Two Bushnell trail cameras are helping conservation efforts to monitor Jaguar in Rio Bravo Conservation & Management Area (RBCMA).
Covering 254,000 acres (more than 100,000 hectares), RBCMA is owned and managed by Programme for Belize (PfB), a partner of World Land Trust (WLT) since 1989. Jaguar (Panthera onca) are regularly seen by PfB staff and visitors to the area but scientific monitoring requires motion sensitive cameras in remote parts of the reserve.
WLT has donated two cameras to support this research. They were presented to PfB staff by Christina Ballinger, WLT’s Head of Communications and Marketing, who visited Belize in early November.
At the top of the food chain, Jaguars only thrive if there are mammals for them to prey on. Hunting is prohibited within the reserve and White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are plentiful. But that doesn’t make the Jaguar safe, says Edilberto Romero, PfB’s Executive Director.
“Protecting Jaguar prey can lead to conflict because local people are also hunting to eat, and the Jaguars are competing with them for the same prey. This makes Jaguars a target,” he explains.
Hunting is customary in Belize and even with a team of 10 rangers, it is hard for PfB to patrol an area of 30 square miles. As a consequence, PfB is developing a pilot project to encourage local people to rear game for their own consumption: deer, peccary and paca (known locally as gibnut). PfB is also seeking funds to develop a community education programme.
For the past five years PfB’s La Milpa research centre has provided facilities for studies of Jaguar and other felidae carried out by Dr Marcella J Kelly and associates of the Department of Fisheries & Wildlife Sciences of the Virginia Polytechnic and State University.
Dr Kelly’s Ix Jaguar Project also studies Puma (Puma concolor) and Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and regularly catches images of Margay (Leopardus wiedii) and Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) on trail cameras. Her research in the western half of the RBCMA (the La Milpa area) has already identified nine individual Jaguars (six males, three females), 18 Puma (seven males, 11 females) and nine Ocelots (two males, seven females), as well as one Margay.
The research has also identified an additional three male Jaguars, one male Ocelot and one male Puma in the Hill Bank area. Dr Kelly and associates have estimated a healthy population of between eight and 18 Jaguars for both La Milpa and Hill Bank area. The estimated Jaguar densities range from 2.3 to 12.98 jaguars per 100 square kilometres.
Continued monitoring is needed to develop a more accurate estimate of the Jaguar density in the reserve. The trail cameras donated by WLT will play a part in this ongoing research, plus PfB will be purchasing another six trail cameras thanks to a grant from the Belize Conservation Fund of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
PfB is also in discussion with and receives technical guidance on Jaguar conservation from Paseo Pantera, a project of the US based Wildlife Conservation Society. The Paseo Pantera project encourages international cooperation to protect a forest corridor running from the Darien of Panama to the Selva Maya (Mayan jungle), which spans parts of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.
WLT supports PfB’s wildlife protection measures by funding a ranger, Milgar Molina, through the Keepers of the Wild programme. To help keep Jaguars and other wildlife safe, please donate to Keepers of the Wild.
You can also donate by texting from your mobile phone. For example, if you’d like to donate £5, text KOTW14 £5 to 70070. The maximum donation by text at any one time is £10.