Jan. 28, 2002 New research shows that the jaguar is in trouble in two-thirds of its historic range. Part of the problem is that jaguars live in 18 countries and there is no coordinated plan for conserving them -- such wide-ranging species need conservation plans that transcend political boundaries.
"Biological conservation plans often respect political boundaries more than ecological ones," say Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, New York, and six co-authors in the February issue of Conservation Biology.
Jaguars once ranged from the southwestern U.S to northern Argentina. Threats to the big cats include poaching, habitat loss and competition with people for peccaries, tapirs and other prey.
Another threat to jaguars is that there is no consensus for how to conserve them. "Most countries do not have endangered species legislation of any kind, and if they do, laws are unlikely to be consistent across the 18 nations where the jaguar is currently found," say Sanderson and his colleagues.
To help shift the focus from politics to ecology, 35 jaguar experts from 12 countries were brought together by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The experts conducted a range-wide assessment of the jaguar's long-term survival prospects, and set priorities for jaguar conservation areas. They accounted for factors including the areas' sizes and connectivity, and the extent of hunting of both jaguars and their prey.
The bad news is that the jaguar has lost more than half of its range since 1900, mostly in the southern U.S., northern Mexico, northern Brazil and southern Argentina. The good news is that the jaguar is likely to survive over the long-term in 70% of its current known range. The big cats are doing best in the middle of their range, in and around the Amazon Basin.
But that's not enough. Conserving wide-ranging species means protecting them in a wide variety of habitats. "Presumably, the ecology of jaguars in tropical moist lowland forest is significantly different from that in xeric deserts because of differences in, for example, prey base," say Sanderson and his colleagues.
The experts identified and prioritized 51 jaguar conservation areas in 16 countries that are important to the species' long-term survival. These areas represent 30 of the 36 regions where jaguars live.
"The goal is not to determine the most important site for jaguar conservation overall, or the most important site in a given country, but rather to find the most important sites for ecologically distinct populations of jaguars," say Sanderson and his colleagues. "If we are to retain broadly-distributed species into the next century, we need to plan explicitly for their survival across their entire geographic range."
Funded by a $1 million grant from Jaguar Cars, North America, the Wildlife Conservation Society has created a range-wide conservation program for jaguars.
Sanderson's co-authors are: Kent Redford, Cheryl-Lesley Chetkiewicz, Alan Rabinowitz, John Robinson and Andrew Taber, all of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, New York; and Rodrigo Medellin of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico City.
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