Jaguar predation as a potential threat to populations of marine turtles

*Diogo Verissimo1, David Aneurin Jones1 and Rebeca Chaverri1
1

Global Vision International, Apartado Postal 78-7209, Cariari de Pococí, Limón. 70205 Costa Rica. E-mail: costarica@gvi.co.uk

Presented to the XIII Mesoamerican Congress of Biology and Conservation, El Salvador 2008. Marine turtles nesting in Tortuguero National Park face the increasing threat of predation by jaguars. Predation of adult marine turtles has been downplayed in favor of other threats such as poaching of adults and nests. Very few species are known to frequently predate upon adult marine turtles and as such, its impact was thought to be very low. Nonetheless, it has been acknowledged that removal of mature individuals has the potential to affect the demographic structure and conservation status of marine turtle populations especially in the case of adult females. The data presented was collected from 2005 to 2008 along a 14.5 mile stretch of beach belonging to Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Researchers registered signs of the presence of jaguars, turtles and the number of jaguar predated turtles. Jaguar activity on the beach is recorded year round and does not seem to be related to the seasonal presence of nesting marine turtles. In terms of spatial distribution along the study-site, the jaguar activity does not follow the same distribution as the nesting turtles, but instead appears to be effected by human activity, having a lower presence recorded closer to human settlements. Since 2005, the records of jaguar predation in Tortuguero Beach have more than doubled reaching a minimum of 146 predated marine turtles during 2008 alone. If this trend is maintained through the next decade, jaguar predation will become the biggest cause of local mortality surpassing inland poaching, and approaching the dimension of offshore poaching. There have been several hypotheses to explain this increase in predation: increase in jaguar population, depletion of regular jaguar prey species, habitat destruction or increase in hunting pressure. This case study addresses the need for integrated management of terrestrial and marine ecosystems and highlights for potential conflicts in the management of these flagship species.

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