Final Annual Report
To: GreaterGood.org in Fulfillment of Grant Funding to Primero Conservation.org
Submitted by: Primero Conservation.org
Figure 1. Furthest documented northern Sonoran female ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) with a kitten, November 2016.
Greater Good.org generously granted funds to Primero Conservation.org in August 2015 in the amount of $25,000 for a project named by Greater Good.org as Project WILDCAT. An additional grant was awarded in August 2016 in the amount of $25,000 for completion of project tasks by the end of 2016 under contractual agreements with 6 ranches. The following activities were completed during the 16-month duration of this grant:
Hiring by Primero Conservation.org of a local field technician (Memo Galaz-Galaz) from Bacadehuache, Sonora and a Sonoran project coordinator from Mexico City (Dr. Ivonne Cassaigne, DVM/PhD). ACCOMPLISHED
Land management agreements to be signed by participating ranches prior to program initiation between Greater Good.org and 6 ranchers in Sonora with actual or perceived predation on their livestock by predators in the project area in exchange for payments for investigated losses of livestock. ACCOMPLISHED
Purchase of 2 cameras for each of 6 ranches, plus 2 additional cameras at the largest ranch. Additional cameras were provided by Greater Good.org and placed in the field by Memo Galaz-Galaz so as to allow for pairing of cameras at selected sites. ACCOMPLISHED
Monthly checks of all ranches participating in Project WILDCAT by the field technician. ACCOMPLISHED
Field placement of cameras and bimonthly collection of digital wildlife photos. ACCOMPLISHED
Project site visits by Drs. Tom Van Devander, PhD, and Lilia Ann, PhD, Greater Good.org. Project site visit by Greater Good CEO Tim Kunin. ACCOMPLISHED
6-month progress report sent to GreaterGood.org. Final report sent at end of project period. ACCOMPLISHED
Peccary translocation of 30 animals to 3 ranches. ACCOMPLISHED
Investigation of all reported livestock depredation losses and payments to participating ranchers. We investigated a total of 13 reported incidents and certified 9 of the reports as losses by 2 jaguars and 3 pumas, all of which were animals that would have probably been killed prior to the start of this project. ACCOMPLISHED
Additionally synchronization of calving was initiated by qualified vet personnel on 2 of 6 ranches and discussed and agreed to on a third.
The funds were to be used in collaboration with funding from Primero Conservation.org (http://www.PrimeroConservation.org) (PC), a not-for-profit charity incorporated in the USA, created in 2011 to work with its partners in Mexico to mitigate the killing of carnivores, especially jaguars (Panthera onca) and pumas (Puma concolor). The project’s objectives are to better manage wildlife and livestock sympatrically on the same landscape and to empower ranchers through improved livestock management and infrastructure to decrease predation rates by carnivores, especially by puma and jaguar, on livestock.
Field research invariably is about the past, whereas the reality of a species’ ability to survive or coexist as a viable and genetically significant population in the presence of humans is about the future. Annual and long-term survivorship of large carnivores that compete with cattle ranchers often depends on the real or perceived economic cost to the landowner of the habitat upon which the species needs to survive. Livestock producers and wildlife conservationists do not favor the same mix of generality, realism, and precision of the value of apex carnivores, and this problem is exacerbated by the real life economics of protein production by landowners driven by protein demands from the consumer and the economic losses they incur due to predation.
Communities, and the ecosystems upon which they depend, include traits that involve the collective behavior of all their parts, behavior that is not obvious from observations of specific ecosystem parts. The result of eliminating one species from an ecosystem often appears to have no immediate consequences. Thus, of the 5 species extirpated from the ecosystem in Mexico, it is not surprising that 2 are apex carnivores (wolves and grizzly bears) (Valdez et al. 2006). Wildlife conservationists must be informed as to the collective forces within ecological communities that concern and motivate food producers and landowners who can ultimately be responsible for the conservation of multiple species that share the same privately owned landscape.
Breeding jaguars are believed to be an extirpated species in the United States, with the last known female jaguar being shot in the White Mountains of Arizona in 1963 on the east boundary of the White Mountain Apache Reservation south of Reservation Lake (personal interview by Ron Thompson with Terry Penrod - the shooter – and observation of the hide and photos). Only solitary male jaguars have been killed or captured on cameras in the sky island mountain ranges of Arizona or New Mexico since (Culver 2016).
