Photo credit: Sebastián Navajas / Rewilding Argentina

Partner organisation: Rewilding Argentina

Location: Argentina, South America

While the rewilding movement is operating on a truly global scale, it is good to remind ourselves that the interconnected whole is one that comprises individuals. Rewilding, after all, is built on the reinvigoration of individual ecosystems. The saving of individual species. And, in Argentina, for instance, the reintroduction of individual jaguars (Panthera onca).

In March 2024, a female jaguar named Keraná was released into El Impenetrable National Park, in the far north of Argentina. This was a significant event in itself and also an important step in the re-establishment within the area of healthy wild populations of this apex predator – the largest feline in the Americas.

A jaguar's paw print

Photo credit: Sebastián Navajas / Rewilding Argentina

Rewilding El Impenetrable National Park

El Impenetrable National Park is a protected area set within the Gran Chaco ecoregion, a semi-arid forest that spans parts of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The region – although not as renowned internationally as the Amazon rainforest – is one that is hugely important for biodiversity. But its once-thriving jaguar population currently numbers fewer than 20 individuals; and no females have been recorded there in two decades. A crucial element in restoring wild reproduction for jaguars in the Gran Chaco, therefore, is the reintroduction of potential mothers. And Keraná is the first.

Keraná was rescued in Paraguay, when she was found as a cub after her mother had been killed by hunters. Her release into El Impenetrable National Park was led by Rewilding Argentina (an offshoot of Tompkins Conservation), working in collaboration with the National Parks Administration of Argentina. She is soon to be followed by a second female, named Nalá, who is the first jaguar born in semi-captivity in the national park.

Sebastián Di Martino, who is Conservation Director of Rewilding Argentina, notes: “Wild jaguars need genetic diversity and connectivity to thrive. Bringing back female jaguars is a momentous step. We are optimistic that their arrival to the Chaco Province will transform a population from near extinction to a healthy reproductive one.”

This jaguar reintroduction work is being conducted alongside projects to reintroduce or bolster several other species in El Impenetrable National Park, including:

  • the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), an apex predator of the water;
  • the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus), South America’s largest cervid and a key herbivore in wet grassland;
  • the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonarius), a fruit-feeder and important seed disperser;
  • and the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris), another important disperser of seeds.

The work is also being carried out within a wider context of jaguar reintroductions elsewhere in Argentina, including within the majestic Iberá Park in the north-eastern corner of the country.

Arami, behind her sibling Mbarete, in the jaguar reintroduction centre in Iberá Park

Photo credit: Rewilding Argentina

Rewilding Iberá Park

Iberá Park is a matrix of wetland, grassland, and forest that exceeds 750,000 hectares in extent. Here, Rewilding Argentina has been working since 2012 – in collaboration with the provincial government and the National Parks Administration of Argentina – to re-establish the presence of the jaguar as part of a broader initiative to increase the health and vibrancy of what is an extraordinary place for wildlife.

Human activities, such as hunting and cattle ranching, led to the extirpation of the jaguar in the Iberá region more than 70 years ago. With the recent reintroductions, however, there are now at least 20 of these iconic felines roaming Iberá Park. And as a sign of the growing health of this population, two wild-born cubs were observed on a camera trap in 2022. This event – the first-known wild birth of jaguars in the area since the species’ extirpation – is not just a moment of major symbolic importance, but also a pivotal biological development in the jaguar’s return to self-sustaining vitality.

The parents of the wild-born cubs, Jatobazinho and Arami, were released in Iberá Park in 2021. Jatobazinho, the father, is a rehabilitated wild jaguar from Brazil, while Arami (pictured above, behind her sibling Mbarete) is the first jaguar to have been born at a specially built reintroduction centre in Iberá Park (see photograph below).

These positive developments could not have come soon enough. In Argentina, the distribution of jaguars has declined to less than five per cent of its former extent, and the estimated population of 200–250 wild animals is severely fragmented. But repairing such ruptures is all part of rewilding’s mission. Indeed, Di Martino sees great potential in creating jaguar corridors, which would also benefit other species and aid in landscape-scale ecological restoration.

This vision is a compelling one. And it is being realised through individual interconnected steps.

Photo credit: Rewilding Argentina

Wider impact

Rewilding Argentina, offspring of Tompkins Conservation, was created in 2010 to build on ongoing work to restore fully functioning ecosystems and promote the well-being of local communities. Through this work, which has been carried out in collaboration with the national and provincial governments, nine national parks have been created or expanded in Argentina, spanning 1 million hectares of land and sea. Keystone species have been successfully reintroduced, bringing balance to the ecosystems from which they were missing.

Local communities are at the heart of Rewilding Argentina’s projects, not least through their focus on ecotourism and the creation of regenerative economies, and the suite of initiatives is helping to reconnect people with the vast landscapes of Argentina.