In response to the recent reports of jaguar sightings and attacks on livestock in the Laguna and Yemeri Grove areas, Toledo District, a Forest Department response team has been dispatched to assist farmers and ranchers in livestock husbandry techniques to prevent loss of livestock. The team, consisting of wildlife conservation experts, are also monitoring hotspots and conducting public awareness in these communities in order to better mitigate and reduce human-jaguar conflicts.
Forest Department/Panthera representative, Ms. Shanelly Carrillo, explained that even-though jaguars are recognized as an important flagship species both for conservation and tourism, farmers often see them as a nuisance. She noted that with the continuous expansion of farming communities into once pristine forested areas, there is an increasing likelihood of jaguar encounters.
Apart from their shrinking habitats, the jaguars’ dwindling natural food sources due to overhunting have also forced them to seek other alternatives outside of the protected areas. Consequently, they pose a direct threat to livestock and other domesticated animals. In some instances, these human-jaguar conflicts lead to the retaliatory killing by residents.
In speaking on this issue, the Chief Forest Officer, Wilber Sabido, emphasized that the livelihood and safety of people are paramount but echoed concerns for wildlife conservation. He stated that resolving the issue hinges on creating opportunities for co-existence by: (1) affording farmers the knowledge and techniques to protect their livelihood and (2) enhancing the communities’ readiness to protect jaguar habitat and prevent overhunting of wild game.
Sabido elaborated that the team continues to advise farmers on several low-cost preventative measures that they can use to protect their livestock. Some basic measures involve having proper fences or night enclosures so that jaguars cannot access the livestock and using donkeys and domestic dogs to protect livestock from this apex predator.
On a larger scale, he called to action community residents to do their part in helping to regulate seasonal hunting and prevent the destruction of wildlife habitats, thereby reducing human-jaguar encounters. He concluded by saying: “When farmers heed the advice of the department and members of the community see themselves as key players in wildlife conservation, there will be no need for wildlife and humans to compete for space and resources.”
The Department continues to multiply efforts of surveillance and monitoring and welcomes the support and assistance of communities. All Belizeans have an important role to play in ensuring that our country continues to be a stronghold for this iconic species.
Please report any forest and wildlife related concerns to the Forest Department at 822-2079 or email at [email protected].