Costa Rica Builds 'Underground Railroad' for Jaguars


A jaguar in Brazil. Photo by Steve Winter/Panthera via The New York Times.

Even the the most lovelorn humans likely wouldn't go to these lengths to find a mate: Camera traps have shown that some jaguars swim across the 500- to 1,000-foot-wide Panama Canal in order to expand their breeding options. The discovery, in addition to being fascinating in its own right, showed that a lot of conservation efforts were going about it all wrong.Most countries, the The New York Times writes, "traditionally tried to protect large mammal species like jaguars by creating sanctuaries -- buying up land and giving threatened animals a home where they can safely eat, fight and breed to eternity." But increased understanding of species' ranges and migratory patterns -- such as the fact that jaguars from northern Mexico to the southern tip of South America are part of the same extended population -- led to the realization that

connecting corridors are needed because many species rely for survival on the migration of a few animals from one region to another, to intermix gene pools and to repopulate areas devastated by natural disasters or disease. Placing animals in isolated preserves, studies have found, decreases diversity and risks dulling down a species.

Instead of isolated protected habitats, what many wild animals need is an "underground railway," zoologist Alan Rabinowitz, the president of the conservation group Panthera, which focuses on big cats, told the Times. Both Brazil and Costa Rica are responding to this need by creating protected corridors for jaguars to allow the animals to safely pass through increasingly developed terrain.

Corridors Help Animals Adapt to Climate Change
Though the idea is not new, the need for such pathways has become more urgent due to the increasing effects of climate change, which is already forcing many animals to shift habitats as their traditional homes become less suitable. Those that are blocked from doing so by freeways and fenced-off developments will not fare well.

According to the Times, "Costa Rica now requires developers to consider whether a new construction project would interrupt an essential corridor, or else to make other arrangements for jaguars to travel safely through the area." Panthera is conducting research to better define jaguar routes in the country and working with local communities to resolve potential conflicts between people and animals.

The group hopes more residents will take the attitude of Héctor Porras-Valverdo, a farmer whose land is located inside one of the new jaguar corridors: When the animals killed two of his cows recently, he said, "I understand cats do this because they need to survive."

More about big cats:
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Tags: Animals | Brazil | Cats | Conservation | Costa Rica

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