No one had ever successfully released a jaguar back into the wild before 2016. That year, the Caiman Ecological Refuge, a pioneering Brazilian ecotourism enterprise located on a cattle ranch in the Southern Pantanal, rewilded two orphan jaguar cubs back into the wetlands on its vast ranch. Where once such a project had been considered impossible, it was now the subject of a documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
The Caiman Ecological Refuge was set up to achieve what had once seemed impossible. From the beginning, its mission has been to reconcile three very different activities in one place – extensive cattle ranching, ecotourism, and wildlife/habitat conservation projects.
The jaguar reintroduction was the latest success in its ongoing Onçafari Project, increasingly seen leading force in jaguar conservation. As a mark of its success, jaguar sightings by lodge guests have risen from 35% in 2013 to 72% in 2016. Its other great conservation success has been its Hyacinth Macaw Project, which had quadrupled the Pantanal’s population from 1,500 in 1990 to 6,000 birds by 2015. The result – the species is no longer considered endangered.
While delivering such tangible benefits to conservation, the 53,000 hectare property is also a fully functioning cattle ranch, employing around 150 mostly local people. Each year it hosts the Caiman Lasso Festival – one of the most important cultural events in the region, which helps preserve and raise awareness of the Pantaneiro traditional ‘cowboy’ lifestyle.
At the same time Caiman is committed to its staff, providing free benefits such as housing, lodging, meals, school, transportation, life insurance, dental care, medical emergency room, and sport facilities. It is also looking after future generations, with its Rural School, Educational Centre, and Naturalist Kids Programme offering environmental education to local school children. With such efforts, Caiman hopes to share its love for the Pantanal’s nature with the region’s young people, so they too might grow up inspired by where they live and want to conserve its biodiversity and surroundings.