Over the past 40 years, 52 percent of the world’s wildlife has disappeared from the face of the planet. If that statistic seems shocking to you, that is a good thing. Although that is just a single figure, it represents hundreds and thousands of animals, all gone in less than half a century. What makes that number even more astounding is the fact that the loss of this wildlife can almost exclusively be traced back to human causes.
Between deforestation, the expansion of agriculture, and the continual burning of fossil fuels, humans have managed to speed up the rate at which species are going extinct by up to 1,000 times faster than normal. While it might seem like we’re on a steamroller to the destruction of all wildlife – this is not the case. Many of the world’s species can be saved, but it requires our swift and direct action in doing so. There are many individuals and organizations who have made it their mission to protect the species we have left. Rainforest Trust is one such organization and they are doing incredible work to not only ensure the short-term, but also long-term survival of some of the world’s precious species.
Saving the Jaguar
One of Rainforest Trust’s goals is to protect the jaguar species of South America by securing one million acres of critical jaguar habitat over the span of the next year. Ambitious? We sure think so. But, the only way to ensure the survival of the jaguar, as well as many other species, is by protecting the place that they call home.
Christine Hodgdon, International Conservation Manager at Rainforest Trust tells One Green Planet, “Like humans, every species on earth needs space and resources to survive.”
Of all the world’s species, the jaguar is considered very adaptable. They can survive in a variety of habitats ranging from scrublands, swamps and grasslands to rainforest. However, despite their ability to live under many different circumstances, there are only around 15,000 jaguars left in the wild.
As Hodgdon says, “When the population of an animal adaptable enough to inhabit nearly seven million square miles – an area roughly twice the size of the contiguous U.S. – begins to decline, it should send us a signal that urgent action is needed.”
Jaguars are an apex predator, meaning when they start to disappear from an environment, the rest of the species present in that ecosystem are thrown off balance. When the jaguar is removed, prey species such as deer flourish. These animals play a key role in shaping the landscape of the ecosystem with their grazing habits. An entire forest structure can be altered due to the disappearance of the jaguar.
What is Causing Jaguars to Disappear?
The landscape of the jaguar’s original range has been dramatically altered in recent decades. Currently, jaguars only inhabit about 46 percent of their original range and overall an estimated 54 percent of their native habitat has been destroyed. As their native habitat declines and humans encroach on their territory to expand pastureland and raise livestock, the jaguar goes from being an apex predator to prey.
The loss of land pits the jaguar against other predators in competition for food and when resources run out, the jaguar is pushed out of the forest into human territory. Humans view the jaguar as a threat to their livestock and these animals are often shot on sight by ranchers and farmers.
To make matters worse, building roads and infrastructure has destroyed natural corridors for the jaguar, decreasing the potential variety in gene pools and increasing the risk of overhunting and starvation.
Effectually, to save the jaguar, you have to start with the habitat.
One Million Acres
The Million Acre Initiative works to protect the jaguar in a number of way. Firstly, by securing protected jaguar reserves across Brazil, Peru and Columbia, Rainforest Trust will be able to keep the vital environment intact. The more time that passes, the less likely it is that the Trust will be able to save these natural areas from encroaching interest from the palm oil industry, oil developers, mining companies, and illegal loggers.
Hodgdon tells One Green Planet, “Time is our biggest challenge. Our project site in Central Colombia, which will protect isolated jaguars, is located in an area where the production of palm oil is quickly growing. Already, 11,000 acres surrounding the proposed reserve have been destroyed to make way for oil palm plantations.”
The situation is similarly urgent in Peru as mining, oil development and logging grow. In Brazil the greatest threat to the jaguar are armed ranchers who are backed by large-scale agribusiness.
But the good news is, the initiative has already managed to raise a total of $22,000 in just 5-weeks, enough to finish a jaguar reserve in Brazil’s Pantanal region, and to begin a new national park in Peru.
Also, the benefits of preserving one million acres of land extends far beyond the singular benefit to the jaguar.
“Allowing jaguar populations to rebound will aid in stabilizing prey populations, which includes at least 85 animals,” says Hodgdon, “[this] will help bring the environment back into a more natural balance that will help maintain local species diversity. Tropical ecosystem with jaguars have higher densities of herbivorous mammals such as agoutis, coatimundis, sloths and howler monkeys, as well as an increased presence of primary producers, including plant and tree species.”
Resounding Benefits of Protecting the Jaguar
The improvement of the ecosystem and the environment across these regions of South America ultimately benefit the world’s ecosystem as a whole.
“We are accustomed to think about conservation by focusing on objects of regional or national interest. Every day, however, as events on the other side of the world affect our lives, we are reminded that we are global citizens and that our responsibilities have grown. We need to help take care of wildlife and ecosystems around the globe if we want to maintain a healthy planet.”
In the United States we have witnessed the degradation of our native lands and seen our own native species threatened with extinction.
“Jaguars are symbols of wilderness and wild character in Central and South America in much of the way that bison, bald eagles and wolves are for us in North America,” says Hodgdon, “The loss of these species would have cascading effects on the ecosystems they inhabit, of course, but that is not the primary reason we fight for their survival. Jaguars are representative of our planet’s rich natural heritage and the threat of their extinction is a painful reminder of the harm we’ve caused – and continue to cause – to the natural environment.”
The rather stark reminder of the finality of the world’s species and resources makes the need to take action even more pressing. As with the wolf, bison, and bald eagle, there is still time for the jaguar to rebound. Now the only remaining question is, will you help them?
Lead image source: Jeffrey Zack/Pantanal