Puma field work in Brazil

Ananias looks out over an area that we are soon trekking into.

In the past few weeks I’ve been out in the field in Caatinga in eastern Brazil studying the diet of a female puma. This is the first time that puma has ever been studied in this biome.

What I’ve done is I have visited sites where she has stayed for a little bit of time in order to see what she has done there. Was she eating something or just resting? The most important thing I have been wanting to find out is how much does she prey on domestic animals. This is very important because there is a lot of poaching of jaguars and pumas since they do kill and eat livestock. But how common is it? Are the farmers exaggerating or is it a real problem? And what could be done to alleviate this conflict?

There are a lot of thorny plants in Caatinga.

The field work was very difficult due to the harch environment of Caatinga. The plants are thorny and the vegetation is thick. Many plants have fish-hook thorns that would rip a normal t-shirt into pieces in a matter of hours. Also, for each step you take, there is at least one plant there to trip you. When going off-track, we progressed about 500 meters per hour. Luckily, to my help was Ananias, a local who came to be my field assistant. With his help I could use the many trails that exist which helped a lot.

Here I am investigating a goat that has been eaten by puma.

Ananias and I trekked on average ten hours per day in sweltering temperatures in this rough environment visiting these cluster sites. The temperature where we worked averaged about 30-35 degrees C in daytime. Add to this the clothes necessary to protect against the vegetation and it soon becomes very warm.

This six-banded armadillo was eaten by puma.

Some of the interesting things about working in this environment is trying the local fruits that grow ever so seldom. Running in to a mango tree after trekking a long distance was a great experience and I think that I have never tasted mangoes that sweet. There have been a lot of other interesting fruits, too, which I can’t even pronounce the names of.

Ananias has found a site used by locals to illegally trap carnivores.

There have been a lot of interesting finds in this study. This is the first time ever that this species has been studied in this biome, making it a pioneering study. I will now get down to analyzing the results. Hopefully this will lead to us being more able to protect pumas and jaguars in this area in the future – so that we can have a green planet full of life.

The project has been done as a part of Programa Amigos da Onça.

 

This is “cocinha”, small coconuts that you can find every here and there. Crack the shell between two rocks and you can eat the small coconut inside.

Advertisements

Puma study to begin

Vitória received her collar in late March. On the photo from left to right: field assistant Neto, veterinarian Gediendson Araujo, field assistant Ismael and project leader Dr. Claudia Campos. In the front row is the newest member of Programa Amigos da Onça: Vitória.

After a third and long field campaign of 45 days (!), Programa Amigos da Onça in Brazil has amazingly managed to collar a puma. This has taken a long time and the team has had to endure difficult field conditions. In total, the team has spent more than 90 days in the field in three field campaigns spanning September 2016 until now.

So, in the last days of March, a beautiful female puma named Vitória has received a GPS-collar. The name is suitable, as it means “victory”.

As a result of this success, I have now traveled to Brazil where I am currently in Petrolina preparing for field work. I am very happy that my part of the project can now get going. In the coming weeks, I will be investigating Vitória’s diet by visiting kill-sites to see her predation on wild animals and domestic animals. This will give us highly valuable information which will help us save the puma and jaguar in this area.

As a hint on the importance of the project: We can already see that Vitória has passed a farm, where the owner found tracks in the sand and, as a result, put out traps to catch her. This is unfortunately very common and shows how imperative it is to help alleviate the conflict between herders and the large carnivores. Hopefully, this is what the Program can now do.

 

Once again, I wish to thank everybody that has donated to the crowdfunding project! If it wasn’t for you then these next steps would not be possible.

You can read more on the Facebook page of Programa Amigos da Onça (in Portuguese but please use translate), and please click Like there to follow the work.

My year 2015

2015 was the International Snow Leopard Year and we tried out best to promote the cat and the book.

2015 was the International Snow Leopard Year and we tried our best to promote the cat and the book.

2015 was a great year with many adventures in many countries, including Brazil, Chile, Croatia, United Kingdom and The Netherlands. I did field work, writing, lecturing and a lot more. Many species are going to go extinct soon and it is time that we start thinking of how to save our planet. My work primarily revolved around this issue. Here is an attempt to round up the year of 2015.

