Rule Animal Wild Life Brazil the Model for Reintroduction of Jaguars by Pioneering Work

Brazil the Model for Reintroduction of Jaguars by Pioneering Work

Xamã is one year old. In August 2022, the little Jaguar was found all alone, extremely malnourished and weak, on private land in the municipality of Sinop in Mato Grosso in Brazil. Her mother wasn’t there. She would probably have died, or the two could have been separated by a large fire nearby.

Rescued by the environmental authorities, Xamã was first taken to the Veterinary Clinic of the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT) and could have suffered the same fate as other orphans like him: to spend his life in a Zoo or a shelter.

But this Jaguar (Panthera onca) has another future ahead of him. He is expected to become the first male Jaguar to be reintroduced to the Amazon. It will complete the List of individuals of this species who have returned to nature after being rescued at a very young age, thanks to the pioneering work of Onçafari, a Brazilian project that combines Ecotourism, conservation and scientific research.

Brazil’s pioneering role in the reintroduction of jaguars began by chance. Some attempts have already been made by other institutions, but the first real step was taken after a disaster at the end of 2014.

A female Jaguar and her two cubs had been discovered in the treetops near a house in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. They had just crossed the Paraguay River and were probably tired. The environmental police and the heatrelievers were called and tried to calm the mother down with sedatives. But the unconscious animal fell and died, leaving two orphaned cubs.

“We heard about the matter of Isa and Fera in Corumbá that they ended up at the Campo Grande animal rehabilitation center,” explains Onçafari founder Mario Haberfeld. “And then we considered the possibility of reintroduction with Cenap [the National Center for Research and Conservation of carnivorous mammals].”

Despite some skepticism, in 2016, after undergoing a meticulous process of adaptation to wild life in an enclosure in the middle of the Pantanal wetland, the sisters became the first Jaguars in the world to be successfully reintroduced into free life.

And what exactly indicates a successful reintroduction process from a scientific point of view?

“Then the animal is reintroduced and it produces offspring, and this offspring has its own offspring,” explains biologist Leonardo sartorello, head of Onçafari’s recovery department. “That is, when Isa and Fera became grandparents, the project was considered a success.”

Lessons learned and achievements

In Brazil, there is no official protocol for the reintroduction of wild animals into the wild. During each reintroduction, state and federal authorities such as the Chico Mendes Institute for the Protection of Biodiversity (ICMBio) or the Brazilian Institute of Environment and National Resources (IBAMA) are requested to obtain authorization. But there are no regulations, no official step-by-step guide for the return of rescued or captive animals to the wild.

In the matter of Isa and Fera, this was a progressive learning process. According to Sartorello, they adopted a protocol from the IUCN, the World Conservation Agency, as the basis for the reintroduction with enclosure size parameters. They also considered the example of the resettlement of cheetahs in Africa. Both procedures seemed appropriate to fit the Jaguars.

“We have learned a lot of things. Everything was new. I say that nothing replaces experience in this field, ” says Sartorello.

Onçafari has learned a lot about the habits of jaguars thanks to the habituation work carried out in the Pantanal, necessary so that the big cats do not feel threatened in front of Safari vehicles so that tourists can observe them from afar.

With Isa and Fera in the acclimatization enclosure, the team was able to learn more about the behavior of these cats. With two individuals, there was a hierarchy between who would eat first and how exactly the live prey would be finished. It was also possible to see their interactions — submission or strike — with other Jaguars approaching the enclosure fence.

The enclosure itself of the Caiman Ecological Refuge in Mato Grosso do Sul measured 8,000 square meters (86,000 square feet) and had six cameras that allowed the Sartorello team to monitor part of the Sisters’ daily life. Human contact has been reduced to a minimum.

One of the lessons we have learned is that since these animals have been raised effectively in captivity, their instincts must be developed.

“Animals need impulses; you have to create them in them. If they are not hungry, they will not hunt. That’s what caught our attention at the time; we were inexperienced and proceeded by trial and error,” says Sartorello. “We often tried to offer a piece of meat, and then make live prey the next day. And we noticed that this would not work. The animals must be hungry, really fasting, to be forced to hunt.”

They offered the living loot in stages, in a process that Haberfeld compares to video games: “skip one stage” to move on to the next.

“First of all, we release smaller, more docile and easier-to-catch animals into the enclosure. Over time, we introduce other species until we get to an mature male peccary,” says Haberfeld.

Another lesson from practice is that the enclosure must have several doors, technically called guillotine doors.

“Jaguars should not associate a particular place with food, much less humans with food. That is why the enclosure has six doors with screens, so there is no visual contact between the animal and its keepers, ” explains Haberfeld.

After all, the experience of the last seven years has shown that life in the pen should be far from easy for animals. “The animal has to face the most difficult experience possible in the enclosure, because its life will not be easy outside,” says Sartorello.

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