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Endangered jaguars blamed for cattle losses in Brazil

Jaguar populations, already declining due to habitat loss, are also threatened by ranchers in the Pantanal  

January 16, 2001
Web posted at: 2:51 PM EST (1951 GMT)

SOUTHERN PANTANAL, Brazil (CNN) -- Cattle ranching is big business in southwestern Brazil. But most ranchers are losing money because of low prices for beef and they have no tolerance for anything that causes more loss, especially jaguars.

Cowhands on ranches in the area say jaguars are always killing calves. Some say the only answer is to eliminate the wildest cats, the largest in the Americas.

An endangered species threatened by loss of habitat and illegal hunting, jaguars are larger in the Pantanal than anywhere else. But their numbers are declining almost everywhere they still survive, except in this cattle region, where there are so many jaguars they are a problem for ranchers.

For generations in the Pantanal, ranchers have followed a simple policy to deal with jaguars. They hunt down the big cats and they kill them.

Conservationists are concerned that ranchers could quickly wipe out the regional population of jaguars, for reasons that are not justified.

"Every time they find a jaguar kill it's like a really big deal, but sometimes you find an animal that died in a field from another cause and it doesn't get much attention," said Sandra Cavalcanti of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

rancher and cattle
Ranchers in the Pantanal believe the jaguars are killing their cattle, and some want the ban on killing the cats lifted  

In a study just begun on one ranch, researchers will try to find out how much damage jaguars actually cause. They are capturing jaguars, fitting them with radio collars and keeping detailed records of their habits and movements.

"The idea is to try to figure out what the depredation dynamics is. I mean, are there any problem animals or pretty much any animal who will do the killing given the chance?" Cavalcanti said.

With enough such information, it might be possible to find ways to change how ranchers manage their cattle to minimize losses caused by jaguars.

But now, many in the Pantanal think that cattle and jaguars cannot co-exist.

One rancher said jaguars kill 5 percent of his calves every year. He wants the government to make it legal to hunt jaguars, like it used to be years ago.

Even without the sanction of the law, many ranchers are killing jaguars whenever they see them, according to jaguar defenders.

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Wildlife Conservation Society

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