Jaguars are the largest and most threatened wildcats in the Americas. Belize is already involved since our Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in the Stann Creek District is well known throughout the world. It is a protected area where Jaguars are free to prowl, especially at night. However, we need to do more.
Officials from the conservation group Panthera, based in New York City, have met with officials from the government of Belize to declare 7,000 acres of a key Jaguar habitat near the capital, Belmopan, as an additional protected area.
Where and Why?
It is vital for the Jaguar to have a link between the areas they are allowed to inhabit. Labouring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary was officially made a protected area in Belize in 2011, although they had a ceremony in 2010 where Panther and Government of Belize signed an agreement regarding the Central Belize Corridor (now Maya Forest Corridor). Decades ago, Cats were hunted to make fur coats, and although this is no longer the case, Jaguar have been eradicated from 50% of their accustomed range, due to direct killing and land development for agricultural use.
The problem is that Cats in over 18 countries in Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina, but their natural prey such as deer and peccaries are diminishing because of man’s overhunting. The Jaguar in turn, then feed on domestic animals, and humans retaliate by killing the Cats, thereby forming the typical vicious circle.
The Belize Initiative
“The Jaguar has become a national symbol for Belize and a source of national pride for the country,” these are the words of Dr. Howard Quigley, Executive Director of Conservation Science and Director of the Jaguar Program. He went on to say that Jaguar Conservation in Belize is a wonderful example of how we can conserve large cats in today’s world, which is dominated by humans. Here we observe and study the animal and its environment through good science, and account for their needs, as well as the needs of humans.
It is necessary to keep preserving these areas and connecting them to other protected areas and Jaguar populations. Through developed landscapes, we allow for Jaguars in population blocks to move through corridors they have used for decades, even with people present. Not only is this the key to their survival, but it secures a higher quality of life for the people living in these corridors. The government of Belize is invested in ensuring that our country develops responsibly in order to protect the long-term viability of our natural systems.
If you would like to participate in this initiative, visit https://www.facebook.com/bigcatrescue/.
Written by Nelita Castillo