Mexico’s Jaguar Haven in Peril

by Alan Rabinowitz, PhD

Welcome to the Journey of the Jaguar! In this pilot expedition on our three year adventure, we are traveling to the most important jaguar area in all of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula. We received news of potentially devastating deforestation taking place in the Yucatan, where two core jaguar populations (we call them Jaguar Conservation Units, or JCUs) thrive in heavily forested terrain. I’ve seen the end result of large scale deforestation elsewhere in the world and we need to see if we can stop that from happening in the Yucatan. The threat of isolation for even the best remaining forests with jaguars is our greatest concern. Forests are disappearing here at some of the fastest rates in the country–and the jaguars along with them.

Although Panthera has had an agreement with the Mexican government since 2015 to advance the Jaguar Corridor Initiative in the country, we’ve only just gotten started, having hired a new, dynamic Mexican coordinator, Diana Friedeberg. There is a lot to see and learn about Mexico’s system of protected areas and private lands because it’s a system unlike any other in Latin America. Proper protection and conservation in Mexico is challenging.

On this trip, we’ll meet with the directors of two large protected areas to assess the threat of isolation for the core jaguar populations living in each of their parks, and discuss how to maintain critical connections between them. We’ll visit with ranchers and community leaders to learn about what, if anything, they are doing to protect jaguars and other wildlife on their lands, and learn the extent of the conflict between jaguars and livestock.

Above all, we’ll be looking for jaguars. Our partners in the Yucatan, Dr. Mircea Hidalgo and his team of researchers at the University of Tabasco, have been working with local landowners and communally-owned farms, called ejidos, to conduct camera-trap studies on their lands. Understanding the distribution of jaguars in the region is the key to protecting them, and the essential first step in any science-based conservation plan.

I hope you’ll join me and the Panthera team and follow along with us on this incredible journey.

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