Ecuador is mentioned in the title but is not the only country where deforestation is putting at risk the survival of one of the big predator species in the hemisphere. Thanks to Kimberley Brown, writing in the Guardian, for her reporting from our neighborhood to the south on one of the animals we have featured the most in our pages over the years:
Industries such as coffee and cacao have devastated the jaguar’s habitat, but its dwindling numbers leave a delicate ecosystem hanging in the balance
Across the American continent, from the north of Mexico to Argentina, the jaguar has long been revered for its strength and power. But in some parts of Ecuador, the largest cat in South America is increasingly at risk as roads, mining and agriculture take over the rainforests.
The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to jaguars in Ecuador, particularly along the coast, where more than 70% of the original forest cover has been lost. The vast majority of this destruction has taken place over the last 50 years with the expansion of the logging and agriculture industries, including coffee, cacao, palm oil and bananas, one of the country’s largest agriculture exports.
The coastal jaguar population has been declared critically engendered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Galo Zapata-Ríos, science director at the Wildlife Conservation Society Ecuador, says only a few remain in one small area on the coast, in the Cotacachi-Cayapas national park, in the northern province of Esmeraldas.
“Jaguars historically were distributed along all the Ecuadorian coast, but now they’re only in Esmeraldas,” says Zapata-Ríos, who has been studying the big cat for 10 years. “That’s the consequence of the advancement of human activity.”
As one of the largest predators in Latin America, the jaguar is essential to maintaining equilibrium in rainforest ecosystems. If it disappears, everything below it in the food chain is affected, with an overpopulation of rodents – the jaguar’s prey – that would eat more bugs and seeds, and decrease the regeneration of trees and other plants in the forest, says Zapata-Ríos.
“That’s why it’s so important – it’s a species that allows you to conserve other species,” says Jessica Pacheco, an endangered species expert with the World Wildlife Federation Ecuador.
Pacheco works predominantly with jaguar conservation initiatives in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, where populations are not yet as decimated as on the coast.
A recent study by the WWF estimates that 2,000 jaguars live in the Amazon border region of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, in what’s known as the Napo-Putumayo corridor, including 21 identified in Ecuador’s Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.
But conservationists are concerned that the expansion of extraction activities in the Amazon will lead to further forest destruction with the creation of roads further into the rainforest, reducing the jaguar habitat and increasing its access to outsiders.
“The moment you open roads, you open a door to a market of wildlife,”says Pacheco.
Over the past two years, the Ecuadorian president, Lenín Moreno, has been actively seeking new oil investment, hoping to attract $800m for four oil fields in the eastern Amazon rainforest. He also plans to double the value of the country’s mining industry by 2021, which includes developing open pit mining in the gold- and copper-rich southern Amazon…
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