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El Universo

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the top predator of the food chains of ecosystems where it is distributed and the largest land carnivore in Ecuador, but without genetic evidence that respalde- is believed that live here are two subspecies: Panthera onca centralis and Panthera onca onca, scattered on both sides of the Andes.

The first is on the coast, with a conservation category of critically endangered, and the second in the Amazon, which is categorized as endangered. On the coast, according to Galo Zapata-Rios, scientific director of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Ecuador, the species is critically endangered by deforestation, which results in habitat loss and reduced levels of connectivity.

Declining prey by demand for bushmeat (subsistence hunting and commercial) and direct hunting because of the commercial value of their skin are other threats facing the jaguar. The latter, although the Integral Code of Criminal Procedure (COIP) punishable by a sentence of up to three years for anyone who threatens the flora and wildlife, which means, against threatened, endangered and migratory species listed nationally, as well as international treaties ratified by the State, among them, the Convention of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (Cites).

This legal framework allowed, after a three-year process, June 23rd, 2014 for the first time a citizen was sentenced to six months in prison for killing a jaguar in the Amazon, after the Ministry of Environment (MAE) appealed the initial sentence of ten days. And although that sanction set a precedent at the country level, Gabriela Montoya, MAE technician says that in the same year another case was reported in Sucumbíos, and still in preliminary investigation.

To maintain and restore viable populations of the species, the WCS developed the Action Plan for the Conservation of the Jaguar in Ecuador, with the participation of MAE, NGOs, universities and representatives of indigenous communities.

The Plan, presented in late 2014, is waiting to become official conservation strategy for the species, a goal for which five lines of action were established: research, habitat and connectivity, wildlife management, ex situ management and environmental education and communication.

On the results so far achieved, Montoya says there are people validating a technical tool "that will help to identify progress" as well as the budget to implement many of the actions envisaged in the Plan. In addition, studies are being made socio-environmental diagnosis and habitat to help improve it.

For the high vulnerability of coastal populations of the jaguar, this was the subject of analysis in a workshop to prioritize conservation actions last year called by the Municipality of Guayaquil and held in the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest, an ecosystem where it is believed that there are still examples of the species.

Eric Horstman, executive director of the Pro-Forest Foundation, says that in that ecosystem records have only revealed the presence of between one to three individuals, but because monitoring camera traps has been done has been limited to two paths internal access to the dry forest. This, for lack of resources. "It would be very interesting if we get 25 or more trap cameras and say that in some areas later in the fog forest mountains," says Horstman, but regrets that one of the problems they face is sabotage. "Hunters or whoever is aware of the cameras, amagues them", he says.

Zapata-Rios also believes in the necessity and priority of studies of the abundance of jaguars not only in Cerro Blanco, but along the fog forest, "because there is connectivity between Cerro Blanco and all dry forests that reach Jipijapa (Manabi)." "Everything is connected, then the probability that there is a small population of jaguars is still there ..."

According to the analysis of habitat availability contained in the Plan, in the Amazon would have 70 % available and the Costa, 20 %. The most threatened areas have not been identified. "We know there is jaguar presence in forest remnants or buffer zones, I mean surrounding protected areas of the Coast," said Montoya.

Neither it knows how many jaguars there altogether. "The only place in the Costa where we are 100 % sure that there is still a population is in Esmeraldas, at the bottom of (the Reserve) Cotacachi-Cayapas, between 30 and 50 individuals," said Zapata-Rios. (I)

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