The Heart of the Northern Jaguar Reserve

April 8, 2014

2006 02 February 8 - Corazon - Los Pavosac

The life and death of Corazón

Eight years ago, the Northern Jaguar Reserve was still in its infancy when a young female jaguar cub strolled by one of our motion-triggered cameras. This first-ever glimpse of a jaguar cub revealed the importance of this area’s protective habitat and would catalyze the reserve’s expansion to the 50,000 acres that are safeguarded today – the cornerstone of the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP) and our Mexican partner Naturalia’s groundbreaking work to save this species.

Three years later, in 2009, the cub re-appeared as a beautiful, sleek adult. Our jaguar guardians named her “Corazón” for the distinctive heart-shaped spot on her left shoulder. During the next five years, she was photographed 30 more times on the reserve. These images include highlights such as Corazón carrying a javelina kill and pictures of her on the same camera as the male jaguar “El Inmenso” only days apart – meaning it is likely that they mated.

Despite a barrage of threats and hostilities in the region, Corazón was at home on the reserve. We followed her footsteps as she appeared before our cameras longer than any other jaguar and raised at least three litters of cubs. A matriarch among jaguars in this area, Corazón’s ongoing presence gave us certainty that on the reserve, jaguars were safe.

During this time, researchers from the Instituto de Ecología at UNAM, Mexico’s national university, began working north and east of the reserve with a group called La Asociación para la Conservación del Jaguar en la Sierra Alta de Sonora that protects jaguars on private ranches. The researchers trapped, collared, and released two jaguars – a male collared in late 2012, and a female in early 2013. This was Corazón.

Then the unthinkable happened. In late February, Corazón’s collar transmitted the death signal. The veterinarian working with the UNAM project informed us that Corazón had been killed, apparently with poison, and her carcass had been burned. To further this tragic blow, small jaguar tracks next to those of Corazón indicated she had a cub – likely hidden somewhere near Corazón’s body. The cub could not have survived without her.

Corazón was killed on a private ranch some 12 miles north of the reserve in the municipality of Bacadéhuachi on the opposite side of the Río Aros. Although the river and the rugged, roadless terrain create a barrier for human travel, a jaguar can cross this landscape with ease. The ranch where Corazón and her cub died does not border the reserve and is not one of the Viviendo con Felinos ranches that cooperate in our conservation goals and which comprise the reserve’s immediate buffer zone.

Authorities were immediately alerted, and a formal investigation is underway. To date, no one in Mexico has been convicted for killing a jaguar, despite the species having full protection by law. The National Expert Group on Jaguars, a government advisory body that includes Naturalia staff, has put pressure on the authorities to finally set an example of no-tolerance for killing endangered wildlife. There is an opportunity with the death of Corazón for endangered species protection to become more stringent in Mexico as a result.

We knew Corazón more intimately than any other jaguar who has appeared before our cameras. Corazón grew up on the reserve, and the reserve grew with her. Her death is a tremendous loss for the northern jaguar population, and a personal loss to NJP and Naturalia. It shows us how necessary the Northern Jaguar Reserve and Viviendo con Felinos ranches have become in providing a sanctuary for jaguars, and it provides a call to further expand the reserve and the number of ranches in our community outreach.

We have made great strides to protect these endangered cats, yet there is still so much for us to accomplish if future generations of jaguars are to live out their lives free from harm. We will continue our work in Corazón’s memory, and hope you will continue to support us with a contribution in her honor.

Naturalia has started an online petition so that Corazón’s death does not go unpunished. Please sign it here.