Jaguar in Brazil
SANDRA M. C. CAVALCANTI1, FERNANDO C. C. DE AZEVEDO1,2, WALFRIDO M. TOMÁS3,
RICARDO L. P. BOULHOSA1, PETER G. CRAWSHAW JR.4
The status of the jaguar in the
The Pantanal is considered an important area for the conservation of jaguars Pan-
thera onca in the long-term. In comparison to other biomes in Brazil, the Pantanal
can be considered still relatively well preserved. According to a recent study, the
original vegetation cover remains intact in 85% of the Pantanal plain. However, in
the uplands of the Upper Paraguay watershed over 50% of the original vegetation
has been altered. This situation is worrisome as this area harbors the headwaters
of the rivers that are responsible for maintaining the wet and dry cycles of the Pan-
tanal. As opposed to previously reported, only about 63% of the Pantanal biome is
actually occupied by jaguars. Habitat fragmentation caused by human presence and
intensification of land use is a threat to jaguars in the Pantanal. Other threats include
high levels of retaliation from ranchers due to livestock depredation and the lack of
enforcement by wildlife authorities, illegal hunting tourism activity, pasture manage-
ment through the use of annual fires, and the mining industry. The first estimate of a
jaguar population in Brazil was conducted in the southern Pantanal (6.5-7.0 jaguars/
km2), although the distribution of the species is heterogeneous, which precludes an
accurate estimation of the current population size in this biome. Authorities should
recognize the cost associated with grazing cattle in an area where jaguars exist in
considerable numbers and regularly prey on cattle. A unique regional policy could
address some of the problem, perhaps in the form of tax benefits, special lines of
credit, or a regional increase in beef prices. It is important that environmental ac-
tions be implemented to increase market value of cattle raised in the region without
changing the main characteristics of the Pantanal.
Near Threatened – Due to loss of habitat,
increased human presence and intensification
of land use, as well as poaching of jaguars,
this species is considered to be Near Threate-
ned in the Pantanal biome.
Geographic range information
Extent of Occurrence EOO and Area of
The Brazilian Pantanal biome encompasses
about 140,000 km2. Results from the range-
wide assessment developed by the Wildlife
Conservation Society (WCS) in 1999 suggest
that 91-100 % of the biome is occupied by ja-
guars (Sanderson et al. 2002, Marieb 2005).
Their extent of occurrence encompasses
about 125,000 km2 (S. Cavalcanti, map adap-
ted from a MMA Pantanal map and results
from the Pantanal Landscape Species Work-
shop, organized by WCS in Corumbá, 2003).
An exercise by Brazilian researchers working
in the Pantanal (Pantanal Landscape Species
Workshop, 2003) suggests that only about 63
% or 88,200 km2 of the Pantanal biome is ac-
tually occupied by jaguars (Fig. 1). The area
of occupancy exclude most of the Taquari
Alluvial Fan, parts of the Cáceres sub-region,
portions of the Nabileque sub-region (south of
Corumbá), and areas in the north-eastern and
eastern border of the Pantanal.
In general, and in comparison to other biomes
in Brazil, the Pantanal can be considered still
relatively well preserved (Fig. 2). The inacces-
sibility of much of its area restricts agricultu-
ral practices and deforestation on the plains
(Fig. 3). Beef cattle ranching on the savannas
with flooding native pastures is relatively
less destructive of the environment than lar-
ge scale agricultural fields.
Less than 20 years ago, the deforestation in
the Pantanal was quantified as 5,438 km2 or
3.9% of the Pantanal area (Silva et al. 1992).
In 1993 Mourão et al. (2000) observed that
much of the upland areas originally covered
by forests or savanna woodlands had been
cleared and replaced by pastures. Deforesta-
tion areas corresponded to 9,490 km2 or 6.8%
of the Pantanal. In 2000 Padovani et al. (2004)
quantified the deforested area as 12,182 km2
or almost 9% of the total Pantanal area.
According to Mourão et al. (2000), deforesta-
tion for pastures has started to spread from
the east to the Taquari Alluvial Fan (Nhe-
colândia and Paiaguás sub regions) and along
the courses of the Aquidauana and Miranda
rivers. The spread of man-made pastures has
been especially intense in the Cáceres sub
region (area of Corixo Grande) and in the Ta-
quari river watershed, mainly near the city of
The most current information on the status of
the vegetation cover in the Pantanal reveals
that in the last 9 years (2001-2009) defore-
station has accounted for an additional 6%
of the area of the Pantanal. The data derives
from a recent ongoing survey initiated in the
middle of 2008 and carried out by 5 Non-
Governmental Organizations (WWF-Brazil,
SOS Mata Atlântica, Conservation Interna-
tional, Avina, and Ecoa) with the support
of researchers from EMBRAPA Pantanal.
