Face to Face with a South American Jaguar

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A jaguar is captured up close by a camera trap. The near threatened species is the only panther found in the Americas

The near threatened jaguar is the only big cat found in the Americas, and it’s usually quite shy. With good reason — jaguars are hunted for their skins, and their jungle habitat is being cleared for agriculture. And now the cats face a new threat: growing plantations of oil palm, a commercial species that’s being raised chiefly for biofuels. Planting oil palm — which is becoming increasingly common in South America and Asia — involves clearing native jungle, and while the resulting plantations might resemble forests, the habitat is utterly changed. That can mean real trouble for the jaguars and other species that depend on the forest.

Now the conservation group Panthera has found photographic evidence that jaguars are willing to move through oil-palm plantations — which could mean that the cats will be able to better adapt to the change in their environment. Panthera put camera traps — cameras that automatically photograph any animals that come near it — in an oil-palm plantation in Colombia. You can see the results above: jaguars, both adults and cubs, living in the oil-palm plantation.

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As more and more native forest is lost, the challenge for conservationists is ensuring that endangered species still have enough room to roam. And for big cats, that can be especially difficult — the species tends to have a large land range. Panthera is moving ahead with its Jaguar Corridor Initiative, which seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations from Mexico to Argentina. Colombia is especially important as the country forms the gateway for jaguars to move from Central America to South America.

Said Panthera jaguar-program executive director Howard Quigley in a statement:

Human development in the shape of large monocultures, like oil-palm plantations, are drastically changing the face of the planet, creating refugees out of wildcats by breaking up their habitats and forcing them to live within smaller, often degraded, and more isolated pockets of land. Data collected through Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative are critical for oil-palm growers, national policymakers and local governments in their decisionmaking so they can account for the needs of jaguars across their range and minimize impacts on wildlife.

See more of Panthera’s jaguar photos here.

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