Rewilding Female Jaguars to Save the Chaco’s Wild Population

Mar 21, 2024 | Argentina, Parks, Rewilding

Rewilding female jaguars to El Impenetrable National Park in Argentina, where there are none, will provide a genetic lifeline to a species destined for extinction there. They include a rescue from Paraguay and a captive-bred jaguar from Rewilding Argentina’s first-of-a-kind rewilding program.

(Header photograph: Keraná exploring her surroundings after exiting her pre-release pen in El Impenetrable National Park. Camera trap image by Rewilding Argentina)

Video: Beth Wald with footage from Rewilding Argentina

March 16, 2024—RESISTENCIA, AR A female jaguar named Keraná is the first jaguar (Panthera onca) to be set free in El Impenetrable National Park by Rewilding Argentina. Only ten confirmed jaguars remain in Argentina’s part of the one-million-sq km expanse of the Gran Chaco, all of which are male. The reintroduction of females promises a lifeline to South America’s top predator in this unique dry forest spanning Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. In size and astonishing biodiversity, the Chaco is second only to the Amazon in terms of ecological importance in South America, though it is largely unknown and undefended. 

Efforts to restore the jaguar population in El Impenetrable National Park began in 2019, when a park ranger discovered the tracks of a solitary male jaguar. Named Qaramta, he was collared and monitored, and even bred with captive females brought from the Jaguar Reintroduction Center in Iberá Park, producing cubs for wild release. Since his discovery, one other wild male has been discovered. But without females, the species faces a dead end. 

Keraná is the first of two female jaguars slated for release there over coming months. A rescue from Paraguay, Keraná was found as a cub after her mother was killed by hunters. Nalá, the other female expected to be released, was the first jaguar born in semi-captivity in El Impenetrable National Park. 

According to Sebastián Di Martino, Conservation Director of Rewilding Argentina, “Wild jaguars are holding out in isolated pockets of Northern Argentina, but they need genetic diversity and connectivity to thrive. Bringing back female jaguars is a momentous step. We are optimistic that their arrival to the Chaco Province will transform a population from near extinction to a healthy reproductive one, and bring attention to the need to expand protected areas to provide safe habitat.” Di Martino also sees potential for restoring a jaguar corridor beyond the park, which would benefit other species and aid in large-scale ecosystem restoration. 

In Argentina, the situation for jaguars is critical. The species has lost over 95% of its original range; the remaining 200-250 estimated jaguars in the wild are surviving in fragmented populations or alone. Rewilding jaguars in nearby Corrientes Province has been a successful tool in the restoration of the Iberá wetlands, where nature-based tourism has become central to the local economy. Ongoing collaboration between the Argentine provinces of Corrientes and Chaco, and assistance from Argentina’s National Parks Service, have been crucial in implementing a solution.  

Kristine Tompkins, President of Tompkins Conservation, congratulated Argentina on the good news, adding, “The Gran Chaco is a vital ecosystem shared by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, yet few have ever heard of it. Today’s action brings hope to protecting so many species and I hope these jaguars bring worldwide attention to the challenges facing both the people and wildlife of the Chaco. It’s proof that we can change the trajectory that we’re on and fight mass extinction by working together.” 

About Rewilding 

Rewilding is a conservation strategy that seeks to recover healthy, complete, functional ecosystems by bringing back locally extinct species and supplementing threatened species. Through the development of nature-based tourism, protected areas with complete and functional ecosystems foster the well-being and pride of neighboring communities. 

Rewilding in El Impenetrable National Park 

El Impenetrable National Park is currently working to reintroduce the jaguar, giant river otter, marsh deer, red-footed turtle and monitoring tapir. Rewilding Argentina, the offspring of Tompkins Conservation, works within El Impenetrable National Park in collaboration with the National Parks Administration carrying out research, monitoring, and numerous tasks aimed at the expansion of the park, as well as developing an extensive inventory of biodiversity.  

Rewilding Argentina receives support from DOB Ecology and Turtle Conservancy to restore the Gran Chaco, and from its strategic collaborator Tompkins Conservation, a leader in rewilding and park creation in the Southern Cone.