According to the study the original vegetation
cover remains intact in 85% of the Pantanal
plain. However, in the uplands of the Upper
Paraguay watershed over 50% of the original
vegetation has been altered. This situation is
worrisome as this area, adjacent to the plain,
harbors the headwaters of the rivers that are
responsible for maintaining the wet and dry
cycles of the Pantanal (Harris et al. 2005).
In addition to deforestation and fires, human
presence causes habitat fragmentation. Over
the past several decades, ranches in the Pan-
tanal have decreased in size as land has been
subdivided among family members. This divi-
sion has increased access to areas that were
formerly remote and had little movement of
vehicles and people. This trend is likely to
continue, or even intensify, thereby increas-
Fig. 1. Extent of Occurrence EOO and
Area of Occupancy AOO for the jaguar in
the Brazilian Pantanal.
Red List assessment
CATnews Special Issue 7 Spring 2012
ing access to prime jaguar habitat. This frag-
mentation of land decreases its profitability;
to maintain economically viable operations,
many ranchers opt to increase herd size. This
intensification in grazing pressure increases
the need for open pastures and introduced
grasses which further modifies native habi-
Ecology and population information
The few formal attempts to describe jaguar
occurrence in the Pantanal have indicated
that the jaguar has a heterogeneous distri-
bution in the region (Quigley & Crawshaw
1992). The lack of information for most of the
different subtypes of the Pantanal precludes
an accurate estimation of the current popula-
tion size in this biome. It is believed however
that the Pantanal still holds a large popula-
tion of jaguars (Soisalo & Cavalcanti 2006).
In one of the pioneering studies of jaguars in
the late 1970’s, Crawshaw & Quigley (1991)
estimated a population of 3.2 jaguars/100
km2 in the southern Pantanal. The authors
noted however, their data was only specu-
lative. More recently Soisalo & Cavalcanti
(2006) published the first estimate of a jaguar
population in Brazil based on camera-trap
data in conjunction with GPS radio-telemetry
data. Their data indicate that in the southern
Pantanal, jaguars occur at a density of 6.5-6.7
jaguars/100 km2. These results are consistent
with the estimate of 7.0 jaguars/100 km2 Aze-
vedo & Murray (2007) reported for the same
Over the past several years there has been
increased speculation on the numbers of
jaguars in the Pantanal. Ranch owners and
cowboys claim that jaguar numbers have in-
creased (Marchini 2003). The suggestion that
jaguar numbers are increasing is controversi-
al among government officials, environmen-
talists and livestock producers throughout
the country. There is little evidence whether
the presumed increase in jaguar/livestock
conflicts are related to increased numbers of
these carnivores, increased number of cattle,
increased contact due to habitat fragmenta-
tion, or increased attention from the media.
Until recently this controversy could not be
evaluated due to a lack of baseline data on
population numbers. Information on jaguar
populations in the Pantanal have been publis-
hed in the last few years (Soisalo & Cavalcan-
ti 2006, Azevedo & Murray 2007). Although
the data from these two studies are consi-
stent at 6.5-7.0 jaguars/100 km2, it would be
unreasonable to assume a stable trend as the
studies cover a short period of time. In order
to evaluate the trend of the jaguar populati-
on in the Pantanal additional estimates from
subsequent time periods are needed.
Within the Pantanal there are no significant
barriers that could potentially hinder jaguar
dispersal. However, there are regions that
are significantly affected by factors such
as human presence, density of roads and
towns, etc. These areas may hamper jaguar
movement to a degree, although it is unclear
whether they would separate individuals into
subpopulations. Jaguars could possibly be
divided into 2 subpopulations (Fig. 4) which
would be reasonably connected by the low-
land corridor along the Paraguay River. The
southern population would be separated from
the northern population by the area to the sou-
theast of Corumbá near Fazenda Bodoquena
and its surroundings, which has been severely
deforested, but probably does not keep jagu-
ars from moving between the two areas.
Given the diversity of prey species characteri-
stic of the Pantanal and the ability of jaguars
to readily switch prey (Cavalcanti & Gese
Fig. 2. Aerial photograph of a ranch in the northern Pantanal, in the district of Poconé,
Mato Grosso, Brazil (Photo S. Cavalcanti).
