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Thursday, June 20 2019 @ 03:38 AM UTC

Conservationists Applaud Jaguar Release Program near Boquete - Republic of Panama

Environmental Issues By Rodrigo Campos, AFP Writer- Boquete, Panama- An ambitious and historic plan to release over 400 jaguars back into the wild in the mountain areas of the Chiriqui province in Panama is drawing praise from conservationists across Latin America. The program, which is headed by local environmentalists, is already nearly 30% complete with the last of the jaguars set to be released before the end of the year. Scientists associated with the project, nicknamed "Puente de Vida" (Bridge of Life), say they aim to reconnect the jaguar gene pools in the Santa Fe National Park to those in the La Amistad National Park, both located in Panama. Recent real estate development in the area has isolated the two groups, threatening to disrupt the continuous chain of jaguars that stretches from southern Arizona in the United States to Northern Argentina. So far, 118 jaguars have been released near the towns of Palmira and Caldera, with future releases scheduled near the towns of Jaramillo Arriba and Guadalupe, among others. Many of the jaguars will be fitted with radio collars to help track their movements along the Caldera River. The big cats are being raised at an 800 hectare compound in the nearby province of Veraguas, which project workers say is mimicking the wild where they will be released.

Critics claim the jaguars are being released too close to human population centers, and are in fact not wild at all. Ernesto Arosemena, a chicken farmer in the town of Boquete, says his chicken farm has been raided several times in the past few months by jaguars with collars. He also cited an incident in February in which a collared cat disrupted an outdoor birthday party in Palmera in an attempt to get to a large pot of "sancocho", which is a local chicken soup. Scientists associated with the project admit the jaguar’s diet in the compound consists of chicken meat and that sancocho is given as a treat for good behavior and learning tricks, but insist the jaguars will return to their normal diet once released into the wild. Arosemena disagrees, saying that jaguars that crave sancocho could deter locals from cooking the popular dish. Environmentalists counter the jaguars are not a threat to people, but they warn at no time should anyone ever try and pet or domesticate the jaguars, no matter how friendly they might seem.

The jaguar, with an individual range of up to 80 square km, is rapidly declining in numbers. The animal is considered Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, meaning it may be threatened with extinction in the near future. For a list of future jaguar release dates and sites please visit http://tinyurl.com/2ht3po

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