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Elusive Jaguars Are Surveyed Remotely in Ecuador’s Wilderness


Camera trap photo by C Santiago Espinosa/WCS

This is one of 75 pictures of jaguars taken by camera traps in the first large-scale census of the elusive big cat in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

The ongoing census, which began in 2007, is working to establish baseline population numbers as oil exploration and subsequent development puts growing pressure on wildlife in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park and adjacent Waorani Ethnic Reserve, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said in a release accompanying this and other photos yesterday.

Camera traps photograph animals remotely when they trip a sensor that detects body heat. Jaguars photographed this way are identified individually through their unique pattern of spots.

“Preliminary data show far fewer jaguars in more hunted areas compared to remote study sites,” WCS said in its statement. In the first survey at a heavily hunted site within Yasuni National Park, only three individual jaguars were identified. At a study site in a rarely hunted and remote area, 14 different jaguars were distinguished.


Other images made by the camera traps show jaguar prey species, such as white-lipped peccaries, and other rarely seen species, including two pictures of a short-eared dog, a relative of foxes and wolves, seen in the image alongside.

Camera trap photo by C Santiago Espinosa/WCS

“The main threats to jaguars in Ecuador are habitat degradation and loss due to various human activities,” said WCS research fellow Santiago Espinosa, leader of the study team.

“Bushmeat hunting by local communities has increased due to road development that provides access to otherwise isolated areas. Additionally, people hunt bushmeat to sell commercially in local markets, rather than simply for their own consumption. There is competition for food as people hunt the same prey species as the jaguar. If the prey species disappear, the jaguar will be gone.”

Espinosa and WCS plan to extend the jaguar camera trap surveys to other areas of Ecuador, working with local communities in both the Amazon region and along the coast where most of the forests are gone but still may provide refuge to jaguars.

Related National Geographic News story:

Elusive Jaguars Remain a Mystery, Even to Experts