Fig. 3. Aerial image of a ranch in the southern Pantanal during the wet season, showing
the area’s inaccessibility (Photo S. Cavalcanti).
Cavalcanti et al.
Jaguar in Brazil
2010), it is unlikely that jaguar populations
undergo severe fluctuations in the biome.
Nevertheless, this statement may depend on
the time scale being considered. In the late
1970’s, jaguars were almost extinct over most
of the Pantanal (Schaller 1979) and presently
they appear to exist in considerable numbers
(Soisalo & Cavalcanti 2006, Azevedo & Mur-
Other life history information
Jaguars are challenging to study. Neverthe-
less, our knowledge on jaguars has increased
since the first field studies in the mid 1980’s
as several studies have helped uncover diffe-
rent aspects of their ecology and life history
(Crawshaw et al. 2004, Novack et al. 2005,
Polisar et al. 2003, Scognamillo et al. 2003,
Cullen et al. 2005, Palmeira et al. 2008, Harm-
sen et al. 2009).
The reproductive profiles of female jagu-
ars indicate a lack of an established mating
season, i.e., asynchrony, suggesting they
associate with males throughout the year
(Cavalcanti & Gese 2009). The breeding pat-
tern suggests successful mating taking place
at roughly two-year intervals and offspring
becoming independent at an approximate
age of 18-24 months. Male offspring tend
to disperse further than females (Quigley &
Crawshaw 2002), thus being the key element
in colonizing new areas and in linking subpo-
pulations with dispersal movements.
Cavalcanti & Gese (2009) suggest that the
mating system in jaguars may be one of a
polygynous and promiscuous nature; a male
likely mates with several females and a fe-
male mates with several males.
Soisalo & Cavalcanti (2006) found a male:
female ratio of 1.5:1 and 1.2:1 during 2003
and 2004, respectively. In a different study
area, Azevedo & Murray (2007) reported a
male:female ratio of 0.6:1. This might repre-
sent different methodological approaches
adopted by the two studies or the presence
of transient males on the former studied po-
Although there is still a lack of consistent
information on jaguar dispersal, jaguars
have been reported to disperse over 60 km
in the Atlantic Forest (Iguaçu National Park,
Crawshaw et al. 2004) and 30 km in the Pan-
tanal (Quigley & Crawshaw 2002, S. Caval-
canti, unpubl. data).
The locations of female jaguars suggest a
pattern of spatial avoidance among females
during the wet season. Home range overlap
among males is extensive both in the wet and
in the dry seasons, suggesting that males do
not maintain exclusive ranges. Overlap bet-
ween males and females occurred both in
the wet and dry seasons (Cavalcanti & Gese
One of the main threats to jaguars in the bi-
ome comes from high levels of retaliation from
ranchers due to livestock depredation. Histori-
cally, jaguars have been killed in the Pantanal
as a way to curtail livestock depredation by the
large cats (Crawshaw & Quigley 1991, Lourival
& Fonseca 1997) even though the amount of
damage incurred by jaguars may be less signi-
ficant than that incurred by other sources of
mortality (such as droughts, malnutrition and
diseases; Hoogesteijn et al. 1993).
Jaguar persecution goes beyond the econo-
mic aspect as it has also a cultural aspect
(Cavalcanti et al. 2010). Jaguar hunts are
viewed as an act of bravery and dexterity
among cowboys, a way to increase their per-
sonal status within the community (Banducci
Jr. 2007), and therefore remains a common
practice in the Pantanal (B. Rondom, pers.
comm., V. Correia, pers. comm).
Another serious threat comes from the lucra-
tive illegal hunting tourism activity involving
national and international hunters (Almeida
1990, Azevedo & Murray 2007, B. Fiori, pers.
Although jaguars are fully protected at the
national level across most of its range (IUCN
2009), cultural traditions in the Pantanal cou-
pled with the characteristics of the area and
the lack of enforcement by wildlife authori-
ties contribute to the regular illegal shooting
of these cats. The illegal nature of this hun-
ting makes it difficult to quantify and monitor
its effect on the population. The shooting of
jaguars remains a regular activity even in
areas where landowners have banned the
Increasing deforestation for the implementa-
tion of pastures of native and exotic grasses
for grazing cattle is another threat that likely
disrupts jaguar movements and habitat use
(Fig. 5). As previously mentioned, defore-
station is more severe in the southeast and
north-west borders of the plain.
