A Lifeline for Jaguars in Laguna de Terminos

by Diana Friedeberg, MC

“Welcome to the broken heart of the Laguna de Terminos Reserve.” Jose Hernandez Nava, director of the Laguna de Terminos Natural Protected Area, gives us a wry smile as he shows us into his small, stuffy office piled high with papers.

We’re in Ciudad del Carmen, which was a small fishing town until the seventies when oil was discovered off the coast and it became a major hub for the oil industry. Mexico’s oil crisis hit Carmen hard, and the city (an island, really) has not been able to recover since. Jose’s “broken heart” is a reference to Carmen’s location: a city of approximately 170,000 located right in the middle of a Protected Area.

The reserve of 705,016 ha mostly protects the lake and the mangroves around it. We’ve been working in the area with Dr. Mircea Hidalgo from the University of Tabasco for the past couple of years, providing support for his monitoring research in private ranches located partially in the reserve, across the lake from Ciudad del Carmen.

The results are quite promising: at least five resident jaguars have been identified (three males and two females) and we’ve witnessed one female raise three litters since 2010. The Chain family, owners of one of the ranches, have done a great job at protecting these animals and their prey. Our concern is what happens to the jaguars that leave this haven, and what will become of the ones that remain?

Laguna is surrounded by agricultural fields and cattle ranches, putting it at risk of becoming completely isolated from all other potential jaguar habitat. The closest natural forest is Calakmul, the continuation of the Mayan Jungle in Guatemala and part of the largest intact rainforest in Latin America, north of Colombia. Calakmul is one of the last hopes for the jaguars in Laguna. If we’re able to increase and maintain the connectivity between these two reserves, jaguars and other wildlife will be able to disperse and the populations’ gene pools will be healthy.

Mr. Nava and his counterpart at Calakmul, Park Director Jose Zuñiga, who met with us by phone so he could attend to wildfires in the area, are both concerned about the state of the reserves and the surrounding region. But, both Laguna and Calakmul are understaffed and in need of more funds to run properly. We need to find a workable solution.

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