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US NewsThe struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor

07:40  24 august  2019
07:40  24 august  2019 Source:   nationalgeographic.com

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Jaguars roam throughout a massive territory, as far south as Argentina and north all the way to Mexico—and wandering males have recently been sighted in Arizona. But despite being so widespread, DNA analysis shows that the big cats are remarkably similar throughout their range

Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative is the only conservation program that seeks to protect jaguars across their entire six million km2 range. Density and population structure of the jaguar ( Panthera onca ) in a protected area of Los Llanos, Venezuela, from 1 year of camera trap monitoring.

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Steve Winter, Nat Geo Image Collection

A remote camera captures a 10-month-old jaguar cub in Brazil’s Pantanal region, where there are few people. New work aims to protect the animal's habitat in a more populated area of Belize.

Jaguars roam throughout a massive territory, as far south as Argentina and north all the way to Mexico—and wandering males have recently been sighted in Arizona. But despite being so widespread, DNA analysis shows that the big cats are remarkably similar throughout their range, which has only been appreciated in the past few decades.

Researcher Alan Rabinowitz was one of the first to argue that this connectivity it vital, and the key to saving the animals. Prior to the idea of connectivity, the conventional thinking “was of scientists glued to a site or a region,” says Howard Quigley, Rabinowitz’ long-time friend and colleague. “Alan saw this as small thinking.”

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The struggle to protect a vital # jaguar # corridor - Jaguars roam throughout a massive territory, and if the corridor is cut up by roads and development it could lead to Great video visualizing a migration # corridor for mule deer and demonstrating the importance of #WildlifeCrossings over roadshttps

Panthera ’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative seeks to protect jaguars across their entire range. In partnership with governments, corporations, and local communities, Panthera is working to preserve the genetic integrity of the jaguar by protecting core jaguar populations and the vital connectivity

Rabinowitz, a pioneering jaguar researcher, traveled throughout this area beginning in 2017 on a years-long campaign called the “journey of the jaguar.” The purpose of the quest was to study and protect the areas in the cat’s vast range, which spans 18 countries and millions of square miles.

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Steve Winter, National Geographic

Alan Rabinowitz and his jaguar corridor team of Kathy Marieb and Roberto Salom explore an important jaguar corridor in Nicaragua's Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve.

If the corridor is cut up by roads and development, Rabinowitz argued, it could lead to the loss of genetic diversity in individual populations—and worse. “From isolation, it’s a slippery slope to extinction,” said Rabinowitz. “It’s a race against time.”

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The “ jaguar corridor ” is a historic link that runs from Mexico all the way down the spine of Central America, crossing the inhospitable wilderness of the Darian He said maintaining this connection is necessary to protect jaguars in the long-term, a time period Payan measures in the hundreds of years.

On Jaguar tours to South America, you'll pass through sections of the Jaguar Corridor Initiative. The initiative is helping to reduce the threat to the big cats from ranchers looking to protect their Through the use of camera traps and extensive fieldwork, Panthera has been able to collect vital

For Rabinowitz, the journey was both the capstone to a life’s work and a personal battle with the clock. When it launched, he had already been fighting chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a form of cancer, for some fifteen years. His time, he knew, was also limited.

In the winter of 2018, he had to put the quest on hold. Cancer spread through his body and, in February, he had a long surgery to remove more than 100 affected lymph nodes. Rabinowitz had hoped to present to the United Nations that March, at the largest ever meeting of governments on the topic of jaguar conservation. But Quigley had to take over. “It should have been his day in the glory light,” Quigley said. “I don’t think he really gave up until they said it was going to his lungs.”

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Steve Winter, Nat Geo Image Collection

Alan Rabinowitz collects data on a male jaguar track on a road in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

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“A jaguar could have broken his neck in a minute.” Payan believes the clash was a freak occurrence. But in order for the corridor to succeed, humans and jaguars will have to coexist relatively peacefully. In India, it builds predator-proof corrals to protect livestock from snow leopards.

Jaguar watching experts from JCF ( Jaguar Conservation Fund) are working on important initiatives, including the Araguaia Jaguar Corridor Project. The source of the 2000km Araguaia River is very close to the Emas National Park, which is renowned as a protected refuge for the big cats – one of

Rabinowitz passed away on August 5, 2018; a year ago this month. He was 64.

With his death, the jaguar lost one of its greatest advocates at a moment when threats to the species and its habitat are growing. But in Rabinowitz’s absence, defenders new and old are regrouping to protect the jaguar’s dwindling range. Perhaps nowhere is both the need—and progress—more evident than where Rabinowitz’s work first began: Belize.

From stuttering to jaguars

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Juan Herrero The Maya Forest Corridor is a rapidly disappearing stretch of forest in central Belize that connects the northern and southern jaguar habitats. There is now only one narrow strip of jungle for jaguars to move between these two big habitats, and a highway crosses it.

