San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Donation Protects Peccary, Gives Hope for Jaguars’ Future

THE decimated peccary populations in Corcovado National Park have surged since March and may finally restore the numbers of the equally afflicted jaguars that feast on them. This development comes after a multimillion-dollar donation infused the park system with new rangers and better equipment to give them the upper hand in the fight against poachers who ply their illegal trade on parkland in the Osa Peninsula, on the southern Pacific coast.The U.S.-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation donated $8 million to the privately funded, also U.S.-based Nature Conservancy in December (TT, Nov. 12, 2004). The organization began spending the funds in March, the same month biologists say marks the ascent of peccary populations.Researchers have counted more peccary tracks and seen larger herds, filled out with a glut of newborns. The news is a coup for park rangers who have struggled for decades against peccary poachers and jaguar hunters, some after trophies, others shooting jaguars as the cats prey on their cattle.“THE peccary are coming back fast,” said Alvaro Ugalde, director of the Osa Conservation Area, a branch of the Environment Ministry (MINAE) that oversees parkland on the peninsula. “What the hunters are able to do today is much less than what they were able to do a year or two ago. We doubled our staff, do patrols out to the highways, have new stations, and fewer of the hunters are coming in. But I’m not saying we’ve altogether stopped the hunting.”Nobody can eradicate poaching – it is like a cancer, park ranger Gerardo Chaves said, “but it has been minimized.”Eduardo Carrillo, Universidad Nacional (UNA) researcher and head for Central America of the Jaguar Conservation Program, part of the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society, has counted peccary and jaguars in the region since 1990.“UNTIL this year the populations tended to decline,” he said. Last year he counted 300-400 peccary in Corcovado, compared to 1999, when there were 2,000. Likewise, last year he counted 40-50 jaguars in the park, down from 100 five years ago.“The elimination was very, very drastic,” he said, which led him to predict the imminent extinction of the jaguar from the region last year (TT, July 23, 2004).Last month, however, when he made his latest count, he noted an increase in the number of peccary for the first time in 15 years.He could not say by how much – most of the new ones were babies around one month old – but he estimates there were 30-35 more. “In three or four years, if the tendency (of peccary populations) to increase continues, and hunting is stopped, then we will possibly see an increase in jaguar populations,” he said.POLICING the park is only one aspect of The Nature Conservancy’s five-pronged conservation plan, on which it will spend the Moore foundation’s donation over the next three years. In addition to the rangers, it will focus on purchasing land for protection; managing and planning for seven parks in the peninsula and in the region, which make up 45% of the Osa Conservation Area; promoting scientific research to help inform land-management decisions; and training local conservation groups.The organization plans to spend a total of $1.5 million on park rangers, having already hired, trained and outfitted 67 new rangers in Corcovado and three other priority protected areas in the Osa region. It is now turning its attention to buying land from private owners and working in the communities around the parks.Only half of the land within the boundary of Piedras Blancas National Park, for example, has been bought by the Costa Rican government for protection as parkland.For the sum of just over $1 million, TNC project head Javier Mateo plans to buy 1,200 hectares – about a fifth – of the land that is still privately held, he said.COMMUNITY members and volunteers are becoming conservationists. TNC is developing vigilance committees of volunteers from the villages on the peninsula. They patrol parks and teach their peers about the importance of protecting wildlife.“It’s not just blowing the whistle on environmental problems, but trying to get the community on board,” Mateo said.“They complement the work of the Environment Ministry (the rangers). If there is intense hunting in an area, the Ministry will call on the committees.”The rangers are hunting down bars anddiners that serve peccary meat, Ugaldesaid. He suspects it fetches a high price inthe cantinas, served as a boca with drinks.Education efforts have taken effect, he said. The rangers carried out an information campaign, distributing fliers and stickers, doing radio and TV spots, and speaking in schools to tell people the peccary are disappearing.“People are open, questioning… they didn’t know, and they admit they didn’t know,” ranger Chaves said.The work continues with high-tech monitoring of the animals – Carrillo’s team is installing cameras on animal trails and fitting some peccary with radio tags to monitor their movements – and with greater vigilance and community awareness.And in the ultimate act of assimilation, Ugalde has hired some of the former hunters as rangers “to let them learn what we are after,” he said. “We’re not after them; we have a sacred mission to protect a species.”

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