We (myself and Jan Fleischmann) released the snow leopard book in Swedish in October of 2014.  At the same time, 2015 was named the International Snow Leopard Year by the Bishkek Declaration, with the idea of bringing extra attention to the needs of this cat. We spent a large part of 2015 promoting the cat and the book. I appeared on Sweden’s national television programme “En bok, en författare”, talking about snow leopards. We held several lectures about snow leopards across the country and also had two photo exhibitions, in Rovdjurscentret De 5 Stora and Naturum Värmland. It was also great seeing the snow leopard book so well received with many positive reviews appearing throughout the year.

Looking at how much moose forage on trees in April, May and June.

I investigated how much moose forage on trees in April, May and June.

The big field season commenced on 30 March and I did field work with moose for nearly three months. This work spanned most of Sweden, from Halland in the south to Västerbotten in the north. I saw roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), moose (Alces alces), capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), wild boar (Sus scrofa), European viper (Vipera berus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), brown bear (Ursus arctos) and much more. It was a very cold census with temperatures between 3-7 degrees Celsius in May. I had one field day in the coldest place in Sweden, Börtnan, although by then it was already warmer. Working near Sweden’s alpine mountains (Skanderna), I climbed one of them late one night in June. Going up on an alpine mountain always give me such a feeling of freedom.

In between field work I went to London in the United Kingdom with my snow leopard co-author Jan. We attended the London Book Fair to discuss international publication of the snow leopard book. It was nice being back in London since I had not been there since 2009. Just as the last time I went there, I did not have much time exploring the city, though.

The medieval wall of Visby is for the most part intact.

The medieval wall of Visby is for the most part intact.

Following this intense period of field work I had two days off and then headed to Sweden’s largest island, Gotland. I was there to study rhetoric for two weeks. The main (and only) city in Gotland, Visby, is an ancient city with a medieval wall that was starting to be constructed more than 900 years ago. It is still surprisingly intact and the inner city is a UNESCO World Heritage.

Coming home from Gotland I had six days off until the next trip. This time I flew to Croatia to attend the symposium Animal Populations – World Resources and Animal Welfare by UFAW. It was well organized, highly interesting and I can recommend anyone going to this symposium.

Visiting my friends' animal shelter in western Croatia I befriended many of their dogs. Luna (pictured) is one of the most amazing dogs that I have met.

Visiting my friends’ animal shelter in western Croatia I befriended many of their dogs. Luna (pictured) is one of the loveliest dogs that I have met.

After the symposium was over I went to Istria in western Croatia to visit my friend Mae who runs a shelter for homeless animals. The situation for animals is not good in Croatia and Mae, together with her husband Benny, help save dogs and cats on a daily basis with very limited resources. All in all, Croatia is a beautiful country and the people are very friendly. I hope that I can return there.

As a treat I had scheduled a full day in Amsterdam in The Netherlands on the way home. I spent the day strolling the various canals of the city and trying out a good vegetarian restaurant with international theme. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, although I was a bit tired from all the long travels.

Rio de Janeiro is a spectarular city. In the background is Ipanema beach, which is around the corner to Copacobana.

Vania showed me around in Rio de Janeiro, which is a spectacular city.

Coming home by the end of July I had been out almost contiuously for nearly four months. I was in dire need of doing nothing for a while and it was good to disconnect. I lead a group of nature students doing an otter census in Värmland in September. This census, which we have done annually since 2002, is a nice treat. Me and Jan Fleischmann also participated in the Gothenburg Book Fair which is the largest in Sweden, holding several talks there. Meanwhile, I was preparing for the next expedition: South America.

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on 7 October. It is a beautiful city with high hills and a big nature reserve inside the actual city. The beaches are internationally famous (Ipanema and Copacabana) and the Jesus statue is another symbol of the city which is widely recognized. I enjoyed Rio a lot and together with newfound friends attended the first vegan fair of the city, out by the beach in Niteroi. There were a lot of good things to try there there. I only wish I had been hungrier.

The jaguar is one of the most amzing animals in the world.

The jaguar is one of the most amazing animals in the world.

Next up was the Pantanal – the world’s biggest floodland – where I stayed for several weeks. I visited a jaguar project there and met several interesting people. I also saw jaguar, ocelot and puma in the wild. In between visits to the Pantanal I also visited a jaguar conservation project in north-eastern Brazil, run by Claudia Campos and her team. She was kind enough to show me the whole area for almost a week, which was really interesting and a very  nice experience. The people living in this region are among the poorest in Brazil but also some of the nicest people that I have ever met. You can read the full story on my Brazil experience here.

Towers of the Paine, along with lake Nordenskjöld, in Torres del Paine National Park.

