The Importance of Jaguar Conservation

As many nature-lovers taking a Jaguar tour will be aware, the Jaguar is a 'near threatened' species, with the possibility of becoming 'threatened' in the future. Factors contributing to this status include hunting for its skin, shooting by farmers to protect livestock, and deforestation. With the Jaguar preferring large territories - up to 40 square kilometres for females and up to twice as much for males - the loss or fragmentation of its habitat has a serious impact. Not only are individual animals affected by reduced habitat and hunting ground, but the population suffers from loss of connection between individual animal's ranges, reducing the breeding pool. Despite the problems it faces, the animal is a protected species in several countries, and sustained efforts are being made across the Americas in protecting habitat, re-connecting ranges and educating ranchers.

Why Protect the Jaguar? For the Planet...

Much more than simply the star attraction of a Jaguar tour, this animal is considered a keystone predator by many ecologists - meaning that its role at the top of its food chain is thought, by virtue of controlling the populations of its prey, to play a vital role in the structure of its ecosystem. Declining populations could have a knock-on effect on many other species, and while this is still an area of contention among some scientists, it is clear that the animal plays an important role in the life of the forest environment.

...And For Human Health?

A 2009 study suggested that, as well as maintaining stability in the food chain, a healthy Jaguar population has benefits for humans. Correlation between declining populations of the animal and increases in viral diseases among nearby human populations has led some ecologists and doctors to conclude that such diseases [which can spread rapidly in animals preyed on by the big cat], could be held in check by maintaining Jaguar populations and thus controlling the prey populations.

The Role of Tourism

Those taking a Jaguar tour in the hope of seeing these magnificent cats are usually treated to sightings of many other impressive species, including ocelots, caimen, Giant River Otters, Giant Anteaters and Hyacinth Macaws. This is thanks in part to its status as an 'umbrella species', meaning a species whose habitat range is broad enough that protecting it will directly benefit many other species - thus ensuring that protected ranges will also contain a rich and colourful diversity of other animal life. Responsible tourism has an important role to play in the maintenance of these ranges, as protecting the habitat ensures a rewarding experience for those on a Jaguar tour, while promoting greater understanding, awareness and respect among humans for the needs of this very special animal.

Article Source: Marissa Ellis Snow

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