Rabinowitz grew up in New York with a severe stutter. Human interactions were a debilitating experience, but, at the zoo, he remembers speaking freely to the animals. It was there that he formed a lifelong bond to cats.

He followed his interest in biology and became a graduate student studying wildlife ecology at the University of Tennessee. Quigley, who Rabinowitz had met as a classmate, had been working on a groundbreaking jaguar survey and asked Rabinowitz to conduct research in a remote mountain range in south-central Belize. Almost nothing was known about the population there.

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Panthera has finished ground-truthing, or validating, the primary corridors in Central America, and now focuses on conservation applications to reduce the impacts of human development and promote sustainable use of natural resources, such as sustainable hunting practices in Belize and Honduras.

The jaguar corridor in space once stretched from Argentina north all the way to what is now Southern Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. When the Spanish invaded, they brought herds of cattle, which Jaguar took to be dinner on the hoof. The colonists attacked the big cats to protect their herds but

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Juan Herrero Land burning near Belmopan. Landowners in Belize often burn and clear jungle in order to plant crops such as sugar cane.

A young Rabinowitz landed in Belize in the early 1980s and settled deep in the Cockscomb Mountains, converting a small logging shack into a semi-functional home. For two years, he battled botflies, hookworms, and a litany of jungle obstacles as he trapped, collared, and tracked jaguars. With GPS a still distant technology, Rabinowitz kept tabs on his animals by mounting radio antennas to trees or even to the side of planes. On one tracking flight, the pilot crashed just shy of landing, leaving Rabinowitz and the other occupants bloody and battered.

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Juan Herrero

Illegal jaguar parts confiscated by the Belize Forestry Ministry.

“I thrive on adventure,” Rabinowitz wrote in his book, Jaguar, which chronicled this early work in Belize. “I was there to save to try and help save [the species] from extinction.”

Rabinowitz ended up advancing that goal. Using data from his Cockscomb project, he fought to convince the Belizean government to protect the basin. The push led to success when, in 1986, the country named the area the world’s first jaguar preserve.

By then, cat conservation was becoming Rabinowitz’s life work. He was helping lead the jaguar program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which he left in 2006 to co-found and run Panthera, an advocacy organization named after the genus to which the world’s big cats belong. The organization has since raised millions to support protection efforts.

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The South American nation is in talks to establish a ' jaguar corridor ' a network of pathways that would link core populations.

A corridor is basically an area that allows the passageway from our large protected area blocks and also connects us to the bigger forest like the Celba Maya, which we share with Mexico and Guatemala. Back in 2012, several acres of the jaguar corridor was grazed by Green Tropics.

Rabinowitz was, by all accounts, a larger than life figure, and his greatest contribution may have been his unique ability to bring the plight of big cats to the public. He wrote eights books, and often featured by media outlets.

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Juan Herrero Napoleon, the guard donkey, in Juan Herrera’s farm, central Belize. Napoleon has a history of scaring away jaguars from the farm by making loud noises. Central Belize.

“He had a profound effect in getting the word out in a way that other scientists couldn't,” says Sharon Matola, the founder of the Belize Zoo and a long-time friend of Rabinowitz.

Protecting corridors

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Juan Herrero

Omar Figueroa, Minister of State within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, the Environment, and Sustainable Development, looking at Mayan cave paintings of jaguars in Runaway Creek. The painting symbolizes a jaguar entering a portal to a different world.

His work has inspired people like Bart Harmsen, who is now a jaguar expert at the University of Belize. Harmsen first read Jaguar in the early 2000s, in his home country of the Netherlands. Stirred by Rabinowitz, Harmsen headed to Belize to look for the elusive cats.

Since then he’s followed remarkably closely in Rabinowitz’s footsteps. In 2003, he moved to Cockscomb where he completed jaguar surveys, tracking, and research. He even lived in Alan’s old house with his wife Rebecca Foster–who is also a jaguar researcher.

Harmsen has since moved to the capital Belmopan, to work on new threats to jaguars, like the shrinking of the Maya Forest Corridor. The stretch of forested land in the middle of the country has historically acted as the connector between northern and southern jaguar habitats.

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Joining efforts to protect Jaguar population in Honduras-Lacthosa is the first Honduran Company to sign an agreement with PANTHERA to strengthen the jaguar corridor . Density and population structure of the jaguar ( Panthera onca ) in a protected area of Los Llanos, Venezuela, from 1 year of

Panthera . The jaguar corridor initiative. Creating Safe Passage for Jaguars Now and into and assisting governments with protected area management. Panthera is using cutting-edge assistance they need to effect conservation in their own countries, a vital component of any long-term

The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor © Photograph by Juan Herrero

Tourists seeing the famous jaguar, Junior Buddy, at the Belize Zoo.

