How a Female Jaguar in Brazil May Help the Species Survive

By Raíssa Sepulvida and Allison Devlin
Panthera Scientists

Jaguar wading

What do the lives of female jaguars mean for the survival of this wild cat species? Very little is still known about jaguar demographic rates — including reproduction, den site selection, survival and dispersal. To effectively conserve jaguars over the long-term, we need to know what jaguar cubs’ needs are when making that risky, fateful departure from their mothers’ home ranges to find and establish their own territories. We try to mitigate threats along the way, ensuring habitat connectivity through our Jaguar Corridor Initiative and working with many international and local partners to provide safe passage for these enterprising youngsters. However, we still need to understand how females with cubs and young dispersers view the landscape and navigate the ever-shrinking habitat they call home.  

Thus, Panthera’s Jaguar Program is initiating a long-term demographic study of jaguars throughout their range. To understand ecosystem requirements for females and their offspring, we need to study their habitat use and their movement, along with long-term analysis of their survival and causes of their mortality. To accomplish this, we are GPS collaring female jaguars in 4-5 sites throughout Latin America, aiming for at least three females per site. We’re tracking female cub production, survival and — eventually — dispersal of young adults as they leave their mother and set out to establish their own territories.  Once this is in motion, we will better understand why female jaguars select certain places for den sites (to safeguard their young, vulnerable cubs) and kill sites as they secure food for their growing, weaning cubs.

Our first research site is at Fazenda Jofre Velho, Panthera’s research base in the Porto Jofre region of the northern Brazilian Pantanal. Just recently, Panthera Brasil’s research team successfully captured and collared the study’s first female:. Female F08, locally named by ecotourism guides as “Sophia”, is two years old. "Sophia” was born to a resident female jaguar, locally named “Pixána”, and she is the littermate of another two-year-old female jaguar known as “Fênix”. “Pixána” has been known to local tourists since 2018, and is registered by the Jaguar ID Project, a citizen science program in the region. Both cubs were identified in 2020, around the same time as fires burned nearly a third of the Pantanal. Since then, we have kept an eye on her development.

Jaguar wading

Thus, Sophia was our first target individual, as we already had a known history of her birth and development. However, now it was time to fit the collar. Following professional protocols and with our team’s wildlife veterinarian, we set up soft-hold foot snares and checked the VHF signal (which indicates that the trap is activated) every 30 minutes, once we knew she was around. During this same week, we also recorded Sophia and her mate around our box traps for ocelots, where they tried to catch the ocelots’ bait.  Due to these combined efforts, we managed to capture and temporarily tranquilize Sophia on the third night of the study. After collaring her and collecting biological samples and biometrics for 40 minutes, she was released. We monitored her until she was completely recovered.

Jaguar collaring 2

This is a big step for jaguar conservation. The GPS collar is programmed to drop-off in October 2023. Until that fateful month, we will gather hard-won, essential data and follow female jaguar steps to better understand their movement, den site selection and long-term reproductive success over the next years. With these data and much hope, Sophia will help lead us into a future where we can better understand and protect jaguars across their range.

Learn more about jaguars.