Paraguay's jaguar population is shrinking

PARAGUAY JAGUARS | 19 de mayo de 2017

Asuncion, May 19 (efe-epa).- The number of jaguars left in Paraguay may be as few as 300, the environment ministry said Friday, expressing alarm that the big cat may go extinct in the landlocked South American country.

Genetic defects caused by inbreeding become more widespread once the population dips below 500, Rocio Barreto, head of the ministry's wildlife division, told EFE.

Estimates of the number of jaguars are based on images of the cats captured by hidden cameras, she said.

Researchers can distinguish individual jaguars by the patterns of their spots, no two of which are alike, Barreto said.

The population is declining, at least in part, because of indiscriminate hunting by ranchers who see the jaguar as a threat to their cattle.

Besides, Barreto said, the fine for killing a jaguar is the equivalent of $200, a negligible sum for the life of an animal that is Paraguay's national symbol.

The environment ministry hopes to work with the powerful ARP ranchers association to raise consciousness among stock growers about the importance of preserving jaguars, she said.

She also mentioned proposals to restrict agricultural activity near jaguar habitat, or to create watering holes in wooded areas to discourage the cats from venturing onto farms and ranchers in pursuit of water.

Another possibility would be for ranchers to cultivate the presence of jaguars as an attraction for tourists.

Describing the situation as a regional problem, Barreto pointed out that jaguars have already gone extinct in Uruguay, while the jaguar population in Argentina has shrunk to less than 200.

Paraguay recently provided a male jaguar to conservation officials in Argentina as part of a repopulation effort, she said.

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