Friday, June 23, 2006


While still in Las Cruces, the course coordinators organized a side trip to Las Alturas, about 1.5 hr drive away to visit the operations of ProCAT. ProCAT is a small NGO founded by Jan Schipper (formerly of WWF) focused mostly on conserving jaguar and jaguar habitat. I was especially excited about ProCAT because of their effective use of technology including camera “trapping”, population modeling and GIS. They’ve done quite a bit of experimentation and improvement of a camera trap design. Their most recent iteration imbeds a small digtal camera and motion sensor in a small box (see picture) and will capture whatever “walks by”, day or night, and will last for several months. Using strategically placed camera traps and a well developed understanding of territory dynamics, they’ve been able to estimate jaguar density and the abundance of prey. In conversation with Jose Gonzalez, I learned that ProCAT happens to be investigating NatureServe Vista to assist with identifying conservation priorities. If it works out for them, what satisfaction I would derive knowing that my efforts could assist them with theirs.

ProCAT also conducts extensive interviews with the local communities about what drives jaguar hunting. Locals, including indigenous community members, are apparently hesitant to discuss the subject with outsiders for fear of retribution, so ProCAT has developed a number of subtle techniques including using an indigenous tribe member as part of their staff, asking women what they cook, and asking men when the last time they saw a jaguar was. Based on this information, they develop their educational information and work with national park administrators to aid enforcement of laws, taking extra care to ensure that locals willing to talk to them suffer no retribution.

Finally, ProCAT is involved with regional conservation efforts including a multidisciplinary project to link terrestrial, riparian and marine conservation on the carribean side to restore and protect the watershed and the coral reef at its outlet. I was thoroughly impressed with ProCAT’s methods and professionalism, mixing the best of modern tools and techniques with clear grounding in local ecology and human communities.

Jose, Jan and the ProCat staff treated us to a beautiful and inspiring day.