New York, NY – As wild habitat continues to burn at a record rate in South America’s forests, Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, has released a new and increased estimate of at least 500 jaguars left homeless or deceased from fires in Brazil and Bolivia.
Based in the northern Amazon, Panthera South America Regional Director, Dr. Esteban Payan, stated, “The fires are a great blow to precious wildlife, wild lands and human communities that are sheltered and supported by South America’s forests. The latest estimate suggests the fires could be responsible for the loss of habitat homes for at least 500 adult resident jaguars in Brazil and Bolivia, leaving them homeless or even dead alongside countless smaller and more abundant vulnerable species. Sadly, until the rains come, this number is likely to increase.”
Recently visiting the greater Santa Cruz area, Panthera scientists overlaid maps of burnt habitat with wild cat range and determined that fires in Bolivia have destroyed over 2 million hectares of forest in one of South America’s few and critical "catscapes,” as identified by Panthera - a region with the highest predicted density of cat species on the continent. At its greatest density, Bolivia’s catscape is home to eight cat species, including the jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, Southern oncilla, jaguarundi, Geoffrey’s cat and Pampas cat. Panthera’s conservation model ranch in Bolivia, the San Miguelito Jaguar Conservation ranch, lies in this catscape, sitting dangerously close to burning fires.
Dr. Payan stated, “Manmade fire is a new and, as we’ve seen in the last few weeks, absolutely devastating threat to wildlife due to its exorbitant intensity, scale and speed. When combined, these three factors mean that enormous swaths of forest and the life within them can be lost in a matter of days.”
While the species is more mobile than many others, jaguar refugees that do manage to survive are still sure to face a number of threats, including loss of prey that are slow-moving, nocturnal and less adept at escape. As they move into new and unknown territories, jaguar survivors are also likely to face conflict with other jaguars and particularly people whose livestock make easy targets for much-needed food.
Jaguar Program and Conservation Science Executive Director, Dr. Howard Quigley, stated, “The shock waves of these exceptionally large and, for the most part, human-lit fires are being felt not only by the wildlife and people of Brazil and Bolivia, but also those in Peru and Paraguay. These fires stand to directly impact the continent, and in the end, the health of the planet as they hurt one of the cradles of biodiversity and greatest counter forces against global warming.”
The estimate of deceased or homeless jaguars is based on the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) July assessment of areas burnt equivalent to 4,281 square kilometers, data from the Environmental Secretariat of the Governor’s office of Santa Cruz reporting 2,440,000 ha (1,150,000 ha in protected areas) burnt in eastern Bolivia, and a reasonable jaguar density estimate of 2.5 jaguars per 100 km2.
Home to the world’s largest continental wetland and among the highest density of jaguars anywhere, the Brazilian Pantanal has also fallen victim to the recent blazes, with Corumbá municipality registering the most fires in the nation. A new report from INPE suggests that the number of fires in the Brazilian Pantanal this year is 334% higher than fires during the same period in 2018 and 43% above the average recorded on the same days in the last 21 years.
Active since 2012, Panthera’s Pantanal Jaguar Project works to create one of the world’s largest, contiguous jaguar corridors, mitigate human-jaguar conflict through conservation demonstration ranches, foster a flourishing ecotourism industry and operate conservation education initiatives through the Panthera-built Jofre Velho School.
Dr. Payan added, “Sadly, the recovery of these lands isn’t assured, as they will likely be transformed for extensive agriculture, logging and livestock production. The conversion of these wild places ensures jaguars will probably never be welcome, permanently decreasing the species’ already dwindling distribution. Development and conservation can go hand in hand, but it takes careful planning.”
Along with the trauma facing wild cats and other wildlife species, climate scientists are rightly concerned about the impacts of these events on global warming. The Amazon’s forests play a critical role in absorbing heat, storing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, and in effect, ensuring that less carbon is released into the atmosphere to stave off climate change.
While extending into nine South American nations, sixty percent of the Amazon is located in the heart of Brazil. The Amazon forest biome is biologically the richest region on Earth, hosting approximately 25% of global biodiversity, and is a major contributor to the natural cycles required for the functioning of the Earth.
The Pantanal Jaguar Project is operated through Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI) - the only conservation program that seeks to protect jaguars across their six million km2 range. Working with governments, corporations, local communities and international and local conservation organizations, Panthera’s scientists seek to preserve the genetic integrity and future of the jaguar by connecting and protecting core populations from Mexico to Argentina.