Dr. Howard Quigley, Panthera’s Jaguar Program Executive Director, and Dr. Luke Hunter, Panthera’s President, collar a jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal.
It is unfortunate that rumours and misconceptions exist about Panthera’s jaguar research program in the Pantanal. In Brazil, we work under the guidance of our partners, the Brazilian statutory conservation authority CENAP and the leading Brazilian carnivore conservation NGO Procarnivoros. CENAP reviews and approves all proposed research activities, while the scientists of both CENAP and Procarnivoros work closely with Panthera scientists on the ground to maintain the highest standards of safety and scientific rigour.
The most egregious rumour that requires immediate correction is that radio-collars have caused deaths of jaguars. This is absolutely incorrect; no jaguars have died or been harmed by our radio-collaring. We are aware of a large male who was photographed with what appeared to be injuries under the collar. Panthera scientists examined the photos and could find no evidence of injuries; it is often the case that fur under the collar looks dirty which might explain the false impression. The same cat was later observed by guides who reported he ‘looked better’ and speculated that perhaps the cat’s neck had been swollen after a fight when first photographed (although we do not know this to be the case; the cat was clearly in excellent health in the photographs we examined).
o Noca (pronounced no-sa), shown here, is the first female jaguar collared and monitored by Panthera through the Pantanal Jaguar Project. This photo shows Noca laying near a river in the Brazilian Pantanal one year after her collaring. Over the past year, Panthera’s scientists have monitored Noca’s movements and behavior, which have proven her to be healthy, reproductively receptive and active. Click here to learn more about Noca’s movements since her collaring.
The pattern of blaming radio-collaring for deaths is one we have experienced in our projects around the world. In part, we believe this stems from the fact that the radio-collars allow us to find dead cats, whereas prior to collaring they simply disappeared. In the minds of some observers, the connection between documenting jaguar deaths and the presence of collars means the two are related; “the jaguars must be dying because of the collars!” No, they are dying of all the causes jaguars usually die- a combination mostly of natural factors and persecution by cattle-owners- but the collars now provide a window into understanding those causes.
It is important to understand why we radio-collar wild cats. In the Pantanal, our chief objective is to better document the extent to which jaguars create conflict with cattle ranchers. Nearly 80% of the Pantanal is used for cattle-ranching and jaguars do prey upon cattle. However, local ranchers often blame jaguars for almost all deaths of cattle in the field and many react by widespread killing of cats. Radio-collaring is the only technique that produces the robust science we need to quantify the actual losses of cattle as well as an estimate of how many jaguars are illegally killed. Armed with that information, we can experiment with changes in cattle husbandry- such as the use of electric fences, ‘herd-guarding’ buffalo, corralling young, vulnerable calves and so on- to demonstrate to reluctant cattle-ranchers which techniques truly help to reduce their losses. By doing so, we hope to reduce ranchers’ motivation to kill jaguars and foster their tolerance for jaguars. If we succeed, jaguars will be better off on cattle ranches.
A camera trap photo of a collared jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal.
It is simply not possible to get this information from viewing jaguars along the rivers or using camera-traps- remote-triggered cameras that photograph jaguars (and other wildlife) as they pass the camera. Both techniques are useful for providing some information on the numbers of jaguars, especially scientific camera-trapping which can furnish accurate density estimates. But they do not allow us to answer the key questions about jaguar-cattle conflict. Apart from limitations in the kind of data these techniques can produce, the worst jaguar-killers will not allow research on their ranches so there is no way to observe jaguars or place cameras on their properties. Our collars transmit data remotely so we are able to follow cats when they traverse such ranches; the collars even indicate when and where a cat has died so that, even if we are not allowed to examine a dead animal, we will have information on whether more cats are dying suddenly on ‘bad’ ranches. There is simply no way that watching jaguars on the river for a few hours each day can deliver the same kind of detailed information that is essential to address the killing of cats.
Finally, it is erroneous to believe that the collars remain on for the life of a cat. Our collars are built with small integrated devices that trigger the collar to automatically drop-off after a pre-set period- up to 2 years. It means we do not have the capture the cat a second time to remove the collar.
Panthera’s scientists have safely captured hundreds of cats of many species on every continent where cats occur. We place an absolute premium on the safety of cats and we have many decades of collective experience in ensuring that the process meets the highest possible safety standards. It is discouraging that we are often portrayed as ‘heartless scientists’ interested only in data, when in fact, every one of Panthera’s biologists works on wild cats because we treasure them deeply. By undertaking rigorous science, we hope to ensure their persistence so that future generations can also treasure them.
Luke Hunter, PhD