The roots of the Jaguar Reintroduction Project lie in a 1997 vision – the foresight of Doug and Kris Tompkins to rewild 395 000 acres of degraded ranch and farmland in the marshlands of Argentina’s Corrientes Province, and restore the magnificent biodiversity of the Iberá Wetlands, piece by piece, species by species.
Reversing local extinctions
The steady return of locally extinct or endangered endemic species began in 2007. It started with the giant anteater, followed by pampas deer, collared peccary, bare-faced curassow, and red-and-green macaw, culminating in the reintroduction of the jaguar in 2020.
The Iberá National Park was established in 2018 after years of local and national campaigning by the Tompkins’ non-profit Conservation Land Trust (CLT Argentina), now Fundación Rewilding Argentina: an incredible 1.76 million acres when combined with the surrounding Iberá Provincial Park – making this Gran Iberá Park the largest nature park in Argentina.
Rewilding means the mass restoration of damaged ecosystems…above all, it means bring back missing species.
George Monbiot, British writer and environmentalist
Did you know?
- Jaguars are the largest wild cat in North and South America
- Jaguars have been eradicated from 40% of their global range across the Americas due to habitat loss / fragmentation, loss of natural prey, hunting and human-wildlife conflict
- In Argentina, jaguars have lost over 95% of their natural territory
- Sobering estimates of the endangered population in Argentina number between 200 and 300
- Rewilding Argentina’s Jaguar Reintroduction Project is a world first
Jaguar Reintroduction Project
As top predators, jaguar (Panthera onca) are key to the restoration of the ecological balance in the Iberá Wetlands and their return has been a ten-year journey of provincial, national and global collaborations. Jaguars were donated by institutions in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil to create a breeding and founding population for the Jaguar Reintroduction Centre.
This foundational phase included an extensive social survey that endorsed the support of both provincial authorities and the local population for the project; the confirmation that the expanded habitat of the Gran Iberá Park could sustainably support around 100 jaguars, and taking advice from global experts on all matters related to this world-first initiative.
Les Carlisle, &Beyond Group Conservation Manager, was invited to share his expertise around &Beyond’s proven large scale, veterinary-supported wildlife translocation model, together with his many years of learnings on predator release and post-release management protocols. He captured the highlights of this experience in his story Conservation revolution.
In 2012, construction started on the mammoth Jaguar Reintroduction Centre – a three-year building project that encompassed 30 hectares (74 acres) of holding pens to breed, raise and rehabilitate jaguars that are able to live independently in the wild.
In 2015, the first breeding female arrived at the centre, followed by a succession of two males and two females from rescue centres and zoos in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
2018 marked a highlight in the programme, when Arami and Mbarete were born: the project’s first newborns and the first jaguars born in over seven decades in Corrientes.
The cubs are the offspring of two jaguars on loan from partnering institutions: Chiqui, the father, who was born in the wild, but orphaned at a young age, and Tania, the mother, who came to the centre after being born and raised in a zoo. Tania is missing a leg from an incident when she was a cub, but remarkably has learnt to hunt for herself.
Arami and Mbarete were raised in 1.5 hectare pens without any human contact. Their growth and development was monitored remotely, and their hunting skills honed on wild prey captured by locals.
This phase, which began in 2020, marks the culmination of this project that has been ten-years in the making: the first founding population of wild jaguars in Iberá. This group includes the first cubs born at the centre, Arami and Mbarete, a young trio from Brazil – two females, Juruna and Mariua, a male, Jatobazinho, and Karai and Porã, cubs born to Mariua and Jatobazinho in 2020.
During this period, these jaguars are kept in pre-release pens at an isolated site with optimal habitat and an abundance of wild prey. All released animals will have a GPS collar to enable close monitoring of their movements.
The strategy, as Sebastián Di Martino, Conservation Director of Fundación Rewilding Argentina, explains, is to release several females first before releasing the first male for two reasons: females have smaller territories and disperse less, which will help to ensure that the jaguars stay within the reserve; secondly, the male will set his territory based on both female and prey availability, so with an established group of females, he will remain within the park.
The pen is opened. Mariua and her cubs Karai and Porã take their first steps into the outside world of the Gran Iberá Park; with their release, a new chapter starts – not only for this project, but for jaguar conservation worldwide.
Cooperation for conservation
Sofia Heinonen, Fundación Rewilding Argentina’s Executive Director, summarises the theme of cooperation for conservation like this: “Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of people and tens of organisations in Corrientes, Argentina, and other countries over many years, Iberá is now recognised as being among the world’s major nature destinations, and as an inspiring story of environmental and cultural restoration, and the jaguar is currently moving away from the abyss of extinction.”
Iberá has the potential to become the best destination in the world to see jaguars in the wild.