Their Home, Too: The People & Jaguars of Costa Rica

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


Picture this: In the dark hours of the night in Costa Rica’s Guatuso of San Carlos, a cow roams peacefully in a pasture land not so far from the forest. She is unaware of the two hungry eyes floating nearby in the darkness, watching her closely…and slowly coming closer.

The next morning, Don Avelino Cruz and his son Bryan wake up early to discover one of their cows is missing—an important part of their family and livelihood has fallen to the powerful jaguar. After losing four animals in only a few months, Don Avelino considers contacting a “Tigrero” — a jaguar killer — to help him solve his problem.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” he explained to me when I met him on a recent trip to Guatuso. “I like jaguars. I don’t want to kill them. But I could not sustain any more losses. I really didn’t think there was any other option.”

Don Pedro Gutiérrez and Don Jose Villareal (aka “Chepe”), whose farms lie between the Guanacaste Cordillera and the northern lowlands, have similar stories. Don Chepe was forced to sell all his cattle after losing five animals in two years to jaguars near Rincón de la Vieja Volcano. Don Pedro had also considered hiring a local Tigrero who had killed at least 20 jaguars near his farm in Caño Negro. Luckily for the jaguars in the region, Panthera offered an alternative solution and took the Tigrero out of the equation.

Since 2010, we have been working under the leadership of Panthera´s Jaguar Scientist Daniel Corrales to test anti-predation measures in farms plagued by jaguar attacks. Thanks to our agreement with the National Conservation Area System Agency and the creation of the Wild Cat CRU (Conflict Response Unit, or UACFel, in Spanish), Panthera and the UACFel team members have now responded to more than 176 cases in two and a half years.

In more than 50 farms, we’ve implemented anti-predation measures like night enclosures, solar-powered electric fences, maternity pastures, and lighted bell collars. Panthera has also introduced water buffaloes to “guard” livestock; these animals are gentle with their caretakers but aggressive toward perceived intruders—especially hungry jaguars.

On over 98% of farms, no further losses were suffered after these interventions. Recently, I visited three farms with Daniel to check camera traps that UACFel had set up and to ask if there have been more attacks. “Not here,” Don Chepe said, “but a neighbor’s mare was killed 2 months ago.”

With this information and camera trap pictures, we know the anti-predation measures are working and that the jaguar is still alive. “Look how beautiful it is,” says Don Pedro when he sees camera trap footage of a jaguar on his farm. “It will be great to show this to tourists,” he adds. Both the Gutiérrez and Cruz families offer boat trips and meals for tourists to supplement the income from their cattle business.

The effectiveness of these interventions have convinced Don Pedro, Don Avelino and Don Chepe that they don’t have to resort to killing jaguars to keep their livestock safe. We hope that these three farmers and the many others we’ve worked with become ambassadors of our mission to protect jaguars and the livelihoods of people.

“We have to learn how to better manage our cattle to co-exist with the jaguar,” concluded Chepe.

“After all," agreed Don Avelino, "this is their home, too."

Editor's Note: A version of this post was featured on La Nación, a newspaper based in Costa Rica. Read the article (in Spanish).