Jaguars and pumas are considered across their range as a species of conservation concern, apex carnivores, an umbrella, and keystone species. Thus, conservation programs focused on jaguars and pumas are likely to trigger greater and deeper conservation impacts. Different studies suggest that in general jaguars are more abundant in the southern portions of their range than the northern portions (Cavalcanti and Gese 2010, Tobler et al. 2013) and this species is considered endangered in both Mexico (SEMARNAT 2002) and the United States (see the Federal Register 1997) with critical habitat designation in the United States as recent as 2014 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2014). Loss and fragmentation of habitat, and direct human-caused mortality due to livestock depredations and illegal human-caused mortality (trapping, poisoning, shooting) are the primary causes of declines in many populations (Gonzales and Brown 2002, Valdez et al. 2002, Rosas et al. 2008, Rosas-Rosas and Valdez 2010).
As apex carnivores, both jaguars and pumas are intimately intertwined with many ecosystem processes and regulate proper functioning ecosystems through compensatory predation. Yet, the population dynamics and basic ecology of jaguars and their interactions with pumas and their prey species are poorly understood, particularly in the species’ northern sympatric distribution. Among the four large cats of the genus Panthera, jaguars are the least known. In the New World, the only cat of comparable size is the puma. Jaguars and pumas are sympatric across the entire jaguar range. Studies examining the ecology and conservation needs of coexisting jaguars and pumas are few and far between, and they have been typically carried out in tropical areas, biologically considered as the core habitats of jaguars. The jaguar range turns increasingly xeric in a south north transect, especially in its northern end, and decreasing population sizes are assumed as prey richness decreases in dryer habitats.
The northern Mexico jaguar population is thought to be an important source for animals occurring in the Southwest United States, and would be the logical source for reintroductions should that be deemed feasible and practical (Brown and Lopez 2002). Little is known about jaguar dispersal rates and use of corridors for connectivity, and what is known applies to tropical habitats, primarily tropical rainforest (Rabinowitz and Zeller 2010). Because our selected project area for project WILDCAT is thoroughly different from other jaguar habitats, and because the population in this area is likely to be the largest and closest to the United States, project WILDCAT could most likely influence when and whether the United States can be repopulated through natural dispersal, or whether translocations would be a necessity in the future. Significantly more scientific information is available for pumas (Logan and Sweanor 2001, Hornocker and Negri 2010) than jaguars and data for jaguars is of crucial importance now that the United States has erected many kilometers, and may erect many more kilometers, of impassable wall fences along the Mexican-United States border in an effort to reduce illegal human immigration. These barriers will impact the movements of jaguars and pumas in unknown ways and may significantly affect natural expected genetic exchange, dispersal, and movement of both species northward into the United States. International collaborations between both countries are essential for effective conservation of not only jaguars and pumas but also a wide variety of other species (Medellin 1998). As an example of the impacts of a positive collaborative effort, in a previous study by Cassaigne et al. (2016), the provision of alternative preferred prey (based on availability) for jaguars and puma was accomplished through the international translocation of peccaries. The experiment resulted in a decrease of livestock predation by jaguar and puma and the development of a livestock-carnivore conflict resolution model that was additionally tested in project WILDLCAT.
The Project WILDCAT area in Sonoran is located near the confluence of the Aros and Bavispe rivers in Sonora, Mexico. Rosas-Rosas and Valdez (2010) first studied jaguars approximately 50 km east of our project area. The area is located in the Madrean Archipelago/Sky Island Region, about 30 km southeast of Moctezuma, Mexico and approximately 270 km south of the United States-Mexico boundary. The area has a wide diversity of vegetation such as tropical deciduous forest, oak woodland, and pine-oak forest. The Bavispe River bisects the area. Free-ranging cattle ranching is the primary land use and cattle are probably the most abundant large prey species. Other important species include white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), white-nose coati (Nasua narica), and various species of lagomorphs and skunks. A detailed plant list can be obtained from GreaterGood as compiled by Drs. Tom Van Devender and Ana Lilia Reina.
Camera Survey of Wildlife
Cameras by Cuddeback, Covert and Soutguard were deployed at 14 locations in tropical thornscrub at elevations ranging from 440m to 1230m above sea level. Our field technician checks cameras on a 2-month cycle. For each camera location, independent pictures of a single species are defined to be those pictures taken more than one hour apart. For each of 24 one-hour time segments, a species was considered active during an hour if any camera recorded its picture at least once during the hour. Pictures recorded in different cameras were considered independent. Sequential pictures of the same species at the same location during a one-hour segment were also considered redundant and are not used in analyses (Harris et al. 2010). Jaguar and ocelot are uniquely identified (hence paired cameras are hoped for in the future) by coloration patterns to determine densities during the project.
Past Camera trap survey of predators and prey
During the period 2010 to 2013, trail cameras were placed and sampled an area inclusive of our project area of approximately 400 km2 for 8408 camera trap days. Past results for all four felid species of interest for this project area are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Comparison of camera detection data for 5 species found on the project WILDCAT area.
