Rewilding jaguars to restore nature in the Americas
For the first time, a male jaguar has been released into the vast Iberá wetlands, paving the way for breeding in the wild.
The adult jaguar (Panthera onca), named Jatobazinho, was released on the first day of 2022 by Rewilding Argentina, an heir to the legacy of Tompkins Conservation, led by Kristine Tompkins, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Patron of Protected Areas.
The rewilding program at Iberá seeks to recover the ecological role of its apex predator, the jaguar, in a country where the species has lost over 95 percent of its original range. At the Jaguar Reintroduction Center in Iberá Park, Jatobazinho mated with onsite females, fathering four jaguar cubs which were released together with their mothers in 2021, followed by an adult female released in September 2021.
In December 2021, UNEP and partners officially launched a jaguar conservation project in Panama, where over 40 percent of the big cats’ habitat have been lost due to increased urbanization, infrastructure projects, agriculture, and cattle ranching.
The project carried out with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the largest jaguar conversation effort in the country. It aims to, among other things, reduce the decline in the species by adopting anti-predation measures to avoid human-jaguar conflict. Anti-predation measures help protect cattle from jaguars. They can include electric fences, enhanced jaguar monitoring with camera traps and GPS technology, strategic pasture placement, and modifying livestock rotation patterns.
Biodiversity conservation efforts by UNEP and others are more timely than ever, given the current ecological crisis. As UNEP’s 2021 flagship report Making Peace with Nature points out, species are currently going extinct tens to hundreds of times faster than the natural background rate.
One million of the world’s estimated 8 million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction. The population sizes of wild vertebrates have dropped by an average of 68 percent in the last 50 years, and the abundance of many wild insect species has fallen by more than half.
“We need to transform our relationship with nature,” says UNEP land use expert Thais Narciso. “Protecting and restoring nature is the most cost-effective option in the fight to stabilize climate. Humans are critically dependent on healthy ecosystems and habitats that allow wild species to thrive, but success depends on local community support, government leadership, and funding schemes that can cohesively unlock national, international, and private finance.”
While protected areas expanded considerably between 2010 and 2020, UNEP’s Protected Planet Report 2020 finds that the international community fell far short of its commitments on the quality of these areas. It notes that a third of key biodiversity areas lack any coverage, and less than 8 percent of land is both protected and connected.
In August 2021, the High-Level Segment held prior to the Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) reaffirmed the urgency of reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 to address the interdependent crises of biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and climate change and achieve sustainable development.
The post-2020 biodiversity framework slated for adoption in Kunming, China, in the second phase of COP15 in 2022, provides a strategic vision and a global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade.
Key species, like the jaguar, the largest feline of the Americas, play a fundamental role in the structure and functioning of ecosystems.
Their return restores health and integrity, essential components that help mitigate the global loss of biodiversity and climate change.
This piece was originally published by the UN Environment Programme.