Jaguars re-inhabit Argentina’s Ibera wetlands after a 70-year absence

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 Mariua and cubs in Iberá. Photo: Tompkins ConservationMariua and cubs in Iberá. Photo: Tompkins Conservation

 
By Caterinna del Rio Giovannini
 
Two years after the creation of Gran Iberá Park, located in northern Argentina on the border with Paraguay, Mariua, an adult female jaguar (Panthera onca) and her two cubs, Karai and Porá, only 4-months-old, became the first of their species to set foot in Corrientes province after nearly 70 years of absence.

Before the cattle ranches of northern Argentina occupied large expanses of the land near the Iberá wetlands, the jaguar, the largest feline in South America, moved freely throughout northern Argentina. Some populations even extended as far south as northern Patagonia. However, with the loss of their natural habitat to human intervention, the jaguar have lost more than 95 percent of its original range in Argentina. 

Today, there are less than 200 individuals of this endangered species left in Argentina, none of which had populated the ecosystems inside this park, a massive protected area formed in December 2018 that includes 1.75 million acres (709,717-hectares) of national and provincial parkland.  

 

Parque Ibera. Photo: Matias RebakParque Ibera. Photo: Matias Rebak

 

In early January, the conservation organizations Tompkins Conservation and Rewilding Argentina, together with the Argentine government, released Mariua, who was rescued in Brazil as an orphaned cub. But this does not mean that this jaguar will no longer be protected. Each day, her location will be monitored thanks to her GPS collar, which will issue an alert if this feline comes close to crossing park boundaries.

Tompkins Conservation, founded by nature philanthropists Doug and Kris Tompkins, is the organizational grandchild of the several park projects they created in the southern cone over the past three decades. Nowadays, the group focuses much of their work on rewilding projects like this one. In a press release last month, they proudly state that this is the first time in history jaguars have been restored to a habitat where they had previously been declared extinct and moreover call this achievement “an important step in restoring a wildlife corridor that once reached all the way to the southwestern United States.”

Within the next 3 months, the Argentine government and the conservation organizations aim to release more females along with their cubs, and by 2021 plans call for the release of a male as well in order to achieve a genetically diverse population and fully restore this species. Eventually, the park may hold up to 100 jaguars if all goes well. 

 

Mariua and cubs in water. Photo: Tompkins ConservationMariua and cubs in water. Photo: Tompkins Conservation

 

All forms of life in a territory are essential for maintaining the balance and stability of the ecosystem and this feline in particular is considered a keystone species for Parque Iberá, home to the second-largest wetland in the world after the Pantanal in Brazil. Tompkins Conservation explains that “as top predators, jaguars ensure ecosystem resilience. Without them, biodiversity suffers, diseases proliferate, soils are eroded, and water systems can lose their natural regulation. Incomplete ecosystems also sequester less carbon, making them less effective in aiding climate stability.”

Adds Sebastian Di Martino, conservation director at Rewilding Argentina: “Just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park recalibrated whole ecosystems that had fallen out of balance, jaguars can restore these wetlands. Rewilding is also revitalizing the economy of small communities throughout Corrientes Province through wildlife-watching and related services.”

 

 
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