JAGUARS IN THE PANTANAL: LEARNING FROM AFRICA

In the vast Panatanal wetland of Brazil jaguars are hunted as vermin.  How can these illusive, wary cats be habituated to safari vehicles, creating Africa-style eco-tourism initiatives that can protect them?  Simon Bellingham is trying just that..

Jaguar | Pantanal - Pantanal, Brazil [2011 © Laurence Weitz]
The Jaguar a keystone predator under threat

 

The magnificent South American jaguar is a near threatened species and its numbers are declining. Almost the size of a lion, with the looks of a leopard and the manner of a tiger, the jaguar is a keystone apex predator. It is an elusive and stealthy cat, but its survival is endangered by deforestation, hunting and poaching, cattle ranching and agriculture, road and canal projects and pollution from mining, sewerage and pesticides.

Leopard | Sabi Sand - Londolozi, South Africa [2012 © greatguides.org] - Jaguars In The Pantanal - Roddy Bray's Great GuidesEco-tourism has proved a vital model for saving the big cats of Africa. The Sabi Sand, a private wildlife reserve adjoining the Kruger Park in South Africa, pioneered this work; in particular, John Varty and his team at Londolozi have researched the leopards of the Sabi Sand since 1979 and developed the leopard’s familiarity with vehicles, allowing tourists the chance to watch these cats closely in the wild.

This visibility of these big cats allows for successful eco-tourism, and this finances the anti-poaching, education and research projects required to protect leopards and allow them to thrive.
Leopards have been habituated in the Sabi Sand of South Africa

Simon Bellingham is bringing the lessons learned in Africa to help save the jaguar in South America. He is a co-founder of the Onçafari project at the Caiman Ecological Refuge in the vast Panatanal wetland in Brazil, which is home to one of the largest remaining jaguar populations. Simon worked with big cats in the Sabi Sand, and is now learning how to habituate the solitary, hunted jaguar, to safari vehicles.Jaguar | Pantanal - Pantanal, Brazil [2012 © Laurence Weitz] - Jaguars In The Pantanal - Roddy Bray's Great Guides
Simon Bellingham (front left) and team

Jaguar | Pantanal - Pantanal, Brazil [2012 © Laurence Weitz] - Jaguars In The Pantanal - Roddy Bray's Great Guides

Using GPS/ VHF collars, and motion sensing cameras, they are learning the patterns of the jaguar and can track them. They spend many hours in safari vehicles around the cats, slowly allowing familiarity and trust to develop, which will one day allow tourists the rare privilege to spend time close to these powerful cats.

During this process they have also discovered some important differences between African cats and jaguars. An African cat would run if suddenly disturbed by a noisy vehicle. It would growl if approached. But jaguars do neither, and Simon nearly paid the price when a jaguar suddenly bolted past him from a hiding place near where his vehicle was stuck. It is lessons like these that rangers will need to know when keeping tourists safe.

This GPS/ VHF collar helps locate jaguars

The project hopes to pioneer not only the protection of jaguar in one part of the Pantanal, but effect a change of attitude throughout the region, to see the jaguar not as a pest blamed for the killing of cattle, but a creature of value that deserves protection. They hope that the ecotourism model created here will effect greater conservation initiatives throughout South America.

In India the African safari company &Beyond have pioneered similar work with tigers. One can only hope that the eco-tourism model will help save big cats from extinction and offer a model to protect other endangered fauna around the world.

Jaguar | Pantanal - Pantanal, Brazil [2012 © Laurence Weitz] - Jaguars In The Pantanal - Roddy Bray's Great Guides
Project Oncafari is pioneering big cat eco-tourism in South America



Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 15 May 2012
Location: South America | Brazil
Themes: travel | inspiring, parks and trails, safari guide