Our wardens meet a jaguar at last!


Jaguar on the road to our Rio Anzu Reserve photographed yesterday by Santiago Recalde.

The jaguar, like the Bush Dog I wrote about in our last post, is an extremely elusive animal that very few people have ever seen in the wild. Our wardens have all spent most of their lives in these forests without ever seeing one.. Yesterday that changed for wardens Santiago Recalde and Luis Recalde as they rode their motorcycle to our Rio Anzu Reserve. As they neared the reserve they saw a big animal far ahead of them on the road. They wondered whether it might be a big dog, but as they got closer they realized it was a jaguar! They stopped their motorcycle and approached on foot. The jaguar paid almost no attention to them, hardly even bothering to turn its head to look at them. It was more interested in a bit of blue road trash. It slowly walked down the road and off into the vegetation.


Jaguar on the road to our Rio Anzu Reserve photographed yesterday by Santiago Recalde.

It is difficult for such big powerful predators to survive in this mosaic of forests and agricultural land. At the moment, the local cattle ranchers in this area are up in arms over a jaguar that is killing their cattle. Perhaps this same jaguar that was photographed by our guards. While conservationists working in this area have been trying to find non-lethal solutions to prevent these human conflicts, we have not found a good solution yet. There have been movements to kill these jaguars, not only in the area around the Rio Anzu but also around our Manduriacu Reserve and elsewhere in our area of influence.They are hunted with dogs, which have more endurance than big cats and can track and eventually corner or tree them for the hunters. Their best hope is the the existence of very large protected areas, with protected corridors connecting them. This is what we are trying to do in the Rio Anzu area and elsewhere….

Camera trap video of a melanistic jaguar in the Rio Anzu area at the Merazonia Wildlife Center.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Jaguar returns to our Manduriacu Reserve

Jaguar rear end as it walks past Sebastian Kohn’s camera trap last month.

A few months ago Sebastian Kohn’s camera trap at Manduriacu Reserve in western Ecuador had a close brush with a jaguar– so close that all we could see were some blurred black spots on a light background. It happened at night so there was no color either. Was this jaguar just passing through or was it a resident? Was it a healthy animal? We couldn’t tell. But this new video provides evidence that jaguars are regularly using the Manduriacu Reserve, and this one looks quite healthy. It is probably eating the Collared Peccaries that Sebastian has frequently recorded in his camera traps, such as these (which I’ve posted before):


Though jaguars have a wide distribution in Latin America and are not yet globally endangered, they are one of the first animals to disappear with human impacts. Jaguars are killed directly buy humans, but humans also hunt the jaguar’s prey species to local extinction. Large predators such as jaguars need very large home ranges, so they are also severely affected by habitat fragmentation, as deforestation leaves isolated forest patches that are too small to support viable populations of predator and prey.

In western Ecuador deforestation is extreme. We often drive for hours through endless banana and oil palm plantations without ever seeing a patch of native vegetation. Almost all of the lowland rainforest in western Ecuador is gone, and much of the foothill and cloud forest is also gone or severely fragmented. Based on satellite imagery, scientists now estimate that 90% of the original natural vegetation of western Ecuador has been removed. The effect of this is catastrophic for a large predator like a jaguar.

A recent study surveyed the Machalilla National Park in western Ecuador and concluded that the jaguar has been extirpated there. The four largest forest patches remaining in western Ecuador were also recently surveyed for jaguars and White-Lipped Peccary, by Zapata-Rios et al (2013). They used camera traps, field work, and interviews with local people.  They only found evidence of jaguars in one of those four patches, the  Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. The density of jaguars recorded was very low;hey only captured nine independent jaguar photos in 2500 trap-nights.  The authors conclude that “it appears both species [jaguars and White-lipped Peccaries] have been extirpated already in the other three large forest remnants in the region, and their long-term persistence depends on immediate conservation actions in the Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.” Our Manduriacu Reserve borders this national reserve, and acts as  a forested corridor between it and Los Cedros Reserve.

We still need help to buy the core lot in this reserve, which is also the only known site in the world for the Tandayapa Andean Toad Rhaebo olallai; please write me (loujost at yahoo com) for more info.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

