SAVING JAGUARS BY WATCHING JAGUARS
Across its range in Latin America the jaguar Panthera onca is threatened by habitat loss and through conflict with people. In the Pantanal of Brazil, where large areas of land are devoted to cattle ranching, jaguars often attack livestock and are persecuted by ranchers
Large carnivores fascinate people because of their beauty and potential as human predators and have therefore become focal species for the ecotourism industry.
Wildlife tourism has grown exponentially and has often been used as a financial argument for species conservation. However, carnivores depredate livestock, leading to a direct economic conflict with rural livelihoods, often resulting in lethal retaliation action.
According to Panthera Foundation a non-profit NGO dedidacated to the conservation of wild cats Jaguar ecotourism represents a gross annual income of US$6,827,392 in land-use revenue across a representative portion the Brazilian Pantanal, the world's largest wetland.
The study was part of an effort to assign a monetary value to South America’s biggest cat, the first of its kind to do so.
For Panthera, the region is an important step in the organization’s Journey of the Jaguar, a trans-continental corridor that will take scientists by air, land, and water across the jaguar’s range, and aims to bring attention to the urgent need to conserve the continent-spanning jaguar corridor. Recent studies have shown that there is only one species of jaguar, which means that for centuries, until human beings came along, jaguars have been connected throughout their range and able to maintain genetic flow. The jaguar corridor is the key to maintaining this flow.
Considering the aggregate costs of jaguar depredation on livestock within the same area,
we estimate that the resident jaguar population would induce a hypothetical damage of only US$121,500 per year in bovine cattle losses. This large discrepancy between economic gains and losses reinforces the importance of wildlife tourism as a conservation tool in boosting tolerance of jaguars in private ranches. The Study also evaluate the partnership between ecotourism and cattle ranchers, in which cattle losses induced by jaguars could be compensated by a system of voluntary donations from tourists, ensuring that both traditional livestock husbandry and ecotourism can co-exist within the same ranches, thereby promoting landscape-scale jaguar conservation.
Assessments of local income generated by wildlife ecotourism activities represent a far more persuasive argument for wildlife conservation compared to, for example, ethical or existential values (Chardonnet et al., 2002).
‘’The profits from jaguar tourism are 52 times more than the cost to ranchers.’’ It is a win win for everyone, especially for the Jaguars’’, says Tortato.
The Panthera research could help. According to the study, jaguar tourism clawed in around $US6.8 million in 2015 from seven lodges in the Encontro das Aguas State Park alone, whereas the cat’s penchant for killing rancher’s cattle costs around US $121,500. The profits from jaguar tourism are 52 times more than the cost to ranchers. And the study authors believe their findings are conservative, so the actual amount could be higher.
Making acceptance of panthers the norm across the Pantanal is the next challenge. He believes that by further integrating the tourism industry and ranches and by creating a mechanism by which ranchers are rewarded for protecting jaguars — not just paid for the losses they create the long-term survival of the jaguar in the Pantanal will be assured.
The idea would be pretty simple. Tourists go off on their jaguar-watching trips and at the end donate a little cash that finds its way to the ranchers who may have lost some of their herd. The tour operators benefit from being able to use the ranchers land, while the ranchers no longer have to worry about financial losses: a win-win for everyone, especially the jaguar. (Read about a similar cooperative effort along the US-Mexico border here.)
Tartato says caution must be applied however. The compensation scheme isn’t a silver bullet to the problem of cattle predation. He estimates that at the moment only around 20 to 30 percent of the Pantanal is open to tourism. At best, he says, around 50 percent of the region could be opened to ecotourism in the future. Other areas are simply too remote. In the remaining, tourism-free 50 percent, the jaguar only represents a financial loss.
So while tourists paying to offset costs for the jaguar’s damage is bound to be a boon for conservation, Tortato envisages a project that goes further to fully integrate ranchers into a conservation plan by offering social benefits as well. “The problem with money is you have to come back with more, if one year the tourists don’t give anything, it’s difficult to administrate.”
Tortato explains that panthers are deeply imbedded in the local culture, and a symbol of the region, highlighting the cat’s pivotal role in the ecosystem, remain essential elements in
promoting tolerance of the beast, particularly where tourism dollars won’t be present. Improving access to schools, healthcare, and the like in areas which are often remote and isolated, he believes, wouldn’t hurt either as by providing access to what he calls “social compensation,” rather than just financial perks for not killing jaguars, the lives of people can be improved and tied ever more strongly to conservation.
These steps may a long way off in the future, however. In the meantime, improved understanding about the economic benefits of the Pantanal’s feared and admired beast can give conservation efforts a boost. The hopes are that the new research can be used to improvedialogue between ranchers and tour operators, eventually allowing tourists to do more than snap photos, but also contribute to the jaguar’s long-term survival.