The jaguar (Panthera onca), the largest and most emblematic cat in Latin America, will obtain maximum protection, after being included on 22 February 2020 in the appendices of the global United Nations convention that governs the conservation of migratory species.
Today there are merely 64,000 specimens left in the wild in 19 countries of the Americas. These nations will prioritize the conservation and connectivity of habitat corridors and achieve concerted action to curb further isolation of the jaguar population.
The inclusion of the jaguar in Appendices I [endangered migratory species] and II [migratory species that that require international agreements for their conservation and management] of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also known as the Bonn Convention, was approved during the Convention’s 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) in Gandhinagar, India.
The measure was proposed by Costa Rica with the support of Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. Several non-governmental organizations collaborated with the initiative: Wildlife Conservation Society, Humane Society International, Panthera, and International Fund for Animal Welfare, among others.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that the jaguar population has declined between 20 and 25 per cent in the last 21 years, although this estimate could be much higher due to the difficulty of assessing isolated populations.
Habitat loss and degradation constitute the greatest threats for the long-term survival of the big cat, which needs large areas to hunt, raise or mate. Poaching and illegal trade of body parts are also serious threats to the species.
“The inclusion of the jaguar under the Convention will accelerate transboundary conservation efforts and stimulate regional cooperation for the benefit of this charismatic species. Importantly, it will provide a globally-agreed platform for range states to maintain and restore migration corridors for the species," said Amy Fraenkel, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals Executive Secretary.
The jaguar is now found in 50 per cent of its historical range, from the United States to Argentina. In Central America, the feline only occupies 23 per cent of its historic range. In El Salvador and Uruguay the species is considered extinct.
Ninety per cent of the specimens live in the nine countries of the Amazon region. The remaining 10 per cent is divided into 33 small subpopulations that have been confined to small areas due to reduced habitats and forest fragmentation. Connecting these patches is one of the objectives of the countries that promoted greater protection at the 13th Conference of the Parties.
“The inclusion of the species in the appendices of this Convention opens a new stage in conservation efforts in the region. Just as we share the admiration and respect for the jaguar, we must unite to guarantee the connectivity of its habitat in our natural areas,” said Costa Rica's Minister of Environment and Energy, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez.
Jaguars on the move
The jaguar pups remain with their mother for two years. Then they undertake a journey to find their own territory in which to reproduce and find their prey. This emancipation trip is known as dispersion, a stage in which a male jaguar can travel as much as 70 kilometres, as has been documented in Brazil.
After having found a new territory, the cat makes continuous displacements within its home range, in an area that can vary widely between one specimen and another, depending on the size of its body, habitat conditions and the availability of prey and couples. Scientists have recorded ranges of only 33.5 square kilometres—in Belize—and others of more than 1,200 square kilometres—in Brazil and the southern United States.
In Costa Rica, ranges of 25 square kilometres haven been reported in the Corcovado National Park, and up to 80 square kilometres in the Guanacaste province.
During many of these journeys, felines cross international borders over and over again, especially in areas such as Pantanal, Chaco, southern Brazil, northern Paraguay, southeastern Bolivia and the Central American isthmus. Twenty-six cross-border areas in the Americas have been identified.
If ecosystems continue to shrink, jaguars may either become isolated or travel even longer distances (and cross even more borders) in order to interact and survive.
The jaguar is an "almost threatened" species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Several scientists believe that their vulnerability is greater, because this indicator fails to reflect the delicate situation faced by jaguars outside the Amazon biome.
According to a study led by experts from the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, if the International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria are applied to each of 34 subpopulations, all of them, except for the one in the Amazon, should be considered endangered or critically endangered.
With the inclusion of the feline in Appendix I and II of the Convention, the door opens for signing international agreements to guarantee coordinated conservation measures for the species and its habitats.
The countries of the region have already advanced in regional cooperation. In 2018, 14 nations launched the Jaguar 2030 Roadmap and designated November 29 as International Jaguar Day. The plan is an effort by the United Nations Development Programme, non-governmental organizations, local communities and the private sector to ensure connectivity in the jaguar corridors.
Several countries in the region also succeeded in getting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to promote further research to identify the illegal trafficking routes of jaguar parts and by-products, and in 2019 they signed the Lima Declaration on the illegal wildlife trade, which declared jaguars as an emblematic species of the Americas.
For more information, please contact María Amparo Lasso, Head of Communication for Latin America and the Caribbean, United Nations Environment Programme.