First Comprehensive Review of National Jaguar Protection Laws


News — NEW YORK (July 6, 2022) – Conservationists have conducted the first comprehensive review of national laws across the jaguar’s range (panthera onque) to show the possibilities of strengthening the legal protection of the largest feline species in the Americas.

The review, published in the International Journal of Wildlife Law and Policy was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Cornell University, Universidad del Pacífico in Lima and Zamorano University in Honduras. The authors say it presents a simplified way to compare protection approaches by jaguar range states that together could form a strong conservation framework.

The review comes at a time when concerns about escalating illegal trade in jaguar parts – particularly their skins, teeth and claws – have heightened the need to understand the strengths and gaps of legal frameworks that protect wildlife. ‘species. The authors note that no range country allows trade in dead jaguars and that all countries in the study have adopted administrative and criminal penalties for illegal hunting and trade of their parts; however, the penalties vary widely and there is a need to implement the legal consequences more effectively.

The authors list the following possibilities for improving the legal structure:

  • Adopt national legal level laws that specifically call for the protection of the jaguar
  • Establish clear administrative and criminal penalties for hunting and trafficking jaguars and failure to comply with coexistence best practices
  • Ensure that the penalties enacted for violations are sufficiently dissuasive for national and foreign actors
  • Recognize non-binding conservation strategies, such as wildlife management plans, within the legal system. This should include systems that prevent and manage human-wildlife conflict, and recognition of traditional customary management practices that provide incentives for the sustainable use of natural resources across wide geographic areas.

The lead author of the paper, WCS conservation social scientist Dr Heidi Kretser, said: “Individuals and institutions working on jaguar conservation can use the information in this review to ensure that national legal frameworks and administrative and criminal penalties for violations are effective. Government and territorial institutions can benefit from the analysis, but also have a responsibility to ensure adequate enforcement capacity to implement the laws. We believe this presentation will help range countries achieve the 2030 goals for jaguar conservation across the Americas.

The authors found that there was a need to harmonize laws and penalties within and between bordering countries: tailoring regional efforts to the large movements of jaguars, which are found over a range of 7 million km square (over 2.7 million square miles) stretching from the southern United States to northern Argentina.

The majority of jaguar subpopulations are transboundary (eg Brazil/Argentina, Guatemala/Belize/Mexico). For example, the border area shared by Ecuador, Peru and Colombia has been cataloged as a single massive jaguar conservation unit. Jaguar Conservation Units are defined as areas with stable prey that could sustain a minimum resident jaguar population of 50 breeding individuals and adequate habitat. This area is important for ensuring connectivity for jaguars in the Amazon Basin and for conserving biodiversity and fundamental ecosystem services for indigenous peoples. Yet these countries have decidedly different laws; Peru has adopted increased penalties for unlawful killings committed inside protected areas, while other countries have not.

The paper focused on legal frameworks applicable to wildlife conservation and jaguars in particular, but other legal arrangements that negatively affect jaguar conservation exist, such as deficient land titling rules, gaps allowing deforestation and weak enforcement capacity.

Monica Nuñez Salas, Peruvian law professor and co-author of the article, noted: “The social and environmental context in which these laws are enacted profoundly influences their effectiveness for conservation.

Said John Polisar of the Zamorano Biodiversity Center and formerly with WCS: “We hope this review will help jaguar conservation in individual range countries, in transboundary areas and range-wide.

Future work is still needed to improve enforcement and implementation on the ground and fill gaps in existing legislation. In some cases, it may be necessary to update laws to incorporate current understanding of the illegal trade in jaguar parts that occurs in the region and online; and to improve knowledge on how to manage human-jaguar conflicts, particularly in ranching areas.


WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places around the world through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To accomplish our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its global conservation program in nearly 60 countries and in every ocean of the world and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people each year. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.


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