Jaguars in Ecuador are in greater number than in almost any other place on earth. The jungle is their home, but as stated in a recent article in the Guardian UK human intrusion is endangering the largest cat in the Americas, which could have serious implications for the balance of the rainforest ecosystem. Keep reading to understand what is at risk, and to learn more about these magnificent creatures.
Ecuador rainforest: Exploitation vs Conservation
The clash between conservation and profit in the jungle is longstanding. The riches of Ecuador’s jungle go beyond the incredible flora and fauna above the ground, there are large oil deposits that propel the country’s economy below the soil. In Yasuni National Park, considered the most biodiverse place on the planet, there are an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of crude oil. Oil operations have brought roads, and the new access gave way to logging and agriculture. More than a million acres of deforestation resulted, and the habitat of the jaguar has shrunk dramatically causing the elusive cat to retreat to less traversed areas of the Oriente.
Ecuador’s jaguar population
Today there are around 2000 jaguars in Ecuador, most of which live in the eastern jungle region, as the west coastal population dwindled after shrimp farms depleted the forest and are considered critically endangered.
The World Wildlife Fund and Ecuadorian conservationists have set up camera traps that are helping with research that maintains a census of Jaguars in Ecuador. In Yasuni National Park there have been regular sightings of 21 different jaguars with several migrating cats as well, which gives north-east Ecuador the highest jaguar density in the world!
This information is used to urge the powers that be to help conserve important areas of the rainforest where jaguars live, but with the advent of new oil fields and mining operations on the horizon, the struggle to preserve the current population of the cats is at a crucial stage.
Why are jaguars so important in Ecuador?
As a dominant predator, the jaguar has always been culturally respected by local indigenous in the rainforest. The big cat is revered for its strength, power, and intelligence, and is even considered a protector of forest knowledge & secrets by some. Statues and figures of Jaguar have been uncovered by archaeologists since Pre-Colombian times, providing insight into the jaguar´s position as a divine figure in those times.
Ecologically too the jaguar plays a very important role in maintaining the intricate balance of the rainforest ecosystem. Take the jaguar out of the equation and the food chain below will be adversely affected, from large & small mammals to plants and insects. In essence, the jaguar is a species that helps to preserve many other species below it.
So jaguar habitat conservation is more important now than ever.
Some facts about the rainforest jaguar
- They are considered vital to the Oriente and are often used as a measurement to the health of the eco-system. The cats feed on anything they can usually catch but specifically target small rodents. So a thinning of the jaguar population could lead to an over-population of rodents, they, in turn, would eat more insects and seeds, thus affecting the vital regeneration of the forest.
- Jaguars have a wide range, males can travel 50 square miles traversing territories of females. Sightings have been made in parts of the jungle including on trips at the Napo Wildlife Center and in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.
- The cats love water and are sometimes spotted swimming or on the banks of the Napo River and its tributaries during the dry season when the lack of rain brings them to the water’s edge to fish and hunt.
- Young jaguars are without sight until two weeks after birth. They stay with their mothers for 6 months before leaving the den to start to hunt. After two years they set off on their own.
- The jaguar is the third biggest cat in the world and has an average lifespan of up to fifteen years in the wild.
- In addition to being great swimmers, Jaguars can travel at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour on land and often climb trees to ambush their prey below.
How can I see a jaguar in the wild?
Naturally, it is not easy to spot jaguars in the wild in Ecuador, or indeed anywhere else in the world. Imagine just 2000 jaguars roaming such a huge territory of dense forest, and renowned for stealth and camouflage; it is literally like searching for a needle in a haystack. A few lucky tourists may very occasionally catch a quick glimpse of a jaguar disappearing into the forest, but this is in truth an unusual occurrence.
To increase your chances the Happy Gringo Jaguar Tracks tour takes visitors deep into the rainforest, to the land of the Huaorani tribe. This area of forest is home to jaguars, and even if you don’t see one in person (which is rare), it is common to see signs of their passing such as paw prints and scat.
For more information about visiting the jungle of Ecuador and discovering the incredible plants, animals, and people who live there, contact a member of our team.