Towers of the Paine, along with lake Nordenskjöld, in Torres del Paine National Park.

Onwards from Brazil I traveled to Santiago in Chile. I met with my friends Patricia, Christian and Sandra who work in Chile. Santiago is a busy city and the amazing Andes are visible just beyond the cityscape. Me and Sandra soon flew down to Punta Arenas in southernmost Chile. Sandra would start working with whales there a week after. Punta Arenas is the furthest south that I have ever been in the world and it was really a nice experience. One day I went to the Torres del Paine national park. Although the guide I had with me was a bit peculiar, the trip offered beautiful sights of the grand landscape. The park should definitely be experienced by foot, though, and not by minibus with a few stops here and there.

As a finale to the trip, I went back up to Santiago and together with Patricia, Christian and their friend Filip trekked up on some very nice peaks in the Andes just outside of Santiago. Feeling the fresh air and seeing the larger mountains further away was a very nice feeling. As always, being on top of a mountain is a special feeling. Read the full story on Chile here.

Hiking up to the peak of La Carpa in the Andes by the end of November.

Hiking up to the peak of La Carpa in the Andes by the end of November.

After a 32 hour journey from Santiago, I arrived home in Uppsala on 4 December. Mostly preparing for future projects in the remainder of December, the year came to a perfect close after a year that was filled with adventures, breathtaking animals and amazing people.

Thank you for making 2015 such an awesome year!

Expedition South America – Part 1 – The jaguar

Rio de Janeiro is a spectarular city. In the background is Ipanema beach, which is around the corner to Copacobana.

Myself and Vania on a hill in Rio de Janeiro.The city is spectacular. In the background is Ipanema beach, which is around the corner to Copacobana.

Brazil! A huge country, with variation to match, both in terms of people, culture and, of course, nature. Most people associate Brazil with rain forest, football and Rio de Janeiro, but let me tell you: There is much more to it. For the past month, I have traveled Brazil to learn more about the elusive jaguar (Panthera onca).

Arriving in what many consider the pearl of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, I am shown around by Vania – a specialist in otters and a native of Rio. The city is most famous for its Copacabana beach, Jesus the Redeemer statue and Carnival. We explore the city, climb a hill at one of the favelas, visit a tranquil island in the bay of Rio and also attend the first ever vegan festival in Niterói. The landscape around Rio is spectacular making it one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Maria working with the cowboys moving cattle at Xarae's ranch, during the jaguar-cattle study.

Maria working with the cowboys moving cattle at Xarae’s ranch, during the jaguar-cattle study.

After exploring Rio for four days I travel to Campo Grande in the state of Mato Grosso de Sul. I soon make my way to Miranda which is on the southern border to the Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland. There I meet with Maria who is doing a master study on the cattle-jaguar conflict, and her Brazilian friend Luciana. Together we go to Xarae’s fazenda where I spend three days seeing the project.

While Xarae’s is mainly a cattle farm, it is also a place where tourists come to see wildlife. Many fazendas have started to develop tourism as a second source income, and the Pantanal happens to be the best place in Brazil to view wildlife. This wildlife and eco-tourism is a great way to preserve nature and wildlife, that might otherwise be removed in favor of cattle.

Edimison takes me out on Rio Miranda for two hours around sunset.

Edimison takes me out on Rio Miranda for two hours around sunset.

After Xaraes, I spend a few days in the nice little city of Miranda. One night I ask a man called Edimison, who lives just by Rio Miranda, if I can rent a boat from him. He takes me out on the river for a couple of hours around sunset. I also go out the next day for an hour. You see a lot of birds on these rivers and it is well worth it.

Meanwhile, Maria tells me that she found a dead jaguar by the road north of Buraco das Piranhas. It was most likely poisoned and had died that morning. This happens since jaguars sometimes kill livestock like cattle – especially calves – and farmers sometimes retaliate by poisoning the carcasses.

The next day I travel to Campo Grande to meet with Rafael Hoogesteijn. He is a specialist on jaguars and especially the conflict between cattle ranchers and jaguars. Rafael knows this situation very well as he has worked with cattle farms for many years and also with jaguars. We speak a lot about the situation of the jaguar and what can be done to ease the conflict.

A puma prowls the edge of the forest.

A puma prowls the edge of the forest.

Fazenda San Fransisco is one of the biggest tourist pousadas in the southern Pantanal. Many tourists take the opportunity to go there since it is easy to get to after a visit to Bonito (one of the natural pearls of Brazil). On a one day excursion to San Fransisco I see both ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and puma (Puma concolor) in the same night. Especially puma is difficult to see here so it is a great observation. I also see giant anteater, march deer and, of course, a lot of caimans.

