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05 Jul 2022
On 28 June 2013, two 2012 SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy graduates, Andrea Mathebula and Richard Mthabine, left South Africa for the Caiman Ecological Refuge in the Pantanal region of Brazil, to participate in a pioneering project of habituating jaguars through traditional tracking means.
The aim of the project to is develop a relationship with the jaguars in order for travellers visiting Caiman to see these rare predators in their natural environs, without the animal becoming nervous and disappearing. The same methodology was employed at Londolozi Game Reserve with the leopards in the 1970’s. However, this has never been achieved with large cats outside of Africa.
Andrea and Richard have tracked and found 18 different jaguars, including a mating pair and a mother with two cubs. According to reports from reserve management, the success of the jaguar habituation project thus far has exceeded all expectations, as sightings at Caiman have escalated significantly since the trackers began the project.
In August the highest number of jaguar sightings in the history of Caiman was recorded. As part of the project, Andrea and Richard are training two local Brazilian naturalists, Diogo and Nego, who have both responded well to the training.
Tracker Academy Manager, Alex van den Heever, was requested to conduct an assessment of their newly found skills in March next year. This will be the first tracker assessment in the history of Brazil and will be the beginning of formally recognising traditional tracking skills in that country.
Watch the video of a jaguar found by the trackers
Andrea and Richard will be returning in a fortnight after three months of tracking the jaguars daily. According to Caiman director, Mario Haberfeld, the jaguar sightings have improved dramatically. Not only have the number of sightings improved, but the jaguars have already started to show a greater level of tolerance to people. This is a long-term project and results will only be fully evident after three to five years.
The Tracker Academy will be sending its next two tracker graduates to Caiman in April next year (once the annual floodwaters have subsided) to continue the project. The project is expected to last at least five years.
Story by Alex van den Heever
SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy Manager
Visit the Tracker Academy website for more
Since 2010, the SA College for Tourism annually trains 16 trackers at its Tracker Academy with the aim of preserving the age-old traditional knowledge and skill of tracking. Peace Parks Foundation has been supporting training at the SA College for Tourism since its inception. Students from across southern Africa, all from impoverished backgrounds, are trained on a year-long course. Thus equipped with their respective qualifications, the students are able to return home and find employment in the tourism infrastructure supported by TFCAs.