Imagine sharing your backyard with a large, carnivorous predator. In the Pantanal, a remote, rural region of Brazil that happens to have one of the highest densities of wild jaguars in the world, a lot of local ranchers find themselves in this sort of situation. Jaguars prey on their cattle, and ranchers kill jaguars to defend their herds and their way of life.
Jaguars, the largest wild cat in the Americas, are under threat. Today they’re thought to occupy only about 50 percent of their historic range. Although the pelt trade is illegal, jaguar poaching remains a problem, alongside the loss and degradation of jaguars’ natural landscapes. Panthera, a global conservation group dedicated to saving wild cats and their habitats, is working to preserve jaguars—including in the Pantanal, where a unique experiment is playing out. Ranchers and jaguars are finding new ways to live side-by-side.
Panthera invited Motherboard down to its ranch / jaguar research base in Pantanal to check it out, and we brought along some virtual reality cameras. The result is our new interactive VR film, “Living With Jaguars,” which had its world premiere at SXSW this week.
Part documentary, part immersive game, the film explores the Pantanal through the perspectives of local ranchers, scientists, ecotourism operators, and the cats.
Documenting this project, we learned that conservation is rarely straightforward—and it’s not just about telling people to stop killing jaguars, as simple as that may seem. The reality is, it’s a give-and-take that requires practical solutions and hard work. Panthera is helping ranchers in the Pantanal install anti-predation measures, like special enclosures and electric fences, to protect their herds from jaguar attacks. And locals are turning to jaguar ecotourism as a source of income, which is bringing new money to the region. As Ailton, one local tour operator, told us: “The jaguar is worth more alive than dead.”
It’s worth emphasizing that this is a relatively new project, happening in one slice of Brazil. (Panthera’s larger scale efforts include protecting a “corridor” of jaguar habitat from Mexico to Argentina, including in the Pantanal.) Jaguar conservation is made more complicated by the fact that these animals are so elusive, making it difficult for scientists to know exactly how many are left in the wild, although some populations have been well-studied. Here, in this region, researchers are hopeful. They say that jaguars are bouncing back.
We’ll be rolling out more content around jaguars in the weeks to come, but in the meantime, we hope you’ll check out this preview of “Living With Jaguars.” As Panthera researcher Allison Devlin told us, “This is an example of [how] humans and jaguars can co-exist.”