The last true free species

The jaguar is threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, by poaching for the illegal trade of certain body parts and by killings in situations of conflict between humans and wildlife

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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The last true free species

Can the jaguar be considered the last truly free species in a natural habitat in crisis, but which still maintains some biospheres intact? The species' habitat, while subject to slow but progressive destruction, still keeps the jaguar's numbers high.

The jaguar is threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, by poaching for the illegal trade of certain body parts and by killings in situations of conflict between humans and wildlife, especially by ranchers in Central and South America.

Figure among the species near threat on the IUCN Red List. The population is believed to have declined since the late 1990s. Scholars have identified 51 priority areas for the conservation of the species, located in 36 distinct geographical regions ranging from Mexico to Argentina, are vast areas where at least 50 specimens of reproductive age live.

Currently its range, extending from Mexico to South America, includes Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, where it is particularly widespread in the Osa peninsula, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Ecuador, Peru , Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

It is considered locally extinct in El Salvador and Uruguay. Jaguars are occasionally sighted in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Between 2012 and 2015, a homeless male was reported in 23 different locations in the Santa Rita Mountains.

The jaguar prefers dense forests and generally inhabits dry deciduous forests, tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, rainforests, and cloud forests, as well as open, seasonally flooded wetlands. It has been reported up to 3800m altitude, but avoids montane forests.

It prefers riverine habitats and marshes with dense vegetation cover. In the Mayan forest of Mexico and Guatemala, 11 specimens equipped with GPS collars preferred dense, undisturbed environments away from roads. Females also avoided areas where human activities were minimal, while males seemed to care less about human population density.

A young male was also spotted near a body of water in a semi-arid region, the Sierra de San Carlos. In 2002 it was estimated that the jaguar's range had shrunk to about 46% of what it was at the turn of the 20th century. In 2018 it was estimated that the area had decreased by 55% over the last century. Its last stronghold is the Amazon rainforest, a region that is rapidly fragmenting due to deforestation.