I’m going to use this post to explore the results of a study I have recently come across entitled “How is the jaguar Panthera onca perceived by local communities along the Paraguai River in the Brazilian Pantanal?” The data from the study was collected between April and June 2011 and the study was first published online in 2014. Unaware of it until now, it came to my attention only last week when it was published in Oryx, the international journal for conservation in January of this year. If after reading this post you’d like to read more about the study please do let me know and I’ll be more than happy to send it over to you!
I remember watching a documentary on the Pantanal a few years back which said that whilst the Amazon receives the lions share of attention from outside Brazil, the Pantanal is by far and away the better place to see wildlife. In a tropical wetland extending up to 190000 square kilometres, over ten times the size of the Everglades in Florida, the study lead by Portuguese and Brazilian scientists used questionnaires to determine local people’s views on Jaguars and investigated whether increased education had the ability to change perceptions on the Jaguar.
Listed as near threatened, Jaguar numbers are falling, and the study highlights habitat conversion, hunting as a response to livestock predation and lack of education as the main factors influencing the conservation of the Jaguar in the Pantanal, all themes which appear time and time again when addressing big cat conservation, such as in the Indian human-tiger conflict and the threats facing Arabian leopards. Despite being one of the worlds best preserved wetland habitats, just 3% of the Pantanal is protected by the Brazilian government, as they attempt to tread the fine line between international development and conservation, a line which is often crossed far too frequently.
The vast majority of Jaguars in the Pantanal live outside the small pockets of protected habitat in the 97% of the biome home to private land, the main use of which is cattle ranching. Earth’s rapidly growing population and increased demand for food, and in particularly meat has seen an explosion in Brazilian cattle ranching over the decades just past, leading it to become the greatest cause of habitat loss and deforestation in Brazil. Generous tax breaks and subsidies from the government have done little to decrease the appeal of ranching to Brazilian farmers and it now covers over 20.7 million acres of Brazilian land, that’s almost as big as Indiana!
The study aimed to fill a gap in the current knowledge about Jaguars in the Pantanal, and until it was undertaken in 2011, and published in 2014 no such knowledge about public perception of Jaguars in the region was available. As you may expect, the results showed that the majority of local residents surveyed along the Paragui River in the Pantanal responded negatively to the question posed by the study, with dangerous being the dominant perception of Jaguars in the area. I’ll summarise the most striking results from the study below, but the full table is included in the report which I’ll be more than happy to send over via email if you would like to find out more. 50 residents living along the Paragui river were questioned, with a further 200 questioned in the rural Miranda region of the Pantanal.
- By the river, 48% of people viewed the Jaguar as dangerous with a further 28% perceiving the Jaguar as dangerous and beautiful.
- Not one person surveyed by the riverside thought nothing of the Jaguar.
However in the Miranda
- Just 15% of the residents thought of the Jaguar as dangerous with 71% of the respondents believing the Jaguar was beautiful, almost 50% higher than along the Paragui river.
The study concluded that differences in the way Jaguars were perceived in the Pantanal was as a result of Jaguars favouring forest habitats in close proximity to water, much the same as the indigenous communities living along the Paragui river, bringing the two into conflict. The study revealed five separate, non fatal Jaguar attacks with three highlighted in the interview responses and a further two occurring after the study had been completed in 2013 and 2014. The level of “dangerous” responses in the riverside regions of the Pantanal stem from a concern for safety, unlike a large proportion of Brazil where the majority of negativity regarding Jaguars stems from livestock and cattle predation. I find that very interesting, because I think many of us (myself included) are quick to jump to conclusions about the main causes of conflict between animals and humans in a particular area or country. For example you think of Jaguar-human conflict in Brazil and cattle ranching immediately springs to mind, and I think this study is a great reminder that we can’t tar every case with the same brush.
To successfully conserve species the problem can’t always be addressed on a national, or even regional scale, and the results of the study perfectly demonstrate that. Whilst cattle ranching is the predominant industry in the Miranda, and negative perceptions towards Jaguars there do indeed stem from livestock predation, the conflict between humans and Jaguars along riverside communities arises for completely different reasons. Implementing a conservation policy to control livestock predation would have little or no impact in changing the welfare of Jaguars along riverside wetland habitats in Pantanal.
The study also highlighted that although many within the local populations viewed the Jaguar as dangerous, they also appreciated its beauty and believed it should remain in the Pantanal, highlighting it’s economic importance, bringing in thousands of pounds/dollars/reals (delete deepening on where in the world you’re reading this from) each year in income. The study concluded by suggesting that tourism, and the income it bought in played a part in the local residents along the Paragui river tolerating the Jaguars presence in the region and that education remained the most cost effective way to improve perceptions of Jaguars in the region.
Education is frequent theme which has crept into the conclusions of a number of my posts now, and study after study points to improving education as the most effective way of helping to conserve endangered and threatened predators. Understanding how the people living side by side with endangered big cats, and indeed any endangered species whether that be Lowland Gorillas in the Congo or the Northern White Rhino in Kenya (although only three of these remain) is often the fundamental foundation of good conservation policy, and by educating local populations on the front line of conservation efforts, we can give back our knowledge as they share theirs with us. Something which can only help save endangered species.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post! If you’d like to find out more about the study I’ve included the details below or alternatively you can email me at email@example.com and I’ll send it over! I think unless you belong to a research institution or university you may find it difficult to access online as I downloaded it whilst at university yesterday, but not to worry I have it as a pdf!
How is the jaguar Panthera onca perceived by local communities along the Paraguai River in the Brazilian Pantanal? Grasiela Porfirioa1 c1 *, Pedro Sarmentoa1, Stephanie Leala2 and Carlos Fonsecaa1 †