Jaguars, the largest living cats in the Americas, have a newly declared sanctuary in central Belize, an area critical to protecting this threatened species.
Officials from the conservation group Panthera announced today that the government of Belize has declared 7,000 acres of key jaguar habitat between Belize City and Belmopan, the nation’s capital, as a protected area. The reserve, which lies in an area known as the Central Belize Corridor, will be called the Labouring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary.
“The Government of Belize is serious about ensuring that our country develops in a sustainable manner. We are committed to ensuring the long term viability of our natural systems and the Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary is a critical link in the central corridor, without which biological connectivity would not be possible,” said the Belize Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Gaspar Vega.
While the animals are no longer hunted for their coats, jaguars have been eradicated from 40 percent of their historic range due to direct killing and land development for agriculture. Jaguar populations still exist in 18 countries in Latin America, from Argentina to Mexico, but overhunting of their natural prey, such as deer and peccaries, forces jaguars to prey on domestic animals and often results in retaliatory killing by humans.
“The jaguar has become a national symbol for Belize, and a source of national pride for the country,” said Howard Quigley, Panthera’s Jaguar Program executive director. “Jaguar conservation in Belize is a wonderful example of how we can conserve large cats in today’s human-dominated landscape if we understand the animal and its environment – through good science – and account for their needs, along with the needs of humans.”
“By preserving these areas, and then connecting them to other protected areas and jaguar populations, through developed landscapes, we allow for jaguars in populations blocks, and for jaguars to move through corridors they’ve used for decades, even with people present,” Quigley added. “This is not only key to their survival, but it secures a higher quality of life for the people living in these corridors.”
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