When Harmsen first came to Belize, he said the area was still fairly wild. But he’s watched the trees disappear and the corridor narrow to a mere five or six miles in width. Even that’s bisected by a highway, with only one point where jaguars can cross. “It’s sad to see,” he says.

The corridor is primarily being destroyed by farmers, who burn and clear forests to plant crops such as sugarcane. Much of the land in the corridor is private, outside the purview of government protection. Harmsen says that while the current situation is fairly tenable, it’s fragile. The parcels of forest that are left could conceivably be sold as a single block, severing the corridor.

“Cockscomb might not be a viable population by itself,” said Harmsen, adding that genetic diversity may have to be managed by relocating cats, a prospect that riles him.

Buying pieces of the corridor is a far from an ideal conservation strategy, but at this point may be the only option. Panthera is among a host of advocates trying to raise money to purchase key stretches. In the meantime, they’ve also started relaunching the “journey of the jaguar,” with Quigley at the helm. Another priority is to combat conflict with humans.

To this end,Belize’s forestry department has established a small team of jaguar officers. At their headquarters in Belmopan, the country’s capital, staff field calls about suspected jaguar attacks and investigate their veracity. Often times it’s a false alarm, or the work of another cat such as a puma, but when a jaguar attack is confirmed the officer documents it and tries to suggest remedies for the farmer, such as keeping livestock corralled at night.

The jaguar unit is also responsible for combating hunting and poaching. It’s illegal to have jaguar parts in Belize, and the’ve confiscated dozens of skins, teeth, and skulls. One of the officers, Shennelly Carillo, says that many people actually come to department asking to buy the contraband. The stockpile became such a problem that they had to burn most of the skins. (Read more: on the trail of jaguar poachers.)

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struggle to optimise corridor designs with the rudimentary in-. formation generally available on movement present an agent-based model of jaguars ( Panthera onca ), scaled for fragmented habitat in many locations in Belize) and enough resources to protect a . few tens of square kilometres of

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The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor

New solutions

There are also more niche solutions, like guard donkeys.

A farmer named Juan Herrera leads the way into the first of a series of medium-sized pastures, the last of which butts right up against virgin Belizean forest. It’s from here that the jaguars emanate—or at least used to.

As of a few years ago, the farmer was suffering frequent attacks on his cows, calves, and other livestock. It’s a problem that’s common in central Belize, where farmers and jaguars often come into conflict. While Herrera says he never harmed a jaguar, many times the cats end up dead at the hands of frustrated locals.

But Herrera’s farm has been much calmer since a donkey named Napoleon arrived. The male donkey, who Panthera arranged to come to the farm in February 2015, lets out a loud hee-haw when jaguars approach, causing attacks on livestock to plummet since his arrival. “They keep an eye out for you,” Herrera says.

From research to politics

Rabinowitz’s work also helped inspire people like Omar Figueroa, who is now Belize’s environment minister. (His technical title: Minister of State for Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development.)

In the early 2000s, Figueroa was working on his PhD project in Runaway Creek, a large private nature reserve tucked in the middle of the Maya Forest Corridor, in east-central Belize. Here, he spent years trapping, collaring and tracking jaguars in an effort to better understand their movements. But the project, he says, almost fell apart mid-way.

“All the collars failed,” he said, and he had no money to replace them. Rabinowitz eventually heard about the setback, and Panthera donated new, stronger, collars. Figueroa used them to finish his research, which provided the best data to-date on the Maya Forest Corridor. “It was Alan that got me back on my feet.”

Figueroa eventually moved from conservation to a career in politics and his current position, where he is working to raise awareness about biological value of the Maya Forest Corridor.

“The development pressures that are facing the Maya Forest Corridor have been increasing,” said Figueroa. “You can see tremendous changes occurring.”

Valuing the cats

Figueroa and the jaguar officers are far from the only Belizeans working to help jaguars. Harmsen, for one, is heartened to see local communities increasingly taking the reigns of jaguar conservation in the country.

Every Belizean child takes a school trip to the zoo at some point, where they get to meet the country’s most famous jaguar, named Junior Buddy. He’s known across the country and even appeared on the 2011 edition of the national phonebook.

Panthera is currently helping support two young Belizean graduate students studying in Mexico, with the hope that they will return to after graduation. And, if the past is any indicator, this kind of investment in local jaguar scientists is likely to pay off. But time remains of the essence.

“Belize has recognized that the clock is ticking,” said Figueroa. “The window of opportunity for us to secure connectivity in the Maya Forest Corridor is closing fast.”

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The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor
The struggle to protect a vital jaguar corridor

Struggle to find home for one-eyed dog Ugly Betty.
A one-eyed dog called Ugly Betty is seeking a new home but staff at an animal rescue centre fear that potential owners “may be put off by her unusual looks”. 

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