Argentina has brought jaguars back to the vast Iberá wetlands, seventy years after the species was driven to local extinction through hunting and habitat loss.
An adult jaguar (Panthera onca) and her two captive-born cubs have been released into the wild, the first in a group, currently with nine individuals, slated to repopulate the species in the Gran Iberá Park, a protected 1.7 million acre wilderness of national and provincial parklands. Reestablishing this critically endangered species, of which only 200 remain in Argentina, is a crucial step in ensuring the ecological health of South America’s principal water basins and reestablishing a biological corridor for jaguars that once stretched continuously to the American Southwest.
“We have taken another great step for the preservation of the jaguar in Iberá,” announced Argentina’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Juan Cabandié. In Northeast Argentina, the jaguar has long been a symbol of strength in Guaraní heritage also representing the region’s cultural identity.
Saving the species was deemed a priority by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) at the World Conservation Congress in September, 2020. The largest feline in the Americas, the jaguar has lost over half its historical range, leaving some populations geographically isolated, losing their genetic diversity. When this happens, the jaguar is no longer able to fulfill its key ecological role as an apex predator.
“We congratulate the government of Argentina, Argentina’s National Parks and the Province of Corrientes for their commitment to rewilding this iconic species,” said Kristine Tompkins, president of Tompkins Conservation and UN Patron of Protected Areas. “As we start the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, it’s time to recognize the central role that rewilding can play in restoring climate stability and planetary health.”
Bringing back top predators such as the jaguar and the giant river otter, and seed bearers such as peccaries and macaws, is helping the Iberá wetlands recover from hunting and decades of cattle grazing and monoculture plantations, according to Sebastian Di Martino, Director of Conservation at Rewilding Argentina, a strategic partner of Tompkins Conservation. According to Di Martino, “Just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park recalibrated whole ecosystems that had fallen out of balance, jaguars can restore these wetlands. Rewilding is also revitalizing the economy of small communities throughout Corrientes Province through wildlife-watching and related services.”
Iberá National Park was created in 2018 with land donations made by Douglas and Kristine Tompkins via Tompkins Conservation, in collaboration with Rewilding Argentina and local and national authorities. A one-of-a-kind facility, the Jaguar Reintroduction Center, located in the wetlands, has so far bred six cubs, which alongside rehabilitated wild jaguars, will be released throughout 2021. In coordination with Argentina’s National Parks, Rewilding Argentina monitors the released population via signals from VHF and GPS transmitters on collared adult jaguars.