Conservation Tourism and Species Survival

A recent study found that the value of jaguars to tourism (US$6,827,392) was far in excess of the cost to ranchers from depredation of their cattle (US$121,500)

The intersection between jaguar territory and tourism has been part of our work for decades, in both the Paraguayan Pantanal, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula and more recently in northwestern Belize.

We’ve seen the efficacy of species protection via conservation tourism when the economic value of species survival is quantified. This is good news for one of our favorite animals.

Curiosity saves the cat: Tourism helps reinvent the jaguar

From villain to hero, the jaguar (Panthera onca) stands at the cusp of a radical overhaul in its public image. As the largest cat in the Americas, the species commands a dominant role in the food chain of its native Pantanal – a vast swathe of tropical wetland that encompasses parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. Once hunted for its fur, the jaguar’s appetite for the abundant prey in the Pantanal has led it into deadly conflict with ranchers in recent decades, casting it as the stalking menace of livestock and livelihood in a region where much of the land is reserved for cattle rearing. However, in a hopeful development for conservationists, researchers have revealed in a new study published in Global Ecology and Conservation that jaguars are worth 60 times more to tourism than the cost the big cats inflict on ranchers.

“The study represents a regional reality in the Pantanal,” said Fernando Tortato, research fellow at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation group that helped lead the study. “Where the jaguar brings in far more revenue than the potential damage it can cause.”

Jaguars once abounded from the southwestern U.S. to Argentina, but their numbers have fallen due to hunting and habitat loss. In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is an ongoing threat, even while the dense foliage often precludes human encounters with jaguars. In the absence of benign tourism opportunities there is demand for jaguar teeth, paws and claws as souvenirs.

But jaguar’s predilection for lush and low-lying forest makes the Pantanal a stronghold for the species. The wetland’s web-like tributaries also open the wild cat’s home to human exploration, allowing tourists to share in their company.

In the Pantanal, the biggest threat to their survival is conflict with ranchers. Continue reading