CONTINUED rampant poaching of jaguars andtheir main prey, the white-lipped peccary, has broughtnumbers of both species in the country’s southernPacific region to unprecedented lows, and scientistsaren’t certain enough animals remain to repopulate thezone.Once the small source populations of both species inCorcovado and Piedras Blancas national parks disappear,experts say the animals will likely become extinctfrom the area.Scientists working on perhaps the world’s most comprehensivejaguar study, headed by Eduardo Carrillo ofthe Universidad Nacional (UNA), warn that could happenas soon as this year.MONTHS after an official request by functionariesof the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) todeclare a state of emergency in the area (TT, March 19),Corcovado National Park – spanning more than 54,000hectares (133,439 acres) on the southwest corner of the Osa Peninsula – still lacks additional parkguards officials say are necessary to curtailthe killing.Assistance provided by the PublicSecurity Ministry in the form of policeofficers to accompany park guards onpatrols ended May 15.And in spite of a media frenzy inMarch and several large donations to combatthe poaching in Corcovado, the park’snorthern border, where most illegal huntersenter, remains essentially unmannedbecause a project to re-open a guard stationthere is tangled in red tape.POACHERS seek out the savoredwhite-lipped peccary (Tayassa pecari) andkill them in groves with heavy weaponry,often times the AK-47, an automaticweapon that fires a damaging 7.62-millimeterround. They slaughter as many as50 of the gregarious animals at a time,experts say, and sell the meat for ¢9,000($21) a kilogram on the black market.Jaguars (Panthera onca) rely heavily onthe peccary as a source of food: the cousinto the pig comprises nearly 70% of the greatcat’s natural diet. With its food supply vanishing,the few remaining jaguars are leavingthe relative safety of Corcovado andpreying on livestock and dogs in the outlyingcommunities. Residents then shoot theanimals out of fear or to protect their owneconomic interests.With their numbers as low as they are,Carrillo said that at this point, “to kill ajaguar is a mortal sin.”ENVIRONMENT and EnergyMinister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez toldThe Tico Times this week that PresidentAbel Pacheco in May rejected MINAE’srequest for an emergency declaration, sayingthe country does not have sufficientfinancial resources to pay for the additionalpark guards the declaration would entail.He said Pacheco told him the governmentwould not be able to fund additionalguards until the Legislative Assemblyapproves the Fiscal Reform Plan, and thatthe emergency declaration “would notsolve much, in pragmatic terms.”The two-year-old tax proposal cannot bevoted on until the Constitutional Chamber ofthe Supreme Court (Sala IV) rules on anaction of unconstitutionality that questionsmeasures taken earlier this year to speed upthe plan’s approval (TT, July 9).“It’s not within my power to resolvethe problem,” the Environment Ministersaid. “I would have to be President.”According to the UNA study, residentsof the Southern Zone have shot at leastnine jaguars in the past year.Carrillo told The Tico Times the latestsuch killing was in April. He said the jaguarhad developed a taste for dog meat and hadkilled several before it was shot.Carrillo manages jaguar studies fromMexico to Panama, and has headed theUNA study for the past 14 years. He hasspent years working in the jungle andinteracting with indigenous communities.He said that unlike its more aggressivecousin, the puma, he has neither heard ofnor read about a single incident of a jaguarattacking a human.According to his study, based on information gathered through the use of radio collars,footprint tracking and a series of heat activatedcamera traps, the jaguars’ populationin Corcovado has declined from 150four years ago to between 40 and 50 now.The decline, he said, began in 1994when MINAE lost 50 park guards due to alack of funding. But because of a generallack of care for the peninsula, he said, it wasin 2000 that the hunting skyrocketed and theanimals’ populations began to plummet.IN addition to the assault the animalsare facing from commercial poachers,wildlife on the Osa Peninsula is beingchipped away by area residents who havetraditionally hunted for subsistence.Luis Angel Campos has lived in DosBrazos, a small community comprisedmainly of former miners that sits atCorcovado’s southeast edge, for 31 years.For years, Campos was an orero – he pannedand mined gold in the park for a living.