The Gran Chaco: Paraguay’s hope for jaguar conservation

The Gran Chaco is perhaps not the first place you think of when you think of jaguars. A harsh and difficult terrain, it was dubbed the “Green Hell” by Paraguayan troops in the 1930s. But the Gran Chaco is an important site of conservation for jaguars in Paraguay.

“The Chaco ecosystem is distributed in three countries (Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina), but when you talk about the conservation of wild population of jaguars in Paraguay our biggest hopes remains in the Chaco,” Diego Gustavo Giménez, Chief Program Officer for S.P.E.C.I.E.S.  Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project, explains in an interview which you can read in full below.

Jaguars are thought to have once roamed the full one million km2 expanse of the Gran Chaco, but the ecoregion now suffers from some of the highest rates of tropical deforestation in the world which has shrunk the species’ habitat considerably.

Across the region jaguars are threatened by the loss of their habitat, but also because of intentional killing. As Giménez explains below there are differing views on jaguars in Paraguay, one of these is driven by fear of the creatures. People feel threatened by jaguars, whether that threat is real or not, the result is often the same; the creatures are killed shortly after being seen.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S. has launched the first and only program committed to the long-term conservation of jaguars across the Gran Chaco. Here Giménez explains some of the underlying issues which the project aims to tackle and shares his personal view of conservation in Paraguay, his home country.

What drew you to study conservation?

It all began during my training at college with general concepts about conservation biology, and the goals that it pursues. I studied at the National University of Asuncion.

My interest became stronger and more specific once I started working in the Environment Secretariat here in Paraguay, there I had the chance to be involved in different conservation projects and the development of management plans of endangered species; this showed me the reality of the numerous conservation problems that currently occurs in my country.

This pushed me to take decisions about the best way for me to help in the conservation of important areas and to join people who works to reach important environmental goals.

What does the jaguar mean to you, and why do we need to conserve it?

The jaguar means perfection to me. You can see in it a creature with strength and intelligence, a creature that is the greatest predator of America, and at the same time, you can only compare all its greatness with its beauty.

We need to conserve jaguars, because through it we are conserving all other species under them in the food chain. We need to conserve them for the balance of the ecosystems where they live.

What are the different views on the jaguar in Paraguay?

Well, there are many actually. My view is one that many people have; the belief that we are the ones who are in the land of the jaguar, in their home, so we have to respect that and try to live in harmony with them because they are the real owners of all this land.

Others have a view of fear. In some places, people live without wanting to have jaguars near them because they feel so insecure about it.

The view that is left is the worst in my opinion. People who don’t love jaguars, who don’t fear jaguars and who don’t respect them. These people see jaguars only as a trophy to hunt, without any care for their population or their endangered status.

What is your vision of the conservation of jaguars in Paraguay?

I believe we have to push in three main directions, and these three directions are among the main aims of our project.

One of them is to work on-site because when you work with jaguars you are also working a lot with the biodiversity that depends on the species. I believe that by focusing on the jaguar we can help other species and biodiversity that shares its habitat.

But we can’t just work on-site, we also to need to educate. We can’t just do this at the local level or around the areas where we work in the field, we also have to educate people in cities, like the capital of Asuncion. The people who live there might then become interested in the environment and the conservation of biodiversity, but this interest has to be built.

I believe this is a direction which we have to focus on; to make people know of the importance of biodiversity in general, but specifically of jaguars because they are so important to ecosystems.

Another direction is working with students who are in environmental careers, because here in Paraguay it’s difficult to gain experience while studying. There aren’t so many opportunities for gaining experience in the field. So we want to involve these students in our work in jaguar conservation.

I know that with this project we can help the University by giving students the chance to work with us in the field and help them to build their knowledge, to help them understand what they can give to the biodiversity of Paraguay.

You are saying that the jaguar is intricately linked to its habitat, the Chaco. Why do you believe the Chaco needs to be conserved?

The Chaco is a very particular environment, when you say Chaco you’re not talking about just one kind of area.

For instance, you have a particular kind of biodiversity. If you are in the northern Chaco and when you go down to the south, you see the different environments, flora and fauna that the Chaco has. Each has its own unique species.

There is also a lot of information that we still don’t know, because it’s not that easy to study the Chaco. The only way to conserve the Chaco and it’s biodiversity is knowing what is in it, their conservation status, health of their population, etc.

I believe the Chaco is a very good place for conservation because we can’t talk about conserving wild population of jaguars without making some effort to conserve the Chaco, both things go hand in hand.

