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Mother lode of jaguars discovered in Bolivia park


Photo credit: Leonardo Maffei

Bolivia’s sprawling Kaa-Iya Gran Chaco National Park, known for some of the world’s highest densities of ticks, may now lay claim to another superlative: more jaguars than any protected area on earth. According to a recent study by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups, published in the Journal of Zoology, as many as 1,000 of these elusive big cats may call Kaa-Iya home.

Using methodologies developed by WCS to count tigers in India, the researchers employed remote camera "traps" to photograph jaguars, recording each animal’s unique spotting pattern. Through a statistical analysis that counts each animal re-photographed within a given territory, an accurate population estimate can be determined.

"Our results show that the Chaco is rich with jaguars – and Kaa-Iya in fact probably contains the largest population recorded in any protected area," said WCS conservationist, Dr. Andrew Noss, who co-authored the paper along with representatives of Fundación Ivi-Iyambae, Captinía de Alto y Bajo Isoso, a Bolivia-based indigenous group that helps manage the park.

At 34,000 square km (13,281 square miles) – Kaa-Iya Park is larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. The park also contains Latin America’s highest diversity of large mammals, including the highly endangered Chacoan guanaco, eight species of armadillo (including one that weighs 80 pounds), and the Chacoan peccary – a pig-like animal once believed to be extinct. It is also known for its extreme heat, endless forests of thorn scrub, and untold numbers of ticks. Created in 1995, it is the only park in South America established at the initiative of a Native American organization, which have taken on a central role in its protection.

The authors warn that fragmentation of habitat, both within the Chaco and other areas, coupled with poaching, continue to threaten jaguars throughout their range. The researchers are now looking at how to better protect jaguars both in and out of the park – part of a long-term WCS campaign to safeguard populations throughout Latin America.

Stephen Sautner | EurekAlert!
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