Guyana government and Panthera sign historic jaguar conservation agreement

January 25th, 2013
This is a jaguar. Credit: Patrick Meier
The jaguars of Guyana gained significant ground yesterday with the establishment of the country's first official jaguar-focused agreement by the government of Guyana and wild cat conservation organization, Panthera.

Gathering in Georgetown, Guyana's Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Honorable Robert M. Persaud, presided over the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Ministry's Permanent Secretary, Mr. Joslyn McKenzie, and Panthera's CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. Serving as Panthera's fifth jaguar conservation agreement with a Latin American government, this MOU marks an official commitment by both parties to collaboratively undertake research and conservation initiatives that ensure the protection of Guyana's national animal, jaguar conservation education among its people, and mitigation of human-jaguar conflicts in the country.

Launching this agreement provides a framework through which Panthera, in partnership with Guyana's Protected Areas and National Parks Commissions, can strengthen the effectiveness of the country's Protected Areas System for wildlife, and outline the most effective initiatives to conserve the nation's jaguars. Several initial activities to be undertaken through the agreement include mapping of the presence and distribution of jaguars across Guyana, and implementing a human-jaguar conflict response team that helps ranchers in livestock husbandry techniques and assesses conflict hotspots to better focus mitigation efforts and reduce conflict.

At the ceremony, the Honorable Robert M. Persaud stated, "We are proud of our new partnership with Panthera to secure the continuity of our sustainable development efforts while conserving our national symbol, the jaguar."

Panthera's CEO and jaguar expert, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, continued, "Historically, Guyana has achieved incredible success in sustainably balancing the country's economic development, natural resource management, the livelihoods of its people, and the preservation of its unique wildlife and wild places. The signing of this jaguar conservation agreement demonstrates the government's continued commitment to its legacy of conservation alongside economic progress and diversification."

Unlike most other Latin American and developing nations rich in natural resources, Guyana has maintained an exemplary model of habitat preservation, assisted by sparse human populations in the southern half of the country and a strong ethic for sustainable development, aided by important regulatory frameworks. In recent years, Guyana has implemented a Low Carbon Development Strategy to protect its 16 million hectares of rainforests and adhere to the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). Additionally, in 2011, Guyana committed to the establishment of the national Protected Areas Act, providing a framework for the management of the country's preserved landscapes, including those within the Jaguar Corridor.

Such dedication to environmental conservation, along with its unique placement rooted between Venezuela to the north, Brazil to the west and south, and Suriname to the east, has established Guyana's pristine forest and savanna landscape system as a critical connecting block for jaguar populations in northern South America, and through the Jaguar Corridor. Conceptualized by Dr. Rabinowitz, the Jaguar Corridor Initiative is the backbone of Panthera's Jaguar Program, which seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations ranging from Mexico to Argentina to ensure the species' genetic diversity and survival.

Today, Guyana represents one of 18 Latin American countries that is home to the jaguar, and one of 13 countries in which Panthera is conducting jaguar conservation science. In fact, the signing of this MOU comes at the heels of a ten-day exploratory expedition of Guyana's Rewa River by Panthera's jaguar scientists, including Vice President and legendary biologist Dr. George Schaller, Northern South America Jaguar Program Regional Director Dr. Esteban Payan, and grantee, Dr. Evi Paemelaere. Along with assessing the state of biodiversity and threats facing this watershed, Panthera's team made a milestone sighting of the notoriously elusive 'forest jaguar' during the trip, indicating the potentially healthy condition of the riparian forests bordering the Rewa River.

"Being able to have a forest jaguar sighting in 10 days in the river is a testament to the good health of this forest. Sometimes years pass without seeing a jaguar in a perfectly sound forest environment," commented Dr. Payan.

View Panthera's Guyana image gallery.

Since 2011, Dr. Paemelaere has led Panthera's jaguar conservation initiatives in southern Guyana, concentrating on the Karanambu and Dadanawa Ranches of the Rupununi savannas. Traversed by the Rupununi River, these savannas serve as an extraordinary hotspot of biological diversity and an essential element of the Jaguar Corridor, potentially connecting Guyana's jaguars with those of the Amazons.

Panthera's partnership with the Karanambu Trust and Lodge - a former cattle ranch emblematic of historic Guyana turned eco-tourism operation - established the country's first jaguar monitoring site and first mammal-focused biodiversity survey in the country. Often working on horseback, Panthera's jaguar scientists conducted surveys on both Karanambu and Dadanawa ranches using camera traps and interviews to determine jaguar density, and assess the extent of human-jaguar conflict and unique threats facing the species.

"A jaguar density of three to four individuals per 100 km2 for the Rupununi savannas means these habitats are as important as rainforests for the conservation of the jaguar," said Dr. Payan. In partnership with the Karanambu Trust and WWF Guyana, Panthera has also contributed to capacity-building with local Amerindian communities.

In 2013, Panthera is working to assess the state and presence of jaguars inside a logging concession between the Iwokrama Reserve and Central Suriname Nature Reserve, also embedded in the Jaguar Corridor.

Provided by Panthera

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