When discussing the future of threatened top predators, many conservationists believe that unless the people who coexist with carnivores, such as jaguars, learn to understand and value them, nothing will be achieved.

Jaguars are the Americas’ largest land predator. Although some consider the species a deity and symbol of royalty, bravery, power, beauty and magic, others see it as a nuisance and threat to their lives and livestock. For many rural people, jaguar conservation is only worthwhile if the benefits of its presence outweigh the conflicts it creates. In other words, ‘if it pays, it stays’.

Author interviewing local people.

Argentina is the jaguar’s southernmost distribution limit. Here, the species’ historical range has shrunk by c. 95%. This contraction was largely a result of the expansion of crops, pastures and urbanization in areas where these felids used to roam. In the small areas in northern Argentina where the species still survives, an ongoing conflict between jaguars and ranchers continues to threaten remaining populations.

Extensive livestock farming typical of the region.

Understanding people’s attitudes and perceptions and the factors that influence them is therefore crucial to nurture coexistence between people and large carnivores that often prey on domestic animals.

To gain a better understanding of this dynamic we interviewed 810 people living in and around 10 protected areas in northern Argentina. Positive perceptions and attitudes towards the jaguar were associated with the economic benefits that people may receive from the species’ presence, such as income from tourism.

Author interviewing local people.

Unexpectedly, higher levels of formal education were not associated with more positive attitudes and perceptions. Negative attitudes and perceptions were determined by fear; people see jaguars as a threat to their lives. However, our study showed that the socio-economic factors that affect the level of tolerance towards jaguars are not only related to economic losses.

Considering attitudes and social factors is essential for understanding and elucidating ways to mitigate conflicts, design educational programmes and implement conservation projects. In this region, sustainable nature-based and rural tourism could offer economic alternatives compatible with jaguar conservation and increase the level of appreciation of these magnificent animals, thus fostering positive attitudes towards wildlife conservation in general and promoting coexistence with predators.

Author carrying out an awareness workshop.

The article People and jaguars—new insights into the role of social factors in an old conflict in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

María Flavia Caruso received her doctorate from the National University of Salta in Argentina and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research. She is a founding member of the Jaguars in the Fringe Foundation and her current work focuses on human impacts on wildlife, including human–wildlife conflict, and the extent to which changes in land use affect wildlife corridors and dispersal between protected areas in north-western Argentina and southern Bolivia. Jaguars in the Fringe Foundation works at the local, national and international levels in coordination with the National Parks Administration, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research and the Universities of Salta and Oxford, with funds from the Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation, Born Free Foundation and Fondation Segré.