At the end of the year, construction is set to begin on the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal. This canal, which will be built by the Hong Kong-based Nicaraguan Canal Development Company (HKND), would be even larger than the Panama Canal. In addition, it would put extra strain on Nicaragua’s already threatened jaguars.
As a result of illegal cattle ranching, forests on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast are rapidly disappearing. The proposed canal would add further pressure to this region, degrading critical jaguar habitat and displacing indigenous people. It might also sever genetic corridors for jaguars, Baird’s tapirs, and white-lipped peccaries.
The above corridors are crucial for the long-term survival of all three species. Interrupting their travel routes may isolate populations on either side of the canal, decreasing their genetic diversity. This, in turn, could make them more vulnerable to local extinctions.
The good news is that Nicaragua is one of the eight members of Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative. This is an ambitious program that seeks to allow jaguars to move through human landscapes while simultaneously promoting sustainable development.
As such, there is hope that the Nicaraguan government will work with conservationists to mitigate the canal’s impact on jaguar movements. There is evidence that jaguars are able to swim across the busy Panama Canal (Mahler 2009), possibly aided by an island that serves as a stepping-stone (Rabinowitz 2014). I suspect that if included, similar stepping-stones could help them cross the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal.