Monday, June 29, 2009
Slaughtered Jaguars Link New York Doctors wih Brazilian Ranchers
Commentary by Mike Di Paola
June 29 (Bloomberg) -- Jaguars took a serious hit after First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was photographed in a leopard coat in the early 1960s.
As thousands of women copied her, the subsequent slaughter of big cats helped reveal the fragility of their populations. In 1975, the jaguar was among animals protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or Cites.
That wasn’t enough. Today, in Brazil’s vast Pantanal, a wetlands area the size of South Dakota, ranchers believe jaguars are slaughtering their cattle. The issue is usually addressed with shotguns.
Yet thanks to a novel partnership between the new conservation group Panthera and New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the Pantanal ranchers are about to get an alternative to the gun.
“We can’t accomplish conservation without the human side, it just won’t work,” says Alan Rabinowitz, a zoologist and Panthera’s president. “A successful, sustainable project has to be something that people know they want.”
Panthera plans to school ranchers in more benign ways of protecting their livestock while Mount Sinai sends a team of doctors to provide free health care and training for the locals. The doctors will also be investigating zoonotic diseases, those shared between animals and humans.
In return, the Pantanal ranchers will stop shooting jaguars. If all goes according to plan, their ranches will be more efficient and profitable, the doctors will learn something valuable about infectious diseases, and jaguars will thrive again.
Rabinowitz, who founded the world’s first (and still only) jaguar preserve, in Belize in 1986, cites two reasons to put so much energy into protecting big cats. For one, they are “apex predators” at the top of the food chain. As such, they are barometers for an entire ecosystem’s health: protect the cats and you’re protecting everything.
Second, it is a perhaps unfortunate truism of environmentalism that warm, furry animals (cats, polar bears, pandas) command more attention and fundraising opportunity than do unattractive cold-blooded creatures (snail darters, say). Rabinowitz has found that heads of state respond very positively to powerful, noble cats, whether he’s lobbying for tigers in Bhutan or jaguars in Brazil.
Panthera estimates that the Pantanal ranchers kill as many as 1,000 jaguars a year, though these numbers are hard to confirm. So, too, is the jaguar population itself, which is believed to be only around 10,000 worldwide and shrinking.
The ranchers shoot the cats largely out of ignorance, since jaguars normally don’t prey on cattle, favoring peccary and deer. Still, you can’t blame the humans for wanting to keep marauding carnivores away from their homes.
Lights and Buffalo
Nonlethal alternatives have worked well elsewhere: Electric lights keep jaguars away, and integrating a buffalo or two into a cattle herd discourages predators.
If Rabinowitz has his way, jaguars will be able to roam unmolested on a contiguous trail from northern Argentina to Mexico. Not every hectare has to be pristine: ranches and citrus farms, for example, will necessarily be among the links in the chain, so coexisting with cats is key.
Panthera has commitments from local governments from Mexico to Colombia to work with the group to protect known jaguar paths, Rabinowitz says. This usually takes the form of creative zoning (as opposed to designating preserves or otherwise “protected” areas). He says the organization has spent almost $3 million on this project to date and expects it will require much more.
Establishing corridors for wide-ranging mammals is gaining currency among conservationists. While game preserves are better than nothing, where they are surrounded by humanity -- as is the case with India’s tigers -- they are little better than zoos, needing constant management. A healthy, genetically diverse population of cats can be sustained only when they have room to roam.
Jaguars today live on an estimated 40 percent of their historical range, which isn’t bad compared with other big cats. Lions survive on less than one fifth of their original habitat, and tigers are down to about five percent of theirs.
As for the doctors, they plan to use the opportunity to study diseases where human and animals share space. “There are emerging infectious diseases -- such as West Nile virus or avian flu -- that seem to come out of nowhere, but in fact you find the source is often at the human-wildlife interface,” says Paul Klotman, who is chairman of Mount Sinai’s Department of Medicine and helped concoct the partnership with Panthera.
Mount Sinai’s initial participation will be small -- just a half dozen faculty and students are to begin the exchange in July -- but the school aims to bring similar arrangements to other remote regions around the world.
Good for them, and good for the jaguars.
Panthera’s Web site has a place where donors can click to make a gift: http://www.panthera.org/.
(Mike Di Paola writes about preservation and the environment for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Mike Di Paola at email@example.com.
Last Updated: June 29, 2009 00:01 EDT
Sunday, June 28, 2009
This is an undated photograph taken in May 2009 at an undisclosed located and supplied by the Colorado Division of Wildlife that shows a lynx kitten, which is one of 10 born this spring in Colorado, according to researchers. The discovery of the kittens after finding none the last two years and the location of some of the newborns outside what is considered the cats' core area have buoyed the hopes of biologists overseeing the restoration of the long-haired mountain feline to the Centennial State. (AP Photo/Colorado Division of Wildlife)
JUDITH KOHLER, Associated Press Writer
2:04 PM PDT, June 27, 2009
DENVER (AP) — The discovery of 10 lynx kittens this spring marks the first newborns documented in Colorado since 2006, heartening biologists overseeing restoration of the mountain feline.
The tuft-eared cats with big, padded feet were native to Colorado, but were wiped out by the early 1970s by logging, trapping, poisoning and development. They are listed as threatened on the endangered species list.
Biologists found no kittens the past two years, possibly partly because of a drop in the number of snowshoe hares, the cats' main food source.
This year, seven male and three female kittens were found in five dens.
More than 200 lynx from Alaska and Canada have been released in Colorado since 1999. Biologists don't know how many lynx are currently in the state.