jaguar cubs suckling from their mother in the wild. Cat News 61:8.

Originally posted 2018-03-16 01:35:24.

Top 25: Birds of America

The Americas have a rich and varied avifauna. The United States is home to 1107 different species of birds, while Canada and Alaska host 686 and 521 species respectively. Despite being a smaller country, Mexico has almost as many birds as the US, with 1118 species recorded here. However this pales in comparison to South America, which has more birds than any other continent, with an amazing 3389 species recorded here! This week we present just a few of birds that occur in the Americas, from bluebirds, to hummingbirds and trogons. Thank you to all the photographers who contributed this week, your efforts have brought the birds of America to us all.

The Eastern Bluebird is native to the open woodlands of eastern North America and central America (Sanjeev K Goyal)There are an estimated 1.5 million Anna’s Hummingbirds in North America (Judi Fenson)A Peregrine Falcon comes in to land in San Pedro, USA (Leslie Reagan)Anna’s Hummingbirds are expanding their range due to people planting exotic plants that provide nectar and putting out nectar feeders (Anirban Roychowdhury)The Yellow-shafted Flicker has been known to cause problems in human environments by excavating in unusual locations. One such instance was in the insulation of a fuel tank at the space station in Florida, which cost over one million dollars to repair (Zachary Vanier)The Virginia Rail is typically found in vegetated freshwater marshes, here one forages on the edge of a marsh in Quebec, Canada (Tony Campbell)Here in California, the Western Bluebird relies heavily on mistletoe berries during the winter (Barbara Wallace)A Bald Eagle soars over a lake in Alaska (Suranjan Mukherjee)A Black-capped Chickadee photographed in Malta, New York by Zachary VanierThe Black Phoebe is most closely related to the flycatchers (Sanjeev K Goyal)Black-chinned Hummingbirds are known to feed on nectar from 40 different species of plant. They also eat flies and mayflies to supplement their protein intake (Tim Nicol)During the breeding season the California Gull is found in inland habitats but during the winter they are more coastal (Mann P Arora)The Black-crested Coquette, a type of hummingbird, is native to central America. This female was photographed in Costa Rica by Antonis TsaknakisA male Greater Sage Grouse displays in Colorado (Christopher Ciccone)This little Magnolia Warbler migrates between Canada/northern USA and central America (Owen Deutsch)Mallard Ducks occur across the Northern Hemisphere. This one was photographed in New York by Zachary VanierThe Mountain Bluebird is the state bird of Idaho and Nevada (Jola Charlton)The Northern Cardinal is commonly parasitised by cowbirds (Arun Samak)A Red-tailed Hawk in California’s Yosemite National Park (Sanjeev K Goyal)A Rufous Hummingbird photographed in Republic, Washington by Jola CharltonThe Slaty-tailed Trogon is typically found in the canopies of damp tropical forests of central America (Antonis Tsaknakis)Stellar’s Jays are usually seen in pairs in patchy woodland habitats (Judi Fenson)This Tricolored Heron is usually found in coastal areas, like this one in Florida (Owen Deutsch)In the north of their breeding range, White-crowned Sparrows tend to have one brood per season but further south they may have multiple broods per season, as food conditions are favourable for longer (Tim Nicol)The endangered Whooping Crane has a very limited distribution. They breed in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and over-winter in a small region of Texas and Mexico (Christopher Ciccone)

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Christie Craig, Campaign Manager

Top 25 Marine Birdlife

Originally posted 2018-06-01 13:55:29.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Black plumage

Many birds make use of black plumage, whole or only partially. In feathers it is melanin pigments that produce the black to reddish-brown colour, these pigments are enclosed in granular structures called melanosomes. The melanosomes make black feathers stronger and more resistant to wear than non-melanised feathers, and often birds that have mostly white plumage will have wing feathers, or wing tips that are black because these areas often experience the most wear.

Thank you to all the photographers that submitted photos of  birds with black plumage, your pictures can create awareness about the variety and beauty of birds that make use of this type of plumage. Here we present the Top 25 photographs of birds with black plumage.

