Friday, September 30, 2011

The Jaguars of Pantanal II

One morning I ran into a collared jaguar panting with saliva dripping from the mouth.  It appeared stressed by the tracking collar.  These collars carry telemetry devices to track the animal movements; some are able to monitor physiological and environmental parameters too. While watching the jaguar, the guide told me that 3 collared jaguars were recently found dead. The rumor was that the lost of these endangered cats was caused for having the collars to tight.

There appears to be various groups involved in collaring jaguars in the Pantanal; but it was not clear if the responsible culprits were private individuals, environmental private groups or government agencies.  A wildlife management friend confirmed that it is critical how these collars are fitted to the animals, if too tight, they may cause problems.  And these are not just limited to physiological burdens but may also induce behavioral changes.  

The use of tracking collars has become widespread since the early 1990's to study animal migration patterns, territorial boundaries, etc.  As the collars became more sophisticated, they are capable of recording physiological as well as environmental parameters.  The   information is collected in the collar or transmitted by radio signals to cell phones or via satellites.  Originally the tracking devices were equipped only with a VHF beacon and the trackers have to follow the collared subjects in the field with an antenna to determine their whereabouts.  Older models also used to collect the information in the collar itself and to retrieve the data, the animal has to be recaptured again. Newer collars can be programmed to drop-off from the animal and the data analyzed.  But the trend is towards collars that transmit the data and that can be reprogrammed by telemetry.

Does the fitting of tracking collars have an impact in the involuntary user?  There was a study conducted of Florida panthers in the Everglades between 1978-79; of the 65 deaths recorded, 41 were radio collared. Of the collared panthers that died, it was determined that 33% died in fights with other panthers (is the collared jaguar impaired by the collar during the fight?).  Another factor affecting the mortality of animals is during their capture to be fitted with collars, usually with tranquilizing dart guns.  If the anesthetic dose is not properly calculated, it may result in the animal death.  Also the handling of the anesthetized animal while being collared, measured, weighted, and biological sampled, may result in additional injuries. 

Does the practice of using collars for wildlife management worth the loss of animals?    Are those involved in these practices professionally trained to safely conduct such endeavors? Are the wildlife populations benefiting from this practice?  What is the data used for?  Are there funds available to improve of the species habitat based in the data obtained if analyzed?  I have not formed an opinion as to benefits of this practice.  But is surely annoys me when I encounter collared animals in the wild.  Will there be any wilderness left?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Jaguars of Pantanal, Brazil

 Just returned from one of my "one in a lifetime" adventures; I was dreaming at least to photograph just one jaguar.  It was surpassed, in 8 days sighted 23 of these cats.  My first encounter was with a jaguar resting on bluff next to the Cuiaba River hidden by the underbrush (above).
 The next day, I saw a jaguar shaking a small tree and could not figure why? Then, I realized that it was knocking young flightless birds from their nests.  These were baby limpkins, and as they dropped from the tree, fell into the water and were able to swim ashore.  The leopard walked down to the river's edge, picked one chick, eat it and so on.   

 After feasting the jaguar walked up the bluff and along the shore to a sandy beach to get a drink, it paused, looked around and continued drinking.  Then went to take a siesta.
On another occasion, I witnessed a fight between two males; they appeared to be siblings just playing.  But the next day in the same area, there were 4 males and one female.  It became clear to me that the fight that I saw the previous day was not a game; they were fighting for the privilege to visit with the girl.  By this time, the scores were settled and prevailing male was mating with the "she jaguar".

One day I followed a jaguar along the shores of the river from a boat while he hunted for capybaras.  These giant rodents are very alert and can swim and dive swiftly.  He saw a family of capybaras with a young one.  As he paused, somehow the male capybara became aware of his presence, gave a sharp call to which the mom and baby responded by jumping from about 20 feet in height into the river.  The male followed soon after.