Currently, the jaguar (Panthera onca) is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. This is the second lowest threat level, right behind Least Concern. This global assessment is based on the jaguar’s wide distribution, as well as the fact that much of its territory in Amazonia remains intact. But a new study suggests that this picture is overly positive.
At a regional level, the jaguar’s situation is more grim; the only subpopulation of jaguars that qualifies as Least Concern is the one in Amazonia. All others are threatened, with 25 subpopulations being Critically Endangered. The main threats facing jaguars are habitat loss and fragmentation, the overhunting of wild prey, and direct persecution (Caso et al., 2008).
In addition, the Amazonian subpopulation faces an uncertain future. The Amazon basin is poor habitat for jaguars (Caso et al., 2008), and it is rapidly being deforested (de la Torre, González-Maya, Zarza, Ceballos, & Medellín, 2017).
The authors based their conclusions on vast amounts of data. They used the most current knowledge of regional jaguar distributions and historical range, and included factors like human population density in their analysis. This produced more accurate findings than previous assessments, leading to a clearer picture of the jaguar’s status.
As alarming as this study is, the authors provided several suggestions for how to improve jaguar conservation. The most important step is to include regional data when determining jaguars’ global status. They say that, “Assessments of the conservation status of a species should not be based on, or affected significantly by, the existence of a single large subpopulation” (de la Torre et al., 2017, p. 10). A species’ IUCN threat status helps to determine how many resources are devoted to its protection, making this a critical factor. De la Torre et al. (2017) also recommend the establishment of biological corridors, larger and better enforced protected areas, and programs that make it easier for humans and jaguars to coexist.
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de la Torre, J. A., González-Maya, J. F., Zarza, H., Ceballos, G., & Medellín, R. A. (2017). The jaguar’s spots are darker than they appear: Assessing the global conservation status of the jaguar Panthera onca. Oryx, 1-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0030605316001046.