Jaguar Reintroduction Project

Current status of the project (updated to February 2019): after evaluating the existence of a large extension of continuous habitat that could hold around 100 jaguars and a social survey that shows great support for the reintroduction of jaguars throughout the province of Corrientes, the construction of the Jaguar Reintroduction Center was carried out in 2015. This center, located in the core of the Natura Iberá Reserve, aims to raise and rehabilitate jaguars that could successfully live in the wild. In 2015, the first breeding female, Tobuna, arrived at the Center, followed by the first male, Nahuel, in 2016. During 2017, one male and two females (Chiqui, Tania and Isis), were donated by different institutions from Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, and also joined the project. These animals are not able to be released, but they are expected to have offspring that can grow without human contact and learn to hunt by themselves, so that they can be released into the wild. In June of 2018, Tania gave birth to a female and a male, the first two jaguar cubs in the Center and which were named as Arami and Mbarete. The birth was received with great joy and expectation by neighbors of nearby towns, as well as nationally and internationally. In February 2019, Chiqui, the father of the cubs, returned to the Atinguy Wildlife Refuge (Yacyretá) in Paraguay after completing his reproductive period.
In December 2018 two females from Brazil arrived at the international quarantine located in the San Cayetano Provincial Park. Juruna and Mariua were born in early 2017 and were rescued from the wild after their mother died at the hands of hunters. In the NEX (No Extinction) Center, near Brasilia, they remained with minimal contact with humans until they were donated to the Jaguar Reintroduction Project in Iberá. After successfully completing the quarantine phase, both females will be transferred to the Reintroduction Center in early 2019.

Two new jaguars are incorporated to the Wildlife Reintroduction Project in the Iberá Park (Corrientes)

Juruna, -black mouth in the native Guarani language- and Mariua -in reference to a geographical region of Brazil- are two young females, less than two years old that are being incorporated into the jaguar reintroduction project in the Iberá Park (Corrientes, Argentina), led by CLT Argentina and the government of that province. Juruna and Mariua come from the Scientific Breeding institute NEX located in Aparecida de Loloia, a small town a few kilometers north of Brasilia (Brazil). These two females had been taken there by the authorities of the Brazilian Environment Institute when they were a few months old, after poachers killed their mother. In that center they received the necessary attention to recover and be able to travel to Argentina today.

The two females were evaluated genetically and sanitarily in Brazil to ensure that they could be incorporated into the jaguar reintroduction project. Now the health studies will continue in the international quarantine located in the San Cayetano Provincial Park (Corrientes) where they will stay for about a month, until they are transferred to the facilities of the Jaguar Reintroduction Center, located in Iberá Park. This center also holds Arami and Mbarete, the first two jaguar cubs born in Corrientes in more than half a century, when the species disappeared from the province. The center was built in 2015 within the Rewilding program led by the CLT organization, the Argentine branch of Tompkins Conservation, in Iberá Park, with contribution of many institutions, organizations, companies and the joint work of the people of Corrientes. Juruna and Mariua are the sixth and seventh individuals to be incorporated into the project, added to the other five jaguars from other rescue centers and zoos from Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

The transfer of these jaguars highlights the joint work of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers such as NEX and conservation projects such as the one carried out by CLT and the Corrientes government. These joint actions give meaning to the existence of these centers and allow that wildlife individuals (in this case jaguars) can continue making contributions to the conservation of their species beyond having been removed from their natural habitat by illegal activities. It should also highlight the joint work of the Brazilian and Argentine governments through the environmental authorities (Environment and Sustainable Development Office), sanitary (SENASA) and customs, to enable the arrival of Juruna and Mariua to our country. This event highlights that the survival of a seriously threatened species such as the jaguar exceeds the efforts that can be made by a single nation.


