December 9, 2009
This year, the Northern Jaguar Project’s end-of-year report and funding appeal has a different author. Our board president, Diana Hadley, requested that I write this year’s letter, as NJP’s science coordinator, because the NJP board has been so impressed with the new level of scientific work produced by our current Jaguar Guardians. This funding appeal, however, is not exclusively for biological research. Contributions from our supporters have been crucially important to all aspects of jaguar conservation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. After six years, your faith in us and dedicated financial support for NJP and our Mexican partner Naturalia have let our project truly blossom.
Our two Jaguar Guardians, Carmina Gutiérrez and Miguel Gómez, and our Feline Photo Project field technician, Tania Gutiérrez, have done extraordinary work. These intrepid young biologists are true researchers and exceptionally hard workers. They have implemented a fully efficient camera array and have analyzed previously collected data for presentations at professional meetings. In addition, they patrol the reserve to keep out poachers, maintain the network of motion-triggered cameras, and inventory the ecological health of the reserve’s lands and waters. Ultimately their wonderful work will lead to the realization of a true sanctuary for wildlife on the Northern Jaguar Reserve.
Here are a few highlights from 2009, not just for jaguars, but for the many species that receive protection under the jaguar’s umbrella.
• Jaguar documentation has been exceptional. Through motion-triggered photography, we recorded eight individual jaguars – three of them females – on the reserve and surrounding ranches. These females are the great hope for a continuing viable population, and their kittens may eventually wander into Arizona and New Mexico. “Cholla,” a female whose name was selected by NJP supporters, was first photographed in May. She was photographed again in August, dragging a javelina kill. “Corazón,” named for a unique heart-shaped spot on her left side, grew up on the reserve. Initially photographed as a pre-teen in 2006, Corazón re-appeared in July in front of one of our cameras as a healthy adult. The third female, “Yuri,” named for the daughter of our neighbor Diego Ezrré, was first photographed in July 2008, and she now frequents a territory near the southern end of the reserve.
Since the reserve was established in 2003 with the purchase of Rancho Los Pavos (10,000 acres) and expanded in 2008 with the purchase of Rancho Zetasora (35,000 acres), NJP and Naturalia have increased the total protected area to include 125 square miles, through cooperation with nine neighboring ranchers who have agreed not to harm carnivores on their properties. Most important, we now have a control area to determine the pace of jaguar recovery following the removal of most of the cattle from the reserve. Contrary to the expectations of some of our neighbors, who feared that removing cattle from the reserve would propel hungry jaguars onto their ranches, analysis of long-term monitoring data indicates the contrary. We now know that Rancho Los Pavos, where cattle were removed six years ago, has the largest number of jaguar records. It appears that instead of leaving Los Pavos in pursuit of livestock, jaguars have stayed to hunt what we believe to be an increasing population of deer and javelina. This is great news, especially for our neighboring ranchers.
• Several milestones for our jaguar conservation programs: NJP’s binational collaboration with Naturalia has resulted in the longest period of jaguar observation at any single locale in Mexico. On an international level, our jaguar research and guardianship program is the third longest, with longer-term programs conducted only in Brazil and Belize. Last month, our unique collaboration with ranchers received significant recognition at Wild9, the World Wilderness Congress, in Merida, Mexico. This past summer, one of the reserve’s cooperating rancher/neighbors, Diego Ezrré, won the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund’s esteemed Conservation Hero award. Because we employ and celebrate citizen-science along with professional research, the project has brought envy and praise from a diverse audience.
• Our botanical inventory, conducted this fall by pre-eminent botanists and naturalists Dr. Tom Van Devender and Ana Lilia Reina, now includes 550 plants, adding significantly to previous floral surveys. As we have learned, nearly every scientist familiar with northern Mexico finds new and noteworthy discoveries on the reserve. For plants, these include four species with Mexican federal protection, 13 species that are northern range extensions from tropical deciduous forests to the south, and two species that are the southernmost records. As part of our pragmatic comparison of cattle-free and cattle-occupied jaguar habitat, we are now in a better position to determine the rate of vegetative – as well as wildlife – recovery on the reserve.
