26 Dec

Hope for Colombia’s Cubs: A New Litter of Jaguars


Earlier this year, the first ever photos of jaguars in a Colombian oil palm plantation taken with Panthera’s camera traps were released, including images of a female jaguar with cubs. Placed in the inter-Andean Magdalena River Valley, these camera traps were set to gather new data about the impact of Colombia's ever-increasing oil palm plantations on jaguars. And thanks to this insightful research, Panthera’s scientists were able to confirm that, at least in some cases, jaguars are willing to move through oil palm, which is a good thing for preventing genetic isolation of the species.

Since this discovery, Panthera’s jaguar scientists have continued to monitor this particular plantation and the surrounding region using 23 camera traps, hoping to capture more images to assess the movements and health of this family, and particularly that of the young and vulnerable cubs.

Recently, our scientists were thrilled to uncover two new photos of a jaguar mother and cub in a patch of unprotected forest just 3 km from the plantation. At first glance, this mother and cub resembled the family photographed earlier this year. However, on closer inspection, our scientists determined that these latest images feature a different jaguar family all together! Excitingly, this is the first time that two separate litters of wild jaguars have been photographed by Panthera.

In the image above, the jaguar cub, estimated to be approximately two months old, is shown walking in front of Panthera’s camera trap as its mother rests nearby. As you can see from its wet coat, this little cub had just emerged from a bath in a nearby stream. As the rosette patterns on jaguars’ coats are not symmetrical on either side of their bodies, our scientists are not yet able to confirm whether just one cub is captured in these images.

These camera trap photos are already informing Panthera’s jaguar scientists about the life story of the secretive jaguar, including the number of cubs born in the wild, their chances of surviving to adulthood and contributing to a healthy population, the age at which cubs reach independence and disperse, their ranges upon reaching adulthood, and other critical ecological data. Images of the two litters taken this year indicate that female jaguars in the region are giving birth to at least two cubs at the beginning of the year during the dry season.

A jaguar mother and cubs in a Colombian oil palm plantation. This photo won the Runner-Up Prize in the New Discoveries category of the 2012 BBC Wildlife Camera Trap Photos of the Year Awards.

Furthermore, these data are being used to glean information about the impact of habitat changes, like the development of oil palm plantations, on jaguars’ ability to travel and reproduce, and the survival of their prey species. The images taken earlier this year come from a small oil palm plantation adjacent to a protected area with some indigenous habitat present - perhaps the best case scenario for fostering jaguars in such monocultures. Using these data, Panthera’s jaguar scientists are working top-down with government officials and oil palm plantation owners to strategically shape the development of land that dually benefits Colombia’s economic growth and accounts for the needs of jaguars across their range.

Due to the elusive nature of the jaguar, this research is critical to understanding the state of the species, its threats, and how to best shape Panthera’s conservation programs, including the Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI) - a unique program that seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations from Argentina to Mexico within human-dominated landscapes, such as oil palm plantations, to preserve the species' genetic diversity. Cupped between Panama to the north and a handful of South American countries, Colombia holds the key to the jaguar's passage from Central America to South America.

With the Jaguar Corridor in place, cubs like those photographed can travel safely, leaving the care of their mothers to lay claim to new territory, and produce their own cubs, ensuring a future for the species across its range.

On top of this good news, we are happy to share that the photograph above of the jaguar mother and cubs taken in an oil palm plantation earlier this year recently won the Runner-Up Prize in the New Discoveries category of the 2012 BBC Wildlife Camera Trap Photos of the Year Awards! A stunning, close-up image of this jaguar mother inspecting Panthera’s camera trap, right, was also just featured in the December edition of National Geographic magazine. Click here to read the article.

Read Panthera’s Press Release – First Photos Ever of Jaguars in Colombian Oil Palm Plantation Taken with Panthera’s Camera Traps

Colombian oil palm plantation photos

Map of Colombia

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