Situated in the heart of Central America, Nicaragua is one of the 18 countries that is home to Americas’ largest cat – the elusive jaguar. Nicaragua serves as a crucial link in the Jaguar Corridor, connecting jaguar populations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras to all jaguar populations to the south of the country.
Over the past two years, Panthera’s Nicaraguan field scientists, including Sandra Hernandez and Lenin Obando, have worked to verify, or ‘ground-truth’, jaguar presence in Nicaragua’s remote northeastern territory, which includes the Wawashan Nature Reserve (WNR). Results from these ground-truthing surveys will allow for a clearer understanding of the status of jaguar populations and connectivity in Nicaragua, as well as on the overall connectivity of jaguars in Central America. Traveling on foot, by boat, and in trucks, Hernandez and Obando have journeyed deep into the forests of the WNR to interview local people about their knowledge, interactions with and perceptions of jaguars. Camera traps have also been placed in the same areas where interviews happen to capture photos of jaguars and their prey species, and to help verify interview data.
Recently, while collecting images from eight camera traps set up in late 2011 in the WNR, our team was thrilled to discover that one of the cameras had snapped Panthera’s first photos of a jaguar in Nicaragua (featured above and to the right). The overall size and head-to-body ratio of this individual suggests that it may be a young to middle-aged male, but additional photos are needed to confirm this.
While this photograph provides a glimpse of hope that jaguars still persist in the area, unfortunately it appears that the reserve has been heavily impacted by human incursion, and few jaguars are likely to exist within this area which was previously defined as a stronghold for the species in the region. The low numbers of jaguars is a direct result of habitat destruction and fragmentation driven primarily by illegal logging and unregulated agricultural development, along with direct poaching and overhunting of jaguar prey by local people.
Recent events have only exacerbated these threats. As a result of the widespread damage to Nicaragua’s forests caused by three hurricanes in the last few years, the Government has issued permits for the removal of fallen trees in these forests. This has given way to illegal logging and the illicit conversion of protected forest areas for agricultural developments. Even hunters from other countries are reportedly coming into the area.
However the area where this camera trap photo was taken – Little Soonie Lagoon – contains a strong successional forest where jaguars and their prey could potentially thrive. There is less evidence of habitat destruction and fragmentation there than in other regions of the reserve, and our field staff have found other encouraging signs in the Lagoon, including scat, tracks, and tree scratches from jaguars; and a local guide also recently reported a jaguar sighting along the Little Soonie trail.
Surveys conducted by Panthera’s partner, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), have also revealed that relatively stable jaguar populations remain in the Bosawas and Cerro Silva/Indio Maiz regions to the north and south of WNR, although threats to jaguars in these areas exist as well.
Currently, Panthera’s jaguar scientists are continuing the ground-truthing of the WNR, gathering data that will help shape effective conservation initiatives and help plan for a future for the jaguar in Nicaragua. Once these surveys have been completed, the team will be taking conservation efforts to the next level by establishing a Jaguar Corridor Committee – made up of government officials, local community representatives, and NGOs - that will oversee the protection and strategic implementation of Nicaragua’s Jaguar Corridor.
Be sure to check back with us for more updates on this critical jaguar conservation project.
Learn more about the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, which seeks to create a passageway connecting and protecting jaguars living and moving across the landscape, from Mexico to Argentina, to ensure the species’ genetic diversity and sustainability.