El Jaguar regresa a nuestra Reserva Manuriacu
Video 1 – La cola del jaguar mientras pasa por la trampa cámara de Sebastián Kohn el mes pasado
Unos pocos meses atrás, la trampa cámara de Sebastián Kohn en la Reserva Manduriacu en el occidente de Ecuador tuvo un encuentro cercano con un jaguar – tan cercano que todo lo que pudimos ver fueron algunos puntos negros borrosos sobre un fondo claro. Esto pasó en la noche así que tampoco había color. ¿Este jaguar estaba de paso o era un residente? ¿Era un animal sano? no podríamos decirlo. Pero este nuevo video proporciona evidencia de que el jaguar está usando regularmente la Reserva Manduriacu, y este se ve saludable. Probablemente está comiendo los Pecaríes de Collar (Pecari tajacu) que Sebastián ha estado registrando en sus cámaras trampa, como estos (que he publicado antes): 
(Video 2) 
Aunque los jaguares tienen una amplia distribución en Latinoamérica y todavía no están amenazados globalmente, son uno de los primeros animales en desaparecer con los impactos humanos. Los jaguares son asesinados directamente por humanos, pero los humanos también cazan las especies presa del jaguar hasta su extinción local. Los predadores grandes como los jaguares necesitan grandes áreas de distribución, de modo que también son severamente afectados por la fragmentación del hábitat, ya que la deforestación deja parches de bosque aislados que son muy pequeños para sustentar poblaciones viables de depredadores y presas. 
En el occidente de Ecuador, la deforestación es extrema. A menudo conducimos durante horas a través de interminables plantaciones de banano y palma aceitera sin ver un parche de vegetación nativa. Casi todo el bosque lluvioso en el occidente de Ecuador ha desaparecido, y gran parte del pie de la montaña y bosque nublado ha desaparecido o está muy fragmentado. Basados en imágenes satelitales, los científicos ahora estiman que el 90% de la vegetación natural original en el occidente del Ecuador ha sido removida o eliminada. El efecto de esto es catastrófico para un predador grande como el jaguar.
Un estudio reciente examinó el Parque Nacional Machalilla en el occidente de Ecuador y concluyó que el jaguar ha sido erradicado ahí. Los cuatro parches de bosque remanente más grandes en el occidente de Ecuador fueron también recientemente examinados para ver jaguares y pecarí de labio blanco (Tayassu pecari), por Zapata Ríos et al (2013). Ellos usaron cámaras trampa, trabajo de campo, y entrevistas con gente local. Sólo encontraron evidencia de jaguares en uno de esos parches, la Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas. La densidad de jaguares registrados fue muy baja; sólo capturaron nueve fotos independientes de jaguares en 2500 noches trampa. Los autores concluyeron que “parece que ambas especies [los jaguares y los pecarí de labio blanco] ya han sido exterminadas en los otros tres remanentes de bosque en la región, y su persistencia a largo plazo depende de las acciones de conservación inmediatas en la Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas”. Nuestra Reserva Manduriacu rodea esta reserva nacional, y actúa como un corredor boscoso entre esta y la Reserva Los Cedros.
Todavía necesitamos ayuda para comprar el lote principal en esta reserva, que también es el único sitio conocido en el mundo para el Sapo Andino de Tandayapa Rhaebo olallai; por favor escribirme (loujost en yahoo.com) para más información. 
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores

Black jaguar filmed at Merazonia, near our Rio Anzu and Rio Zunac reserves!!!

Wild black jaguar filmed at Merazonia, an animal rescue center near our Rio Anzu and Rio Zunac reserves. This screen shot is from their Facebook page; please see that page to see the video to leave any comments for them.

Wild black jaguar filmed at Merazonia, an animal rescue center near our Rio Anzu and Rio Zunac reserves. This screen shot is from their Facebook page; please see that page to watch the video and to leave any comments for them.

Merazonia is a well-known wildlife rescue center located more or less between our Rio Anzu and Rio Zunac reserves, about 8 or 9 km away from each of them. Along with their animal rescue projects, they actively protect a 250 acre (100 ha) reserve on the lower flanks of the Cordillera Abitagua near Mera. A few weeks ago their camera trap captured these incredible videos of the most impressive mammal on this continent, the very rare melanistic (black) form of the jaguar (Panthera onca). This animal is also known as the black panther, though it is not really a separate species from the jaguar. Jaguars are extremely rare to begin with, and only about 1 in 20 of them are blackish like this one, so it is a minor miracle to get multiple good videos of it like this. Congratulations to Frank and the Merazonia team for managing to film it.

We have heard stories of a black jaguar shot twenty years ago near what is now our Rio Zunac Reserve, and even today we still hear rumors of black jaguar sightings around our Rio Anzu Reserve. But this is the first proof that black jaguars still survive in this heavily fragmented area, in spite of the roads and deforestation and hunters. This is very exciting and encouraging news. This particular animal could easily be visiting both our nearby reserves. Some very large cat tracks were seen by our guards in the Rio Zunac Reserve two years ago, and we thought they might be a jaguar’s.

Jaguars’ favorite food seems to be peccaries (wild pigs). Our guards recently told me that when they were young, Collared Peccaries (Pecari tajacu) lived in the Rio Zunac basin, though there are none today. We talked about re-introducing them. Now that we know we might have top predators looking for peccaries here, it makes even more sense to re-introduce them and restore this interaction.

The jaguar in the video has spots much deeper black than the rest of the body, which looks dark but not pure black. This is probably the offspring of one black parent and one normal parent. The black gene is partially dominant in jaguars, so it is expressed even if there is only one copy of it in an individual’s genome, but it is expressed more intensely when there are two copies (one from each parent).

Black jaguar, probably with one copy of the melanistic allele and one copy of the normal allele. Photo" Wikipedia.

Black jaguar, probably with one copy of the melanistic allele and one copy of the normal allele. Photo” Wikipedia.

Here is a link to another photo of a jaguar similar to the one in the video, with a dark but not black ground color, with markings that are true black. The picture was taken by my friend Peter Oxford. Note: Clicking on this image link will open the image in this browser window, replacing the blog post. To return to this post, use the “back” arrow:
ARKive photo - Melanistic jaguar, showing that markings are visible

Here is a much darker individual, probably with two copies of the melanistic allele.

Deep black jaguar, probably with a double dose of the gene for melanism. Photo: Wikipedia.

Deep black jaguar, probably with a double dose of the gene for melanism. Photo: Wikipedia.

In case the Merazonia Facebook page does not work for you, you can see their black jaguar video below:

Lou Jost, EcoMinga