Jaguars, Rewilding And The Factory Farm Frontline

As the world celebrates International Jaguar Day, there is both good and bad news on the battle to save this iconic species.

There is the wonderful news of jaguars returning to wetlands in north-eastern Argentina, as part of an exciting rewilding project.

Having been extinct in the area for over 70 years, a mother jaguar, Mariua, and her two captive-born cubs, Karai and Porã, were released into the newly established 700,000-hectare (1.75-million-acre) Gran Iberá Park as part of a reintroduction programme.

Rewilding projects offer huge opportunities, as Doreen Robinson, Head of Biodiversity & Land at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), commented when the jaguars were released: “Carefully re-introducing predators such as jaguars can help restore ecosystems. Without these species, biodiversity suffers and the services that nature provides can break down — from disease mitigation and soil protection to water system regulation.

Big Ag

Historically, jaguars could be found from the Grand Canyon of the US through the Amazon all the way to Argentina. Today, their range is much more restricted with half the remaining world population in Brazil; the country on the global frontline in the bitter clash between the activities of multinational ‘Big Ag’, local economic interests and efforts to save endangered wildlife, including the jaguar.

Brazil is a giant in agriculture. It’s the number one exporter of poultry meat and beef and second only to the US in soya production. It is the world leader in soya exports, most of which is destined for the feed troughs of intensively farmed pigs, chickens and cattle.

This economic success has come at a heavy price in terms of deforestation, habitat destruction, as well as human and animal suffering.

The plight of the jaguar is particularly concerning with a recent study revealing that between August 2016 and December 2019 1,422 jaguars were killed or displaced in the Brazilian Amazon because of deforestation.

It’s no coincidence that jaguar losses were highest in Pará and Mato Grosso; both states having undergone huge agricultural expansion, driven by soya production for the world’s factory farms.

Land-use cascade

Soya crops replacing pastures and forests in Mato Grosso have pushed cattle herds deeper into the forests of Pará causing new deforestation. Scientists have described this destructive process between cattle and soy as a ‘land-use cascade’. I’ve seen it myself in Brazil.

Flying over Mato Grosso gave me a real understanding of the sheer scale of deforestation in this part of the world. I could see the forest frontier and the extraordinary extent to which soya dominated. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.

Nothing had prepared me for the sheer scale of the animal-feed industry’s takeover of the Amazon. I wonder how many people imagine, whilst eating their bargain-basement chicken nuggets and pork chops, that those products reach their plates via the felling of trees and the loss of iconic species?

Reflecting on the scale of landscape change I saw in Brazil, I remembered something written by World Wildlife Fund’s former Chief Scientist in the US, Eric Dinerstein:

Few field biologists bother to check the daily price of soybeans or palm oil. This is an oversight because the market value of these commodities — along with beef, corn, sugar and coffee, may, over the coming decades, define the future or rare species more profoundly than any other driver of habitat loss will. At present, nowhere is the conversion and fracturing of rainforests by industrialised agriculture in the world’s most precious ecosystems more evident than in Southeast Asia and Brazil.’’

Time running out

International Jaguar Day highlights the need to conserve jaguars and their habitats as part of broader efforts to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But time is running out. In 2020 deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil reached its highest level in over a decade.

We must hold governments to account to ensure they deliver on their latest Declaration on Forests and Land Use to conserve forests and accelerate their restoration, agreed during the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow.

With food systems responsible for up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss and generating one third of all greenhouse gas emissions, it’s clear that to achieve the SDGs, to meet the Paris Climate Change targets and to save precious wildlife, we must transform food systems.

Action needed

In a world producing more than 80 billion land animals for food a year, most of them factory farmed, food system transformation means a wholesale shift to welfare-positive, nature friendly production with far fewer farmed animals and more plant-based diets.

In the meantime, we can all make a difference with the food that we choose to put on our plates: choosing more plant-based foods, less meat and ensuring any meat we do eat comes from higher welfare and nature-friendly sources such as pasture-fed, free range or organic.

Please also join us at Compassion in World Farming in calling for the wholesale system change needed to end animal cruelty, save the jaguar, and preserve the natural world that acts as the life support systems on which we all depend.

Please sign our petition calling on the governments of the countries that consume the most meat per capita to take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis by reducing meat and dairy consumption and moving towards sustainable, higher welfare, healthy food systems.

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