For many indigenous communities in the Amazon, the jaguar represents a culturally revered animal that, like many other species in the lush Brazilian rainforest, is key to maintaining a thriving ecosystem in the area.
In recent years, however, increasing loss of habitat and a surge in illegal wildlife trading has reduced jaguar populations by around a quarter in three generations. The species are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss from accelerating deforestation and wildfires set by illegal land-grabbers to expand farming, logging, and mining.
Indigenous communities are the main defenders of their forest homes and are increasingly turning to modern technology to better protect Amazon’s biodiversity hotspots, where the jaguar is the apex predator.
Aerial drones, in particular, prove a meaningful solution for monitoring the vast and difficult terrain and are already being deployed by indigenous communities in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru as the tech becomes more affordable and ranges improve.
With the help of local conservation groups and international organizations, like the World Wildlife Fund, indigenous tribes are provided with high-tech observations kits, which include drones, laptops, walkie-talkies, and GPS technology, and are also provided with the necessary training in how to use them.
“Arrival of technology, such as drones, helps people to monitor an area that we did not know was being deforested. It helped to discover deforested areas and we will check in the field. It also helps to have the real dimension of the invasion and destruction that is being practiced within the indigenous territories,” said Bitaté Uru-eu-wau-wau, a coordinator of the Association of the Indigenous People Uru-eu-wau-wau.
The equipment allows the tribes to detect and report illegal land grabbing, without putting themselves in harm’s way of the armed gangs involved in the land grabbing and poaching.
And the drones have already proved valuable. In January, Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau drone operators discovered almost 500 acres being deforested on their reserve. In total, 15 indigenous territories across 7 states have been provided with drones and training and firefighting equipment and training.
Drone images can be submitted in court as evidence of illegal activity and as internet connectivity grows in remote regions, there will be a greater possibility to alert authorities more quickly, thus ensuring the survival of the rainforest and jaguars.