With a number of new and exciting projects underway within the territory of the Ecotourism Association of Quehueri’ono and the Huaorani Ecolodge, our new resident manager, Guy Edwards, will be writing a monthly blog to share with you all the latest news:
Tracking down jaguars in the Ecuadorian Amazon is no picnic, while taking a photo is close to impossible. But with the help of Santiago Espinosa and his team, Huaorani Ecolodge is now in with a fighting chance.
Santiago, a PhD candidate from the University of Florida, Gainesville and WWF and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) fellow respectively, is carrying out the first large-scale jaguar census in Ecuador.
Huaorani EcoLodge is one of four study sites under investigation. The others include additional locations in the Huaorani Territory and the Yasuni National Park. Together they form one of the last remaining jaguar strongholds in the country and have considerable potential for their conservation.
Jaguars are the largest cat in the Americas and the third largest in the world. At the top of the food chain and weighing up to 130 Kg, jaguars are fearless creatures requiring extensive areas –between 10 and 300 km2- to hunt their prey including deer, peccaries and tapirs. During the drier summer months, sightings of jaguars are more common as the cats come to the larger rivers to find their prey and to bathe.
Jaguars are integral to Huaorani culture and are revered not only because they are the most powerful creatures in the forest, but also because the Huaorani believe their warriors and shaman transform into jaguars when they die.
The jaguar census relies on the use of camera traps. Trails are cut, which incidentally jaguars are known to be fond of using, and the cameras are then installed in 26 different locations, which take photos as the larger animals move past. The cameras are operated for 90 days and are regularly checked on by Espinosa and his team of Huaorani assistants to ensure they are running smoothly. The photos are then analyzed to calculate how many individual jaguars live in the designated area.
The participation of Huaorani field assistants is also opening up new possibilities. Daniel Alvarado and Arturo Enomenga, who have worked with Espinosa throughout this study, commented that projects of this type help to consolidate the connections between ecotourism, protecting the Huaorani territory and culture and biodiversity.
The training opportunities to manage the cameras and monitor the wildlife is a great first step towards the Huaorani Ecolodge obtaining its own camera traps and joining a select group of locations in Ecuador with a permanent installation of cameras and a regular stream of wildlife photos.
The study will be wrapped up in November when Santiago will present the photos and his findings to the local communities.
Preliminary data from the entire study suggests that fewer jaguars and their prey frequent areas subjected to hunting where as the opposite is true where little hunting takes place.
Encouragingly, there have been a number of recent sightings of jaguars within the conservation area where the Ecolodge is located and hearing them at night is common. Trails have also revealed both large and small jaguar footprints.
The photos being sent off to the developers will hopefully corroborate this evidence and provide useful feedback on how effectively the new conservation area, which prohibits hunting, is facilitating the rehabilitation of various species.
The Huaorani knowledge of their forests and its biodiversity makes them formidable hunters. But by using this expertise in tandem with the new conservation area and state of the arc wildlife monitoring tools such as the cameras traps, there is great potential to develop an effective Huaorani conservation programme to complement the ecotourism operation. Let’s hope the photos come out in spots.