The network is no doubt one of the great achievements of this project. It is thanks to the volunteers and their assiduous work that tangible proof of the cat's presence in the Upper Parana is available. Without the information they have collected, it would not even be possible to say for sure that jaguars and other large mammals such as the puma or ocelot live in the forest.
Approximately 100 fecal samples and plaster molds of tracks from 35 different locations have been collected. The first study area for the camera traps, in Uruguay, has yielded several pictures of pumas, ocelots and peccaries - and one picture of a female jaguar.
The importance of the jaguar and its critical link to the forest's salvation is seeping into the different layers of local communities through a variety of mechanisms. The volunteers are spreading the word and sharing the bi-monthly bulletin "Boletin del Proyecto Yaguarete" with their colleagues and friends. The bulletin reaches 300 people directly via email or snail mail; the volunteers are helping increase its impact.
Mario Di Bitetti and his team have also given several talks in high schools and park-ranger institutions, held locals meetings and exhibitions. Local and national media are also showing interest in the project and have published several reports in print, and broadcasted on TV and radio.
A preliminary analysis of the data collected so far reveals a low density of jaguars in the forest. The picture that is starting to emerge points towards lack of food as a potential main culprit. According to a study carried out in Iguazu National Park on the border between Argentina and Brazil, peccaries make up more than half of a jaguar’s diet. Pumas and other cats on the other hand tend to be less picky and eat almost anything that comes their way.
A decade ago, peccary populations in the area dramatically declined to very low levels, possibly as a result of illness or simply because of over hunting. Today, it seems that these species have still not fully recovered and that numbers in the forest remain low.
Because of the jaguar's dietary constraints, it could well be that these cats simply cannot find enough food to survive and reproduce. Although it is too early to draw hasty conclusions, footprints collected in the forest have often been either of other cats, or of small and possibly underweight jaguars. The only jaguar caught on film was a slim female.
More data and analysis will reveal the reason behind such a low population density. In the meantime, the network is actively collecting the pieces to make up the full puzzle.