Greater racket-tailed drongos are an Asian species noted for its long outer tail feathers, in moulting birds these tail feathers may be absent (Ganesh Rao)Black eagles breed in tropical and subtropical Asia, and adults have all black plumage (Panthera Tigris)Blacksmith lapwings are distributed from Kenya to central Tanzania, and south and southwest Africa, they defend their territories by rushing at intruders while calling (Edwin Godinho)Ashy-crowned sparrow-larks are found across South Asia, males have a pattern of black and white plumage on their face (Jay Patel)Black bulbuls are distributed in southern Asia, they feed on insects and seeds, within this species there are ten subspecies that have varying plumage shades (Anupam Kamal)Long-tailed shrikes have mostly rufous plumage with a dark mask, photographed here in Darjeeling, India (Ajoy Kumar Dawn)Birds with mostly white plumage, like this black-headed gull, will have wing feathers, or wing tips that are black, these areas experience the most wear, and the black colouration makes the feathers stronger (Gur Simrat Singh)A rain quail in Maharashtra, India, males have a black breast patch, and black and white head pattern (Indranil Bhattacharjee)House crows have an Asian origin but have been introduced to many parts of the world, they feed on small reptiles, small mammals, and refuse in human habitats (Gargi Biswas)White-bellied minivets can be found in open, dry scrub, grassland, and dry cultivation in Nepal and India (Sandipan Ghosh)Eurasian collared dove preening its feathers in West Bengal, India, these birds are native to temperate and subtropical Asia, but have been introduced other areas over the last 100 years, increasing its range (Ritwick Bhattacharyya)White-spotted fantails are found in south and central India, they have slaty grey plumage and feed on insects (Praveen K Bhat)Dark-fronted babblers are found in the Western Ghats of India, and forests of Sri Lanka, their plumage is brown and white, with a black hood (Pradnya Paralkar)White-breasted waterhen photographed in Bangalore, India, they are found in marshes of tropical Asia (Arun Samak)The diet of the red-vented bulbul consists of fruits, insects, and flower petals; they have an aggressive nature, which, in combination with their fruit eating, makes them one of the world’s worst alien invasive species (Shalini Jain)Pied bush chats are found in central, south, and southeast Asia, males have mostly black plumage while females are mostly brown in colour (Gagan Bedi)Red-headed woodpeckers are found in pine savannas and open forests of temperate North America, due to habitat loss, and decreased food availability they are listed as near threatened by the IUCN (Rhonda Lane)Savanna nightjars are found in south and south east Asia in open forests and scrub areas, photographed here in Haryana, India (Sudhir Kadam)Grey-winged blackbirds feed on insects, fruits, and berries (Shantharama Holla K)Ayre’s hawk-eagles are distributed in the sub-Saharan region, their diet consists mainly of birds, as seen here, especially doves and pigeons (Andrew Keys)Black redstarts breed in south and central Europe, Britain and Ireland, males are dark grey to black on their upper parts with a red lower tail and rump, while females are grey brown with a red lower tail and rump (Nishith Dwivedi)Heart-spotted woodpeckers have mostly black plumage with heart shaped black spots, photographed here in Karnataka, India (Ramesh Aithal)The Masai ostrich in Kenya is a subspecies of the common ostrich which is native to Africa, the pink thighs and neck of this bird will get brighter during the breeding season (Subhamoy Das)Coal tits are found in temperate and subtropical Eurasia and northern Africa, their throat and neck feathers are glossy blue-black, a plumage colour that young birds lack (Halit Uzun)Black vultures have a Nearctic and Neotropic distribution, found in open lands, moist lowland forests, grassland, and shrubland. Like all other vultures they feed mainly on carrion (Jola Charlton)

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Laurie Johnson, Campaign Manager

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Courtship Displays

Originally posted 2018-10-26 18:13:56.

Top 25 Birds with Red Plumage

Red plumage is quite common in the bird kingdom, especially in males, who use their red feathers to attract females. Scientists have recently pinpointed how a bird’s genetic code allows them to produce red feathers. Birds take in yellow pigments, called carotenoids from their diet, then an enzyme called ketolase allows the bird to convert these to red pigments for the feathers. Their research also showed that birds with red plumage have superior colour vision to other birds, in particular they are better at seeing the colour red.

Here we present the Top 25 Birds with Red Plumage. This week we were lucky enough to get submissions from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Australasia! Thank you to everyone who contributed to our theme this week and well done to all the finalists.

