Experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reacted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recently released recovery plan for the jaguar. The recovery has two overlapping emphases: the Pan American Recovery Unit (PARU), which ranges from southwest Arizona to Argentina; and the Northwest Recovery Unit (NRU), which extends from northwestern Mexico into the United States.
WCS works range-wide to protect the jaguar and applauds the way the Recovery plan includes a clear focus on the Panamerica Recovery Unit.
WCS Jaguar Program Coordinator John Polisar said: “We work with a variety of local and national partners to hold ground for jaguars in well over 400,000 square kilometers of the Pan American Recovery Unit. This includes the Selva Maya of Guatemala and Belize in the north, the upper Amazon, and the Chaco of northern Paraguay in the south. We work with local and national actors in these large conservation landscapes to improve human-jaguar co-existence, maintain forest cover, and protect jaguar populations and their prey from poaching. This magnificent top carnivore of the America’s merits our respect, dedication and tolerance.”
Working in the “Northwest Recovery Unit,” which extends from northwestern Mexico into the United States WCS provided technical expertise to the USFWS and the Jaguar Recovery Team – the officially sanctioned group of experts that advised on the plan. WCS led the development of a comprehensive database of historical jaguar observations (www.jaguardata.info), modelled potential habitat and carrying capacity for jaguars across this NRU, analyzed connectivity of populations from Mexico to habitats in the United States, and developed survey methodology to monitor jaguar recovery.
Critical in any recovery plan is the definition of the recovery units. Although this might seem as an arcane point, it is actually critical to what one eventually plans to do. In defining the Northwestern Recovery Unit, which includes areas in the United States, the USFWS adopted a very conservative view, says WCS, limiting the possible northern edge of jaguar range to the Interstate 10 Freeway (not a natural boundary), and including for consideration only observations of jaguars in the U.S. since 1962. The data base WCS developed indicates that historic range indeed extended farther north into the USA. The current definition of the NRU removed from consideration observations from central and northern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, that hard evidence supports as being historically part of jaguar range in the USA. It also removes from consideration additional anecdotal observations from 19th century California, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Louisiana.
Said Eric Sanderson, WCS Senior Conservation Ecologist: “Conservation is a long-game. It needs to be understood in a historical context and with a view toward the future. While the recently released United States’ Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery plan for the jaguar is an enormous step in the right direction, and we have been immensely pleased to work with the service in both recovery units, we have a long way to go to see the jaguar fully conserved and recovered across its range. It will be ideal to do so in a manner that is true to the species’ historic range, its ecological flexibility, and our country’s full original complement of native species. Those considerations may lead us to reconsider some of the decisions made in this document.”