Although jaguars are listed in Argentina as Monumento Natural and receive full legal protection, the reality on the ground is that their numbers continue to decline due to habitat loss and persecution. As the Yungas (eastern Andes piedmont forest) and Chaco forests of Northwest Argentina are quickly cleared to make way for the “soybean revolution”, what was once a continuous jaguar population is now shrinking into smaller habitat blocks, where the “tigres” – as they are locally known - continue to be hunted in retaliation for livestock losses. Extensive herding practices and poor husbandry, with stock let loose in the forests and seldom rounded up, render the calves susceptible to predation, resulting in significant economic loss to small-scale ranchers, negative attitudes toward wildlife and conservation activities in general, and vengeful killing of jaguars.
While the Ley de Bosques passed recently by the federal government and associated land planning reviews in Salta and Jujuy provinces may slow down the rate at which jaguar habitat is currently being lost to the bulldozers, very little is being done to curtail retaliatory killings. Fortunately, the Administración de Parques Nacionales (APN) has appointed a jaguar conservation coordinator for Northwest Argentina, and is collaborating with the provincial governments to address jaguar-livestock conflict.
Born Free is contributing to the implementation of a project to reduce livestock losses to predation and alleviate the animosity ranchers demonstrate towards jaguars. In partnership with APN we work with ranchers in and around Calilegua and Baritu National Parks implementing changes in livestock husbandry. Ranchers get financial assistance to build calving enclosures, synchronize herd breeding season and improve the quality of their stock. Livestock losses are closely monitored and other ranchers invited to learn new husbandry practices with the expectation that they will eventually also adopt them. A scheme to improve pig husbandry by building communal pig-stays is also planned. Community education activities seek to change local attitudes towards jaguars and make them more receptive to conservation activities. Jaguars and their prey are monitored using camera-trap and transect surveys. The ultimate goal is that by changing husbandry practices there will be lower grazing pressure on the forests, eventually leading to a recovery of the prey base for the cats, which may in time reduce their reliance on livestock for food.
A pilot project started in April 2009 to reduce livestock losses to predation and ranchers’ resentment of jaguars. The project receives funding and human resources from APN and the Jujuy government, as well as Born Free and Panthera.
The ultimate goal of this project is to reduce livestock losses to jaguars and therefore mitigate the current negative attitudes towards these large carnivores.
The project is led by Dr Claudio Sillero, Born Free’s Head of Conservation, and Dr Pablo Perovic. Born in Argentina, Claudio has spent most of his professional life working on carnivore conservation in Africa and Asia. This project provides him with an opportunity to work closely with, and help train, some of his Argentine colleagues. Pablo has been working on jaguar conservation in Northwest Argentina for over a decade. He has recently been appointed by the APN as their coordinator for jaguar conservation. Two local field assistants are employed and APN staff provides logistic support. This project supports the work of local institutions and field conservationists addressing jaguar conservation in Northwest Argentina.