Jaguar Range States Look to Strengthen Conservation of Their Iconic Big Cat

By John Polisar, Ph.D.; Jaguar 2030 Coordination Committee

Pantanal jaguar

An ambitious partnership to reverse nature loss, mitigate climate change, build prosperity for people, and secure a brighter future

Between the 1960s and 1970s, jaguars were heavily hunted, with as many as 18,000 killed every year to feed the trade in their skins. In 1975, the trade in jaguar hides was halted thanks to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and populations began to stabilize.

This week marks the 50th Anniversary of CITES and the 10th edition of World Wildlife Day, whose theme this year celebrates the power of Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation. 

It is also the Fifth Anniversary of the 2018 UN Jaguar 2030 High-Level Forum, during which 14 jaguar range countries, with leading scientists, conservation NGOs, and UN agencies, resolved to collaborate on a regional approach to jaguar conservation, launching an ambitious conservation partnership (Jaguar 2030 New York Statement). 

In the five years since, the urgency to protect jaguars and their habitat has only increased. Fortunately, during that same time, multi-stakeholder partnerships for jaguars have gained momentum, making solid advances that lay the groundwork for implementing a range-wide conservation plan and achievement of the Jaguar Corridor. These partnerships, including with the private sector, can benefit not only wildlife, but also people and the planet by supporting livelihoods across several sectors.

The stakes are high. The approximately 7 million km² of the jaguar’s current range contains areas that possess the highest terrestrial biodiversity in the world, several of the planet’s largest rivers, and stores 17% of the world’s carbon. The center of jaguar range, the 4 million km² nine-country Amazon Forest, is twice the size of the next largest equator-hugging tropical forest, the Congo. The jaguar’s current range is an immense diversity of forest types, savanna-forest mosaics and wetlands. Put together, this region performs ecosystem and wildlife services on a global scale. 

Across this nearly 60 degrees of latitude, jaguars serve as indicators of healthy ecosystems. As apex predators, their presence and status function as metrics of intact forest and sustainable forest management and production practices. Where jaguars are doing well, biodiversity is doing well. These impressive cats are an ideal symbol of humanity in balance with the rest of the natural world.

That balance has been urgently needed. Recent decades have seen rapid deforestation and land conversion. The enormous fires that have been a side-effect of the above, aggravated by extreme weather, have vaporized additional forest (and species) and sent carbon spiraling into the atmosphere as massive volumes of smoke in a cycle that exacerbates climate change. The jaguars themselves have been under attack directly and indirectly: killed in retaliation for real or perceived predation on livestock, and for trade in their body parts. Human overhunting can also eradicate native jaguar prey, often related to forest fragmentation, in another cycle that exacerbates jaguar-livestock conflict.

Jaguar on river bank

Momentum for Jaguars is Cause for Optimism

Despite the challenges that threaten this immense region, there are compelling reasons for optimism. The trends of loss – of nature, of species, of forests and of the flagship species of the Tropical Americas, the jaguar – can be reversed. Momentum for this change – driven by jaguar range countries in the five years since the 2018 UN meeting – is building from the global to the local level and vice versa. 

Here are select highlights of this progress:

In late 2018, the Jaguar 2030 Conservation Roadmap for the Americas was introduced at the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This Roadmap seeks to strengthen the Jaguar Corridor, which extends from Mexico to Argentina, by securing 30 priority conservation landscapes for jaguars by 2030. The Jaguar 2030 Roadmap initiative is supported by a Coordination Committee chaired by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) CEO. The Committee’s members include the UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Secretariats of CITES and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the NGOs Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and World Wildlife Fund and the governments of the Jaguar Range States. At present, sixteen Jaguar Range States have endorsed the Roadmap. 

In 2019, at the first High-Level Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Americas which included the entire Western Hemisphere, the jaguar was declared the Flagship Species of Latin America in the Lima Declaration, and combating trade in its parts a regional priority. 

In 2020, the jaguar was included in Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Eight jaguar range countries are Parties to this Convention. This listing carries commitments for the protection of jaguar populations, conservation and restoration of their habitat in CMS party range states, particularly adjacent to their international borders.

In 2021, the Secretariat of CITES issued a first-of-its-kind study titled The Illegal Trade in Jaguars. This massive study responded to concerns about a potential resurgence of trade in jaguar parts despite the 1975 ban, and synthesized data from 20 countries (including 15 jaguar range countries), 247 academic and media reports and input from 32 experts. The CITES study was complemented by a surge of research by universities, NGOs, and investigative journalists. The picture that has emerged is that, while there are serious indications of international trade in a few countries that demand immediate attention, there is also a vast amount of trade within many countries in the jaguar range that must be urgently addressed.

