Amazon fires

Amazon fires have killed ‘at least’ 500 jaguars, says big cat organization

NGOs are concerned about their future

At least 500 jaguars have been killed in Amazon fires, experts estimate

Jaguars have been victims of Amazon fires. Photo credit: Panthera
Jaguars have been victims of Amazon fires | Photo credit: Panthera

At least 500 resident jaguars living in the Amazon region between Brazil and Bolivia have been killed or rendered homeless in Amazon fires, says Panthera, a global wild cat protection organization.

The estimate is based on a mid-September count. The organization believes the numbers could be even higher, according to Ecowatch.

The calculation is based on data compiled by Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and the Environmental Secretariat of the Governor’s office of Santa Cruz, Bolivia showing the total area of jaguar habitat burned multiplied by an estimate of 2.5 jaguars per 100 square kilometer (39 square miles) based on this 2018 study.

Panthera adds that while jaguars are more mobile than other species, jaguar refugees that manage to survive face a number of threats, including loss of prey that are “slow-moving, nocturnal and less adept at escape”. If they can’t hunt their natural preys, they will have to venture into unknown territories and face conflict with other jaguars and farmers when they hunt livestock.

The region known as Brazilian Pantanal, home to the world’s largest continental wetland and one of highest densities of jaguars in the world, has also been affected by the recent blazes. INPE estimates the number of fires in the region this year is 334% higher than the same period in 2018 and 43% above the average recorded in the last 21 years.

Since 2012, Panthera has been running the Pantanal Jaguar Project. The aim is to create one of the world’s largest, contiguous jaguar corridors and deal with human-jaguar conflict through what they call demonstration ranches to foster an ecotourism industry and educational initiatives at Panthera’s Jofre Velho School.

The fires represent a major setback, though. Since they are mostly criminal, the recovery of the burnt areas is uncertain. In fact, it is likely they will be converted into livestock ranching, logging and agriculture, says Dr. Esteban Payan, Panthera’s South America regional director. “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.”

“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,” said Jaguar Program and Conservation Science Executive Director, Dr. Howard Quigley.

So far, jaguars have lost nearly 40 percent of its range through habitat loss and fragmentation, conflict over livestock, overhunting of prey species by people and poaching, which shifts to jaguars as tiger and lion populations plummet.

“The particular intensity and speed of the recent Amazon fires allows little room for conservation planning and presents a dire threat to jaguar permanence, although nations like Indonesia are setting excellent examples of how to effectively fight fires,” says Panthera in a statement.

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