Birthday celebrations ring success for Argentina’s beloved Jaguar cubs and the rewilding of the country
By Milo Putnam on May 03, 2022
Happy birthday to you
feliz cumpleaños a ti
Happy birthday dear Nala and Takajay
feliz cumpleaños a ti
For two growing Jaguars, Nala and Takajay, January 30, 2022, was like any other day. These twin cubs had no idea it was their first birthday, even if people throughout the Argentinian province of Chaco were enthusiastically celebrating the milestone. For the cubs, no birthday candles were snarled out. No Capybara flavored cake was sliced. And certainly, no presents were clawed into. Nala and Takajay, alongside their mother, Tania, don’t have any human interaction within their remote enclosure deep in El Impenetrable National Park. This isolation is intentional, to ensure these cubs are prepared for a life in the wild.
Nala and Takajay are destined to become the first Jaguars to be reintroduced into the region, a lifeline for the decimated population of these predators. Even more significantly, their birth alone was an unbelievable feat culminating in a world-first achievement for their species.
“We were really lucky,” says Sebastián Di Martino, conservation director at Rewilding
Argentina. “I think these two are the hope of recovery of the Jaguar in the Chaco region.”
Formed in 2010 by Argentine conservationists, Rewilding Argentina, the offspring of Tompkins Conservation, set out to establish new protected areas, help restore and rewild landscapes and marine ecosystems, and promote direct benefits to local communities. Merely 12 years into their mission, and already Rewilding Argentina has accomplished incredible feats. Often in partnership with Tompkins Conservation and other strategic partners, they have helped protect over two million acres (one million hectares) in natural parks. They are conducting rewilding projects with 24 key species, many of which are first-of-their-kind efforts, including the Giant River Otter, Red-and-green Macaw, Ocelot, Red-footed Tortoise, Huemul Deer, and, of course, the Jaguar.
These rewilding efforts have already demonstrated their benefits in resiliency following the devasting wildfires that scorched 10% of Argentina’s Corrientes province in February 2022. Sixty percent of Iberá National Park had burned, displacing numerous animal species. Rewilding Argentina’s prior and continued work in bolstering this ecosystem with key species, such as macaws and curassows, has ensured the start of a rapid recovery for this vital wetland to flourish again.
There was once a time when the Jaguar roamed from the Southwestern United States all the way to Argentine Patagonia. Forty percent of the Jaguar’s original habitat has been lost worldwide. In Argentina, the Jaguar is considered Critically Endangered; only around 200 remain, and they have lost more than 95% of their original range. Rewilding Argentina is leading the charge for reversing not only the country’s biodiversity crisis but the destruction of wildlands. Returning wildlife to their native home helps to restore the health and function of ecosystems, benefiting wildlife and local communities, and the planet.
This year, Re:wild became the fiscal sponsor to both Rewilding Argentina and Rewilding Chile, taking over the role from close ally, Tompkins Conservation. Kris Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, Inc., founded Tompkins Conservation with her late husband Doug. Together, they purchased land in Argentina and Chile, where they worked with local teams to protect and restore land before turning it over to their respective governments to create national parks. The US-based nonprofit Tompkins Conservation continues to support various projects carried out by Rewilding Argentina and Rewilding Chile financially and in an advisory capacity.
Together with these independent organizations, we are committed to the recovery of natural ecosystems and the establishment of development models for rural communities in a context of coexistence with nature. As the group’s fiscal sponsor, Re:wild supports Rewilding Argentina and Rewilding Chile by offering – among other things – financial, legal, and administrative support.
“Rewilding Argentina’s work in restoring the ecosystems from forests to coastlines shows the biodiversity crisis can be reversed,” said Dr. Penny Langhammer, Re:wild executive vice president. “By restoring damaged habitats through active management, the most critical ecosystems can thrive again. The new relationship between Re:wild and Rewilding Argentina will continue to accomplish this important work, setting an example for rewilding efforts around the world.”
Just three years before the birth of Nala and Takajay, all hope seemed lost for Jaguars in El Impenetrable National Park, in the Argentine Chaco. Poaching and habitat destruction decimated their remaining population. In 2019, however, fresh paw prints led scientists to an optimistic discovery. From these tracks, researchers identified a healthy male Jaguar, outfitted him with a radio tracking collar, and named him Qaramta, which means “the one who cannot be destroyed” in the local Qom language. Scientists found that Qaramta’s territory spanned over 100,000 hectares, which he was likely patrolling in search of a mate. Rewilding Argentina mobilized quickly to implement a first-of-its-kind plan to bring Jaguars back to the region. The team quickly constructed an enclosure in the wilderness and translocated a captive female Jaguar, named Tania, from Rewilding Argentina’s reintroduction facility in Iberá National Park, in the Iberá Wetlands.
Qaramta wasted no time in discovering this new female and spent much of his time nuzzling and interacting with Tania through the fence. For months, Rewilding Argentina biologists observed their behaviors from remote camera systems, waiting for the perfect moment to properly introduce the two. When the timing was right, they allowed Qaramta to enter a large enclosure surrounding Tania’s fenced space, and finally the biologists opened the automated gates between the two. Every team member held their breath, unsure how the courtship would go, but knowing that the future of the species in the Argentine Chaco depended, in large part, on this moment.
After just a few days, Qaramta ventured back into the wild and Tania remained. Just 100 days later, Nala and Takajay were born.
In addition to bringing back native species, Rewilding Argentina is rewilding hearts and minds, rewriting the local narrative about Jaguars and other species. Local communities once considered Jaguars a problem because of their threat to livestock. In large part because of the organization’s work with and outreach to local communities, Jaguars are now a critical part of nature-based tourism that supports livelihoods and conservation efforts.
“We are trying to transform the economy from a primary economy that is based on the extraction of natural resources, hunting, logging, or cattle ranching, to an economy that is more based on services and on nature tourism, that has wildlife watching as the main activity,” Di Martino says. “That way the Jaguar is not a problem anymore. It’s an opportunity.”
From the birthday of two Jaguar cubs to the rewilding of an entire country, efforts to rewild Argentina is something worth celebrating all around the world.
Milo has 10 years of natural resource interpretation and environmental education experience. Sparking life-changing moments between people and wildlife has always been his life’s calling. Milo joins the Re:wild team to engage audiences in the work our partners do to protect and restore the wild. Milo has a true love of storytelling and creating compelling content that mobilizes action for our planet. As a wildlife advocate, he's always looking to uncover the next best story to engage others in discovering the natural world and helping to protect it in the process. Before working for Re:wild, Milo created a digital platform that empowers individuals to travel ethically for wildlife. When he's not crafting engaging content, Milo loves going on adventures near and far with his husband.