The Chaco ecosystem is distributed in three countries, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, but when you talk about the conservation of wild populations of jaguars in Paraguay our biggest hope remains in the Chaco. Similarly, there are projects in the Atlantic Forest ecosystem and ex situ conservation research currently developing in our country.

Find out more about S.P.E.C.I.E.S. Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project here.

Poached and trafficked: Saving Cameroon’s African golden cats and pangolins

Cameroon’s Dja faunal reserve is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. It is home to a spectacular array of species, over 100 species of mammals among them. But overhunting, lack of adequate protection and conservation awareness place this important biodiversity hotspot in danger. S.P.E.C.I.E.S., is launching a project to reduce the poaching and trade of the African golden cat and three pangolin species, two of the species most at risk in the Dja reserve.

The African golden cat (Caracal aurata) is subject to superstition by tribal peoples in southern Cameroon. Pygmy tribes carry golden cat tails with them on hunts as a lucky token and their skin is used in circumcision rituals. Hunting for the golden cat is banned across 12 of its range countries, with Cameroon being an exception.

Pangolins have recently come to be the unfortunate face of the illegal wildlife trade. They are the most trafficked animals in the world and around one million are thought to have been poached over the past decade across their range. With Asian pangolin species rapidly declining, those in Africa are targeted more and more. Pangolins are also hunted for local and regional markets as bushmeat and for use in traditional medicine practices.

There are three pangolin species in Central Africa; the white-bellied tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis), black-bellied tree pangolin (Manis tetradactyla) and the giant ground pangolin (Manis gigantean). All species are considered vulnerable to extinction and their distribution and population sizes are unknown.

In addition to these already severe threats, both African golden cats and pangolins face pressure from loss and fragmentation of their natural habitat due to expanding agriculture and logging.

golden-cats

African golden cats are elusive in the wild and most images of them are taken by camera-traps.

“In Cameroon, conservation is generally not viewed as a good thing by many people,” Eric Nana, S.P.E.C.I.E.S. Cameroon project coordinator, explains. People who live and depend upon the forest, either for food or income, often see little or no value in conservation. There are also ingrained perceptions that the forests are abundant with life, and that animals will always be plentiful. “They say their forefathers hunted, their fathers hunted and the game is still there. Therefore they see no need to stop hunting and see any attempt to stop them from hunting as a way of keeping them in poverty.”

Changing local perceptions is a key part of the project, according to Nana. He has gained over ten years of experience working with different NGOs and has worked closely with local communities to tackle issues such as poaching.  It was the realisation that ecosystems play an essential role to sustaining human life that drove Nana to take up conservation. This interconnectedness is often overlooked in economic and social development, he says, which causes severe problems like environmental degradation and unsustainable and illegal hunting. “Ecosystem service values are often not considered when the costs and benefits of different development options are weighed up.”

Pangolins, also known as ‘scaly anteaters’, have long, sticky tongues that allow them to pluck ants and termites from hard to reach places. They are covered in tough scales and curl up into a protective ball when threatened, unfortunately this also means they are easy to poach.

The project therefore aims to provide information on African golden cat and pangolin distributions and population sizes, but also to work closely with local communities and authorities to ensure better protection. Nana says that by developing alternative sources of income among local communities, and raising awareness of the harm of overhunting, the species can be better protected.

In five communities around the Dja reserve, training on cane rat farming, snail farming and poultry farming will be provided. These all provide important sources of protein from animals that are already abundant in the area.

pangolin_trade

African pangolin species are poached from the wild for bushmeat and to feed Asian markets. Large seizures, such as this one where thousands of dead pangolins were found, are becoming commonplace.

 

 

In addition, the project will build upon the capacities of local forest guards by using cutting-edge and integrative technologies such as SMART, CyberTracker, QGIS, and GPS marking and tracking, photo GPS marking, and radio-communication devices, to enhance protection of southern Cameroon’s forests.

“Through this project, we expect to establish the first regional baseline data of the threats, distribution and conservation status of the target species for Cameroon,” Nana explains. By connecting with and building bridges between local communities, authorities and other conservation NGOs, a bottom-up approach to conservation will be taken.

Taking these elements together (awareness raising, income-generating activities, enforcement capacity-building and understanding the bushmeat trade), will ensure that the harms of overhunting are made clear to local residents, while offering alternatives to lessen a dependency on bushmeat hunting.

