Ecuador: Plight of the Jaguars

The challenging future facing Ecuador’s jaguars has been revealed in a
census in the rainforest of the Yasuni National Park and neighbouring
Waorani Ethnic Reserve. The first-ever comprehensive survey of its
kind has captured 75 images of the big cat, as well as wild dogs and
white-lipped peccaries (a pig-like prey of the jaguars). The jaguar is
the largest cat in the Western hemisphere, and can weigh more than 300
pounds. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has organised the
census in the equatorial east of the country, where the Andes meet the
Amazon basin. Their preliminary findings are stark: only three big
cats were found in the accessible and therefore heavily hunted Yasuni
National Park, as opposed to 13 in the more remote adjacent area.

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The fact there are nearly five times more jaguars in isolated areas
has strong implications for the jaguar’s future, as their habitat is
being put under increasing pressure. “There is competition for food as
people hunt the same prey species as the jaguar. If the prey species
disappear, the jaguar will be gone,” said Santiago Espinosa, who leads
the WCS project. The census began in 2007.

It works by setting up heat sensors along jungle paths, which trigger a camera when an animal passes. The expectation is that as the oil industry develops further, bringing new roads and development, jaguar numbers will continue fall. The feared decline can then be measured against the baseline figure
now being established.

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