I am very pleased to present this Q&A with Leonardo Maffei, a member of the Jaguar Conservation Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Peru. If you recall the headlines from 2004 about the “mother lode” of jaguars in Bolivia, Leonardo was one of the authors of that paper. I appreciate Leonardo taking time to share his thoughts with us.
Leonardo Maffei Q&A
- How did you become interested in wildlife in general and jaguars specifically?
When I was young I wanted to be a paleontologist, but living in Bolivia that was impossible (no paleontology career in the university, nor much place for this kind of specialist), so I decided for the best option available, biology. Once in the university, I started working at the Natural History Museum, and there I developed an interest in wildlife. And since starting to work in the field I developed an interest in jaguars, first with camera trapping projects in Gran Chaco and then as the survey coordinator of WCS’ Jaguar Conservation Program.
- In 2004, you were part of a study that got a great deal of publicity regarding the number of jaguars in Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park in Bolivia. Nearly a decade later, what is the status of jaguars in that park?
I’m still working at Kaa Iya National Park and (from my point of view) jaguars are still safe there, maybe not increasing nor decreasing. The Kaa Iya is so large (34.000 km²) that can harbor a large population with no problem. However, this does not mean that there are no problems. Landowner pressure, some illegal hunting and some industrial projects eventually put in danger the conservation of wildlife and the park in general, especially on the edges.
What’s one thing that has surprised you about your work with jaguars?
Getting my first camera trap photos (that was back in the era of films). The sensation of scanning a negative and see a beautiful jaguar in the screen, from a photo taken in a place you’ve been several times… that was priceless.
You have done a lot of work with camera trapping of jaguars and other wildlife. What’s the main advantage, and conversely, the main disadvantage of using camera traps in your research?
The advantages are so many, that would be impossible to number all of them here. The main one is the possibility to study animals that are barely seen; even with camera traps, we have register animals that we did not even knew they existed in the area. Unfortunately, working with camera traps, the disadvantages are many too: from expensive cameras that did not work from the moment they were removed from the box, to seeing large jaguar tracks in front of a camera trap, and then realizing that the camera inexplicably did not work and took no photo.
What is your opinion of eco-tourism based around habituated jaguars?
In the area that I work that is not exploited yet. I know of such projects in the Pantanal, Brazil, where it is easier to see jaguars (& they are used to seeing people). My opinion in this case is if the money coming from those tourism activities goes to protect jaguars it is OK.
Can you share a memorable field experience?
I don’t have much to say. Just once I was checking the camera traps in a trail, alone, and walking I saw a jaguar walking ahead of me in the same direction (I was following it), as there was a lot of undergrowth I rushed to be close enough to take a nice pic of the back of the animal. But then I realized I was alone and the jaguar could be scared of me running after it (and defend itself), so I preferred to stop and let it go…
Speaking personally and not professionally, what does the jaguar mean to you?
Jaguars are great, fascinating, their intense yellow color with the spots pattern makes them unique. But on the other side, I think that every species of wildlife has its charm…
What, in your opinion, is the greatest threat to the continued existence of healthy numbers of wild jaguars?
Undoubtedly, the advance of the agriculture/cattle ranching frontier. When forest is logged and transformed into pastures/cultures in small patches, animals start to approach them (or field people go into the forest to hunt), and every jaguar becomes a dead jaguar. The intrusion of humans into their habitat, plus the fear of people of being harmed by jaguars (either themselves or their animals), makes every jaguar that is seen, eventually end up shot.
What’s next for you? What questions are still unanswered about jaguars that you’d like to crack?
Well, I think there are no questions I want to review, just better actions for jaguar conservation. Forests are being transformed in a super high speed, and people are starting live with jaguars, so I think our challenge for species conservation is to promote education programs and biological education so people can live in the forest without wiping out the wildlife.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for the interview 🙂