Channel Island Foxes v Jaguars: A night of comedy with Santa Barbara Zoo

On Saturday November 5, Channel Island Foxes will be pitted against Jaguars in a comedy face-off, presented by the Santa Barabara Zoo at the Discovery Pavilion.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S. founder and director Anthony Giordano goes up against Tim Connan, a biologist for the U.S. National Park Service at Channel Islands National Park. The two experts are paired up with a comedian from LA’s Improv theatre and “compete” against each other for points, with local celebrities judging.

So come along to the Discovery Pavilion this Saturday  to find out whether Channel Island Foxes or Jaguars will come out on top!

Doors open at 7 p.m. for 7:30 p.m. performances. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for Santa Barbara Zoo members. Purchase at the door or online at www.sbzoo.org. For more information, call 962-5339. Seating is first-come, first-served; early arrival suggested.

Snow Leopard

Native to the high mountains of Central Asia, the snow leopard is as elusive as it is beautiful. Its white-grey and spotted coat blends perfectly with the snowy environment it calls home. Built with powerful hind legs, snow leopards can leap six-times the length of its body and traverse its steep landscape easily.

Globally there are only around 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild. These enigmatic cats are frequently killed in retribution for attacks on wildlife. Their habitat used to be filled with their natural prey; including bharal, blue sheep, ibex and marmots. But competition with agriculture has led to declines of their prey. Because of this, snow leopards now prey on domestic livestock, and in some areas domestic animals make up 60% of their diet.

Between 200 and 450 are lost due to retaliatory killings every year. Other threats to their survival include hunting for the wildlife trade, where their furs are highly sought after and their bones, teeth and claws are used for traditional medicine.

Snow leopards are found in 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Conservation efforts are underway across their range but a lack of cross-border cooperation is cited as a hurdle to ensuring the species’ survival.

In Nepal, snow leopards inhabit an area approximately 13,000km2 in size. The Api Nampa Conservation Area, in the west of the country, may provide an important location for conserving the species as the area acts as a corridor, connecting populations in India and Southern China.

Currently little is known about the Api Nampa population and filling this knowledge gap is essential to understanding the threats snow leopards are facing. To this end, S.P.E.C.I.E.S. and the Biodiversity Conservancy Nepal are planning to launch a project in the region to study the Api Nampa population.

Gaining critical information about the Api Nampa population will allow high human-leopard conflict areas to be mapped and conservation strategies developed to reduce this conflict. You can help us conserve this crucial snow leopard population by making a donation today.

Learn more about our Api Nampa Snow Leopard Conservation Project.

Asiatic Wild Dog

Asiatic wild dogs (Cuon alpinus), or Dholes, have a bit of a reputation. They suffer a fate similar to that of wolves in North America; they’re often hunted due to the perception that they are livestock killers. Along with the loss of their natural habitat and disease transmission from domesticated animals, this bad reputation leaves the dhole endangered in the wild.

A dhole rests in the sunshine. Photo by Ozzy Delaney, Flickr CC.

Despite their diminutive size, dholes are smaller than medium-sized dogs, they can take down prey that is up to 50 times their weight, such as samba deer or boar. They are pack animals and hunt prey in groups of five to ten, although their numbers were said to reach beyond 50 in the past.

Adults’ coats are a reddish-brown colour with a bushy, black tail while their pups are born a dusty black colour, taking the colour of their parents once they are three months old.

Living in places that are inhabited by bigger, stronger predators such as tigers and leopards, the dhole has come to hunt effectively as a pack. Scouts will lead the way while the main pack follows up and takes down the prey. Dholes do not suffocate their prey with a vice-like grip like tigers do, rather they take bites, bring it down and begin eating immediately, often while their prey is still alive.

In this video you can watch as a tiger attacks a pack of dholes. Tiny in comparison to the tiger, the dholes skip lithely away and appear to come back to pester it. Dholes are sometimes killed by tigers, and historical reports suggest that tigers have been killed by dholes, although this has never been confirmed.

There are between 4,500 – 10,500 dholes in the wild; only around 2,000 of these are mature individuals capable of breeding. They are understudied and largely unknown, even in the conservation world. But they are known to use a lot of different ways of communicating and make use of a highly distinctive whistle as a way of gathering their pack in the forest areas they call home.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S., through its Western Ghats Conservation Project, is working to conserve the dhole in India. The project aims to identify the main threats to their survival in the Western Ghats, along with tiger and leopard populations. Once these threats are identified, conservation action will be taken through community-awareness and human-wildlife conflict mitigation efforts.