“The orero is a hunter by nature,” hesaid. “We live in the mountains, and ourmeat comes from the mountains. It is simplethat way.”Campos said he and other communitymembers have noticed area wildlife israpidly disappearing. He said commercialhunters, who used to walk through thestreets of Dos Brazos toting rifles and freshkills, have also disappeared.UNLIKE some other communities,says Walter Montes, chief park guard at thenearby Rio Tigre station, the residents ofDos Brazos have called the guards toreport poachers entering the park.Alvaro Ugalde, director of the OsaConservation Area (ACOSA) and one ofthe men who designed Costa Rica’s nationalpark system more than 30 years ago,said that though progress is slow, recentMINAE efforts have helped reduce huntinginside the park.“I’m hoping that little by little we’repushing them out,” Ugalde said. “That’smy plan: to make it hard for them to teaseus the way they do.”Ugalde responded to rumors of policeand some MINAE functionaries hunting inthe area by saying, “I would like to havenames and concrete evidence.”Elizabeth Jones and Abraham Gallo,who manage the Bosque del Río TigreLodge in Dos Brazos, said one main reasonhunting has slowed in the zone is the sheerlack of animals.“WE can’t tell people to come here forthe wildlife, because there’s no wildlifeleft,” Jones said. “They’ve hunted it all.”Area residents said hunters do not limitthemselves to peccaries. Poachers frequentlykill the tepesquintle, a large fruit-eatingrodent and another important food source ofthe jaguar, which like the peccary has a reputationfor having excellent meat. Sporthunters also kill the endangered tapir – thelargest animal in Central America, whichlocals say tastes awful – and howler monkeys,even though the meat smells of urinewhen cooked. Gallo said poachers also targetspider monkeys to feed their dogs.Like the jaguars, the hunters are notconfined by the boundaries of the park.Sixty-year-old Alcides Parageles, whoowns a 600-hectare private reserve northeastof the park, said his life has been threatenedon numerous occasions – by men totingfirearms and machetes – because of hisefforts to keep poachers off his property.Parageles said hunters enter his propertyand neighboring private reserves onmotorcycles, motorboats, horses and onfoot, well-armed and often accompaniedby well-trained hunting dogs.PARAGELES has been living on theproperty for 53 years. He admitted to occasionallyhunting there to feed the two generationsof his family living in his remotecabin with him, but he said he believesthere is an important difference betweenthe kind of hunting he engages in and thehunting he believes has drastically reducedwildlife on his property.“There is one kind of mountaineer whois dying of hunger,” Parageles said. “Thereare others who are sport hunters, who usegood hunting dogs to track down thejaguars and shoot them.”Parageles said he has hidden in thebushes and attempted to photograph thehunters, and said he has called MINAEfunctionaries on numerous occasions toreport the poachers. The one time theycame, two years ago, a fleeing hunter felland broke the stock of his rifle, whichParageles keeps in his home.A few kilometers away from theentrance to Parageles’ property, José LuisMolina lives with his wife and four youngchildren in a makeshift home with nowalls. He said a real estate company purchasedland between main roads and theirformer home, and threatened to pursuetrespassing charges if he and his familycontinued entering, and so they left fiveyears ago. Molina, unemployed, said hemust hunt to feed his family.“I don’t like to go around killing animals,but I do it for necessity,” he said.Carrillo said that by itself, subsistencehunting outside the park would not bedetrimental to the animals, but because ofthe dwindling numbers no type of huntingshould be permitted now – anywhere.So few jaguars remain in the area thatCarrillo speculates they may already beinbreeding, which could make the remainingpopulation too unstable to survive.Still, he thinks they may be salvageable.“It’s possible things have improved alittle bit, but it is not sufficient,” Carrillosaid. “We are at the point where we mustreverse this situation. But we must actnow, and with energy.”MINAE’s Rodríguez said he believesthe jaguars can be saved, but he is worriedthat Corcovado alone will not be enough tosupport a population of the great cats over along period of time, and pointed to thenecessity for a biological corridor connectingCorcovado and Piedras Blancas, whichsits just opposite the Golfo Dulce from thepeninsula. He said that though the governmentcannot provide any significant form offinancial support to combat the poaching,Pacheco has been supportive of the battle.Pacheco acknowledged the severity ofthe crisis at Tuesday’s Cabinet Meeting whenquestioned by The Tico Times, but said, “Ican’t get rid of doctors to hire park guards.