The Jofre Velho Conservation Ranch is a jaguar research base in the middle of 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of the Brazilian Pantanal. On this property, we coexist with a healthy population of jaguars. In fact, this region has one of the highest jaguar densities in all of Latin America, with around eight individuals per 100 km2, according to our recent studies. With the support of the Rainforest Trust and other generous donors, Panthera has protected this jaguar-rich property and is using this area to demonstrate how jaguar conservation can coexist with jaguars in a cattle landscape, benefit ranchers, promote ecotourism and support local communities.
Close proximity to these big cats can become a burden on local communities and ranchers when jaguars kill and eat their livestock. Nearly 80% of the Pantanal is dedicated to large-scale cattle ranches. Many of the year-round residents in the Jofre region, a good amount of whom are cattle ranchers, have expressed anger towards these cats attempting to get through defenses to eat their domestic animals. For peasant riverine farmers and ranching families, a lost cow can be a lost fortune.
In an effort to reduce jaguar predation on cattle herds and mitigate conflict with these magnificent apex predators, we have developed a system on our working ranch and research base in Jofre Velho. Each afternoon, the cattle are rounded up and enclosed in a large night-corral along with two or three Pantaneiro bulls (a tough longhorn type of cattle breed brought over by Europeans) and approximately 20 tamed and managed Indian water buffalo. These generally tame creatures are highly respected by jaguars because of their penchant for aggressively confronting large predators. Last year, we also added an electric fence around this corral that helps us to better protect our newborn calves. This system helps us generate income, experiment with anti-predation strategies and show other local ranches how to protect their herds, all while continuing Pantaneiro traditions. In the neighboring collaborating ranch of Fazenda São Bento, we have already helped to build two electric fence-surrounded night-enclosures: a smaller one for their milking herd and a larger one for a 700-cow herd, with excellent results.
Because of the unusually high density of non-hunted and tourism-boat habituated jaguars in the Porto Jofre region, the local economy is driven in large part by seasonal ecotourism, something we have been studying and developing on our site and in collaboration with local guides and tour operators. In this northern part of Brazil’s Pantanal — an immense mosaic of riverine forests and flooded savannas, jaguar tourism brings in more than $6 million per year for local people and tourism entrepreneurs and creates more working opportunities than cattle ranching, especially for local women.
In 2017, Panthera led the first-ever study providing market values for a jaguar population. Panthera and partners found that annual revenues from jaguar-watching tour packages could bring in over $6 million more than the financial damages ranchers suffer when the apex predator makes a meal out of cattle. Moreover, we discovered that jaguar-induced cattle losses can be compensated by a system of voluntary donations from tourists.
By highlighting big cats, jaguar tourism motivates people to learn more about these animals, the complex ecology of the area and the importance of its conservation. Tourism turns the presence of jaguars from being a liability or threat into a source of sustainable income with higher profitability per hectare than cattle-ranching and that both activities can be developed together. At Panthera, we are working with many different stakeholders — including hotel owners, tour operators, local communities and cattle ranchers, to ensure that jaguar tourism is well-managed and respects both jaguars and people.
The Jaguar School
It’s important that the people who live alongside wild cats reap the benefits of wildlife conservation, both for themselves and for their children. At Jofre Velho, Panthera has built and now runs a local school that educates children during the day and is organizing courses for adult education at night.
Because the ranch is just off the Transpantaneira Road — the major and only transportation artery for the area — and sits on the edge of the Cuiabá-São Lourenço River, the kids come by car, motorcycle or motorboat. They are the children from neighboring ranches, children of cowboys and local “river people,” known as ribeirinhos. The students are taught by a professionally trained teacher using a curriculum recognized by the Ministry of Education of the State of Mato Grosso, in which we are located.
Our adult students include our own employees and people from neighboring ranches and tourist lodges, all of them dedicated to improving their lives. Children and adults alike are excited about their new easy access to education, and subsequent access to modern communications like email and WhatsApp. For example, one jaguar tour guide — who is also a part-time cowboy, horse trainer and outboard motor mechanic — is now able to order replacement parts directly over the phone with the catalog in hand thanks to our literacy program, improving the speed and quality of his work tremendously.
We help to organize and host periodical visits by medical and odontological professional teams (governmental and private) that attend to the local communities. During the pandemic, we have been organizing monthly donations and distributions of food baskets (approximately 60 pounds of varied food items, with personal hygiene and house-cleaning items included), for the ribeirinho families since August 2020.
With students from the University of Michigan, we have also organized English and music courses for both children and adults, as well as offered first aid and other training with the help of local government and military groups.