The jaguar (Panthera onca) is one of the world’s largest felids that belong to the Panthera genus, and includes the lion, the tiger, the leopard and the snow leopard. It is the largest living felid in the Americas, and the largest predator that inhabited most of the continent except in the extreme north and south, where bears, wolves, and cougars played that role in the colder Northern ecosystems and only pumas in the south.
Jaguar distribution ranged from the southern United States to northern Argentinean Patagonia, in almost all environments except the extremely arid regions or higher altitudes.
As a top predator of the ecosystem, the jaguar plays a key ecological role regulating the populations of other vertebrates, especially of large herbivores. Its imposing figure, its strength, and resilience have turned it into a species of high cultural value for most indigenous peoples and many inhabitants of the American continent, as reflected in ancient artistic representations of Native Americans, in the names of cities, and in the best of our literature, as the stories of Jorge Luis Borges.
█ The Jaguar at the American Continent
As has happened with all the large predators on the planet, man has hunted these animals either out of fear, or because they are considered valuable trophies, or due to conflicts for domestic livestock predation. This situation, together with the modification and transformation of natural environments in addition to competition for the same prey by human hunters (usually the big cats feed on the same prey as humans), were leading the large predators, and the jaguar in particular, to a sharp reduction in their distribution. So, today it has virtually disappeared from its northern and southern ends of distribution, as well as from the most densely populated areas of the continent, and most jaguar populations are seriously threatened.
In Argentina, jaguar distribution was drastically reduced in the last 200 years to less than 5% of the area it originally occupied. Jaguars today occupy less than 50% of their original range and it is estimated that less than 200 adult jaguars survive in our country, distributed in three small regions: mountain forests or Yungas in the Northwest, in the semi-arid Chaco, and the Atlantic Forest (or Mata Atlântica) in Misiones Province in the Northeast. As the threats have not disappeared, jaguar populations in Argentina are considered to be Critically Endangered species.
█ The Jaguar in the Upper Parana Forest
About 15 years ago we knew very little about what really was going on with the last jaguars in Argentina, and the scarce information came mostly from passionate naturalists who warned of the difficult situation this species was in.
It was about 15-20 years ago that a few pioneers began to search for information about the jaguar in Argentina and its conservation issues. Thus, biologists Pablo Perovic in the NOA and Karina Schiaffino in the NEA, began to collect the first accurate data on the jaguar and its problems.
In a global expert meeting held in Mexico in 1999, the Argentine experts along with professionals from around the world determined that in our country there were at least three Jaguar Conservation Units (JCU for its acronym in English): priority areas for conservation of the species worldwide. One of these JCU areas matched what we call the Misiones Green Corridor that encompasses most of the northern and central area of Misiones and Brazil’s protected areas that are connected to a corridor of 1 million hectares of Atlantic Forest.