Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Year of the Jaguar

     The Mexican government declared 2005 the year of the jaguar. Historically the jaguar inhabited forests and jungles from the southern Unites States to Argentina. They now only survive in a few small isolated areas. In California the last jaguar was killed in the 1860s. In Arizona the last jaguar was seen in the 1980’s. Studies indicated that jaguars have lost over 50% of their range in Mexico since 1900.
     In 1973, Jaguars were listed on Appendix I of Cites, making it illegal to trade their skins or parts for commercial gain. Cites listing, in combination with anti-fur campaigns and the development and enforcement of national legislation, helped reduce the trade in jaguar skins. Despite the fact jaguar hunting is illegal, results from studies done in Mexico indicated approx. 31% of the jaguar’s current population is threatened by indiscriminate killing.
     The jaguar is the third largest member of the feline family, the largest in the Americas, and is alleged to be strongest of all wildcats. The jaguar has no natural enemy except for man. The disappearance of the jaguar is due to human encroachment. When animals and man compete for the same “real estate,” the animal usually loses.
     Remaining jungles and forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Areas are being cleared for agriculture, logging, etc. Not only is the jaguar losing its habitat, but in some areas it must also compete with man for the same prey. Due to this rivalry not only is the jaguar’s natural prey reduced, but the jaguars are also killed to eliminate the competition.
     Lack of habitat protection; typically, the most effective strategy to conserve bio-diversity is to separate areas of protection from areas of use. But often, parks and preserves are in the same areas in which natural resource exploitation occurs. This, coupled with the fact that jaguars make up a large, mobile specie that roam throughout a variety of habitats-makes the creation of jaguar reserves extremely difficult.
     In Mexico, studies indicate in the areas most critical for jaguar conservation, only 4 % of the total area was effectively protected. Clearly, there is a need for more protected areas and enforcement of existing protected areas as well as new approaches to jaguar conservation. Could there be another solution? Eco hunting? Safari Club International (SCI) has a new category for cat hunters that want to pursue these trophy animals: darted jaguar.
     Venezuela and Mexico have begun exploring the possibility of offering “green” jaguar hunts. In this case, the hunter would pay a fee for the opportunity to chase and shoot a jaguar with tranquilizing drugs. The drugged jaguar would then be fitted with a radio collar and monitored as part of a research project. If this type of hunting of jaguars is accepted and becomes an alternative, would it help not only save the jaguar but other species, as well as their habitat? At this time the implications of using such approaches for jaguar conservation are unknown and would need to be carefully monitored.
     “What is man without the beasts? If the beasts were gone, man would die from a loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected.”—Chief Seattle, 1786-1866 (attributed)