Sharing Panama with Wild Jaguars
Did you know that Panama is home to wild jaguars? Maybe you did, but likely you thought they only existed in the depths of the Darién Gap. While jaguars live in the Darién, like most free-roaming wild cats, they really go where they please. Don’t worry you probably won’t see one in your backyard anytime soon, although if you were living in an indigenous community along the Caribbean coast, you are likely to be more familiar with jaguars. The big cats have been known to range from Mexico all the way down to Argentina. This little isthmus is an integral part of the jaguars’ journey. The route through Panama goes from the Amistad International Park which starts in Costa Rica and crosses into Panama. From there the route goes down the Caribbean coast and into the Darién.
As the country develops and the canal expands, a major passageway used by jaguars traveling from Central to South America is threatened. The good news is that Panama is working on a solution. In 2013, Panama began a partnership with Panthera for the protection of jaguars.
Panthera is conservation organization for wildcats and their ecosystems. By partnering with scientific institutions, local communities and governments, Panthera develops long-term plans to protect large cats all over the world. Here in Panama, Panthera and Panama’s National Environmental Authority (ANAM), scientist from the Smithsonian and local indigenous communities, are all working together on the Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI), a project that creates safe pathways for jaguars.
Of the eighteen Latin American countries that have jaguar populations thirteen have partnered with Panthera. Those countries are: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Each of these countries have agreed to support the Jaguar Corridor Initiative. By creating safe and plentiful passageways for jaguars ranging from Mexico to Argentina, Panthera is confident a thriving jaguar population is possible.
Like in many other countries, Panama’s jaguar population is threatened by a loss of habitat, direct hunting and a lack of natural prey. When jaguars struggle to find food, they find their way into local communities and end up eating domestic livestock. In an effort to protect their livelihood, ranchers end up killing the jaguars. Panthera calls this rancher-jaguar conflict. They propose to resolve the conflict by working with the individual communities on the solution.
Melva Olmos, a biologist is in charge of the JCI program here in Panama. She regularly travels to remote communities to find solutions that include jaguars and protect the interest of ranchers.
Melva told us the first thing she does when entering a community, is to ask that community how they feel about jaguars. Most communities are not fans of the cats, as they are feeding off their livestock. However, many indigenous communities also allow their animals to roam free. Melva works to alleviate this conflict by finding new solutions. She works with the communities to educate on new ways to ranch and farm, and to educate on the jaguar’s ecological importance. By instilling a sense of pride in the jaguar and providing tactical solutions to protect livestock, Panthera nurtures a trail through Panama for jaguars.
The Jaguar Corridor Initiative is one example of a movement towards living in greater awareness with the planet we live on. We live in one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world, it is our responsibility to not only preserve it, but also improve it!
For more information on the Jaguar Corridor Initiative and the work Panthera is doing to protect jaguars visit: www.panthera.org.