As the jaguar advanced under cover of darkness, the infrared sensors detected the animal’s body temperature and movements, setting off a camera. Striking photos were captured as part of a 2015 study to determine whether the sustainability practices of CINMA-San Martín, a Bolivian forestry company, had helped to conserve jaguar populations in its area of operations. The company, which manages nearly 300,000 acres (119,200 ha) in the Amazonian forest reserve of Bajo Paragua, has been certified by the Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council standards since 1999.
With the support of CINMA, the Panthera foundation, and the biology department of the Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, researchers set up 26 monitoring stations over more than 17,000 acres (about 6,880 ha). Activated for 24 hours a day over the course of 71 days, the cameras took more than 200 images of jaguars, corresponding to at least 10 individual animals—six males and four females identifiable by the unique patterns on their fur. These results represent the highest number of individual jaguars recorded in more than 20 studies that were previously carried out in the department of Santa Cruz.
The numbers are hopeful evidence of a habitat in good health. Although jaguars are the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere and lack natural rivals or predators, they are under serious threat from human behavior, particularly deforestation and hunting. Over the past few decades alone, the global population of jaguars, found in 19 countries, has decreased by more than 50 percent.
Jaguar conservation relies on the restoration and maintenance of protected corridors that connect the natural forests they call home, and the animal’s survival has wide-ranging implications. It is both an indicator species, meaning its presence signals the health of its ecosystem, and an umbrella species, because its conservation has the ability to protect other wildlife that share its habitat. This web of beneficial habitat relationships was borne out by the study’s photos, which also captured 32 species of other mammals—including spider monkeys, giant otters, and giant armadillos—some of which are considered vulnerable or on the verge of extinction.
CINMA has set aside nearly 30,000 acres (12,140 ha) of the land it owns as a protected area; it also monitors flora and fauna, forbids the hunting and capture of wild animals, and safeguards fruit-bearing trees that feed other species, including the jaguar’s prey. As a result, the researchers concluded that CINMA’s forests were a hospitable environment for jaguars and contributed to their conservation.
“Without a doubt, the area’s good environmental conditions are the result of a continuous and arduous effort that this FSC-certified company has been making over many years,” says Rosario Arispe of the Noel Kempff Mercado Natural History Museum and co-author of the study, along with government researcher Claudia Venegas. “CINMA-San Martín can consider itself a model of sustainable forestry.”