The Complexities of Perceptions about Jaguars’ Impacts on Human Livelihoods

Jaguar by OnceAndFutureLaura. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Drs. Silvio Marchini and David Macdonald have just released a fascinating new study about the human dimensions of jaguar (Panthera onca) conservation in Brazil.

Long-time readers of The Jaguar and its Allies may remember these authors. In 2015, I shared an article of theirs that used the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1985) to examine ranchers’ intentions to kill jaguars in Amazonia and the Pantanal.

Through that investigation, Marchini and Macdonald (2012) learned that social factors influenced participants’ intentions to kill jaguars more than the cats’ attacks on livestock. This challenged the notion that human-jaguar conflict is always directly related to cattle predation.

For their new study, Marchini and Macdonald (2018) once again turned their attention to the Pantanal and Amazonia. This time, they explored peoples’ perceptions of the impacts of jaguars on human livelihoods. Marchini and Macdonald (2018) sought to determine how such perceptions were influenced by a host of psychological and demographic variables, including: experiences with jaguars, attitudes towards and knowledge of jaguars, ranch or farm size, and more.

A man fishing in the Pantanal: the largest wetland on Earth. Pescador (Rio Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, Brasil) by Paulisson Miura. CC BY 2.0


This was a multi-step project. First, Dr. Marchini and a local field assistant carried out semi-structured interviews with 130 people. Based on what they learned during this pilot study, they then designed a more formal, structured interview that would make it easier to perform statistical analyses.

Marchini and Macdonald (2018) also broke down the category of ‘human livelihoods’ into more specific subcategories: jaguars’ impacts on livestock and human safety.

Lastly, Marchini and Macdonald (2018) used a photo interpretation experiment. They showed 70 ranchers ten pictures of dead cattle, and asked them to identify the causes of death. The goal was to see which factors (attitudes, experience with jaguars, etc.) led participants to attribute cattle deaths to jaguars.

Marchini and Macdonald (2018) used a photo interpretation experiment, in which ranchers were shown pictures of dead cows and asked to determine what killed them. The researchers were not looking for correct answers, but how often they attributed cattle deaths to jaguars, and which factors best predicted ranchers’ responses. Rincão by Eduardo Amorim. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


In total, 463 residents of Amazonia and the Pantanal participated in the structured interviews. Several interesting patterns emerged.

For one thing, Marchini and Macdonald (2018) wrote that, “Perceived impact on human livelihoods are hugely influenced by region and place of residence” (p. 236). For instance, jaguars’ perceived impact on livestock was higher in the Pantanal than in Amazonia – while the opposite was true for jaguars’ perceived impact on human safety.

Interestingly, the perceived impact of jaguars on livestock was not solely predicted by actual experiences of losing animals to jaguars. Attitudes towards jaguars, knowledge of jaguars, perceptions of the local economic situation, and other factors also played a role.

Perceptions of jaguars’ impacts on human safety were predicted by knowledge and attitudes towards jaguars, and not actually knowing someone who had been attacked by a jaguar.

Lastly, property size was important in Amazonia; knowledge of jaguars and attitudes towards them were both lower for individuals who owned less land. This likely had to do with a relative lack of education, the patchy distribution of livestock depredation in the area, and the spread of rumors.


Marchini and Macdonald’s (2018) results show that, yet again, hostility towards jaguars does not entirely result from attacks on livestock. Conservationists therefore cannot assume that simply protecting livestock from jaguars will prevent people from killing the cats. There may also be deeply-ingrained social factors that contribute to human-jaguar conflicts, and these need to be addressed.

Marchini and Macdonald (2018) found that perceptions of jaguars’ impacts on human livelihoods were complex, and not solely determined by attacks on livestock. Jaguar-Brazil2010k-4049.jpg by Dagget2. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Marchini and Macdonald (2018) also call for more research involving smaller properties in Brazil. Smaller landholdings have not received enough attention, and the relative poverty and lack of education amongst smaller landowners might exacerbate human-jaguar conflict.

All-in-all, Marchini and Macdonald’s (2018) latest study is another insightful investigation into the human dimensions of jaguar conservation. Be sure to follow the link below for the full paper!

Click Here for the Full Paper from Drs. Marchini and Macdonald

11 Thoughts

  1. Interesting take on the issues surrounding population decline…it’s not like poaching where people are killing the species purely for monetary purposes. I didn’t consider this viewpoint that people have misinformation about jaguars as a species or they were simply raised to have a certain attitudes toward the cat. Thanks for the information :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How we’re socialized and the rules we have to obey to be part of the in-group can have huge influences on how we act towards wildlife. Not everything’s about money, and few things are about ‘reason.’ We humans are messier, less logical creatures than mathematical formulas can easily predict.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The topic of giving animals more rights, or non-human personhood, is a fascinating one. A river in New Zealand was recently granted personhood, in accordance with indigenous peoples’ belief systems. It will be interesting to see if anything tangible changes with how people treat the river.


  2. As I’m reading this I’m reminded of how this kind of thinking “justifies” actions that transcends every aspect of our existence. Be it pertaining to man or beast. Fear being the root cause, perhaps more so than malice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am referring to how man tries to rid that which he fears often based on misinformation. Humans tend to lump their assumptions of one specie or a race based on either rumor/hearsay or a bad personal experience, neither of which is necessarily accurate. I think that’s why both animals and races of man can’t get along.
    Your blog is important because it expands on how some why’s got started, but even though I got that, I couldn’t help but see how man does this with everything. It seems we can’t leave anything alone.

    Liked by 1 person

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