December 6th, 2018: Arami y Mbarete turn 6 months old


The First Jaguar Cubs Are Born in Iberá After Decades of Absence

June 6, 2018, is a historic day for Tompkins Conservation’s rewilding efforts, as it marks the arrival of two new jaguar cubs in Iberá Park, situated in the wetlands of northeastern Argentina. These two new cubs are not only the first newborns from our CLT Jaguar Reintroduction Program at Iberá Park, but represent the first jaguars born in decades in this region, where the species has been absent since the industrialization of the 20th century.


The two new cubs are offspring of two of the program’s jaguar on loan from partnering institutions: Chiqui, the father, was born in the wild but lived in a rescue center after being orphaned by a hunter; Tania, the mother, came to the center after being born and raised in a zoo. It is notable that Tania is missing a leg from an incident she endured when she was just a cub. Despite this disability, she has learned to hunt for herself since joining the Jaguar Reintroduction Program and is now the mother of the first cubs born in Iberá in approximately half a century.

With the birth of these cubs, an important step has been taken in Tompkins Conservation’s rewilding work in Iberá, which is the result of the dream and the vision of Douglas and Kristine Tompkins, who first fell in love with these vast, wild wetlands in 1997. Today, the area not only has the first jaguar cubs, but is home to recovered populations of species that had been lost, like the anteater, the Pampas deer, the tapir, the collared peccary and the red-and-green macaw. In addition, our team has already donated approximately 150,000 acres to the Argentine government to create the future Iberá National Park.

As Sofía Heinonen, CLT Executive Director, states, “This is a historic moment for Iberá and the rest of Argentina, as we see how our most endangered mammal, an emblem of our country, takes a step towards its recovery. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of people and tens of organizations in Corrientes, Argentina and other countries over many years, Iberá is now recognized as being among the world’s major nature destinations and as an inspiring story of environmental and cultural restoration, and the jaguar is currently moving away from the abyss of extinction.”


Jaguar reintroduction in Iberá Natural Reserve:
Why it makes sense?

The jaguar is the largest cat of the Americas. While it originally inhabited diverse landscapes from the United States to Southern Argentina, today it is only found in less than 50% of its original distribution. Argentina stands out as one of the countries were this species has experienced a most dramatic population reduction. Jaguars that used to roam the vast Pampas and Northern Patagonia were extirpated, and the species is presently restricted to three isolated and critically endangered populations in the Northern tip of the country.

The establishment of 3,2 million acres Iberá Natural Reserve in Corrientes province (NE Argentina) in 1983 created a unique opportunity for jaguar restoration. This opportunity became strengthened by the establishment of The Conservation Land Trust (CLT) inside Iberá. CLT has purchased and it is ecologically restoring 370,000 acres of former cattle ranches to establish Argentina’s largest national park inside the larger Iberá reserve. Simultaneously, CLT started an ambitious program aimed to reintroduce all large mammals that became extirpated inside Iberá during the XXth century. As a result of this endeavor, we have already reestablished the presence of giant anteaters and pampas deer in this vast nature reserve. Jaguar restoration will be the next step in this direction. Here are the reasons why we think this makes sense.

There is an ecological, social and economic need for the return of the Jaguar to Iberá

The jaguar is the original top predator within Iberá wetlands, grasslands and forests. Its presence controls populations of large herbivores and medium size predators, and, as a result of this, influences vegetation structure and long-term survival of smaller animal species. Two decades of conservation management at Iberá Reserve have allowed for a significant recovery of native herbivores like the marsh deer and capybaras, and mesopredators like caimans, cats and foxes. With their populations on the rise, it makes ecological sense to restore the presence of a top predator, such as the jaguar, to exert long-term control on their numbers and reestablish original evolutionary and ecological processes. Its return also makes social sense, since the jaguar is a key element of local culture and folklore. Finally, it makes economical sense in a region where its 10 surrounding municipalities are striving to create a world class ecoturourism destination connected to neighboring Iguaçu waterfalls, with its one million annual visitors. Such destination would benefit dramatically from the symbolical and actual presence of jaguars in the local landscape.

