Nature lovers who travel to the Brazilian Pantanal region on a dedicated Jaguar watching tour can take heart from the knowledge that this kind of ethical ecotourism is not just a sought after wildlife experience, but also a way to play a meaningful and effective role in the animal's preservation.
With its current ‘near threatened’ conservation status, this beautiful big cat faces an ongoing struggle for survival against concurrent threats of habitat decimation through deforestation, human conflict and reduction in the populations of small prey food sources.
In addition to Jaguar watching tours and other ecotourism ventures, throughout Central and South America there are a number of conservation initiatives in place to support the big cat's survival. While the animal has virtually disappeared from its historic northern range around the US/Mexico border, a bi-national initiative has been established in order to work towards saving the remaining northernmost population of Panthera onca.
At one time the big cats roamed freely across the vast landscape of the southern states of the US, but due to illegal hunting and human encroachment, their population has all but vanished from the Mexico/US border regions. In an attempt to counteract this, a small but dedicated group of concerned conservationists set up the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP), in Sonora in the north of Mexico. This 86 square mile area of wilderness reserve is prime big cat habitat and home to a small breeding population.
Thanks to the efforts of the NJP, in conjunction with their partners Naturalia, a Mexican conservation organisation, the big cats now have a haven where they can roam, hunt and breed in safety in one of the most remote and rugged wilderness areas in Mexico.
With their goal to ‘bring back’ this most magnificent big cat, the NJP's mission is to restore and preserve the existing habitat and expand the sanctuary beyond its current borders in Northern Mexico. By instilling a sense of pride in the biodiversity of the area through the education of the local communities, the NJP is working towards establishing a state of peaceful co-habitation. They also hope to dispel many of the myths surrounding the animal and reduce the devastating practice of poaching – not just of the big cat, but also of the smaller prey species that provide its vital food sources.
Looking to the Future
In addition to the ongoing work within the Sonoran reserve, the NJP is looking to broader horizons, with a vision of identifying and protecting wildlife corridors through to the border with Arizona in order to provide safe passage for the big cat to re-establish its traditional southern US ranges.
Currently, the prime region for Jaguar watching tours is the lush, wildlife-rich habitat of the Brazilian Pantanal. But with the diligent efforts of conservation initiatives like the NJP, in the future, the wild canyon lands of Northern Mexico may once again be home to an abundant Jaguar population.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar holiday itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.