Research Program

Nargana - Guna Yala

&

Mamoni Valley

Kaminando’s ongoing research focuses on the largest felid in the Americas, the jaguar (Panthera onca). The wide-ranging carnivore is an important part of the area’s ecology, culture and history. However, the species is considered near threatened (IUCN 2009) across most of its range and it is threatened in Panama. The decline of jaguars is attributed to anthropogenic pressures that conflict with their basic ecological needs. The biggest threat comes from deforestation, which causes habitat fragmentation that isolates jaguar populations. Prey depletion and illegal killing have also contributed to their decline.

Baird's tapir

Kaminando has undertaken another challenge by incorporating Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii) in our research endeavor.

The tapir is one of the most emblematic mammals of Mesoamerica, but like other large‐bodied animals, it is facing an increasing risk of extinction due primarily to habitat loss and localized hunting. The species low reproductive rate makes it more vulnerable to these threats. Baird’s tapir population has declined by over 50% in the past three decades; render them as Endangered by the IUCN Red Listed. Yet there is a paucity of basic population biology data capturing local empirically observed population changes.

We are implementing an innovative program in which communities of the Guna Yala Indigenous Territory and Mamoni Valley become shareholders in the jaguar-tapir research enterprise.

Study Area and Goals

2021 Research Study Area

The study area currently encompasses ~600 km2, which includes The Mamoní Valley, Nargana – Guna Yala Territory and The Chagres National Park in Panama. We are examining how the nature of intervening landscape elements influence the occupation and dispersal of jaguars. Our program is determining jaguar density across different landscape systems. Additionally, we are establishing whether the study area supports ample populations of jaguar prey (i.e. white-lipped peccary, collared peccary, tapir).

Methodology

Our methodology involves a detection/non-detection sampling technique using camera traps. Cameras provide photographic imagery of passing jaguars. We then analyze landscape and environmental covariates to determine jaguar distribution and movement within the study area. Camera trapping also provides data on other cat species (puma, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi) and their prey.

Camera-Traps: Kaminando jaguar research project has depployed annually -on average- 60 camera traps in 45 stations. We have acquired over 250 images of jaguars and prey species, some of which are considered threatened. Today, we monitor 15 individual jaguars including melanistics individuals.

Habitat Suitability Modeling: Systematic data acquisition allowed us to develop –for the first time in Panama– models of seasonal habitat use of jaguars and pumas. Additionally, we have determined habitat overlap of felids and their prey, and ocelot occurrence and occupancy.

GPS Collaring. A second methodology that Kaminando is pursuing to implement soon, is fitting jaguars with GPS collars to determine movement, home range, and activity patterns. For the species in Panama and specially in our study area, this information is crucial to understand how jaguars uses the landscape and which areas it prefers or avoids and thus, serves an important role in guiding conservation and management plans for the species.

Tropical Montane Cloud Forest (TMCF)

TMCFs worldwide have been disappearing rapidly. They face localized threats such as fragmentation and deforestation resulting from human population pressure. Consequently, TMCFs are high on the list of the world’s most threatened terrestrial ecosystems. To date, these rare ecosystems occupy about 0.14% of the entire land surface of the planet.

The most recognizable and defining feature of a TMCF is frequent cloud cover, which produces unique climate conditions. Rainfall is often heavy, and condensation occurs due to cooling of moisture-laden air currents deflected upward by the mountains. Research suggests that the timing, strength and frequency of cloud cover is fluctuating due to climate change (rising temperatures).

TMCFs are home to an incredible number of plant and animal species with high rates of endemism. Unfortunately, they are extremely vulnerable to a host of anthropogenic pressures such as unsustainable logging, cattle grazing and hunting.

TMCF are found along the Caribbean coast of eastern Panama at elevations ranging from 500 and 1,000 m (1,650 to 3,300 feet), which includes the reaches of Mamoní Valley Preserve.