Conservationists' dilemma as threatened jaguar develops taste for endangered turtle

May 08, 2012

( -- How do you protect two species facing extinction when one begins to prey heavily on the other?

That's the dilemma facing conservationists in Costa Rica who have recently discovered that their highly threatened jaguar population is increasingly dining on endangered .

Tortuguero National Park is a vital haven for both species, being home to an unknown number of jaguars and the world's largest green turtle population (besides hawksbills and leatherbacks). The park is an important nesting ground for the turtles and therefore globally vital for producing of the species.

Jaguar kills can account for a total of 676 marine turtle deaths between 2005 (when researchers started recording the killings) and 2010. All were with the exception of three hawksbills and one leatherback turtle. The researchers say this predation of adult turtles 'has now reached a magnitude never before recorded.'

Jaguars have been photographed feeding on green turtles and jaguar kills are typically marked by a single bite to the neck. Conservationists say they urgently need to understand how many jaguars are in the park and how much they are relying on these turtles as a source of food.

With both jaguars and turtles being flagship conservation species, what action can conservationists take? All marine turtle species occurring around the American continent are threatened with extinction, with the green turtle classified as endangered and the leatherback and as critically endangered. Jaguar populations in Costa Rica are also considered to be highly threatened. Large-scale projects such as Operation Green Turtle and 'Paseo Pantera' ('path of the panther') have been developed to conserve the animals.

Diogo Verissimo, researcher with the Durrell Institute of Ecology and Conservation and Global Vision International, which is involved in conservation of marine turtles in the Tortuguero area, brought the problem to light in the research paper, titled 'Jaguar Panthera onca predation of marine : conflict between flagship species in Tortuguero, Costa Rica', published in Oryx - The International Journal of Conservation published for Fauna & Flora International by Cambridge University Press.  He admitted that this issue has got conservationists scratching their heads, and sometimes falling out, as the issue has implications, not just for how to manage the problem itself, but for the high profile and emotive arena of 'conservation marketing'.

"It's a major problem when one endangered species begins preying heavily on another. The hunter cannot just be culled because it is itself threatened and it is extremely difficult to know what to do to protect the hunted. Already this issue has caused disagreement between conservationists, who are increasingly dealing with conflicts between the management of different species and facing extremely challenging decisions, particularly when the animals involved have a high media profile and are both the subjects of campaigns to protect them!"

Verissimo and his colleagues say that, where problems such as the turtle-jaguar dilemma occur, the cooperation between the champions of each species needs to be stepped up along with better management of the relationships between local communities, conservation organisations and foreign donors.

"Only by working together and acknowledging that this complex problem will not have an easy solution can we move towards some kind of resolution and even then, some hard decisions may have to be taken."

Explore further: Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

More information: Read the full paper: Jaguar Panthera onca predation of marine turtles: conflict between flagship species in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Global conservation priorities for marine turtles

Sep 28, 2011

Marine turtles worldwide are vulnerable and endangered, but their long lives and broad distribution make it difficult for scientists to accurately determine the threat level to different populations and devise appropriate ...

Endangered turtle baby boom in Philippines

Feb 01, 2012

Globally endangered green turtles are enjoying a baby boom on remote Philippine islands as a three-decade protection programme starts to pay off, environment group Conservation International said Wednesday.

Endangered turtles no longer turned into souvenirs

Mar 25, 2009

Critically endangered hawksbill turtles are no longer being sold as tourist souvenirs in the Dominican Republic after a powerful government campaign cracked down on shops illegally trading such items. More ...

Recommended for you

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

12 hours ago

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...

Researchers detail newly discovered deer migration

19 hours ago

A team of researchers including University of Wyoming scientists has documented the longest migration of mule deer ever recorded, the latest development in an initiative to understand and conserve ungulate ...

How Australia got the hump with one million feral camels

20 hours ago

A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia's remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled ...

Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

Apr 23, 2014

The Iron Curtain was traced by an electrified barbed-wire fence that isolated the communist world from the West. It was an impenetrable Cold War barrier—and for some inhabitants of the Czech Republic it ...

Humpback protections downgrade clears way for pipeline

Apr 22, 2014

Environmentalist activists on Tuesday decried Canada's downgrading of humpback whale protections, suggesting the decision was fast-tracked to clear a major hurdle to constructing a pipeline to the Pacific ...

Maine baby lobster decline could end high catches

Apr 22, 2014

Scientists say the number of baby lobsters settling off the rocky coast of Maine continues to steadily decline—possibly foreshadowing an end to the recent record catches that have boosted New England's lobster fishery.

User comments : 0

More news stories

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.