From the fazenda I get back to Miranda and grab a bus to Campo Grande. I then take an eleven hour bus up north to the city of Cuiabá, which is on the northern edge of the Pantanal in the state of Mato Grosso (not to be confused with Mato Grosso do Sul).

There I take a bus down to the much smaller city of Poconé. I spend a few days in Poconé seeing the city. The next morning I head back up to Cuiabá for the next stop on my itinerary.

Claudia speaks with a local who is worried about illegal logging of trees, just outside of Boqueirão da Onça.

Claudia speaks with a local who is worried about illegal logging of trees, just outside of Boqueirão da Onça.

Caatinga in the north-eastern parts of the country is the driest biome in Brazil, and one of the poorest. While there are jaguars in the area, the populations are fragmented and quite small, due to the extensive hunting of the 20th century.

I arrive in Petrolina in the middle of the night and on the next day meet up with Claudia Campos from the organization Pro Carnivoros. Claudia has worked in the area on and off for nearly ten years, focusing on jaguar and puma. She is working to establish a national park called Boqueirão da Onça to protect one of the last remaining jaguar populations in an area that is rich in variation and comparably untouched by man. Boqueirão da Onça, which is a mountainous area of more than 8 000 square kilometers, has no cell phone reception, and many of the small settlements only got electricity two months ago.

We purchase the food we needed for the week and head out in the morning. The drive to the edge of the area takes about two hours from Petrolina. We meet up with our field guide, Neto, who lives just outside of the proposed national park. Neto knows the area inside out. His wife prepares lunch for us and then we pack up all things into the pickup truck and go west – straight into the proposed national park.

This is one of the carnivore-proof night pens that Claudia's team has helped to build.

This is one of the carnivore-proof night pens that Claudia’s team has helped to build.

We travel on bumpy and rocky dirt roads where a normal car would not get through. We spend the next five days visiting people, seeing the few areas where there is still water, seeing a place where a farmer experienced jaguar predation on his cattle, and also find pugmarks of both puma and ocelot, but no jaguar. We also visit a few of the jaguar-proof night pens that Claudia and her team has constructed together with the farmers. These pens are great for both farmers, who will get fewer losses, for the goats who will stay safer, and the jaguars, who will experience less risk of being poached or poisoned.

Boqueirão da Onça is a beautifully dry area with a lot of mountains and cliffs. Once the rains begin, usually no later than January, the area goes from whitish grey into a bloom. Still, even in the dry season, a lot of plants persist and there are also valleys which are green year around. Seeing the area was a good experience and the people there are among the friendliest that I have ever met.

Back in Petrolina I then fly to Sao Paulo where I take a 27 hour bus back up to Cuiabá. About 16 hours in, a man sitting in the seat in front of me is arrested by the police for smuggling drugs, which he hid inside the seats while the other passengers were out having lunch.

In Cuiabá I meet with my snow leopard book colleague Jan Fleischmann, who has just spent a bit of time in Porto Jofre seeing jaguars. We take a bus down to Poconé and from there hire a taxi to take us to Porto Jofre. At the entrance we are met by Roger at Hotel Pantanal North, where we will stay for a few days. Porto Jofre is possibly the best place in the world to spot for jaguars, especially around September and October. We spend four days criss-crossing the various rivers and tributaries on boat, searching.

Once the sun has set this jaguar male goes into the forest and we head back home for the night.

Once the sun has set this jaguar male goes into the forest and we head back home for the night.

The jaguar is a beautifully spotted cat – the largest in the Americas. At the first look one usually think it resembles a leopard. Its life history, though, is more similar to that of the tiger.

On the side of the river, a female jaguar is with her cub. It is 33 degrees Celsius and sunny, and the two jaguars slowly walk alongside the edge of the river, sometimes stopping to clean each other. The female shows affectionate maternal love toward its cub. In seeing this, I am thinking that it must be difficult to hate or dislike these cats. They are truly awe-inspiring.

In the end, we observed no less than seven jaguars in these four days. I am thrilled to have seen this beautiful carnivore in the wild – a place where I hope that it will be allowed to continue to live. This also marks the end of the first part of my trip to South America, which continues in a few hours to another country, where part two begins.

I wish to thank all the kind and warm people that I have met during this month.

Muito obrigado, Brasil!