Sunday 15 May 2016

We can do better to save the jaguars - Guyana

(Photo: Mike Gerrard)
We can do better to save the jaguars 

 15-05-2016  Stabroek News, Guyana

In the February 16th, 2014 issue of Stabroek News, Evi Paemelaere, from the international Panthera organization (specialized in the protection of wild cats) wrote: “In the land of giants, the jaguar stands strong and proud on the coat of arms and adorns many banners and brochures to attract tourists happy to pay for catching a glimpse of America’s largest cat in Guyana.” 

Tourists visiting Guyana in 2015 would have seen pictures of a dead jaguar, shot by a businessman, being carried through the streets of New Amsterdam, and since January 2016 tourists would have seen multiple pictures of at least three trapped jaguars, two of which are presently housed in small cages in the Georgetown Zoo and the third at the Hyde Park Animal Sanctuary, Land of Canaan, on the East Bank.

The fate of a fourth jaguar, captured by the residents of Capoey, near Mainstay Region 2, is still unknown. When I read the newspaper articles and look at the pictures of those magnificent animals cowering in their cages I want to hang my head in shame. I’m a firm believer that we can and must do better.

We are a country of 83,000 square miles with a great deal of “pristine land”, yet unspoiled by animal trappers, miners and loggers.

Our first Green President has promised incentives for businesses that invest in his government’s plan for a green and sustainable economy; he has asked that protected areas be established in every region of Guyana and that ecological parks and natural reserves be established to protect our natural habitat.

Guyana is privileged to have international organizations such as Panthera, Iwokrama, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International developing projects in our hinterland. We are also lucky to have an active wildlife division of the EPA and Protected Areas Commission (PAC). Furthermore, we are fortunate to have a large number of private businesses and conservations willing to support a save the jaguar movement.

It seems that Guyana now has the organization and the political will to formulate and implement a strategic plan for saving our jaguars. It would be nice to remember the Golden Jubilee as the year Guyana initiated actions to save our jaguars. It would be heartwarming to look at our Coat of Arms and know that our jaguars were safe for future generations.

In closing, I thank all the daily newspapers especially Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News for caring not only for people but for our animals and the environment.

Yours faithfully,
Syeada Manbodh

Friday 6 May 2016

‘El Jefe’ — the only known wild jaguar in the U.S. — is one step closer to sharing its habitat with a massive copper mine

‘El Jefe’ — the only known wild jaguar in the U.S. — is one step closer to sharing its habitat with a massive copper mine 

(Source photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest via Flickr)

06-05-2016  The Washington Post 

El Jefe — quite possibly the sole wild jaguar in the United States, and the only one confirmed on camera in recent years — is by all accounts a beautiful beast. The feline was caught on video most recently in February, as The Washington Post reported. He pads by the camera trap in southern Arizona with all of the cockiness a full-grown Panthera onca can muster. Alan Rabinowitz, a big cat expert and chief executive of the wildlife conservation group Panthera, tells Boston’s WBUR station that jaguar swagger like El Jefe’s is why he minted the noun “jaguarness.”

El Jefe first appeared in the U.S. in 2011, and now it appears he confines himself to the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona not far from the U.S.-Mexico border. But if El Jefe knew what the future of his habitat could hold, he might choose to saunter out of Arizona for good. A mile-wide copper mine, to be carved near the Coronado National Forest where the cat now prowls, has received the blessing of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Known as the Rosemont Copper Mine, the proposed project will involve some 3,670 acres of Forest Service land, including a pit mine, waste disposal and processing plant.

Should the mine move forward, it would be one of the largest in the country. It would be physically huge — a mile wide and with a maximum depth of 2,900 feet — but also incredibly productive. Each year for at least two decades of operation, the pit mine will produce an estimated 221 million pounds of copper. Jeff Cornoyer, the lead geologist on the Rosemont project, told the Sierra Vista Herald in 2013 he expects the mine to bring an annual economic boon of $700 million, surpassing the projected revenue the N.F.L. generated from this year’s Super Bowl.

Since the mine’s proposal in 2007, it has sparked outcry from conservation groups as well as environmental vandals, who in a 2009 incident slashed the tires of a car belonging to a woman who works for the mine.  

Though the final decision rests with the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service cleared any obstacles based on endangered species in a recently-released opinion. Concerning jaguars in Arizona — El Jefe, in other words — the possibility of “take,” the FWS wrote, is real. To take an endangered animal, if you’re unfamiliar with the agency’s jargon, means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” it. (Jaguars do not take to capture kindly; in 2009, the last known U.S. jaguar prior to El Jefe’s arrival had to be euthanized after the Arizona Fish and Wildlife Service caught it in a snare.)

 As the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in its opinion: “We conclude that this level of anticipated take is not likely to result in jeopardy to the jaguar, for the effects are not expected to appreciably reduce the survival and recovery of the species. Jaguars range from southern United States all the way to Argentina and thus, take of one jaguar in the form of harassment in the U.S. will not jeopardize the species.” The fate of El Jefe, in the view of the Fish and Wildlife Service, will not alter the fate of his species.

Animal advocates pounced on the FWS’s decision. “The agency charged with protecting America’s most vulnerable wildlife thinks it’s just fine for a foreign mining company to harm our only known jaguar,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservationist for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “This outrageous decision, which was contradicted by the agency’s own scientists, will not withstand judicial scrutiny.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the Fish and Wildlife service in the past, and environmental attorneys are predicting the Rosemont opinion will be challenged under the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, nearly 20,000 people have signed an online petition in defense of El Jefe.

Jaguar country historically included California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona — and, possibly, Louisiana. But by 1963, the last known female to visit the U.S. was shot by a hunter. For decades, biologists believed that the cats had been extirpated from their former U.S. homes — until the jaguars surfaced in the late 1990s. It’s unclear why jaguars have once again appeared in the U.S.; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the cats as “near threatened,” with a population on the decline thanks to deforestation in addition to human competition for deer, peccary and other prey.
And though El Jefe might be the only jaguar around, he’s not completely without four-legged. A dog named Mayke, a Belgian Malinois rejected from a K-9 program, is being trained to follow El Jefe’s scat. Sniffing out El Jefe’s scents, Mayke’s handler and biologist Chris Bugbee told Tuscon’s KVOA station, will shed light on the way the big cat uses the Arizona mountains. 
“The habitat is still here,” he said. “We’d like to see the jaguars recover.”