How Tourism is Helping to Turn the Tide for Jaguars in the Pantanal

A jaguar – the cat variety, not the car.
A jaguar in the Pantanal. Notice how alive this jaguar is? That’s a good thing. Jaguar (Panthera onca) Male on the River Bank by Bernard DUPONT. CC BY-SA 2.0

The environmental news outlet Mongabay recently published a fascinating article about jaguars. It features, shockingly, good news regarding conservation. Written by journalist Sarah Brown the article, details how conservationists are using tourism and education to help reduce illegal killings of jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal.

The Pantanal is a massive region of seasonally-flooded wetlands, forests, and grasslands that includes parts of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. It’s a lush region, full of life, and also an important area for cattle ranching. Much of the land in the Pantanal is used for raching, and ranchers commonly let their cattle wander freely.

The Pantanal also features some of the largest jaguars in the world. As you might expect, big jaguars plus free-ranging cattle often equals dead cows.

Here’s a video of a jaguar stalking and killing a caiman in the Brazilian Pantanal, which you might’ve seen before. Note: although this post is about jaguars killing cows, caiman are NOT cows.

As Ms. Brown’s article states, cattle can comprise one third of a jaguar’s diet in some parts of the Pantanal. When ranchers lose cattle to jaguars, it doesn’t engender nice feelings towards the cats, and contributes to their persecution.

Fortunately, wealthy tourists are willing to spend a lot of money to take pictures of jaguars. The increase in jaguar-related tourism has turned the cats into a major source of revenue for many pantaneiros (people who live in the Pantanal), which provides an incentive to protect the local jaguars.

When it comes to conservation, though, tourism should never be the only strategy. Teaching people to value wildlife strictly for economic reasons can backfire, because what if tourism dries up due to, I don’t know, a pandemic?

Luckily, conservationists in the Pantanal seem to have considered that. In addition to encouraging wildlife-based tourism, conservationists are also leading educational programs about jaguars. This is helping pantaneiros to learn more about jaguars, and why it’s important to have them in the landscape.

I suspect that spending time talking about jaguars in a positive way with friends and neighbors might also strengthen positive feelings towards the cats, which could prove helpful.

Regardless of my deranged musings, the fact remains that jaguar populations in the Pantanal appear to be growing. Initiatives like ecotourism and educational programs are surely helping, and contributing towards a brighter future for jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Please read the original article! This post has been a brief summary of a piece that was written by an actual journalist, and the original article on Mongabay contains much more information.

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