Proud Protector

by Diana Friedeberg, MC

Aaron is a big guy–ex-military–at least six feet tall and very strong. His body moves with a certain stiffness and his face is stern. We’ve met once before. When he sees me his face softens a bit in recognition and I think I almost see a smile cracking in the corner of his mouth. Today he will meet Alan and Howard about the conservation work that he does in his ranch in Sinaloa.

Aaron has been struggling for a long time to protect his family’s ranch from illegal hunting and the encroachment of drug dealers who want to grow poppies and marijuana on his land. More recently, his own family is pressuring him to make the land more “productive” by clearing out the woods for crops, or bringing in more cattle.

The Commission of Natural Protected Areas helped Aaron a few years ago through a program of community biological monitoring. They gave him a few camera traps and taught him how to use them. Since then, he’s photographed several jaguars and their prey in the 500 hectares that make up his ranch. He shows us some pictures on his computer and enthusiastically points to one of a newborn calf, and then another one of a large, male jaguar taken ten minutes later. “The jaguar didn’t eat the calf,” he tells us. His usually stoic face is now beaming with pride. “I think it’s because they have enough natural prey, the jaguars aren’t interested in the cattle.”

We agree that he has much to be proud of. He has warded off the hunters all on his own. Not an easy task in Sinaloa, a notoriously dangerous state in northwestern Mexico, but immensely important to the integrity of the Jaguar Corridor. This region links southern Mexico’s jaguars with the northernmost population in Sonora, and though we have considered Sinaloa a corridor, we might just reconsider that designation. It could be that Sinaloa holds an important jaguar population, a breeding source that feeds others.

Aaron’s story is quite common. Many private landowners are conservation-minded and want to protect their land, but don’t have the means or knowledge to do so. Panthera can help with this. By working together, building bridges, and helping locals protect their land, we’ll preserve the Jaguar Corridor in Mexico.

At the end of our meeting with Aaron, we give him a couple of PantheraCams, Panthera’s custom camera traps, and explain that they will improve the quality of his pictures greatly. We tell him that we hope this is the beginning of a long and very productive relationship. Aaron smiles as he takes the cameras and nods his head. “I hope so, too,” he says. “I can’t do this alone.” I couldn’t agree more. No one can.

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