Once upon a time in Africa…A little over 3 decades ago, in eastern South Africa, Lion and Leopard killed cattle for the same reasons that Jaguars do in the Pantanal; similarly these cats suffered the same fate as the Jaguars of the Pantanal today.
Driven by a passion for big cats and Leopard in particular, a man undertook the task of trying to get closer to a particular female Leopard. Through sensitive and persistent effort this cat, known as the Mother, gradually became more tolerant to the presence of vehicles with people. This female Leopard and her even more relaxed offspring drew in wildlife enthusiasts from around the planet, pioneering the beginnings of a new era in eco-tourism.
The project proved so successful that in time the entire cattle-ranching region was converted back to nature for ecotourism – today this region makes up 60 000 hectares of privately owned nature reserve where several small lodges welcome thousands of tourists each year. The local fauna brings in huge revenue, both to the landowners and the local communities – working for the hotels, within tourism and commerce in general. Today, the wildlife in this region is protected by the people who depend upon it for their source of income. Furthermore, this region is far more valuable today under wildlife than it would be had it still been used for raising cattle.
In 2009, South Africa received more than 10 million foreign tourists, more than double the number of visitors to Brazil in the same period. The majority of these tourists were on vacation looking for tours and excursions around natural and wild areas in the country. This data shows us how highly promising the growth of ecotourism could be in Brazil.
Why the Jaguar?
The Jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas and arouses curiosity all over the world, as it is extremely wary, mysterious, beautiful and hardly ever sighted. The “habituation” process ensures the animal remains 100% wild, yet comfortable enough to go about its normal daily activities in the presence of a vehicle with people. This process may bring about in the Brazilian Pantanal the same phenomenon of preservation, commerce and tourism that has been observed in South Africa. Moreover, the Jaguar is at the top of the food chain and by saving this animal and the habitat in which it lives we will be contributing to the preservation of all the fauna in the Pantanal – this is what the term “umbrella species” implies.
The idea was, and still is, to select one or more female Jaguars whose entire territory lies within the confines of the farm participating in the project, this negates the risk of the cat being killed by neighboring ranchers. The project started back in August 2011. From then the team has started an intense period of daily observation, gradually getting closer to the animal as its trust is won. After some time, this Jaguar will be somewhat ‘habituated’ to the presence of human beings inside the vehicles. It is the cubs that will be completely ‘habituated’ due to the presence of vehicles from birth. The intention is to get closer to Jaguars than currently believed to be possible.
The Project thus intends to accomplish the same successful process as in South Africa. This ‘Brazilian version’ will begin at ‘Refúgio Ecológico Caiman” (Caiman Ecological Refuge), in the Pantanal – a farm comprising more than 53 thousand hectares, a space which is large enough for several Jaguar territories. It is currently estimated that there are approximately 45 Jaguars that inhabit the area.
Caiman Ecological Refuge has forbidden hunting and dogs are not permitted on the property. This has naturally brought about a population of wildlife tolerant to the presence of humans. Furthermore, Caiman already possesses excellent eco-tourism infrastructure including an airstrip, staff accommodation and some of the best lodges in South America. To habituate part of the Jaguar population would add the final chapter of success to this pioneering wildlife property.
We invite you to join in this new blog as we communicate the progress being made as the project approaches its 2nd birthday!
Written by Simon Bellingham