Pasture management through the use of
annual fires, although controversial, also im-
Fig. 5. Area in the southern Pantanal formerly covered by native trees deforested for the
implementation of pastures for cattle grazing (Photo W. Tomas).
Fig. 4. Possible jaguar subpopulations
within the Pantanal biome.
CATnews Special Issue 7 Spring 2012
pacts important natural habitats and kills se-
veral prey species. It also probably changes
jaguar density in some areas, by disrupting
their movements and habitat use. These ef-
fects may be especially severe in dry years,
when shrubs and trees are less resistant to
fire (Fig. 6).
Charcoal production is a potential indirect
threat for jaguars in that it may generate in-
centives for additional deforestation. Wood
for charcoal production is usually obtained
from sites that have been legally deforested
for pasture implementation (Fig. 7). In that
sense, it is a legal activity. However, given
that wood selling for charcoal production
enhances the economic viability of pasture
implementation, it tends to be an incentive
for the creation of additional pastures and
The mining industry is considered a great
threat to the Pantanal environment and in-
directly to jaguars, both in the north, where
there is gold and diamond extraction, and in
the south, where there is iron, manganese
and limestone extraction (Fig. 8). The district
of Poconé has presently fourteen large gold
mines and two-hundred smaller excavation
sites (PM Pocone 2010). This recent gold mi-
ning activity has created great environmen-
tal problems, including water and soil con-
tamination with mercury, river sedimentation
and changes in the banks of rivers and lakes.
The persecution of jaguars by ranch emplo-
yees occurs throughout the Pantanal biome.
It affects both male and female jaguars in
all age classes as it is done both opportu-
nistically and in a preventive manner, even
before depredations occur. The practice of
sport hunting is more localized, but because
of its illegal nature, it is difficult to determine
precisely where it happens and how much
impact it poses to jaguars.
Increasing deforestation is most intensive
near the borders of the Pantanal plain, but
it happens throughout the biome as well.
Considering the ongoing survey carried out
by WWF-Brazil, SOS Mata Atlântica, Con-
servation International, Avina, and Ecoa, the
current rate of deforestation in the Pantanal
is about 0.67%/year or 6% over the last 9
years. Considering the total area of 140,000
km2, the annual area being deforested in the
plain is about 938 km2/year, which is quite
significant. Considering the non-overlapping
home ranges of female jaguars, the total
area deforested every year is almost the size
of the area occupied by 20 jaguars. But this
figure is likely an underestimate given that
not all the 140,000 km2 of the plain is cove-
red by forests.
Another significant threat, the use of annual
fires for management of pastures, happens
throughout the biome and during drier years
may affect even the lower areas of the Pan-
tanal, where most of the jaguars are found.
Charcoal production as a threat in the form
of incentive for additional pasture implemen-
tation is particularly serious in the Miranda/
Aquidauana regions, near the southern bor-
der of the plain.
Authorities should recognize the cost asso-
ciated with grazing cattle in an area where
jaguars exist in considerable numbers (Soi-
salo & Cavalcanti 2006) and regularly prey
on cattle. An unique regional policy could
address some of the problem, perhaps in the
form of tax benefits, special lines of credit,
or a regional increase in beef prices. It is
important that environmental actions be im-
plemented to increase market value of cattle
raised in the region without changing the
main characteristics of the Pantanal. Certain
Fig. 6. Pasture management through the use of annual fires in the Pantanal (Photo S.
Fig. 7. Furnaces for charcoal production installed in Pantanal ranches on areas that have
been recently deforested. Not only they make pasture implementation economically more
viable, but also help with the “cleaning” of recently cut areas (Photo W. Tomas).
Cavalcanti et al.
Jaguar in Brazil
actions have already been tested or put into
place, such as organic certified cattle ran-
ching. With the objective of making business
ventures economically viable while maintai-
ning the region’s environmental and social
balance, local ranchers have participated in
the organic certified cattle ranching (ABPO
Organic Pantanal, http://assets.wwfbr.pan-
January 2010). Although the international
protocols of meat production do not include
actions for wildlife conservation, ABPO fol-
lows an internal protocol that establishes
some environmental directives important
from a conservation standpoint.
