15,000 Wild Jaguars Left, Humans Must Work Together Across Borders to Protect
By Lucy EJ Woods
In early April the mutilated body of a jaguar was discovered in Mexico's Yaxchilán Natural Monument.
Researchers investigating the death quickly concluded that the animal, which had been tracked in neighboring Guatemala since 2015, had crossed the border and fallen prey to wildlife traffickers, who may have taken its head for sale on the black market.
Deaths like this, when a jaguar crosses the border from a protected area into a different country, may have something to do with the big cats' plummeting populations, experts worry.
"The males have to move across long distances and sometimes go outside of reserves or protected areas to buffer zones and areas populated by people," said Rony García-Anleu, director of the biological research department for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Guatemala (WCS).
Today the wide-ranging jaguar (Panthera onca), which once lived throughout South America and north into the U.S., is considered a threatened species. Conservation groups estimate there are only 15,000 wild jaguars left, mostly due to poaching and deforestation.
Tikal National Park also contains culturally important Mayan temples.
Jason Houston / USAID
As García-Anleu explains, the boundaries between countries are important for humans, but they don't exist for animals. Jaguars require vast amounts of barrier-free land and don't care about man-marked territories. While females stay in one area, males roam across continents in search of food and mates. They crisscross borders throughout the Americas, traveling as far south as Argentina and as far north as Arizona and New Mexico in the U.S.
To learn more about how borders create problems for jaguars, WCS has used camera traps to track and study 14 jaguars in Tikal National Park, a World Heritage site in Guatemala's Petén Province. Home to thousands of animal and plant species, the park's 7,700 square miles of forested canopy stretch into neighboring Mexico and Belize.
Jaguar camera-trap photo.
Kaxil Kiuic, A.C. / The Revelator
The study found that the big cats were constant travelers. WCS compared photos of jaguars in Tikal with photos taken by conservation groups in Mexico and Belize and discovered the organizations were often tracking the same animals. Each jaguar's coat has unique spots that, like human fingerprints, can be used to identify individuals.
Tikal is just one example of reserves across the Americas that exist along borderlines or occupy land in multiple countries. Such reserves attract people as well as wild creatures. In Central and South America, they've become home to guerrilla groups, refugees, cattle ranchers and traffickers.
Human vs. Jaguar
Drug traffickers "use the jungle like a shield," said García-Anleu, explaining that criminals set ablaze swaths of forests to clear land for private airstrips. "This is why the majority of the forest fires occur in this [border] part," he explains, pointing on a map to the western border of Guatemala and Mexico. "Here, you can see a lot of airplanes that narco-traffickers abandon."
Along with the dwindling numbers of jaguars and rising numbers of drug gangs, you can also find vulnerable families who sought refuge from violence in central Guatemala during the country's decades-long brutal civil war. The 36-year-long conflict ended in 1996 with hundreds of thousands dead, 83 percent of whom were estimated to be Mayan.
Many people were legitimately relocated and given land titles in these areas, while others, both before and after the 1996 Peace Accord, settled out of desperation as Guatemala's population grew and land ownership was awarded only to an elite few, explains WCS program director Roan McNab.
Today some settlers are "clueless about the laws and get snookered, but most are well aware that the land is a protected area," he said. Now people settle illegally — not as war refugees but "because they are desperate or because they are land speculators."
WCS estimates there are now 10,000 people settled in Laguna del Tigre National Park and 15,000 in Sierra del Lacandon National Park.
"Land is one of Guatemala's most precious commodities," said McNab. "Given the levels of corruption and the undercurrent of influence from narco-trafficking on the border with Mexico, land speculation has been, and remains, rampant in these two border parks."
WCS has worked with one of the rural communities, Paso Caballos, since 2008, training and employing people to assist with conservation.
The organization also fostered a conservation agreement with local and national government, including a grant of $25,000 every year, half of which is invested in vital services for 1,800 people. The other half pays for patrols of a 20-square-mile buffer area outside the village.
Jaguar camera-trap photo.
Kaxil Kiuic, A.C. / The Revelator
But Paso Caballos is the only community offering to assist with conservation, possibly due to threats from criminal gangs, McNab said.
Clearing the path for sustainable development and conservation will require the government to prioritize addressing organized crime. The situation now "is chaotic, providing a clear win for the organized crime interests that prefer weak institutions and instability in the area," he said.
