Understanding the beef between jaguars and cows

By Rafael Hoogesteijn, M.S., DVM

Throughout the Americas, the conservation of large carnivores like jaguars and pumas is strongly impeded by their attacks on and consumption of domestic animals and livestock. When livestock is predated, cattlemen and farmers retaliate by trying to kill or poison the culprit feline—and, in many instances, killing all the carnivores in the area, even if their livestock haven’t died.

Attacking livestock is a natural behavior for carnivores, and seeking to protect livestock is similarly a natural reaction on the part of farmers and ranchers. Apart from the loss of habitat, conflict with humans—usually over cattle—is the second largest threat facing jaguars, especially in floodplain savannas in regions like the Pantanal.

Ranchers in the Pantanal can lose 3-5 percent of their annual stock to jaguars, and with profit margins only around 7-10 percent, these losses are significant. For a jaguar, a cow might be breakfast, but for ranchers, they’re part of their families’ livelihoods. Predation is higher in areas where wild prey is diminished through habitat loss and poaching. And livestock also die for a variety of reasons; jaguars are easy scapegoats for losses, especially in the case of cattle rustled from the properties of absentee owners.

This is happening all around Latin America with the expansion of the agricultural frontier into previously forested areas. Mitigating this conflict is especially crucial around protected areas and wildlife corridors like the Jaguar Corridor.

At Panthera, we have developed low-cost and practical resolution strategies to help ranchers and farmers lessen or control their losses and increase their tolerance for big cats. (One of the best and most effective alternatives is supporting an ecotourism industry centered around big cats. This provides farmers and ranchers with an economic activity that derives from their presence.)

Our conflict resolution work with cattlemen is based on three basic premises:

  • Reducing domestic animals’ vulnerability to depredation
  • Increasing the base of natural prey species by controlling hunting
  • Increasing herd productivity to offset any potential losses

Panthera keeps a herd of approximately 100 animals at Fazenda Jofre Velho in the heart of the Northern Pantanal, where there are nine to 10 jaguars for every 100 square kilometers. We are using a combination of strategies here. The inclusion of multiple species within the herd is also a key way of protecting livestock from jaguar attack. The specific types of animal we use at Fazenda Jofre Velho, and why they are uniquely suited to repel jaguar attacks, will be discussed at length in later posts.

But the simplest way to keep cattle safe is basically tucking them into bed at night. The herd is rounded up from the surrounding savanna during the afternoon and penned up in a night corral, where it sleeps during the night together with a certain number of Pantaneiro bulls and a small herd of very tame Indian Water Buffaloes, which offer protection. Encouraging ranchers to build and use these enclosures substantially reduces predation—saving them money in the long run, while also keeping jaguars safe from retaliation.

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