Of particular interest from previous camera efforts was the extremely low capture rate for peccaries, a preferred prey species by both puma and jaguar. Greater Good.org is currently analyzing camera data acquired during this project period. All four species of felids were found to be sympatric at some camera sites (Figure 3.). Currently ocelots have been captured at all 14 camera stations along with marked peccaries from translocated peccary herds released on project WILDCAT area ranches.
Figure 3. Number of camera sites with number of each felid species captured by camera (in parenthesis) (data from an analysis by Dr. Jim Sanderson found in Moreno et al. 2013).
Livestock Predation by Predators
Kill and/or attack sites are initially reported by the rancher to our field technician, Memo Galaz-Galaz, immediately investigated, and a kill site investigation form completed. Memo is the only nongovernmental person in Sonora certified to investigate kill sites for insurance payments by the government that equate to approximately 25% of the value of the animal predated on. Additional amounts are then paid to ranchers due to livestock damage by puma and jaguar to make up the difference in the full value of the livestock killed and what the government insurance program does not cover. A confirmed kill by a predator is usually the partial carcass of a dead calf, or a live cow with a full udder but with no calf in combination with additional evidence such as drag marks, caching of carcass parts, blood on rocks, and/or tracks of the suspected predator. In the field there is no one better than Memo Galaz-Galaz, who has been to over 200 kill sites of GPS collared jaguars and pumas. We are differentiating mortality sites as either: 1) a predator kill site, or 2) a scavenging feeding site on a carcass not related to a predator attack. Such a site is defined as a carcass whose mortality was not directly attributed to a puma or jaguar attack (e.g. still birth, disease, or natural mortality). Information recorded at kill/feeding sites includes: species, age class, breeding condition and gender of prey. Various habitat characteristics are also recorded such as slope, aspect, vegetation, elevation, percent canopy cover and distance from water. This same kill site information is currently being collected in additional ongoing prey studies in at least three additional ecoregions in North America for later comparison. We feel it is important that wildlife researchers communicate with project personnel conducting similar studies in other locales so that the power of data sets can be increased when combined in future analysis. Results of past kill site investigations for this project can be found in a publication by Cassaigne et al. in The Southwestern Naturalist, June, 2016.
Completed kill site investigations
Depredations of calves were verified as a predation event by our field technician From April - December 2016 at 13 kill sites on 3 ranches with 3 reported kills as natural mortalities. All of these ranchers are capable of, and have in the past, used lethal predator control measures that have eliminated predators due to predation on livestock. Due to the no-kill contracts signed by these ranchers with GreaterGood.org for this project we feel we saved 2 jaguars and 3 pumas from possible removal due to predation on livestock.
In preparation for a first-ever translocation of peccaries from populations within Sonora, we constructed 3 soft release pens on three of our contractual ranches (Figure 3). Translocated peccaries were fed at the site so as to initially habituate them to the ranch. A total of 19 peccaries were captured and translocated from a ranch near Hermosillo, Sonora, while an additional 10 peccaries were procured through a conservation working agreement with the Centro Ecologico de Sonora (Figure 3.) and 2 from a local community.
Figure 3. Peccaries from the Centro Ecologico de Sonora being held in a temporarily holding facility prior to being released as a single herd within the project WILDCAT area.
Why Translocate Peccaries, Pay for Predation Losses and Synchronize Livestock Birthing?
Peccaries are considered a major prey item throughout the range of the jaguar (Aranda M. 1994, Medellin et al. 2002, Nunez et al. 2000) and where the range of the puma is sympatric with peccary (Rosas-Rosas 2008). In our project WILDCAT area in the Rio Yaqui watershed north of the junction of the Aros and Bavispe rivers, peccaries are thought to be less plentiful now than they were prior to 2002 (personal communication, Memo Galaz-Galaz). A sudden decline in peccaries is believed to have occurred due to unknown reasons in 2002, a drought year for the region as described by local inhabitants (personal communication, Memo Galaz-Galaz). It was approximately during the same time period that local livestock depredations by jaguar and puma were also noted to be high and subsequently resulted in the killing of at least 11 jaguars (Rosas-Rosas 2008) in the region, mainly by a property owner whose property was in escrow at the time, and currently owned by Naturalia.
Based on a review of past camera trap data from our project area during the period 2010-13, approximately 10 years post peccary population decline, peccary populations were still considered to be low when their detection rates by camera traps were compared to other prey items (Figure 2.) and reported by Cassaigne et al. 2016.
