Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Say goodbye to the big cats - São Paulo

Photo credit: http://img141.imageshack.us/img141/5203/jaguarbrasilia1.jpg
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am crazy for saving African elephants. The short of it is that I went to Tanzania in 2012 and learned that these animals could be extinct in the wild in 13 years. One is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory. 35,000 are killed each year. There are only 450,000 left in the wild. In South Africa, they are no longer endangered. But in much of Africa, the killing spree is unabated.  No, I am not talking about my love of elephants today.

Yesterday, I opened up the Folha de São Paulo's Science section to a huge picture of a jaguar. My kids love big cats so I immediately turned to them as they were eating breakfast and said "LOOK! A Jaguar!" And they wanted to know what the article said. And then I was a bit sorry I had seen it. 

Folha de São Paulo, January 27, 2014

The title reads: "Jaguar runs risk of extinction in the Atlantic rainforest." In Portuguese, "onça-pintada" is a painted panther, or jaguar. The word "jaguar" actually comes from the Tupi native language -- "ya-wara" or feline (source: wikipedia). It is an incredibly beautiful beast--larger, heavier and stronger than its cousin the leopard and similar in temperament to a tiger. They hunt alone, can swim (and well--check out youtube for some videos on onças hunting caimans), and are solitary. And they get more solitary every day.

According to this article, and research published in November 2013 in Science Magazine (sorry, I am too cheap to pay for that subscription so look it up at your local library), there are only 250 adult jaguars left in the Atlantic rainforest. This is a reduction of 80% in the last 15 years. Read that last sentence one more time. 80%!!!! I have to believe that they are now so hard to find that Folha had to resort to taking a picture of one in the Ribeirão Preto zoo. And it almost goes without saying that without this top-of-the-food-chain animal, herbivores they usually hunt (e.g., deer) will run unchecked and munch up the rainforest. This is not a joke, by the way.

What is going on? One of the major reasons these beautiful animals are at risk is what I will call the Wyoming Wolf syndrome. When those beasts were re-introduced to Yellowstone years ago, the surrounding farmers started losing domesticated animals, and they shot the wolves.

In the case of the jaguars, members of the local communities will shoot any animal that takes out kills their domestic stock. You can almost understand it--these are very poor folks--to lose their only cow to a jaguar is a crushing blow. 

And be aware, fellow Americans, that we did in our own population of jaguars by the end of the 20th century. And we are doing the same to our cougars. There are 15-22 cougars left in Nebraska, and hunting licenses cost only $15. Guess how long til they are extinct? But I digress..

source: Folha de São Paulo
In the majority of countries where you can still find the jaguar, its hunting is prohibited. Argentina and Paraguay prohibit its hunting. As well as Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, the US and Uruguay. But here in Brazil, hunting is allowed if it is classified as a "problem animal" (ones that attack domestic cattle). And attack they do. And getting killed they are.

Where we rent a country house near the Minas Gerais border, the prior renter said he saw a jaguar early one morning near one of the remote lakes. It is possible--jaguars love water, and there are for sure jaguars in the Serra de Mantiqueira. My kids are crazy to see one but I know in my heart of hearts, they may never see one in the wild.They will be gone long before the African elephant.

I'm going to see how I can help personally. And I'll be back to tell you how you can join me.

For the full Folha de São Paulo article (in Portuguese), please see here

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