Benefits of jaguar tourism far outweigh costs to local farmers
The financial benefits of jaguar tourism in South America outweigh the costs to livestock farms – according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Every year, thousands of tourists flock to the Pantanal area, which spans Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia - all keen to catch a glimpse of the elusive big cat.
But wild jaguars prey on domestic livestock and are often deeply resented by local cattle ranchers, who retaliate by hiring bounty hunters to cull ‘problem animals’.
A research team from UEA, the Federal University of Mato Grosso, and cat conservation group Panthera studied this human-widlife conflict in the Pantanal region of Porto Jofre where ecotourism lodges coexist side-by-side with working cattle ranches.
They found that annual revenues derived from jaguar-watching tour packages totalled more than US$6.8 million, whereas damage to livestock within the same operational area was only US$121,500.
Prof Carlos Peres, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Observation of large rare animals in the wild is the fastest-growing industry in the eco-tourism sector.
“The jaguar – the largest cat in the Americas - is one of the most pursued sights, and Youtube videos of jaguars preying on other animals have reinforced this demand.
“The problem is that they prey on domestic livestock. We wanted to understand the dynamics of this thorny human-wildlife conflict.”
The research team quantified both the costs and benefits of living with this large predator - in terms of tourism revenues accrued by ecoutourism lodges and attacks on cattle.
They also interviewed ecotourists visiting the Pantanal and found that 98 per cent would be willing to pay an additional fee to compensate ranches for cattle lost to jaguars, with 80 per cent willing to donate 6 per cent of the tour package costs.
Prof Peres said: “The discrepancy between the financial benefits and costs of retaining jaguars provides a huge window of opportunity for the conservation of this flagship cat and many other species of the increasingly embattled Brazilian Pantanal.”
Lead author Fernando Tortato, Research Fellow of Panthera and a doctoral student at the Federal University of Mato Grosso, said: “Most studies involving the relationship between large carnivores and humans consider only damages caused by these species. This study is the first to document the monetary value of retaining a healthy jaguar population in the Pantanal.”
Prof Peres added: “The shifting livelihood portfolio of many tropical wildlands will increasingly require financial compensation for greater landholder tolerance to fierce natural predators, if we are to consolidate economically viable conservation landscapes.”
The authors stress that ‘best practices’ in cattle herd management can further reduce cattle vulnerability to jaguar depredation, and that these practices should be incorporated in their proposed compensation program.
‘The numbers of the beast: Valuation of jaguar (Panthera onca) tourism and cattle depredation in the Brazilian Pantanal’ is published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.