Jaguars and GPS

Jaguars, which once roamed across Central America and were worshipped as gods by the Mayans, are now in serious decline. Reuters reports on a Mexican-Guatemalan project to fit jaguars with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) units so that their movements can be tracked by satellites. It is hoped that a better understanding of jaguars’ movements will help protect them and the habitat upon which they depend.

Although it is not mentioned in the Reuters article, presumably the project also will utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Individuals jaguar’s movements will be overlaid on digital geographic layers of natural and human features to determine the threat posed by shrinking jaguar habitats (using layers such as vegetation, rivers) as well as expanded human activities (layers such as roads, farms). Researchers and practitioners will then be able to look at which jaguars are encroaching on farms, need to travel across roads to eat and mate. Also, I assume they’ll be looking for instances, sadly, when the GPS units are no longer transmitting or moving.

For my more activist readers: Lest we automatically reject the importance of considering local human activity such as cattle ranching, remember that it’s the local people one has to convince in order to preserve the wild species. Conservation International, one of the lead conservation non-governmental organizations on this project, has had many successes not, I would argue, because they use lots of GIS but because they involve local people in day-to-day conservation.

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