Environmentalists have adopted an unorthodox method to save jaguars from extinction in national parks in the north of the country, promoting a meeting of “good chemistry” between a captive woman and a man.
The unusual rendezvous between Tania, a female raised in a zoo, and a jaguar named Qaramta, which in the local language Qom means “one who cannot be destroyed,” he began around last year. ‘a specially constructed enclosure in the dense forests of El Impenetrable National Park.
With jaguars almost absent from the area, conservationists were delighted to detect the presence of a young man in September 2019, first by a footprint in a river bed and then by l using cameras. In search of a mate for him, they brought in Tania, a female who had had young in a breeding program in a nearby park after being donated by a local zoo.
For nine months, the two jaguars met through the fence of the compound. The hugs and purrs were indications that they won’t fight, and once the necessary permits were obtained and Tania was in heat, Qaramta was allowed into the complex for a face-to-face meeting.
Tania and Qaramta spent four days together bathing, sleeping and playing, watched by a team of enthusiastic investigators.
“They had a sort of five, six day honeymoon. And even though we couldn’t verify because they went deep in the forest that they had really had sex, we saw that they had a good day, that they were together, that “There was no aggression between them and there was very good chemistry,” Marisi López, field coordinator of Rewilding Argentina told Reuters.
The organization is a local partner of Tompkins Conservation, the husband and wife team behind the North Face and Patagonia clothing brands that created the 128,000-acre park in 2014.
Qaramta has since been released from the enclosure but saw her again through the fence almost every evening and will be allowed to enter the enclosure once the female regains warmth. Meanwhile, Tania is being watched for signs of pregnancy.
Raising captive and wild big cats could be a world first, although project managers have sought advice from colleagues who have had success with Iberian lynxes in Spain.
Rewilding Argentina has successfully bred captive jaguars in the nearby Iberá National Park, as well as giant anteaters and curassows.
Howard Quigley, director of the Jaguar program at Panthera, a global wildcat conservation organization, said the biggest compatibility hurdle appeared to have been overcome.
“In zoos, it is not uncommon for a woman or a man to die during these encounters,” he said. “In this case, it looks like they’ve done their homework. I hope they now have a pregnant woman who can be used to the next step.”
Sebastian di Martino, director of conservation at Rewilding Argentina, said his latest plan is seen as unorthodox in some circles, but the traditional approach to protecting what remains is no longer sufficient given the degree of degradation of the environment.
“We have to go further,” he said. “It’s a bit of a desperate move, but hey, there’s no other chance. We do this or we lose the jaguar.”
In the worst case, he added, Qaramta could be captured by hunters before successfully impregnating Tania. At best, there will be cubs, making them key ancestors in the quest to reclaim one of America’s most iconic predators and biggest cats.
Jaguars have lost more than half of their historic range from the southern United States to Argentina, with populations reduced to isolated foci and, in some cases, individuals unable to find mates.
In the region of Chaco, in the north of Argentina, which shelters the impenetrable park, only about twenty survive.
When predators die, Di Martino said, the herbivore populations they hunt increase, which imbalances ecosystems and damages vegetation, which is essential for controlling carbon dioxide levels.
Predators also play an important role in eliminating sick animals, he added, slowing the spread of zoonotic diseases like the coronavirus.