All of this growth and crime has hurt the local wildlife. As more people began to occupy reserve land along the border, jaguar habitat naturally decreased, as did the animals' prey. This created further conflict between the cats and people. Hungry jaguars, which typically avoid humans, have been known wait until nightfall to prey on calves on cattle ranches located next to reserves. To protect their livelihoods, farmers often hunt and kill the great cats.
In response to this growing threat to jaguars, WCS decided to help one rancher by using a simple remedy, an easy-to-build enclosure to safeguard calves at night. The enclosure, similar to ones used to protect livestock from lions and wolves in other parts of the world, proved successful. The farmer told his neighbors and they all started to build their own cattle enclosures, said García-Anleu.
"We did not want to take a punishment approach," said García-Anleu, adding that sharing information and pictures of jaguars with the communities that live on or near to reserves helps to motivate people — regardless of background, nationality or ethnicity — to join and assist in conservation efforts.
A New Threat Emerges
On the northeastern side of the Guatemalan border in southern Mexico, James Callaghan, director of the Kaxil Kiuic Millsaps Biocultural Reserve in Yucatan, explains how another human-induced obstacle threatens jaguars across the continent.
There are "a lot of fatalities from highways, with cars hitting jaguars and killing them," said Callaghan.
One of the biggest emerging threats to jaguar habitat in southern Mexico at the moment is a proposed interstate train line called the Tren Maya (Mayan Train), which would cross five southeastern Mexican states (Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Tabasco) and encourage domestic and international tourism. Multiple jaguar reserves, including Kaxil Kiuic and Calakmul Biosphere on the Mexico-Guatemala-Belize border, will be affected by Tren Maya.
Alongside other large infrastructure projects in Mexico, such as dams and wind farms, Tren Maya crosses Mayan communal land and will disrupt the migration paths of jaguars and their prey, degrade water sources and decrease forest area.
"We are not against development," he said. "The big issue is, can it be sustainable? Can we create win-win situations for all of the animals, humans included?"
The same question of balancing human infrastructure needs with wildlife is also being asked further north, in the state of Arizona, where experts say jaguars — along with black bears and many other animals — are threatened by the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico. Part of Arizona's border with northern Mexico is also a 1,000-square-mile reserve.
The border wall "would be 'game over' for both jaguar and ocelot recovery in [the U.S.]," said Chris Bugbee, a senior researcher at Conservation CATalyst, in a statement alongside a video released this year of a rare ocelot spotted in Arizona.
Both Callaghan and García-Anleu say humans and jaguars alike can benefit from international and interstate conservation cooperation and the standardization of data.
"One of the biggest desires of [conservation] groups is to create a common database," said Callaghan.
"We need a good monitoring system that we can share with other countries," said García-Anleu. "This jaguar trail is a long trail, so we need to work closely with people in Belize and Mexico." No international system like this currently exists, but several countries and organizations each have their own monitoring programs.
More importantly, for the border-crossing jaguar to thrive again in the Americas, experts say humans need to work together across state and country lines. That includes tackling a wide range of anthropocentric issues ranging from sustainable infrastructure development to the destruction of reserves by traffickers.
As Callaghan said, "To move anything forward with the conservation of the jaguar, we have to work with all people, indigenous, local and abroad, and we have to work together."
Lucy EJ Woods is an international freelance journalist specializing in on-the-ground environmental reporting.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Atmospheric researchers have pinpointed the spot on Earth with the cleanest air. It's not in the midst of a remote jungle, nor on a deserted tropical island. Instead, the cleanest air in the world is in the air above the frigid Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, as CNN reported.
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions Set for Record Decline Due to ... ›
- Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution ... ›
- Blowing the Cover off the 'Cleanest Air' Illusion of the Trump ... ›
Satellite data collated for the World Resources Institute (WRI) showed primal rainforest was lost across 38,000 square kilometers (14,500 square miles) globally — ruining habitats and releasing carbon once locked in wood into the atmosphere.
