Carnivores of Brazil's Grasslands
Carnivores of Brazil's Grasslands is a long-term carnivore monitoring project located in Emas National Park in the cerrado, central Brazil. The cerrado is one of the world's recognised ‘Biodiversity Hotspots', and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. It consists largely of unique woodland and savannah habitats and is home to large numbers of species that are found nowhere else in the world. Many species of large mammals still roam the cerrado, including the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca).
Emas National Park (ENP) protects 132,000 hectares of cerrado
and is named after the large flightless bird, the rhea, known locally as the ema. Because of the staggering abundance of large mammals it supports, the park was dubbed the ‘Brazilian Serengeti' by famous biologist Dr George Schaller. However, the park is threatened by isolation, as the surrounding area has been converted to agricultural land, creating an island of protected natural habitat in a sea of intensive agriculture. The current lack of connectivity between the park and other natural areas could cause extinctions of larger species such as the jaguar, puma and maned wolf, all of which depend on very large areas to maintain genetically viable populations. Surrounding infrastructure, including roads, and direct persecution of the carnivores in the surrounding lands, are also problems. Understanding the status of the carnivore species in and around the park and how they are impacted by these threats is essential to inform species conservation.
Carnivores play a key role as part of the ecosystems. Seventeen carnivore species are present in the ENP, of which eight are classified as threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Earthwatch lead scientist and president of the Jaguar Conservation Fund, Leandro Silveira, established the first long-term study in ENP with his wife, Anah T. A. Jácomo, 13 years ago when very little was known about the cerrado carnivores. The current Earthwatch project focuses efforts on understanding the ecology of the jaguar, puma, maned wolf, crab-eating fox, pampas cat, ocelot, jaguarundi, and the hog-nosed skunk, both within the park and in the agricultural land surrounding it. The project aims to gain a better understanding of the abundance, distribution and ecology of these species to design effective long-term conservation and management initiatives at a regional scale. In addition to this ecological research, parallel projects are studying carnivore diseases and the genetic status of the species.
Home range, habitat use and movement patterns of the key study species are investigated through camera trapping and radio-tracking individuals that have been live-trapped and fitted with radio collars. The results from the radio-tracking are also used to investigate behaviour such as sociability and territoriality. For the maned wolf, it is possible for the team to track individuals in 4x4 vehicles to collect data on social behaviour and foraging. The diets of the focal species are studied through collection and analysis of scats and by examining the stomach contents of road kills.
The project is shedding light on these previously little-known species. In recent years, the remote camera traps have allowed the project team to produce more reliable population numbers for the park's larger predators. The most recent results estimate that at least 25 jaguars, 40 pumas and 70 maned wolves are protected in the ENP.
To date, more than 1,500 individual carnivores from 14 species have been recorded through camera-trapping. Examination of the results of the diet analysis study has revealed that giant-anteater and white-lipped peccary are the most important jaguar prey species, and armadillos and white-lipped peccary are the most important puma prey. The maned wolf is an omnivorous species and its diet is composed of animal and plant items. In future, it is hoped that the results of this ongoing and evolving study will help to identify indicator species; the status of indicator species can be used to indicate the health of the ecosystem to which they belong.
Read more about Carnivores of Brazil's Grasslands.
Cerrado Biodiversity Hotspot
Jaguar Conservation Fund