We estimate that the habitat of up to 600 jaguars has been burned and otherwise impacted by fires in the greater Brazilian Pantanal this year. This represents habitat devastation never seen before in the region. Despite this, a new jaguar birth sparks hope for the restoration of these big cats and their habitat; introducing Pixana and her new cub Fenix!
In the last few months, Brazil’s Pantanal has suffered severely from ongoing wildfires. This unique ecosystem is estimated to be home to approximately 2,000 jaguars, now subject to displacement, injury and death as a result of fires. By the second week of October, more than 4 million hectares, nearly a third of the region, had been burnt. This includes crucial jaguar habitat, especially the riparian forests along the Cuiabá, Piquiri and Paraguay Rivers.
Panthera scientists like myself have turned into firefighters and rescuers, working around the clock to protect lives, homes and wildlife. As of October 15, one jaguar has been found dead and four individuals with burn injuries have been rescued by veterinarians, conservationists and others teaming together to save local wildlife and fight fires. One of those jaguars rescued from the flames is Gloria, whose paws were badly burned but is making a steady recovery.
As top predators, jaguars are important for balancing this wetland ecosystem. We expect a long process of restoration for the Pantanal, with a possible rearrangement in the distribution and abundance of species that occur here. These wildfires have led to many questions for scientists and conservationists, including;
How will the fires impact the Pantanal’s jaguar population?
How will the fires impact populations of the jaguar's prey species such as peccaries, deer, armadillos, capybara and caiman?
How long will it take for forests and other jaguar habitats to recover?
Will the Pantanal be the same as before, or will it have a new dynamic?
Our days of fighting fires and assisting veterinary teams in wildlife rescue have been exhausting, and sometimes difficult to push through. But recently we received news that reinvigorated us with hope: one of the female jaguars that we often see on the river-shores of Panthera’s ranch and surrounding areas has given birth to a new cub. The female, who we call Pixana, was recently photographed with her healthy offspring which we’ve named Fenix. The name comes from the Phoenix of Greek mythology that is reborn from the ashes.
I am proud to be part of the Panthera team on-the-ground working to protect our Fazenda Jofre Velho ranch. Together, we have ensured that at least 20% of the property (with lots of riverine forest areas) was protected from the fires; a piece of land that represents an important refuge for Pantanal flora and fauna - including Pixana and Fenix. The survival of this cub demonstrates the strength and resilience of the jaguar and gives us hope for this population.
Other surrounding ranches have been burnt almost entirely with heavy losses of wildlife and cattle. The neighboring Encontro das Aguas State Park had more than 80% of its lands burned. With this tragic scenario of millions of hectares burned, each hectare saved will make a big difference for the recovery of the Pantanal biodiversity.
As we continue to fight fires and rescue wildlife, we relish the good news that comes our way from Panthera partners as well as local tour guides and boat drivers. So far more than 25 jaguars have been recorded on camera after the fires hit Panthera’s Ranch and nearby Encontro das Águas State Park.
We know we have a long road ahead of us to ensure that the Pantanal remains a key area for jaguar conservation and a major player in Panthera’s conservation initiatives. Luckily, the increasing good news - including that of Pixana’s new cub Fenix - gives us hope for a brighter future.