A record number of jaguars have been identified in one of the world's most biologically diverse landscapes.
Using technology first adapted to identify tigers by stripe patterns, researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society have identified 19 individual jaguars by spot patterns in the rainforests of Bolivia, a record number for a single camera trap survey in the country.
"We're excited about the prospect of using these images to find out more about this elusive cat and its ecological needs," said WCS conservationist Robert Wallace. "The data gleaned from these images provide insights into the lives of individual jaguars and will help us generate a density estimate for the area."
The images come from the Alto Madidi and Alto Heath, a region at the headwaters of the Madidi and Heath Rivers inside Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. The survey also included Ixiamas Municipal Reserve, created following a previous WCS survey in 2004 along the Madidi River, which revealed a high abundance of jaguars and other species such as white-lipped peccaries, spider monkeys, and giant otters.
"The preliminary results of this new expedition underscore the importance of the Madidi landscape to jaguars and other charismatic rainforest species," said Julie Kunen, director of WCS's Latin America and Caribbean Program. "Understanding the densities and ranging habits of jaguars is an important step in formulating effective management plans for what is arguably the most biodiverse landscape on the planet."
The cameras used are strategically placed along pathways in the forest and especially the beaches of rivers and streams for weeks at a time, snapping pictures of animals that cross an infrared beam.
The animals were identified from a total of 975 photographs, a record number of images due to the use of digital cameras as opposed to camera traps that use film. These allow researchers returning to the traps can download the images in seconds, rather than waiting days for film to develop.
Bolivian jaguar field biologist Guido Ayala noted that "series of digital images also capture more data than traditional film."
Madidi National Park is one of the top tourist attractions in Bolivia and is the centerpiece of a continuous chain of six national protected areas in northwestern Bolivia and southeastern Peru, one of the largest such complexes in the world.