Costa Rica Pledges to Keep Jaguars Safe

By Roberto Salom-Pérez, Ph.D.
Costa Rica Country Director and Mesoamerica Program Regional Coordinator, Jaguar Program


Last month, cat-lovers in Costa Rica had something to celebrate on National Wild Cat Day: the government’s decision to renew its commitment to preserving jaguars and other wild cats.

Five years ago, Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz and Dr. René Castro, Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy, signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the country’s first official jaguar conservation strategy and give the jaguar a historic seal of protection. The fourth such agreement Panthera signed with a Latin American government, it marked a turning point for the future of jaguars in Costa Rica and throughout Central and South America.*

We’ve accomplished a lot since then. We’ve been collaborating with the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and other key actors to research the most threatened jaguar populations in Costa Rica and the corridors between them. Using images captured on camera traps and analysis of genetic diversity and population structure, we´ve been able to identify the most important areas that would help guarantee the connectivity of the Jaguar Corridor Initiative at a regional scale.

Mario Coto, director of SINAC, and Panthera’s Roberto Salom-PÉrez celebrate a new memorandum of understanding to protect jaguars in Costa Rica.

Additionally, we are assessing the impacts of human development projects and providing science-based recommendations to the government and developers to make sure they don´t isolate jaguar populations or cause an irreversible impact to wildlife. We’ve identified road kill hot spots, suggested locations and types of wildlife passages in road projects, and helped generate the first Wildlife Friendly Ways Guide, which the government adopted. We also provided critical input about important areas for jaguar connectivity as the biggest Central American hydroelectric project, the Reventazon, takes shape.

Finally, we´ve established the first Wild Cat Conflict Response Unit (UACFel) in the Americas alongside SINAC. Panthera has trained 26 wildlife officials in all the conservation areas to investigate and work to prevent wild cat attacks to cattle nationwide. So far, the UACFel has investigated close to 300 predation cases across Costa Rica, and implemented anti-predatory strategies—like installing special enclosures for sleeping cattle and pregnant cows, outfitting cattle with collars with bells and lights, and including water buffalo in herds—in more than 100 farms. These have helped stop further attacks almost 100% of the time.

Although hard to estimate, we believe these steps have saved the lives of several dozen jaguars and pumas that otherwise would have been shot to death. This has been possible thanks to the kind donations that Panthera receives each year.

In the years to come, we expect to carry on more research on the impact of infrastructure to wildlife; continue assessing the status of jaguars, other wild cats, and their prey; address the main threats to their populations; keep on with genetic analyses; and strengthen the UACFel to make it financially self-sustainable. With Costa Rica’s government by our side, we know we can make even more progress to keep wild cats safe.

*To date, Panthera has signed eight memorandums of understanding with countries in the Jaguar Corridor.

To learn more about our projects in Costa Rica, click here.