Last week I went back to the Chaco. This time all the way up to Filadelfia to meet biologist Rocky McBride who flew me to his farm Faro Moro which also serves as an Eco Research Center. He was the first one to start comprehensive research on jaguars in the Chaco area of Paraguay. He is part of a team which has an agreement with the government of Paraguay to gather the scientific data necessary to increase awareness of the jaguar’s current status and to develop a strategy to preserve habitat and conserve wildlife on privately owned lands in the Chaco.
92 % of the land in Paraguay is privately owned. The land is very fertile and can produce up to 3 crops per year. Land clearing, to make space for agriculture and cattle farming, was and still is the cause of the decline of the jaguar population. In Eastern Paraguay the exploitation of land in the Atlantic Forest occurred from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. Today the same exploitation is being repeated in The Chaco of Paraguay which is less agriculturally productive but very successful in cattle ranching.
Rocky McBride’s has 50,000 ha of land. He kept about 80 % of the natural vegetation and added several water sources, like little lakes or lagoons which attract a wide range of mammals. The few existing National Parks and Private Reserves in Paraguay won’t be able to be able to preserve the jaguar population in the country. Private properties must be incorporated and jaguars must be included in a management plan.
To study the jaguars and other wildlife on his property, Rocky uses GPS and VHF radio telemetry collars, camera traps and capture/recapture techniques (he uses his trained dogs to track and/or capture the cats), seat analysis, track counts and hair and ecto-parasite analysis. This is all done to determine population density, home range size, diet, disease and genetics.
From this man-made hill (from digging out the lagoon) Rocky is trying to locate one of the collared jaguars. The next photo shows the direction the strong signal came from where he spotted vultures on a tree. Rocky was sure the jaguar was there possibly with a kill.
We arrived at the spot where the vultures were sitting. The stench of something that had been dead in 45 C heat was quite overbearing. The jaguar was gone … the kill, a tapir, wasn’t worth staying with.
In the four days I stayed on Faro Moro I was very close to the jaguars, they probably saw me but I didn’t get to see them, I heard one but didn’t see him.
I did however spent some time visiting Rocky’s captured Jaguars and got to observe them a little. The pen Rocky build is huge, maybe two full soccer fields. The jaguars are not so easy to spot and only my second time around the pen I saw the two cubs, well they saw me and followed me. I have no idea how long they had been following me but when I turned around for no particular reason I had two 8 month old jaguar cubs looking at me. When I stared at them in wonder they looked away and stared to retreat into the shrubs but always curious about me. I will write some more about the captured jaguars in my next post.
Here are some photos of the kittens who will be prepared for their lives in freedom and released sometime next year. Which will actually be the second litter of their mother to be released but this is another blog entry as well.
Most of the info about the Jaguar Project I got from Rocky McBride and from his
Project Jaguar Report 2002 – 2011 (the older version 2002 – 2007 has been published and can be found on the internet)
I would like to mention that Rocky is not getting any funding. Everything is paid out of his own pocket. (More on that in a different blog entry ;)