At first glance male and female European Goldfinches look very similar. But if you look closer, the red patch is smaller on females than males, indicating the size of the red patch may be important in mate selection (Anthony Roberts)here we have a Scarlet Finch photographed by Mohit Kumar Ghatak at Baihualing, ChinaA Black-collared Barbet perches on an aloe in the Kruger National Park, South Africa (Brian Culver)A Black-throated Sunbird takes a drink of nectar in Da Lat, Vietnam (Mohit Kumar Ghatak)A true work of art! A pair of Sarus Cranes photographed by Indranil Bhattacharjee in Keoladeo, IndiaA Great Spotted Woodpecker drums on a tree in Helsinki, Finland (Oana Badiu)The Red-crowned Parakeet, or Kākāriki in Māori, is endemic to New Zealand (Adriana Dinu)A male Acorn Woodpecker peeks out from behind his tree in Irvine, USA (Barbara Wallace)This Black-cheeked Woodpecker can only be found in the forests of central America. Adriana Dinu photographed this one in Pico Bonito National Park in HondurasThis Scarlet-faced Liocichla was photographed in Thailand by Saravanan KrishnamurthyWhite-capped Redstarts are strongly associated with streams and marshy areas (Ganesh Rao)Male Common House Finches need to eat foods with plenty of carotenoids during their moulting period in late summer so they can maintain their red plumage through winter (Anirban Roychowdhury)Up close you can really appreciate the brilliant colours of this Crimson Sunbird’s plumage (Gur Simrat Singh)Here we have a male Common Rosefinch. Red plumage is an important part of mate selection for Common Rosefinches, during the breeding season the males’ plumage becomes a brighter red, to attract females (Jasvir Faridkot)an Indian Pitta forages on the ground, pushing aside leaf litter to find insects and other invertebrates (Indranil Bhattacharjee)A male Malabar Trogon photographed in Kotagiri, India (Panthera Tigris)This Maroon Oriole is rather eye catching! Pradnya Paralkar photographed this beautiful bird in Taipei, TaiwanA female Red-naped Sapsucker brings food to her chicks (Tim Nicol)A group of Mitred Parakeets in California, USA. These parakeets are native to South America but have been introduced to California, Florida and Hawaii. In Hawaii they are considered invasive and a threat to local biodiversity (Leslie Reagan)A male Red-headed Finch sunning himself in Kimberley, South Africa (Brian Culver)The Red Munia’s bright red plumage has unfortunately made these birds popular in the pet trade (Jasvir Faridkot)This Red-capped Robin is an Australian endemic, Jamie Dolphin photographed this one in KalgoorlieThis vibrant bird is a Red-tailed Minla, found mainly in China but also as far west as Nepal (Shantanu Bhattacharya)A collection of birds with red plumage would not be complete without the vibrant Northern Cardinal! (Jola Charlton)

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Christie Craig, Campaign Manager

Top 25 Birds with a Sugar Rush

Originally posted 2018-08-03 23:23:11.

WWF strengthens communities’ resiliency against extreme weather events

Last year, which was predicted to be above average but not extreme, turned out to be one of the most disastrous Atlantic hurricane seasons on record. It saw 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes, making it the most active season since 1936. Totaling $306 billion in damages, it was also the costliest year for disasters ever recorded in the United States.

Those figures include the heavy toll of Hurricane Harvey, which at its peak last August left a third of Houston, Texas underwater, displaced a reported 39,000 residents, and caused $125 billion in damages. In the Caribbean, communities continue to work on recovering six months after they were hit by Hurricane Maria, a storm that left a third of Puerto Rico’s population without power is now considered the country’s worst disaster on record.

While it’s still unknown whether climate change will cause the number of hurricanes to increase in the long run, experts say it’s evident that warmer ocean temperatures and stronger winds—just a few effects of climate change—will certainly increase the severity of future hurricanes.

Scientists have recently demonstrated, for example, the direct link between heat stored in the ocean and the amount of rain a storm produces. Before Harvey swept across Gulf of Mexico last year, ocean temperatures had reached record highs. That enabled the storm to collect more moisture via evaporation and subsequently drop record amounts of rain.

Other studies suggest there will be an increase in intense hurricanes—which could have enormous implications for public safety and economies around the globe.

Originally posted 2018-06-01 12:00:00.

Back
HAVE A QUICK QUESTION?

If so simply fill in our quick form and one of our team will contact you a.s.a.p

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Message
* Please add as many details as you can.

X
CONTACT US