The Cats Are Back
Jaguar in Brazil's Iguassu National Park

The Cats Are Back

A project to help the threatened population of jaguars in Brazil's Iguassu National Park is proving a success, and numbers of breeding pairs are now on the rise.

Brazil’s Iguassu Falls are about so much more than tumbling waters. This World Heritage Site in a national park is also the focal point of a vast tropical forest populated by exotic wildlife. Notices alert visitors to the presence of jaguars and pumas on the prowl.

About 10 years ago, the population of these creatures was in sharp decline; the Carnivores of Iguassu project was launched to arrest and reverse the trend. With the help of fixed night-vision cameras, the project photographs the animals, then captures and examines them before releasing them back into the park. Each animal is fitted with a tracking device to monitor its movements and behaviour, to establish numbers and to determine programmes to improve their survival and breeding rates.

When the project began, it was estimated that the number of animals in the area had dwindled to only 25 to 30 pumas and a mere six to eight jaguars. Now there are at least 60 and 35 respectively. Although the creatures are still deemed at risk of extinction in this part of Brazil, the increase in their populations is impressive. Most importantly, the project has succeeded in ensuring that the animals continue to breed in the park.

The downward spiral was reversed partly by habitat management, but mainly by a support system for soy farmers living on the forest edge. Previously, as humans encroached on the forest, the animals began approaching local communities in search of sustenance. The usual response was to kill them on sight. Now, farmers alert the Carnivores of Iguassu team who come to catch and relocate the cats.

The only hotel in Brazil's Iguassu National Park, Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, has supported the initiative over the past seven years. It also assists an environmental school within the park where children from state-run schools in the area come on visits to learn about its ecology. An important part of their studies is to share their new knowledge with family and friends when they return home.

Guests are also invited to learn about the National Park by accompanying the hotel eco-guide on early morning or evening walks when the park is closed to outside visitors and its animals are more likely to be seen. A biologist gives talks at the hotel on the local fauna, including exotic birds such as toucans and parrots. Some hotel guests have been lucky enough to see pumas and jaguars, and general manager Celso Valle has spotted them on numerous occasions. He says: “It’s amazing to see them in the wild—it’s like National Geographic has come to life.”