Embrapa Pantanal has been conducting a
7-year project with the main objective of
establishing sustainability criteria/indicators
that are specific for Pantanal ranches and in-
clude environmental issues. The focal point
of the different criteria for ranch evaluation
and decision making is biodiversity conser-
vation. This could result in a certification or
a stamp of approval program. The adoption
of low impact production systems together
with an added value to Pantanal meat pro-
ducts can be beneficial for jaguar conservati-
on. This added value via a possible certifica-
tion program could compensate, throughout
the market system, the economic losses
caused by jaguar depredation and the lower
profitability from lower impact production
systems. Embrapa Pantanal has been taking
the necessary steps to increase the value
of low impact systems, working with ABPO
in the search for a strategy that could join
both initiatives (organic cattle and sustaina-
bility). The institution also works toward a
system that is applicable to other production
systems, such as the traditional Pantanal
ranches that are not part of the organic meat
Traditional ranchers should focus on incre-
asing their production potential, curtailing
losses due to rudimentary herd management
and poor husbandry practices, which can be
more significant than jaguar depredation
(Hoogesteijn et al. 1993). Although preda-
tion on cattle in the Pantanal will likely al-
ways occur, the results from recent studies
(Azevedo & Murray 2007, Cavalcanti & Gese
2010) illustrate the importance of maintai-
ning native prey populations as a possible
means of minimizing these conflicts.
The establishment of private reserves in-
side ranches is another important measure
towards conservation of jaguars in the Pan-
tanal. Private reserves act as a guarantee of
maintenance of the original natural lands-
cape without human modification. Bene-
fiting from local and federal governments,
local ranchers have converted part of their
lands into private reserves, or RPPNs. Cur-
rently, more than 2,100 km2 of land are set
aside as private reserves in the Pantanal
(Harris et al. 2005) and this figure is likely
to increase. The recent purchase of large
tracts of land by owners that are committed
to conservation in the northern Pantanal has
produced a mosaic of private ranches in-
terspersed with state and federal parks to
create an almost continuous corridor that
adds up to roughly 300,000 km2 encompas-
sing the areas of SESC Pantanal, Mata do
Bebe, Encontro das Águas and Guirá State
Parks, Pantanal National Park, São Bento,
Porto Jofre and Baía Vermelha Ranches,
RPPNs Penha, Acurizal, Dorochê, Rumo a
Oeste, and Novos Dourados. Such initiati-
ves in strategic locations would definitely
contribute to reduce the decline in jaguar
distribution or population size.
Long-term ecological studies are also vital
for the conservation of jaguars in the Pan-
tanal. Some recent long-term studies have
provided important information on jaguar’s
spatial organization, food habits, density
estimates, genetics and predation impact
on livestock in the Pantanal (Soisalo & Ca-
valcanti 2006, Azevedo & Murray 2007a,
2007b, Eizirik et al. 2008, Cavalcanti & Gese
2009, 2010). However, there is a lack of stu-
dies on demographic parameters such as
age at first reproduction, litter size, age at
dispersal, dispersal distances, population
sizes, etc, human/predator conflicts and ja-
guar prey base availability which precludes
implementation of management actions.
This type of information can contribute to
better management decisions that not only
minimize cattle depredation by jaguars
but that also contribute to increasing ac-
ceptance of jaguars by ranchers.
Current research projects
1. Jaguar Ecology in the Pantanal – The
Northern Corridor. Coordinator: Peter G.
Crawshaw Jr. and Panthera. The objectives of
the project include the foraging, spatial, and
social ecology of jaguars, as well as exami-
ning demographic parameters of the studied
2. Indicators of Sustainability. Coordinator:
Embrapa Pantanal – CPAP. This program en-
compasses 4 or 5 integrated projects, that
have been developed since 2002 to imple-
ment a ranch evaluation/certification system
for the Pantanal.
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Fig. 8. Gold mining near the municipality of Poconé, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil
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1 Instituto Pró-Carnívoros, Av. Horácio Neto, 1030,
Atibaia, SP, 12945-010, Brazil
2 Departamento de Ciências Naturais, Universi-
dade Federal de São João del Rei, Praça Dom
Helvécio, 74, Campus Dom Bosco, São João del
Rei, MG, 36301-160, Brazil
3 Centro de Pesquisa Agropecuária do Pantanal,
Embrapa Pantanal, Rua 21 de Setembro, 1880,
Corumbá, MS, 79320-900, Brazil
4 ICMBio/Cenap, Av. dos Bandeirantes, s/n, Bal-
neário Municipal, Atibaia, SP, 12941-680, Brazil
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