"Our vision has been to link together the different groups who manage blocks of the corridor, making them larger than the sum of their parts."
formerly the Conservancy's Northern Mexico program director
By Arathi Sundaravadanan
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Jaguars once roamed the Americas—from the Grand Canyon to Argentina. But hunting and habitat loss have reduced their numbers dramatically over the past century.
That's why The Nature Conservancy and partners Naturalia, Northern Jaguar Project and Defenders of Wildlife have worked to save this rare group of northern jaguars. The partners have combined land protection efforts with innovative projects like the use of trip-cameras to monitor jaguar movements.
Key strategies in this effort include:
- protecting ranch lands that provide critical habitat for the jaguars;
- helping the Mexican government create and strengthen federal reserves;
- educating and providing ranchers with incentives to not kill the jaguars; and
- using cameras and science to monitor and study the jaguars' movements.
Indeed, payments to ranchers for trip-camera photographs of the jaguars have become an important incentive for conserving the species in the corridor.
Creating Safe Passage for Jaguars
The Conservancy has been working since 1990 in the corridor that northern jaguars use to move back and forth between the Sierra Madre highlands and the U.S.-Mexico border along Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
It is a sparsely populated area of large private ranches and federal protected areas. Jaguars need vast expanses of land to hunt and survive, feeding mostly on deer, javeline and cattle. But for years, ranchers in the corridor have killed jaguars to protect their cattle herds.
“We work with communities, governments and conservation groups across the corridor,” says Susan Anderson, formerly the Conservancy's Northern Mexico program director and now director of project development and science for Latin America. “Our vision has been to link together the different groups who manage blocks of the corridor, making them larger than the sum of their parts.”
Supporting Partners and Protecting Lands
To help achieve this vision, the Conservancy worked with local partner Naturalia, providing them with technical and financial support:
- Naturalia and Northern Jaguar Project completed the landmark purchase of 35,000-acre Zetasora ranch in Sonora—the last remaining unprotected area in the center of the breeding range of the northern jaguars. In February 2008, Zetasora ranch and Los Pavos, a 10,000-acre ranch purchased by Naturalia in 2003, became the Northern Jaguar Reserve.
- Another key piece of the corridor is the 10,000-acre Los Fresnos ranch, situated on Mexico's northern border with the United States. The Conservancy purchased the ranch in 2005 to help protect a grassland piece of the corridor.
- And in the Ajos Bavispe Federal Reserve—where there is a concentration of jaguars—the Conservancy worked for 10 years to strengthen the reserve.
“We brought our scientific and technical expertise to the government and wrote the management plan for the area,” Anderson says. “We provided and trained the first management staff and helped with community outreach for the reserve.”
Paying for Trip-Camera Photos of Jaguars
One key project is Naturalia's use of trip-cameras to take photos of the jaguars for monitoring purposes.
The group places cameras in the properties that make up the jaguar reserves. At any given time they use 55 to 70 cameras set in pairs to identify the jaguars.
“Markings on jaguars are like thumbprints, no two are equal,” says Juan Carlos Bravo, the regional representative for Naturalia.
In Sahuaripa, the group is setting up trip-cameras on ranchers’ properties and paying them for every picture of a wild cat taken. The ranchers receive $50 for a bobcat, $100 for a cougar, $150 for an ocelot and $500 for a jaguar.
“The program helps the ranchers better understand these animals and provides them a financial incentive not to kill them,” adds Bravo. The community held a photo exhibit of the pictures taken, which were judged by local school children. The three winners were given additional prizes.
Helping Yaqui Women and Ranchers
Naturalia also plans to place trip-cameras in various federal protected areas and in territories that belong to the Yaqui tribes. “We are doing this to empower an organization of Yaqui women,” explains Bravo.
The income the women receive from participating in this project will give them financial independence. Naturalia is also training the women to become better stewards of their land and to create a community reserve.
North of the Sierra near the San Pedro River basin, the Conservancy and partners have formed an association of ranchers. They are helping the ranchers share information with each other to better protect their land.
“I think The Nature Conservancy has made a great effort to support us and provided us and the ranchers with innovative ideas to restore and make better use of the land to protect the jaguars,” says Bravo.
Arathi Sundaravadanan is a Nature Conservancy marketing specialist/writer for Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.