WCS Is “Paving” the Way for Jaguars
June 12, 2006
A thoroughfare that’s healthy for wildlife? For a change, a conduit through the forests of Central America won’t trigger new development or increase greenhouse gases. Instead, conservationists hope, the only thing it will pave the way for is more pawprints. A group of environment ministers representing the seven nations of Central America and Mexico have agreed to establish a network of protected areas and wildlife corridors to safeguard jaguar populations. The decision was made at the Second Mesoamerica Protected Area Congress recently held in Panama.
A Central American corridor for jaguars is not a new idea. In 1990, the Wildlife Conservation Society launched a project called the Paseo Pantera (Spanish for “path of the panther”), a network of protected areas and wildlife corridors that became known as the Mesoamerica Biological Corridor (CBM) in 1997. The CBM aimed to balance human needs, sustainable development, and the conservation of some of the Earth’s greatest biodiversity. Though this project received multi-national support at the highest levels of government and several global institutions committed millions of dollars, its slow implementation and highly ambitious agenda concerned many conservationists.
According to Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, executive director of the WCS Science and Exploration Program, the re-evaluation of the project offers new hope for the conservation of Central America’s threatened wildlife. “We commend these nations for agreeing to such a far-sighted initiative,” he said.
Following on the ministers’ agreement to reinvigorate the jaguar corridor project, WCS field scientists will soon visit and survey key sites of the proposed corridor on a country-by-country basis. Once their research is complete, they will work with the Central American Commission of Environment and Development to ensure these sites are incorporated into the CBM.
The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas, and the third largest in the world. It ranges from the southwestern United States to Argentina. This extensive distribution means that habitat fragmentation—a consequence of human development—is a grave threat to the species. Jaguar populations have become increasingly isolated, which in turn prevents genetic exchange between them. “All over the world, we’ve seen huge swaths of wilderness reduced to scattered islands in a flood of development,” added Rabinowitz. “By working together, the countries of Central America can connect their wild lands and save their shared natural heritage—the jaguar.”