• Our recently completed satellite photo atlas of the reserve allows us to map vegetative communities along with many other natural features of the reserve, including jaguar prey species, degraded areas in need of rehabilitation, water sources, etc. The mapping will likely contribute to the issuing of a Mexican presidential decree for long-term protection of the reserve.
• Our first water quality study gave the Río Aros a clean bill of health, which is great news for the Neotropical river otters and the five species of native fish on the reserve. These results will help to establish a baseline to determine if any future mining operations upstream are impacting the reserve. Our jaguar guardians will be trained to take quarterly water samples, and we will also include the Río Yaqui in our observations next year.
• Our bird surveys overseen by top ornithologist Aaron Flesch once again found new species for the region and set new records. White-eared hummingbird, Buff-breasted flycatcher, Greater pewee, Slate-throated redstart, Brewer’s sparrow, Red-napped sapsucker, Northern parula, and the first records of Brown-backed solitaire were added to our list, which now includes more than 160 species. We hope to be the first observers in the subtropical/temperate transition to record the arrival and departure dates of migratory birds – the baseline needed to know what climate change means to our avian friends.
• We are continuing with reserve expansion. We have signed letters of intent to purchase Cajón Babizoso and Tinaja Ahogadora, two ranches west of the reserve that comprise an additional 7,000 acres. Scientific experts expect to find some important differences in the bird and plant species detected due to the west-facing orientation of the Sierra Zetasora. Both properties were prioritized for purchase for their key ecological features, frontage on the Río Yaqui, the current owners’ hostility toward carnivores, and the high likelihood of jaguar occurrence. These ranches provide a link to the area that hunters say was the heart of the northern jaguar population during the 1930s.
These are our funding requests to you.
Our guardians/researchers, Carmina and Miguel, spend increasing amounts of time on the reserve, where they suffer in the summer from 115-degree temperatures and vicious insect bites, work at the La Ventana research station without electric light or heat in the winter, eat unrefrigerated food that frequently goes bad, bounce over rutted dirt roads, get stuck in the mud, and battle old tires and bad springs. To make their lives a bit easier and more comfortable, we need donations for a solar-powered refrigerator, coolers, camp beds and mattresses, truck tools, heavy duty jacks, new tires, a new laptop battery, a video camera, binoculars, and various field guides. Since they are completely isolated in rugged country, NJP wants them to have a cellular phone, radio communications, and a second GPS unit. We also need solar electrical systems to power weather stations at La Ventana and at other former ranch camps on the reserve at Los Pavos and Babisal. Los Pavos also needs a clean water system. And the road into the reserve will have to be graded. The ranches we will soon acquire are mostly roadless, with access by boat across the river. Our first practical request is for purchase of horses and mules for transportation. In addition to funding these creature comforts, we need to fund ongoing salaries for the jaguar guardians. Our reserve goal is $10,000 for capital and infrastructure improvements, with an additional $40,000 to operate the Jaguar Guardian program for one year.
Our Feline Photo Project, which rewards ranchers for camera-trap photos of felines in exchange for an agreement on their part not to kill predators, has even more practical needs: sleeping bags, camping tent, portable stove, dishes and flatware, ice chests, truck tools, strong plastic boxes, shovel and machete, pruning shears, gloves, voltmeter, and multi-card reader. Our Feline Photo Project goal is to raise $12,000 for supplies and to replenish our annual Feline Photo Project award fund.
We know it’s been a tough year financially, and we appreciate however much you are able to share with us. Donations go directly to these projects. We have only one part-time staff person and an extremely small overhead. Our action-oriented board works for free. Please continue to explore our website, www.northernjaguarproject.org, for the latest photos and natural history news or to make a donation online.
Thanks again for your support,
Peter Warshall, Ph.D.
P.S. We have once again received a generous challenge grant from our friends at the Earth Friends Wildlife Foundation to raise the above-mentioned $62,000. That means every dollar you donate will be matched by these valued conservation partners!