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Brazilian Ranchers Keep Herds Safe by Killing Endangered Jaguars

Aired January 15, 2001 - 4:28 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: In Brazil, a clash between conservation and commerce is playing out. The issue could be as old as cattle ranching itself: how to keep calves safe from predators.

But CNN's Gary Strieker reports the animals who pose the threat need protection as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY STRIEKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In southwestern Brazil, cattle ranching is big business; but because of low prices for beef, most ranchers are losing money, and they have no tolerance for anything that causes more loss, especially jaguars.

Cowhands on this ranch say jaguars are always killing calves here.

"The only answer," this one says, "is to eliminate jaguars."

The largest wildcats in the Americas, jaguars are larger here in the Pantanal than anywhere else. An endangered species threatened by loss of habitat and illegal hunting, their numbers are declining almost everywhere they're still found, except in this cattle country, where there are so many jaguars they're a problem for ranchers.

(on camera): For generations here in the Pantanal, ranchers have followed a very simple policy to deal with jaguars: They hunt down the big cats and they kill them.

(voice-over): Conservationists are concerned that ranchers could quickly wipe out the jaguar population here, and they say it's not justified.

SANDRA CAVALCANTI, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY: They should know that this is not a jaguar kill. Every time that they find a jaguar kill it's like a really big deal, but sometimes you find an animal that died in the field from another cause, and it doesn't get that much attention.

It's pretty loud, and then all of a sudden you don't hear anything. That also means the animal is going under and up some vegetation. STRIEKER: In a study that's just beginning on this ranch, researchers will try to find out how much damage jaguars are actually causing here. They're capturing jaguars, fitting them with radio collars, and keeping detailed records of their habits and movements.

CAVALCANTI: And the idea is to try to figure out what their predation dynamics is. I mean, are there any problem animals, or pretty much any animal will do the killing given the chance?

STRIEKER: With enough information like that, it might be possible to find ways to change how ranchers manage their cattle to minimize losses caused by jaguars.

But now, many in the Pantanal feel it's impossible for cattle and jaguars to coexist.

This rancher says jaguars kill 5 percent of his calves every year. He wants the government to make it legal to hunt jaguars, like it used to be years ago.

Sources here say, even without changes in the law, many ranchers are killing jaguars whenever they see them.

Gary Strieker, CNN, in the southern Pantanal, Brazil.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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