Wild jaguars and their cubs are making their way into oil palm production areas in Colombia.
Images of the jaguars were snapped by camera traps set to gather information about the impact of Colombia’s growing oil palm plantations on jaguars.
Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the palm oil tree. The oil is a common cooking ingredient in Africa, Asia and parts of South America. Its increasing use in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world is mostly due to its low cost and its trans fat-free qualities. But in parts of Indonesia, the removal of trees to make room for oil palm has resulted in the loss of the natural habitat of the orangutan.
Palm oil plantations have been springing up everywhere, particularly in expansive tracts of forest on which thousands of animal and plant species depend. In Indonesia, tigers avoid plantations, which serve as major barriers restricting their movement and thus gene flow.
In Latin America, however, as these images show, jaguars are moving through the plantations. They probably have little choice. Importantly, the photos come from a small plantation adjacent to a protected area with some indigenous habitat present — perhaps the best-case scenario for fostering jaguar use of palm oil tracts.
Esteban Payan, program director for Panthera’s Northern South America Jaguar Program, explained in a press release: “Typically, jaguars can move across human-dominated landscapes by travelling through riparian forests or using road underpasses, but until now, scientists had no photographic proof that jaguars entered oil palm developments in this region. Given the extensive amount of jaguar habitat overtaken by oil palm plantations in Colombia, we hope that certain plantations can be part of the Jaguar Corridor, enabling jaguars to reach areas with little or no human disturbances.”
Colombia is key, because it facilitates the jaguar’s passage from Central America to South America. That's part of the "Jaguar Corridor," mentioned above.
Panthera’s Jaguar Program executive director, Howard Quigley, said, “Human development in the shape of large monocultures, like oil palm plantations, are drastically changing the face of the planet, creating refugees out of wild cats by breaking up their habitats and forcing them to live within smaller, often degraded, and more isolated pockets of land. Data collected through Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative are critical for oil palm growers, national policy makers and local governments in their decision making so they can account for the needs of jaguars across their range and minimize impacts on wildlife.”
Quigley added, “Our data suggest that plantations can be part of a landscape mosaic that jaguars will use. But careful planning that avoids large-scale replacement of forest with huge palm oil areas will be essential if we want to avoid the kind of isolation that tigers now suffer.”
Here are some of the photos: