CASE STUDY: JAGUAR HIGHWAYS
Howard Quigley, director of Panthera’s jaguar-conservation programme, explains how corridors link the cats’ isolated populations. In the early 2000s, two important genetic analyses were published on jaguars. They both described good levels of genetic diversity and gene flow. The conclusion: from Arizona to Argentina, the jaguar was a single species with no justification for subspecies definitions. Previously slight anatomical differences had led zoologists to describe nine subspecies.
Following this reassessment, Panthera CEO Alan Rabinowitz came up with a new approach to jaguar conservation. If the species was truly moving its genes this effectively throughout its huge range in the Americas, avoiding the physical and ecological isolation that causes genetic differentiation, then it was up to us – the jaguar’s greatest competitor – to maintain that connectivity. But how?
Taking advantage of the newly developing science of biologicalcorridor mapping, Rabinowitz and landscape ecologist Kathy
Zeller created the Jaguar Corridor Map. They identified 182 vital pieces of jaguar habitat connecting 90 recently described core populations of the cats. The next stage was to visit proposed corridors on the ground, to check that the modelling process had been accurate. Then it was time to take conservation action at a local level to help jaguars pass through human-dominated landscapes – for example across roads and ranches.
Today the jaguar programme involves scores of governments and NGOs in a dozen countries. It uses a combination of cameratraps and genetic fieldwork – such as collecting and analysing scats – to monitor progress, with the ultimate goal of maintaining connectivity within the jaguar’s entire range.