In 2022, the Parties to CITES adopted a suite of Decisions on Jaguars at the 19th Conference of the Parties, building from the recommendations of the 2021 report The Illegal Trade in Jaguars and formally cementing the partnership to implement those recommendations. The decisions came into force in February 2023. 

These decisions require that the jaguar range countries:

  • Recognize the jaguar as the flagship species within and among its range countries, so that conservation of the species and its habitat becomes a national priority;
  • Deploy enforcement controls aimed at eliminating jaguar poaching and trade in their parts, including through online sales;
  • Ensure that all illegal trade in jaguar parts is included in each country’s CITES reports;
  • Reduce threats to jaguar population connectivity, promote good conservation practices, channel investments into jaguar/habitat conservation, and strengthen capacity for jaguar conservation;
  • Participate in a meeting of the Jaguar Range States with the collective intent to:
  1. Review the CITES Secretariat’s proposal for a long-term system for monitoring poaching, trade and other jaguar conservation issues;
  2. Identify (and develop) opportunities for regional cooperation and resource mobilization to reduce habitat loss and fragmentation, human-jaguar conflict and prevent the killing of – and illegal trade in – jaguars.

Every jaguar range country is a party to CITES, thus, fulfilling these commitments has become the responsibility of every country in the jaguar range.

Jaguar camera trap

In 2022, the conservation of jaguars, their habitat and their prey also became an implied mandate through the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) adopted at the 15th Conference of the Parties in Montreal. 

The goals and targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework call for urgent actions to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, including:

  • Maintaining the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems;
  • Halting the extinction of threatened species;
  • Sustainable use of biodiversity;
  • Maintaining ecosystem services;
  • Sustainable development for future generations;
  • All the above while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

In jaguar range, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and jaguar conservation are inextricably linked. Forty percent of the world’s biodiversity is in Latin America. The Jaguar Corridor includes an estimated 4.8 million km² of forests, which store immense amounts of carbon and wild species. Conservation of these forests, the jaguar’s main habitat, as well as additional vast wetlands where jaguars roam, can play a huge role in the preservation of Earth’s life-support system, and ultimately, human well-being and socio-economic growth while meeting climate commitments. We cannot achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda unless we also succeed in conserving jaguars. 

In 2023, funding for biodiversity conservation in Latin America, including projects that directly and indirectly benefit jaguars and their ecosystems, will begin to flow through the eighth replenishment of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF-8). The GEF’s funding mandate is linked to the CBD GBF and will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to the region to address the biodiversity and climate change crises. For GEF-8, countries that are approved to participate in Integrated Programs qualify for up to $1 for each $3 they commit from their STAR1 allocations, which has exciting implications for jaguar conservation. The directions for several GEF Integrated Programs (Wildlife Conservation for Development; Amazon and Mesoamerica Critical Forest Biomes; and Ecosystem Restoration) and GEF Focal Areas (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Degradation) are geared toward addressing threats to jaguars and their habitats and will inspire numerous innovative and collaborative projects in the region.

Pantanal jaguar 4

Next Steps

Five years after the Jaguar 2030 High-Level Forum of March 2018, it is important to note the advances being made in jaguar conservation – and honor the memory of three of its founding champions. In this short time, we have lost eminent jaguar biologists Alan Rabinowitz (2018), Peter Crawshaw (2021), and Howard Quigley (2022). Despite these tragic losses, it would likely please all three immensely to know that jaguars are finally getting their due and to see the growing collaboration among range countries to secure their future. 

To that end, in mid-2023, Brazil will host a meeting of all the Jaguar Range States to launch the next steps for jaguar conservation. Under the CITES decisions, the meeting contains a mandate to focus on better monitoring and disrupting trade in jaguar parts at all levels. The participants will also discuss how to advance jaguar conservation, writ broadly, with the Jaguar 2030 Roadmap as a framework, and develop the platform for intergovernmental cooperation to achieve their commitments. 

The Jaguar 2030 partnership will measure its success by the impacts that it generates on the ground – where it counts. The partnership includes people with direct experience from, in and across the jaguar range – from the Selva Maya, the Mesoamerican Jaguar Corridor, the Orinoquía, the Amazon, the Chaco and the Pantanal. This initiative was born on the ground, on the riversides, in the flood plains and in the verdant forests – from direct experience with the full spectrum of people who live with jaguars.  

The field is where the impacts of this partnership must be felt – as we strive towards a large-scale and local better balance between humanity and nature, with jaguars as the flagship species.

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