Jaguars Learn Their Lesson: Cat-Livestock Conflict Mitigation Success in South America

By Rafael Hoogesteijn, M.S., D.V.M.
Conflict Program Director, Jaguar Program

Jaguar in the Pantanal

Jaguars, South America’s largest wild cats, are formidable carnivores equipped with sharp claws, a muscular body and the strongest bite relative to size of any wild cat. However, as their ranges shrink and natural prey populations decline, they come closer into contact with human communities and their livestock, including cattle, which can make for an opportunistic meal. Learn more from Dr. Rafael Hoogesteijn, Jaguar Conflict Program Director, about the important advances Panthera and partners have recently made in Brazil and Colombia to drastically reduce jaguar predation on livestock. 

At the Jofre Velho Conservation Ranch in the Brazilian Pantanal, I witness the strength and bravery of jaguars every day. Countless times, I have seen them jump into the river and pull out a huge caiman, a large crocodilian equipped with razor-sharp teeth and a powerful carnivore in their own right. I have witnessed jaguars chase after prey like capybaras, brocket deer and peccaries. But as jaguars across the Americas are drawn closer to human communities and become more desperate for meals, these formidable carnivores can sometimes set their sights on domestic prey.

Jaguar and caiman
©sebastian kennerknecht

For the farmers and communities who depend on these cattle, sheep and other farm animals for their livelihoods, a hungry jaguar preying on livestock could result in a significant loss of revenue and human subsistence. This often results in human-cat conflict when people retaliate against wild cats for eating their livestock. Panthera is dedicated to ensuring wild cats, livestock and people remain safe and livelihoods are protected. To accomplish coexistence between wild cats and people, Panthera and partners use several different techniques, including: 

  • Specially-designed electrical fences 
  • Foxlights and alarms 
  • and livestock breeds with defensive dispositions, including guardian water buffalo. 

A Trio of Defenses: Fences, Foxlights and Buffalo

The Brazilian Pantanal and Southern Amazon border region are home to hundreds of jaguars, which live alongside thousands of cattle. Amidst this mosaic of wetlands, forests and farms, Panthera helps implement anti-predation measures at ten fazendas (ranches) where jaguar and puma predation on livestock has the potential to become a serious issue. Installing Foxlights (a light that periodically flashes in different colors), electrical fences, alarms, confinement pens and livestock-guardian cattle or buffalo (cattle species/breeds that are gregarious and have defense dispositions), we are moving closer toward our goals.

Electric fence protecting cows
©sebastian kennerknecht

The results have been encouraging. The fazendas have all seen either zero or very few predation problems, with only a few farms seeing just a one percent loss. Ranchers are responding well to these anti-predation measures, too. So far, we have seen zero instances of retaliation against jaguars on these fazendas — showing that coexistence is possible.

Cow in Cololmbia

Cows and Cats in Casanare, Colombia

Just like in the Brazilian Pantanal to the south, the presence of jaguars near farms in the Casanare state of the Colombian Llanos floodplain can create serious impediments to coexistence. Ranchers also have a history of retaliating against jaguars. Aided by knowledge of how jaguars respond to anti-predation deterrents in Brazil, Panthera scientists and partners sought to determine how effective similar measures would be if used in this part of Colombia. 

As part of this recently published study in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, Panthera Colombia and Panthera Brasil staff (in collaboration with other organizations like USFWS, Corporinoquia, Web-Conserva and SENA), installed four different types of anti-predation electrical fences at 14 different ranches throughout the region. In addition, staff brought defensive Sanmartinero creole cattle to two farms to serve as guardians for less gregarious zebu-cattle breeds. Research also took place at control sites, where we surveyed pastures that were not using these anti-depredation measures. Inside the same ranches, we registered mortalities and calculated costs and benefits. 

Each deterrent method was extremely effective. Livestock losses outside the Anti-Predation Techniques (APT) were 15 times higher than inside them. With an investment of $32,392 in APT, we suffered only $2,540 in losses inside them, while at our control sites, the losses caused by feline predation reached $173,439 — proving that our anti-predation measures economically benefit the ranches in Casanare. Additionally, tolerance towards wild cats increased, with none hunted. Farmers also did not hunt natural prey species and no deforestation of forested areas or corridors occurred. 

Jaguar faces cattle

Solving South America’s Conservation Question 

From Brazil and Argentina and up to Colombia and Ecuador, beef is a staple of the diets and cultures of South America. For many people, beef and dairy production are their livelihood. Surprisingly, jaguars can be allies for these ranchers and farmers. But how? 

Human communities, their livestock, agricultural crops and wildlife are intricately connected. When jaguars feed on prey populations, they control the flow of nutrients, energy and diseases between ecosystems and living organisms, even indirectly influencing hydrological cycles. When these cats have adequate wild prey, their natural predation on wild species can protect the domestic animals that people rely on to survive. While coexistence may need apprehensive jaguars, it also needs human commitment. To protect and conserve this species, we all must invest ourselves in preserving their natural landscapes and ecosystems, thereby ensuring that humans and cats can live together peacefully. 

Learn more about jaguars.