Ecology and conservation of big cats along the upper Paraná River – MS / SP
The Upper Paraná River
The Upper Parana River lies within the Atlantic Forest biome, in the Alto Parana Forest ecoregion. The area is a transition between Cerrado and Atlantic Forest with a mosaic of natural marshlands, semi-deciduous forest, Cerrado and riparian forests, as well as agricultural areas.
This region of the Paraná River extends about 480 km from the confluence of the “Paranaiba” and “Grande” rivers in Minas Gerais state to the “Saltos de Sete Quedas”, which is today submerged by the reservoir of the Itaipu hydroelectric dam. It demarcates the state borders of Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo and Paraná. With the filling of the reservoir at the Porto Primavera (Sérgio Motta) hydroelectric plant in 1998, about half of its area was flooded, leaving today only 30% of the Brazilian Paraná River bed free of dams and still retaining the features of alluvial plain with its associated rich biodiversity.
Protected areas, such as the “Várzeas do Rio Ivinhema” State Park (MS) and the “Ilha Grande” National Park (PR), were created to protect this unique environment, which is mostly composed of wetlands. Although there is a strong human influence on these areas, there are still resident populations of large mammals such as tapirs (Tapirus terrestris), marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus), white-lipped peccary (Tayassu peccary), collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu); capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) and the big cats: jaguar (Panthera onca) and puma (Puma concolor).
History of Research
Between 1992 and 1994, Peter Crawshaw began studying big cats in the region, before the Porto Primavera Reservoir was filled. In 1998 the studies were taken up by Pró-Carnívoros, evaluating the impact of the dam on the large cat populations, in addition to the management and conservation of the species in the region. At the same time, the IPE (Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas) initiated studies of jaguar at Morro do Diabo State Park (SP), near the Parana River. In 1999, at a meeting of jaguar experts, the region was named one of the priority areas for jaguar conservation. In 2002, Pro-carnivores began studies in the “Várzeas do Rio Ivinhema” State Park (MS) and since 2004 we worked in partnership with the IPE across the whole Upper Parana region, uniting efforts in the conservation of jaguars, this unique environment and all the species who live there.
The Porto Primavera hydroelectric dam flooded about 2,250 km² in the Upper Paraná River between 1998 and 2001. As one of the environmental conditions for creation of the reservoir, monitoring threatened species such as marsh deer and the jaguar, was funded by CESP (Companhia Energetica de Sao Paulo), responsible for the dam. Between 1998 and 2002, six jaguars and three pumas were monitored with conventional radio telemetry (VHF) in the area of Porto Primavera.
The jaguars were captured with the assistance of trained dogs. Once cornered, jaguars were sedated and biological samples were collected for genetic and epidemiological analysis, radio collars were then placed and the animals were released for monitoring.
Studies revealed that the filling of Porto Primavera reservoir brought two problems for the big cats, mainly for the jaguar. Besides the decrease in suitable areas for the species, there was an increase in contact between the cats and cattle. Jaguars occupied almost exclusively the flood plains and the reservoir filled these areas, forcing the animals to move into areas occupied by cattle and that had little refuge. So there was a major shift in the search for food and shelter as well as an increase in the home range of jaguars. This greater contact with livestock and declining availability of natural prey increased cases of predation on livestock by jaguars. The majority were killed in retaliation for economic losses, accelerating the local extinction of the jaguar. There are still occasional records, but these are probably transient individuals that do not settle for the lack of suitable habitat.
The “Várzeas do Rio Ivinhema” State Park
As compensation for the filling of Porto Primavera, CESP acquired and donated to the state of Mato Grosso do Sul an area of 73,330 ha which is today the “Várzeas do Rio Ivinhema” State Park. This park maintains extensive floodplains of both the Parana and Ivinhema rivers. Five jaguars and three pumas have been captured and monitored with GPS and VHF radio collars in the region of the park. The study showed that while the puma also occupy the highest areas, in farms outside the park, jaguar almost exclusively use the floodplain areas within the park, demonstrating the importance of this environment and this park for the conservation of jaguars in the region. Camera traps were also used for estimates of jaguar population density and predator-prey interactions. Results show that there is a low density of jaguars, but the sympatry of the two big cats in the area probably occurs due to the prey availability.
After all, in partnership with other institutions and researchers, we use jaguar data to indicate priority areas for conservation throughout Upper Paraná, within the PDA – Mata Atlântica project, supported by Ministry of Environment.
Agostinho, A. and Zalewski, M. 1996. A planície alagável do alto rio Paraná:
importância e preservação (Upper Paraná River Floodplain: Importance and preservation). Nupelia/EDUEM. Maringá, BR
Culen Jr., L., Abreu, C. K., Sana, D. e Nava, A. F. D. 2005. As onças-pintadas como detetives da paisagem no corredor do Alto Paraná, Brasil. Natureza e Conservação 3: 43-58.
Cullen Jr, L. 2006. Jaguar as Landscape Detectives for the Conservation of Atlantic Forests in Brazil, PhD dissertation. University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
Di Bitetti, M.S., Placci, G. and Dietz, L.A., 2003. Uma Visão de Biodiversidade para a Ecorregião Florestas do Alto Paraná – Bioma Mata Atlântica: planejando a paisagem de conservação da biodiversidade e estabelecendo prioridades para ações de conservação. FundacionVida Silvestre Argentina/World Wildlife Fund. Washington, D.C. USA.
Fotos: Programa Onças do Alto Paraná (Figs:1,3,9,11,12,13) e Adriano Gambarini (Figs:5,6,7,8,10).
Programa Onças do Alto Paraná
Biólogo Denis Alésio Sana