The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas and the third largest cat in the world. They are classified by the IUCN as Near Threatened and in Costa Rica they are considered to be highly threatened. The main threats facing jaguars today are habitat loss and fragmentation, decreases in prey numbers and hunting of individuals that prey on livestock. In Tortuguero National Park there is a perceived conflict with the jaguar population predating marine turtles, and the population here has come under scrutiny because of this.
GVI have been running a camera trapping program in the Jalova region of TNP (Tortuguero National Park) since 2011, during which time 18 individual jaguars have been identified. The main aims of the project are to establish population estimates and to study the behaviour of the jaguars, particularly in relation to predation on marine turtles, in order to better understand this unusual situation and to analyse what, if any, management actions should be taken. Along with permanent stations along the forest trail adjacent to the beach, camera traps are often set on freshly predated turtle carcasses in order to capture jaguars when they return to feed. We have caught some extraordinary behaviour on film this year, from two adult males feeding together at a Leatherback carcass to a fight between an adult female and a young male at a green carcass.
The most recent success was possibly the most exciting footage so far. The cameras were set on the fresh carcass of a green turtle, just over two miles from Jalova base. The footage showed one of our female jaguars, Eliana, feeding with two small cubs. There are several minutes of footage of the cubs; not only feeding but also playing, calling and practicing their hunting skills on an unfortunate marine toad.
Whilst the footage of the cubs is adorable to watch, it is also very significant in terms of the studies being carried out here in Tortuguero. The more that can be learnt about the behaviour of the jaguars and their reliance on marine turtles as a food source the better it will be for taking any management decisions regarding the local jaguar population. There has been a slightly sensationalist attitude towards the perceived threat of the jaguars towards the marine turtle population, and to some, the news of more jaguars in the park may not be welcome, but the cubs represent a new generation of jaguars and, for a species classified as near threatened, any new additions to the population can only be a good thing.