The Rainforest Jaguar in Ecuador
The Rainforest Jaguar can be found in greater number in Ecuador than in almost any other place on earth. The jungle is their home, but as reported in a recent article in the Guardian UK, human intrusion is endangering the largest cat in the Americas. This in turn has serious implications for the balance of the whole rainforest ecosystem.
Keep reading to learn more about the majestic Ecuador jaguar in the rainforest. Why are they under threat? How many jaguars are there in Ecuador? Plus lots of fun Ecuador jaguar facts along the way.
Ecuador rainforest: Exploitation vs Conservation
The clash between conservation and profit in the Amazon jungle is longstanding. The riches of Ecuador’s jungle go beyond the incredible flora and fauna above the ground, there are large oil deposits that propel the country’s economy below the soil. In Yasuni National Park, considered the most biodiverse place on the planet, there are an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of crude oil. Oil operations have brought roads, and the new access gave way to logging and agriculture. More than a million acres of deforestation resulted, and has shrunk dramatically causing the elusive cat to retreat to less traversed areas of the Oriente jungle.
It seems inevitable that Ecuador's Amazon habitat will come under mounting pressure in the future. Ecuador is a developing country and simply cannot afford to leave the oil and minerals underground. An ex-president went as far as to compare Ecuador to a beggar sitting atop a pot of gold. The creation of Yasuni National Park does protect a 9,823 square kilometers swathe of virgin forest, but the surrounding rainforest is still open to exploitation. Tourism and rising environmental awareness do provide hope for the future, but the trade-off between conservation and exploitation remains a difficult balance to find.
The Ecuador Jaguar Population
Today there are around 2000 jaguars found in Ecuador. Most live in the eastern jungle region of the country, protected by dense rainforest. Actual numbers signal both a thriving jaguar population and also a healthy ecosystem.
There are also some Ecuador jaguars found in the west coast forests. Sadly, here the story is rather different. Ecuador's coastal jaguars are critically endangered due to habitat depletion caused largely by shrimp farming.
The World Wildlife Fund and Ecuadorian conservationists have set up camera traps that are helping with research to maintain a census of Jaguars in Ecuador. In Yasuni National Park there have been regular sightings of 21 different jaguars, with several migrating cats passing through as well. This confirms that northeast Ecuador boasts the highest rainforest jaguar density in the world!
This information is being used to urge the powers that be to help conserve important areas of the rainforest where jaguars live. But with the advent of new oil fields and mining operations on the horizon, the struggle to preserve the current population of these big cats is at a crucial stage.
Why is the Jaguar so Important to Ecuador's Rainforest Habitat?
As dominant predator, the jaguar has always been culturally respected by local indigenous in the Amazon rainforest. In Ecuador, jaguars are revered for their strength, power, and intelligence. They are even considered protectors of forest knowledge & secrets by some. Statues and figures of rainforest jaguars have been uncovered by archaeologists since Pre-Colombian times, providing insight into the jaguar´s position as a divine figure in those times.
Ecologically too the jaguar plays a very important role in maintaining the intricate balance of the Amazon Rainforest ecosystem. Take the jaguar out of the equation and the food chain below will be adversely affected, from large & small mammals to plants and insects. The jaguar helps to control the rainforest balance, and is often used as a measurement of the health of the whole ecosystem. These big cats feed on anything they can catch and commonly target small rodents. So a thinning of the jaguar population leads to an over-population of rodents, which in turn eat more insects and seeds, thus affecting the vital regeneration of the forest. In essence, the jaguar in Ecuador is a species that helps to preserve many other species below it. So, jaguar habitat conservation in Ecuador is more important today than ever.
Interesting Rainforest Jaguar Facts
- Individual jaguars in Ecuador have a very wide range. Males have been known to travel 50 square miles when traversing the territory of a female.
- Unlike domestic cats, rainforest jaguars love water. They are sometimes spotted swimming or on the banks of the Napo River and its tributaries during the dry season when the lack of rain brings them to the water’s edge to fish and hunt.
- Young jaguar cubs are blind until two weeks after birth. They stay close to their mothers for 6 months before leaving the den to explore and practice hunting together. After two years they are ready to set off on their own into the forest to fend for themselves.
- The jaguar is the third largest cat in the world (after lions and tigers), and has an average lifespan of up to fifteen years in the wild.
- In addition to being great swimmers, rainforest jaguars can travel at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour on land. They are highly skilled climbers, and will often scale trees to ambush their prey from above.
How to See a Rainforest Jaguar in Ecuador?
It should come as no surprise to learn that it's extremely difficult to spot jaguars in the wild in Ecuador, or indeed anywhere else in the world. Imagine just 2000 jaguars roaming such a huge territory of dense forest. It's literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. Remember too that jaguars are renowned for their stealth and camouflage, so even if you were to cross paths with one you may not even realize it.
In Ecuador, jaguars are among the most challenging rainforest species to spot. A few lucky tourists do occasionally catch a quick glimpse of a jaguar disappearing into the forest, but this is in truth an unusual occurrence.
To increase your chances the Happy Gringo Ecuador Jaguar Tracks tour takes visitors deep into the rainforest, to the land of the Huaorani tribe. This area of forest is home to jaguars, and even if you don’t see one in person (which is rare), it is common to see signs of their passing such as paw prints and scat. Listen out at night and you might even hear a Jaguar roar.
For more information about visiting the jungle of Ecuador and discovering the incredible plants, animals, and people who live there, contact a member of our team for a FREE RAINFOREST TOUR QUOTE.
In conclusion, the Ecuador jaguar is a creature of legend and plays a vital role as the apex predator in the jungle ecosystem. Ecuador still has a healthy rainforest jaguar population, but lessons need to be learned from the disappearance of the coastal jaguar. The pressure to exploit oil and minerals under the Ecuadorian rainforest will only increase as time goes on, so action is required now to preserve the habitat and protect this wonderful species.