Bolivia Has 80% Higher Loss<p>In its Global Forest Watch report, the WRI highlighted Bolivia, saying its removal of primary forest and surrounding woodlands — to produce soy and range cattle in 2019 — had been 80% higher than any of its previous years on record.</p><p>"Its highly biodiverse Chiquitano Dry Forest was particularly affected, with reports that nearly 12% of it burned," said the study.</p><p>Other countries with severe losses had been Peru, Malaysia and Colombia, followed by Laos, Mexico and Cambodia — from 1,620 square kilometers and 800 square kilometers in primal forest lost.</p><p><strong>Indigenous Rights Protect Forests Too</strong></p><p>WRI's Seymour said a "mounting body of evidence" suggested that legal recognition of indigenous land rights "provides greater forest protection:</p><p>"We know that deforestation is lower in indigenous territories," Seymour said.</p>
Pandemic Weakens Enforcement<p>The current Covid-19 pandemic had changed dynamics, said Weisse, weakening enforcement of forest-protection laws and leaving rural families desperate to feed themselves back home after losing jobs in cities.</p><p>In April, scientists grouped within the Global Carbon Project estimated that coronavirus-induced economic slowdowns would trim carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5% year-on-year.</p><p>It was "something not seen since the end of World War Two," said project chair Rob Jackson, professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, California.</p><p><span></span>But, recalling the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré at England's University of East Anglia, forecast in April that emissions were likely to rebound if structural changes were not instituted.</p>
Glasgow's COP26 Postponed<p>Last week, host Britain confirmed that UN climate talks due in Glasgow, known as COP26, had been postponed a year until between November 1 and 12 2021.</p><p>Experts involved in those long-running negotiations insist that global emissions must start dropping this year to avoid irreversible impacts, including polar melts, record hot weather, rogue storms, and ocean level rises.</p>
- Statistic of the decade: The massive deforestation of the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Rainforest Deforestation Hits Highest Rate in 10 Years ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Rate Hits 3 Football Fields Per Minute, Data ... ›
Researchers have found that warm temperatures in the U.S. this summer are unlikely to stop the coronavirus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19, according to a new study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease.
- Will Warmer Weather Curb the Spread of Coronavirus? - EcoWatch ›
- Don't Expect Coronavirus to End This Summer - EcoWatch ›
The glaring numbers that show how disproportionately racial minorities have been affected by the coronavirus and by police brutality go hand-in-hand. The two are byproducts of systemic racism that has kept people of color marginalized and contributed to a public health crisis, according to three prominent medical organizations — the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American College of Physicians, as CNN reported.
- TV Coverage Ignored Impacts of Extreme Weather on Marginalized ... ›
- 15 EcoWatch Stories on Environmental and Racial Injustice ... ›
- House Democrats Roll out Environmental Justice Bill - EcoWatch ›
By Jessica Corbett
With the nation focused on the coronavirus pandemic and protests against U.S. police brutality that have sprung up across the globe, the Trump administration continues to quietly attack federal policies that protect public health and the environment to limit the legal burdens faced by planet-wrecking fossil fuel companies.
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1267581093349191680" id="twitter-embed-1267581093349191680" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1267581093349191680&created_ts=1591049857.0&screen_name=PeterGleick&text=And+while+attention+is+elsewhere%2C+another+Trump+assault+on+the+Clean+%23Water+Act+and+the+ability+of+states+to+protec%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FUtqe7IkGt9&id=1267581093349191680&name=Peter+Gleick" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="b88aab098c5666a85c251e01b7a029bf"></iframe>
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1267802127273005056" id="twitter-embed-1267802127273005056" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1267802127273005056&created_ts=1591102556.0&screen_name=EnvProtectioNet&text=.%40epa%E2%80%99s+rule+change+is+a+blatant+attack+on+states%E2%80%99+rights+and+flies+in+the+face+of+decades+of+Supreme+Court+rulings%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2Fk42d4AgTL5&id=1267802127273005056&name=Environmental+Protection+Network" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="a0d99172630e2eaea81fb529e2c93c87"></iframe><p>Hauter vowed that Food & Water Action "will be pursuing all avenues available—legal, electoral, and otherwise—to ensure that states have the right to reject fossil fuels as they see fit, and support vulnerable communities everywhere seeking to protect themselves from this malicious administration."</p>
- Trump's EPA Budget: 5 Critical Programs on His Chopping Block ... ›
- Trump's EPA Limits States' and Tribes' Rights to Block Pipelines ›
- States Sue Trump EPA for Suspending Environmental Regulations ... ›
A video of an incident in Central Park last Monday, in which a white woman named Amy Cooper called the cops on African American birder Christian Cooper after he asked her to put her dog on a leash, went viral last week, raising awareness of the racism Black people face for simply trying to enjoy nature.
By Jodi Helmer
In Georgia there are just 213 game wardens to enforce state fish and wildlife laws, investigate violations, assist with conservation efforts and collect data on wildlife and ecological changes across 16,000 miles of rivers and 37 million acres of public and private lands. Statewide 46 counties have no designated game warden at all. The shortage could lead to wildlife crimes going undetected.