Jaguar Reintroduction Project

Current status of the project (updated February, 2017): During 2011 we evaluated the existence of 1.4 M acres of continuous habitat that could hold around 100 jaguars that would not get in contact with cattle or human populations. Also a social survey showed more than 90% support for jaguar reintroduction all over Corrientes province. Knowing this, we built the Jaguar Experimental Breeding Center within the core of Iberá Nature Reserve, aimed to breed jaguars that could successfully live in the wild.

Between 2015 and 2016 the first pair of jaguars arrived to this breeding center from Argentinean zoos. These animals won’t be released, but their offspring could grow without human contact and learning to hunt by themselves, so they can be released in the wild. Tobuna and Nahuel—the two first jaguars—mated several times around 2016, and we will know if they have offspring during the next months.

On January, 2017, a second male, Chiqui, arrived to the project from Paraguay, granted for a period of time by Yacyretá´s reserve, Antinguy. Chiqui, is still going through a quarantine phase in the Corrientes Biological Station (EBCo), where all the corresponding analysis will be done before transferring him to the Jaguar Experimental Breeding Center. We hope to have a second reproductive female soon.

Jaguar reintroduction in Iberá Natural Reserve:
Why it makes sense?

The jaguar is the largest cat of the Americas. While it originally inhabited diverse landscapes from the United States to Southern Argentina, today it is only found in less than 50% of its original distribution. Argentina stands out as one of the countries were this species has experienced a most dramatic population reduction. Jaguars that used to roam the vast Pampas and Northern Patagonia were extirpated, and the species is presently restricted to three isolated and critically endangered populations in the Northern tip of the country.

The establishment of 3,2 million acres Iberá Natural Reserve in Corrientes province (NE Argentina) in 1983 created a unique opportunity for jaguar restoration. This opportunity became strengthened by the establishment of The Conservation Land Trust (CLT) inside Iberá. CLT has purchased and it is ecologically restoring 370,000 acres of former cattle ranches to establish Argentina’s largest national park inside the larger Iberá reserve. Simultaneously, CLT started an ambitious program aimed to reintroduce all large mammals that became extirpated inside Iberá during the XXth century. As a result of this endeavor, we have already reestablished the presence of giant anteaters and pampas deer in this vast nature reserve. Jaguar restoration will be the next step in this direction. Here are the reasons why we think this makes sense.

There is an ecological, social and economic need for the return of the Jaguar to Iberá

The jaguar is the original top predator within Iberá wetlands, grasslands and forests. Its presence controls populations of large herbivores and medium size predators, and, as a result of this, influences vegetation structure and long-term survival of smaller animal species. Two decades of conservation management at Iberá Reserve have allowed for a significant recovery of native herbivores like the marsh deer and capybaras, and mesopredators like caimans, cats and foxes. With their populations on the rise, it makes ecological sense to restore the presence of a top predator, such as the jaguar, to exert long-term control on their numbers and reestablish original evolutionary and ecological processes. Its return also makes social sense, since the jaguar is a key element of local culture and folklore. Finally, it makes economical sense in a region where its 10 surrounding municipalities are striving to create a world class ecoturourism destination connected to neighboring Iguaçu waterfalls, with its one million annual visitors. Such destination would benefit dramatically from the symbolical and actual presence of jaguars in the local landscape.

There is wide social support for jaguar reintroduction in Corrientes province

A recent study carried out by a local biologist assessed attitudes and values of Correntinos towards jaguar reintroduction. Results from this study showed an unexpected high level of enthusiasm towards this idea, both in the provincial capital and rural areas around Iberá reserve. In all places, support for the species reintroduction surpassed 90% of the 400 plus interviewees. This study brought to surface a strong identification of a traditional society like the one in Corrientes with the mythical image of the jaguar. Correntinos feel that the jaguar represents their character and personality, and they also see it as a potential touristic attraction.

Relationship between locations and the level of support towards jaguar reintroduction in Iberá
(Source: Flavia Caruso)

There is sufficient good quality habitat to reestablish a viable jaguar population

Iberá represents a rare case within South America of a region where jaguars are absent, but there is enough space to harbor a sustainable population of the species. A recent study estimates that between CLT and the Corrientes government they hold around 650,000 acres of top quality habitat (i.e. good vegetation cover, proximity to water and high density of wild prey) and minimum conflict (i.e. absence of cattle ranches or human populations, buttressed by well- established conservation policy and actions). These potential jaguar core areas would be buffered or connected by another one million acres of refuges/corridors made up of low quality habitat, but with minimum conflict between jaguars and humans. On top of this, CLT, the Argentinean government and local authorities are negotiating the establishment of a 1,7 million acres national park that could hold the single largest jaguar reserve in the country in what would actually be Argentina’s largest national park.

Habitat assessment for jaguar reintroduction in the 3,2 million acre Iberá Natural Reserve
(Source: Carlos de Angelo)

There is organizational expertise and commitment towards jaguar reintroduction

CLT has been steadily investing in habitat and species restoration in Iberá since 1999, and plans to maintain this commitment until the national park is established and all large mammal species restored. In 2006 we started our first reintroduction project with the giant anteater. Today there are 19 anteaters living within Iberá, three of which were born in the area. Annual survival of reintroduced anteaters surpasses 90% and reproduction is steadily rising as the population increases. In 2009 we carried out the first translocation of wild pampas deer into Iberá reserve. Now there is a growing population of this deer in the area and further reinforcements are planned and authorized. These projects have allowed us to establish a well-experienced team of biologists and veterinarians who are able to plan and implement reintroduction projects. To carry out this we have developed working skills on such diverse activities as health screening, animal immobilization, telemetry monitoring, political and administrative negotiation, and public outreach and communication. In order to get prepared for jaguar reintroduction, our veterinaries have assisted other jaguar projects in Argentina, and we have visited and exchanged information with other international projects aimed to reintroduce other Panthera species.

 

Our general approach towards jaguar reintroduction

The most straightforward method to reintroduce a large predator like jaguar is to capture and translocate wild individuals after keeping them in pre-release pens where they get habituated to their new habitat. Sadly, existing jaguar populations in Argentina are highly endangered and it won’t be possible to extract animals from them to start a new population in Iberá. Similarly, it would be extremely difficult to get permission from neighboring countries to capture and translocate wild jaguars from their territory.

Therefore, our general approach to jaguar reintroduction will be based on obtaining pairs of captive jaguars in order to breed them in such ways that their offspring could be released in the wild. This implies designing and managing large pens where young jaguars learn to hunt wild prey without getting habituated to humans.

Once these captive-born jaguars reach independent age, they will be transported to pre-release pens on a strict reserve sited that is far away from people and cattle, and harbors optimum habitat and abundant wild prey. In order to avoid long-range exploratory movements from male jaguars, females will be used as “anchors” around which males will establish their home-ranges. All released animals will have a GPS collar that will provide regular information on their whereabouts and activity patterns.

 

Project collaborators

The Iberá Jaguar Reintroduction Project has received funding from:

  • Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation
  • Bromley Charitable Trust
  • Ferrero
  • Artis Zoo
  • Chester Zoo

The following zoos have contributed with animals to the project:

  • Zoo de Batán (Provincia de Buenos Aires)
  • Zoo de Buenos Aires (Capital Federal)
  • Zoo de Bubalcó (Provincia de Río Negro)