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Where Will the Jaguars Walk?

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As forests in our region are continuously being logged and cleared for agricultural and developmental purposes, we start questioning how the forest animals will keep mobile without forested areas. Where shall the jaguars, ocelots, peccaries, deer and armadillos walk? Back in February, the Government of Belize (GOB) through the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development, University of Belize Environmental Research Institute and Panthera signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Similar MOUs have been developed in at least 18 other countries. The GOB’s commitment is to work with its partners to collaboratively implement science-based conservation initiatives that secure and connect jaguars and their habitats as well as those habitats beyond our borders.

A recent study funded by Panthera indicated that the last remaining areas connecting jaguar populations in Belize and Honduras goes along the coastline of Izabal, Guatemala (see map). The urgency of securing this last fragile connection meant that local stakeholders needed to be brought together to discuss monitoring and management strategies.

A three day workshop was held from July 28 to July 31 in Rio Dulce National Park headquarters managed by the Guatemalan National Protected Areas Council (CONAP). It was organized and funded by Panthera in collaboration with CONAP, Guatemala. The organization of the workshop was spearheaded by Panthera’s Honduras country Director, Franklin Castañeda and Guatemalan Panthera representative, Ana Patricia Calderón.

On behalf of Belize, Panthera/ERI representatives Dr. Bart Harmsen, Junior Wildlife Biologists Yahaira Urbina and Emma Sanchez alongside Belize’s Panthera country Director, Dr. Rebecca Foster, in coordination with Honduras' Panthera representatives presented each of their initiatives and programs being implemented to monitor and protect these secretive felines in their respective countries. The success of the workshop can be measured by the high number of participants from all protected areas around Izabal and their enthusiastic pledges to establishing, maintaining and, where necessary, restoring connectivity. Monitoring for jaguar activity will commence by the end of 2014.

The commitment and enthusiasm of the Guatemalan team needs to be matched here in Belize. Our jaguars need an equal level of commitment to retain the connectivity between the Maya Mountains and Sarstoon Temash National Park, Belize’s most southern national park. This is a stepping stone to preserving what we have left. Will you help us?

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