There is wide social support for jaguar reintroduction in Corrientes province

A recent study carried out by a local biologist assessed attitudes and values of Correntinos towards jaguar reintroduction. Results from this study showed an unexpected high level of enthusiasm towards this idea, both in the provincial capital and rural areas around Iberá reserve. In all places, support for the species reintroduction surpassed 90% of the 400 plus interviewees. This study brought to surface a strong identification of a traditional society like the one in Corrientes with the mythical image of the jaguar. Correntinos feel that the jaguar represents their character and personality, and they also see it as a potential touristic attraction.

Relationship between locations and the level of support towards jaguar reintroduction in Iberá
(Source: Flavia Caruso)

There is sufficient good quality habitat to reestablish a viable jaguar population

Iberá represents a rare case within South America of a region where jaguars are absent, but there is enough space to harbor a sustainable population of the species. A recent study estimates that between CLT and the Corrientes government they hold around 650,000 acres of top quality habitat (i.e. good vegetation cover, proximity to water and high density of wild prey) and minimum conflict (i.e. absence of cattle ranches or human populations, buttressed by well- established conservation policy and actions). These potential jaguar core areas would be buffered or connected by another one million acres of refuges/corridors made up of low quality habitat, but with minimum conflict between jaguars and humans. On top of this, CLT, the Argentinean government and local authorities are negotiating the establishment of a 1,7 million acres national park that could hold the single largest jaguar reserve in the country in what would actually be Argentina’s largest national park.

Habitat assessment for jaguar reintroduction in the 3,2 million acre Iberá Natural Reserve
(Source: Carlos de Angelo)

There is organizational expertise and commitment towards jaguar reintroduction

CLT has been steadily investing in habitat and species restoration in Iberá since 1999, and plans to maintain this commitment until the national park is established and all large mammal species restored. In 2006 we started our first reintroduction project with the giant anteater. Today there are 19 anteaters living within Iberá, three of which were born in the area. Annual survival of reintroduced anteaters surpasses 90% and reproduction is steadily rising as the population increases. In 2009 we carried out the first translocation of wild pampas deer into Iberá reserve. Now there is a growing population of this deer in the area and further reinforcements are planned and authorized. These projects have allowed us to establish a well-experienced team of biologists and veterinarians who are able to plan and implement reintroduction projects. To carry out this we have developed working skills on such diverse activities as health screening, animal immobilization, telemetry monitoring, political and administrative negotiation, and public outreach and communication. In order to get prepared for jaguar reintroduction, our veterinaries have assisted other jaguar projects in Argentina, and we have visited and exchanged information with other international projects aimed to reintroduce other Panthera species.


Our general approach towards jaguar reintroduction

The most straightforward method to reintroduce a large predator like jaguar is to capture and translocate wild individuals after keeping them in pre-release pens where they get habituated to their new habitat. Sadly, existing jaguar populations in Argentina are highly endangered and it won’t be possible to extract animals from them to start a new population in Iberá. Similarly, it would be extremely difficult to get permission from neighboring countries to capture and translocate wild jaguars from their territory.

Therefore, our general approach to jaguar reintroduction will be based on obtaining pairs of captive jaguars in order to breed them in such ways that their offspring could be released in the wild. This implies designing and managing large pens where young jaguars learn to hunt wild prey without getting habituated to humans.

Once these captive-born jaguars reach independent age, they will be transported to pre-release pens on a strict reserve sited that is far away from people and cattle, and harbors optimum habitat and abundant wild prey. In order to avoid long-range exploratory movements from male jaguars, females will be used as “anchors” around which males will establish their home-ranges. All released animals will have a GPS collar that will provide regular information on their whereabouts and activity patterns.


Project collaborators

The Iberá Jaguar Reintroduction Project has received funding from:

  • Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation
  • Bromley Charitable Trust
  • Ferrero
  • Artis Zoo
  • Chester Zoo

The following zoos have contributed with animals to the project:

  • Zoo de Batán (Provincia de Buenos Aires)
  • Zoo de Buenos Aires (Capital Federal)
  • Zoo de Bubalcó (Provincia de Río Negro)