Nearly 1,500 jaguars are estimated to have been killed or displaced in the Brazilian Amazon over the past several years due to an increase in deforestation and wildfires, according to a new study.
The report found that 1,470 jaguars either died or lost their homes from August 2016 to December 2019. Scientists analyzed previously assessed jaguar population estimates along with deforestation data sourced from satellite imagery for 10 states in the Brazilian Amazon.
“The results obtained represent a new way to numerically quantify the effects of deforestation and forest fires that are alarmingly advancing in tropical forests,” co-author Fernando Tortato, conservation scientist for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, tells Treehugger. “The same approach can be used for other threatened species and change the way we interpret the loss of natural habitats.”
Wildfires have had a debilitating impact on the population of these big cats. The time period in the study includes the “Day of Fire” in 2019 when local farmers, ranchers, and loggers were believed to have coordinated waves of organized burnings. According to Reuters, the number of fires tripled in just 24 hours. There were 124 blazes recorded on Aug. 10, 2019, compared to just six on Aug. 10 the year before.
Jaguars (Panthera onca) are classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with population numbers decreasing.
Globally, the species’ range has been cut in half in the last century because of deforestation and farming, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Other threats to the jaguar population include hunting and human-wildlife conflict, as well as loss of prey species that are integral for the cats’ survival.
The conservative estimate of a loss of 1,470 jaguars during that roughly three-year period accounts for almost 2% of the region’s jaguar population, according to the findings. The loss includes 488 animals in 2016, 360 in 2017, 268 in 2018, and 354 jaguars that were killed or displaced from their homes in 2019. The researchers said that 300 jaguars are thought to lose their lives annually in the Brazilian Amazon strictly due to fires and habitat loss. That does not take into consideration conflicts with humans when the cats prey on livestock.
The results were published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice. The study was conducted by Panthera, Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil, and the research and conservation center, Centro Nacional de Pesquisa e Conservação de Mamíferos Carnívoros-Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (CENAP-ICMBio).
Unable to Rebound
Jaguars are considered a resilient species compared to many others, according to Panthera, because they are very mobile and able to relocate. But it is difficult to rebound from the loss of this much of their range.
“Habitat loss represents the main threat to jaguars. It is a species that has already lost 40% of its original range and needs vast wild areas to support population viability. Deforestation immediately represents a loss of habitat and a reduction in the availability of natural prey for jaguars,” Tortato explains.
“Jaguars that remain near deforested areas or in small forest fragments become more vulnerable to poaching. Cattle ranching, an economic activity that occupies many deforested areas, also increases the risk because jaguars could attack livestock and result in a retaliatory hunt.”
In addition, when wild habitat like this is lost, it tends to never rebound, according to Panthera. Instead, it is used to support farming or livestock production, which again puts the animals in conflict with humans.
Armed with the findings, conservationists hope to help protect the species.
“Quantifying numerically how many jaguars are displaced by deforestation allows us, for example, to identify spatial bottlenecks where populations may be at risk of becoming isolated. The number of jaguars displaced per se represents a strong statistic to move the needle in improving public policies that can reduce illegal deforestation in the Amazon,” Tortato says.
Panthera’s Pantanal Jaguar Project is working to create one of the largest jaguar corridors in the world while mitigating human-jaguar conflict through a strong ecotourism industry and conservation education outreach.
“The jaguar and all biodiversity in the Amazon can be helped in various ways. Government actions that reduce illegal deforestation and stimulate sustainable economic activities are essential,” Tortato says.
“Society must remain attentive and demand public representatives to act in favor of the Amazon. Scientists and NGOs must constantly provide the technical information needed to support the best decisions to ensure biodiversity conservation in the Amazon and the jaguars that live there.”