Reasons for sudden past declines of peccary in other areas have been hypothesized to be the result of CDV outbreaks (Appel, M. J. G. 1987, Noon et al. 2003). In 1989 a disease epidemic of apparent high mortality occurred in collared peccary in southern Arizona (Noon et al. 2003). Serologic testing of clinically normal peccary at that time and in subsequent years found a relatively high and persistent prevalence of serum neutralizing antibodies to CDV (Noon et al. 2003). Our trail cameras documented that all four species of felids (jaguar, puma, bobcat and ocelot) share some or all of the same ranches in the WILDCAT project area. Camera data suggest that jaguar and puma are able to co-exist by avoidance, but not by segregation (dividing space) with pumas being more diurnal while jaguars more nocturnal. Our past results differ from those found in the dry forest of southern Bolivia (Romero-Muñoz et al., 2010).
Dogs accompany cowboys who actively manage livestock on our project area in the majority of photographs. These dogs are considered to be feral when they are left alone to fend for themselves during extended vaquero absence. We do not know what impact unvaccinated feral dogs have on wildlife. Northeastern Sonora suffered a sharp decline in peccary numbers in the recent past (Memo Galaz-Galaz, personal observation). We speculate that an outbreak of CDV, similar to the documented epizootic in Arizona (Noon, 2003), could have been responsible for the low number of peccary we recorded in the past. Since peccary are known to be the prey of jaguar and puma, and are known to be relatively abundant in other eco-regions where they occur, we hypothesized that reintroduction of peccary might serve to mitigate the loss of calves to jaguar and puma. Our hypothesis was proven to be correct in a study by Cassaigne et al. 2016.
The project area appears to have had a high density of jaguars and pumas as determined by camera traps between 2009 and 2013 (Moreno et al. 2013). The ranches in the project area have a real or perceived high predation rate by puma and jaguars on livestock (personal communication by ranch owners Jesus Moreno and Fernando Duarte). The relationship between the density of apex carnivores and livestock predation is as of yet undetermined.
Depredations upon cattle by puma and jaguar were recently documented by GPS technology as occurring on ranches comprising our project area and additionally verified through our immediate response to calf predation events by our field technician (Cassaigne et al. 2016) and subsequent payment for verified predation losses on contract ranches by puma and jaguar. The natural forces that affect predator survivorship affect area ranchers and how they manage their livestock. We hope this project will result in the continued illumination of statistically valid reductions in livestock predation rates and increased survival rates for pumas and jaguars. But more importantly, we hope to reduce predation rates through the synchronization of calving, supplementation of preferred prey, elimination of livestock from high predator use areas during calving and the offsetting of losses during this transition though direct payments for livestock losses will result in the elimination of the use of traps and poisons that indiscriminately remove not only predators, but all wildlife that come in contact with such lethal methods. Only then can mitigation or reduction of livestock losses through a science-driven model to improve livestock husbandry and better management of important native buffer prey species be supported by livestock owners. Periods of high livestock depredations (April – June) by jaguars and pumas make it difficult to expand protection for jaguars and pumas to additional ranches adjacent to our project area without the development of a region-wide mitigation model that offsets livestock losses and offers the potential for increased income from increased survivorship of calves in exchange for not poisoning or trapping offending animals.
In Sonora, Rosas-Rosas et al. (2008) documented that beef calves constituted 38% and 9% of prey biomass for jaguars and pumas, respectively. This data was reevaluated in light of our recent real time GPS data and not data solely from scat analyses unsupported by DNA analysis. Collectively, the two predators accounted for <14% of known cattle mortalities, but mortality from the two species were suggested to be as high as 36% if missing calves were included, an assumption all local ranchers already suggest without additional evidence of confirmed causes of mortalities. Based upon an analysis by Rosas-Rosas et al. (2008) of just 27 scats, suspected to be from jaguars, but unverified by molecular methods the data indicated that cattle accounted for 58% of the biomass consumed by jaguars followed by white-tailed deer. However, three individual jaguars were believed to be responsible for most of the depredation events, again unverified by DNA. In contrast, in the same study, biomass in puma scats consisted mostly of white-tailed deer (57.3%) followed by collared peccary 11.3%) and then cattle (8.7%).
Rosas-Rosas et al. (2010) quantified gross habitat characteristics associated with cattle depredations by predators in northern Mexico. Most depredations during the dry season occurred in riparian areas in association with perennial water sources. Cattle management practices such as stocking rates, age class of livestock, year-round calving, movement patterns, and availability of water sources are all factors that are believed to influence jaguar and puma predation rates on livestock.
Broad-scale conservation of species must take place on human-dominated, heavily impacted landscapes such as Sonoran ranchlands. In this project, funded by GreaterGood.org, we hope we are implementing real solutions as simple as translocating peccaries and as complex as the development of management plans for livestock on a landscape basis. We encourage cooperation among many different conservation organizations working in Sonora, Mexico, by joining us in this effort.
We wish to sincerely thank GreaterGood.org for its generous grant award
that continues to provide the funding for this project.
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