The Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project is the first and only program committed to the long-term conservation of jaguars across the Gran Chaco. Historically, the jaguar ranged across the entire 1 million km2 ecoregion, which is widely believed to contain the largest contiguous stretch of forest in Latin America outside of the Amazon Basin. A diverse region ranging from impenetrable, seasonal dry thorn forest, to semi-open seasonally flooded palm savanna, the Gran Chaco hosts some of the highest levels of medium-large terrestrial mammal endemism and diversity in the western hemisphere. While the region’s conservation potential for the jaguar is still currently high, the Chaco is now suffering from some of the highest rates of tropical deforestation on earth.
Between Bolivia and Argentina, and at the crossroads of south-central South America, lies Paraguay, a country which may contain the largest remaining expanses of undisturbed Chaco, and nearly one-third of the Chaco region overall. With > 90% of its Upper Parana Atlantic Forest already lost, Paraguay’s last remote frontiers occur in the Gran Chaco and Pantanal. Although constituting more than 60% of Paraguay’s land area, the Chaco is home to less than 10% of the country’s human population. Along with the southern Bolivian Chaco and Pantanal, the Paraguayan Chaco could contain the greatest potential for long-term jaguar conservation outside of the Amazon Basin. The past two decades however have seen dramatic changes to this vast, previously remote area. Sharply rising beef prices have led to the intensive development of large ranches for raising cattle. Approximately 1000 hectares of Paraguayan Chaco are being converted daily due to expanding habitat conversion for livestock and urban expansion. This rapid loss of native habitat is leading to local declines in jaguar prey populations. In addition, the suitability of the Chaco as forage for cattle has led to a lack of livestock and pasture management in many parts of far northern Paraguay. These actions are the basis for increased incidents of livestock depredation by jaguars, and thus conflict between jaguars and humans.
Actual and perceived human-jaguar conflict is the greatest threat to jaguars across the region, and they are routinely killed shortly after their presence is detected. Driving this problem is the acceleration of deforestation rates and exacerbating it, the development of new roads, which increases accessibility into the region and brings with them more pastures and illegal hunting of prey. All of this is in addition to a general lack of knowledge as to the status, distribution, and ecology jaguars across the country. To address these concerns, as well as a relative lack of knowledge about the status, distribution, and ecology of jaguars across the region, we launched the Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project in 2008. Among its main goals are the following:
to map the distribution and status of jaguars across the multi-national Gran Chaco, and secondarily other parts of Paraguay
to prevent and/or mitigate human-jaguar conflict, reduce depredation-related jaguar mortality, and explore alternative economic land uses
to increase capacity and foster mentoring of emerging and existing conservation professionals, protected area staff, students, and local biologists to effect successful jaguar monitoring and research, conflict mitigation, and the implementation of successful field and grassroots conservation programs
to research the impact of habitat conversion and conflict with humans on jaguar ecology and population dynamics across the Gran Chaco to better inform and identify targeted solutions and measures for reducing livestock depredation and addressing stakeholder needs and concerns
to build a regional genetic reference library for jaguars to identify the origin of illegally traded jaguar parts, and evaluate the efficacy of habitat corridors in facilitating the connectivity of jaguar populations
to engage the general public and citizenry on jaguar conservation issues, promote public education of jaguar conservation needs, and raise awareness regarding threats to jaguars across the Gran Chaco-Pantanal ecoregions
to implement a regionwide conservation and landscape connectivity strategy across the watershed regions of the Gran Chaco and Pantanal, with an empahsis on northern and western Paraguay, southern Bolivia, and northcentral Argentina
We are also collaborating with institutional partners in the Bolivian and Argentinean Chaco and the Pantanal to advance jaguar conservation efforts in these regions. Among our objectives in southern Bolivia are to evaluate the effectiveness of Kaa-Iya in maintaining stable long-term jaguar populations, and increase the self-reliance of protected area staff in monitoring those populations well into the future. In southcentral Paraguay and northcentral Argentina, we plan to identify habitat critical to preventing the further contraction of the jaguar’s range, and secure the commitment of landowners to maintaining suitable jaguar habitat, in this important transboundary region.