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 number of whom are cattle ranchers, have expressed anger towards these cats attempting to usurp defenses to prey on 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.